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Memories of SSU

Anthony Tusler

Student (Psychology) 1967-74
Office Manager/Secretary, Student Union Corp., 1974-75
Director, Disability Resource Center, 1975-95
Director, Alcohol and Drug Education Program, 1987-95
Director, Compliance and Risk Management, 1995-97

Anthony Tusler teacing the Psychology of Disability course in 1972. It was one of the earliest disability classes in the country taught from a social/ civil rights perspective.

Anthony Tusler teacing the Psychology of Disability course in 1972. It was one of the earliest disability classes in the country taught from a social/ civil rights perspective.

            After having been an undergraduate at SSU since 1967 I had stopped taking classes by 1973. I was looking for work and hanging out at the Tradewinds Bar in Cotati. There I met JoAnn Schechter who was working as a part time employee at Sonoma State in the Dean of Students office. She convinced me to come to the college to see what she was doing with the disabled students. At twenty-five, I had not spent much time with anyone with a disability, even though I had been using braces and crutches for twenty years. When I started meeting the disabled students I was surprised to find that they were interesting and I liked them.

            My epiphany of discovering my disability identity was through Steve Dias. He had a well-honed understanding of progressive politics. He helped me to see that I could be a disabled person without taking on stereotypical disability traits, like being pitiful or defeated.

Before the year Jo Ann spent in the Dean of Students office, there were almost no accommodations or services for students with disabilities. One of the few was use of the elevator to get to the Library on the second floor of Stevenson. Class registration each semester was a problem.

            JoAnn urged students to organize to advocate for permanent disability services on campus. Steve and I formed the Disabled Students Coalition and started regular meetings with some of the other disabled students.  By this time I had caught fire. I decided to finish my BA and investigate careers. The Disabled Students Coalition was putting pressure on the Dean of Students to fund a disability office. We began to see the power that we, as students, had.

            Though JoAnn’s one-year appointment as a Student Affairs assistant trainee was designed to bring women and minorities into Student Affairs, she also would argue for disability issues in the Dean of Students’ meetings.  One key victory was establishing a disability seat on the Campus Planning Committee. I was the first and, as it turned out, last person to have that disability seat; the position was eliminated when I retired from the university in 1997. 

            During the 70s the campus was growing quickly. Wes Burford, a full-time facility planner, was a strong and savvy ally for disability access.

            Late in 1973 or early 1974, the statewide Disabled Students Coalition met in San Jose. I remember walking into the room and seeing more wheelchair users than I had ever seen before. The primary goal was to get the legislature to fund individual campus disabled student services. Assemblyman John Vasconcellos was a strong ally in convincing the state legislature and the Chancellor’s Office to augment the CSU budget for disabled student services.

            One of the places our statewide group could get together was the California Association of Post-Secondary Educators of the Disabled (CAPED).  When I went to my first CAPED meeting one of the founders, Steve Fasteau asked me, “Hey, are you a student?” I said, “Yeah.” His response was, “You want to be on the board?” I responded, “Okay. Where’s the meeting?” And so that’s how I was on the founding board of CAPED.  We found that California campuses had positions funded in various ways, including their own budgets, state funding, and local support.  UC Berkeley had the first disability program run by people with disabilities; they were an inspiration to us.

            It became clear that our only solution was campus funding. JoAnn used the weekly Student Affairs meeting to articulate the need for ongoing disability services with a disabled Student Service coordinator.  Interviews were held in the early summer of 1975 and I was one of the finalists. I did well in the interview, although my answer to the hypothetical question was more radical than some on the committee liked. Ultimately, they picked me and the dean concurred.

            The first thing that was really critical was to get the priority registration put into place. We had an incredible ally, Academic Vice President Yvette Fallandy. I have such regard for her.  We advocated parking procedures that would make it easier for disabled students. We promoted hiring oral interpreters for the severely hard-of-hearing who didn’t know sign. For me, it was incredibly pragmatic. If it needed doing and it made sense to me, we did it.

            We also got some money to teach disability studies and I had opportunity to teach it. In the beginning, I brought in guest speakers and used a textbook—Carolyn Vash’s Psychology of Disability with a chapter on transcendence, the notion that if one truly accepts one’s condition, paradoxically there’s a transcendence of it.

            In 1982, we mounted a major art show at Sonoma State in the main gallery. We had 106 pieces and over fifty artists. Every piece represented disability, the experience or politics. It was a profound show. We had six wheelchairs and mounted the show low enough so that if you were a wheelchair-user, it was easy to see. Others also had an opportunity to use the wheelchairs. It wasn’t like, “Oh, you’ll learn how to be a disabled person.” but “Here’s another way to view the world.” Everyone I know who went through the show, including myself, found their way of looking at the world, of looking at disabled people, changed by that show.