Abstract

The goal of this participatory action research (PAR) project was to engage and empower students with disabilities and raise awareness of disability-related issues to campus communities. Ten student co-researchers and six faculty/staff co-researchers attended weekly research meetings to discuss challenges faced by students with disabilities. The team presented PAR findings to the campus community as their action project. Twelve themes generated by the co-researchers were presented and illuminated lived experiences of students with disabilities within university settings. Themes included the physical university layout and internal experiences such as internalized stigma and isolation from peers. Results of the PAR project as well as a focus group post-PAR project describe individual and systemic outcomes. This study demonstrates the power of incorporating students' voices in creating university programming initiatives that not only supports their academic success but also allows students to feel heard and supported. Success in increasing campus inclusion requires a collaboration among key university gatekeepers and students particularly in support of students who may not have visible disabilities.


Introduction

Historically, young adults with disabilities in the United States have often been unable to access post-secondary institutions (Synder & Dilllow, 2015). With the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA; 2008), Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA; 2004), Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA; 2008), and the momentum of other sociopolitical forces promoting widespread postsecondary enrollment, more students with disabilities are attending college than in the past (National Council on Disability, 2015; U.S. Department of Education, 2010). Despite increased enrollment, students with disabilities continue to underperform compared to their same-aged peers (National Center for Learning Disabilities, 2014; U.S. Department of Education, 2010). Students with disabilities have reported feelings of isolation or lack a sense of belonging on campus (Agarwal, 2011), which can have negative long-term effects on their health and wellbeing (Cacioppo & Hawkley, 2003; Hawkley & Cacioppo, 2010). Students with disabilities experience psychological, behavioral, and academic challenges, similar to those commonly experienced by other marginalized groups that ultimately impact academic performance and success (Crockett, et al., 2007; DaDeppo, 2009; Higbee, Katz, & Schultz, 2010; Huynh & Fuligni, 2010; Mamiseishvili & Koch, 2011; Murray & Wren, 2003; Prelow, Mosher, & Bowman, 2006; Schmitt, Branscombe, Postmes, & Garcia, 2014; Vaccaro, Daly-Cano, & Newman, 2015).

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES; 2016), 11% of undergraduates have a disability. Institutions of higher education in the United States are required by federal policies to provide resources intended to address disability related issues to ensure equal education access to students with disabilities and provide "reasonable accommodations" (ADA, 2008), which can include offices for disability support services as well as counseling centers. While these resources offer formal pathways for individuals to receive support, they are often unable to address the informal and/or difficult to concretize aspects of marginalization faced by students with disabilities as both individuals and as a group (Abreu, Hillier, Frye, & Goldstein, 2017).

Participatory Action Research and Community Connectedness

Marginalized individuals often lack a sense of community connectedness (Crockett et al., 2007; Huynh & Fuligni, 2010; Prelow, Mosher, & Bowman, 2006; Schmitt et al., 2014). Resources targeting the individual do not necessarily address broader connectedness needs, thus, alternative strategies for fostering a sense of community connectedness are needed. Participatory action research (PAR) is a methodology that allows individuals in a marginalized group to connect, organize, and work together to address inclusion issues (Smith, Rosenzweig, & Schmidt, 2010). PAR methods can involve critical consciousness building, questioning/challenging, sharing of power, learning about the lived experiences of fellow co-researchers, as well as ambiguity, and openness (Kid & Kra, 2005). The PAR approach to research invites and prioritizes marginalized community members' perspectives, needs, and knowledge into a research project (Smith et al., 2010). Through PAR, students with disabilities can form an action-focused connection with other students with disabilities, work together to form a coherent voice, and use this communal voice to speak to and actively advocate for ways to better join the larger whole (Agarwal et al., 2015; Kidd & Kral, 2005; Oyler, 2012; Smith, Bratini, & Appio, 2012; Smith, Rosenzweig, & Schmidt, 2010).

Prior research has highlighted PAR projects involving students with disabilities (Agarwal, Moya, Yasui, & Seymour, 2015), which has been shown to be an effective methodology of impacting a community (Agarwal et al., 2015; Kidd & Kral, 2005; Oyler, 2012; Smith et al., 2012; Smith et al., 2010); however, limited research has been conducted on the individual and community impacts that PAR has on student co-researchers. Agarwal et al. (2015) and Smith et al. (2010) have made note of the self-reported perceived benefits from student co-researchers, such as feeling a sense of connection with other co-researchers, gaining a conscious appreciation for the feelings and thoughts of others, increasing critical consciousness, feeling heard by the community, and feeling empowered. These benefits give rise to the notion that PAR cannot only be used as a research methodology, but as an individual intervention. Results from these studies suggest that PAR promoted attitudinal and physical changes on their college campus as well as personal growth for the student co-researchers.

The Current Study

The proposed project expands the work of Agarwal et al. (2015) and allows for similar exploration with the addition of a formal assessment of co-researchers' experiences of engaging in PAR through a focus group and subsequent data analysis. In collaboration with staff from university counseling and disability services, and a faculty member from a school of social welfare, the goals of this research were to engage students with disabilities, to increase the sense of belongingness and empowerment for students with disabilities, to raise awareness of disability-related issues in the broader university community, and to understand the experiences of co-researchers after participating in PAR. The current study allows co-researchers to voice their experiences on campus as well as be heard by the community at-large with the hope that awareness will generate further changes to decrease discrimination and increase student inclusion on campus. This study adds to the existing literature as it includes a focus group of the co-researchers post-PAR Action Project to better understand the outcomes of participating in a PAR study.

Method

Procedure

Students from a public university located in the northeast were recruited via campus-wide email blasts from the university's student affairs department. After a semester of recruitment efforts and not obtaining enough students to participate in the study, the authors initiated additional campus-wide email blasts to include graduate students. The email blasts asked students to complete an online survey to determine their study eligibility using the following inclusion criteria: 1) currently enrolled in the university as an undergraduate or graduate student; 2) self-identified as having a psychological (e.g., emotional or psychiatric), learning (e.g., intellectual or learning), or medical (e.g., visual, auditory, or mobility) disability; 3) at least 18 years of age; 4) fluent in English; and 5) agreed to make a full academic year commitment to the project, which required meeting approximately two hours per week. If the student did not indicate meeting all five criteria, they were directed out of the survey with a thank you message for their time and other university related resources (e.g., university counseling center information). Students who met all study criteria were invited to attend an introductory group meeting or were able to schedule an individual meeting with the authors if the group times were not feasible. University institutional review board was obtained for this study and consent forms were given at three points during this project; first consent forms were signed online before collecting survey demographics, consent forms were signed again in person during the first meeting, and co-researchers signed a third time to participate in the focus group and be audiotaped.

The PAR faculty/staff co-researchers (the authors of this study) and student co-researchers met in the university counseling center conference room for one hour each week over approximately seven months during the academic year. Similar to the work of Ornelas (1997), the group spent time getting to know one another through casual conversations and discussions about campus life, activities, and classes. This was specifically included to increase the integration of the group and to become a team. The group members tended to be talkative and excited to get to know one another.

All co-researchers were trained by the authors on the process of and principles related to PAR. More specifically, training consisted of an explanation of foundational PAR values including action and reflection (Smith, 1997) and ambiguity and openness (Kid & Kra, 2005). Various types of methodologies were highlighted, including photovoice (e.g., Agarwal et al., 2015; Smith, Bratini, & Appio, 2012) as well as making a "sensorial diagnosis," consisting of storytelling, drawings, and sharing experiences (Ornelas, 1997, p. 151). Various examples of past PAR projects were provided. Previously published research materials regarding PAR were made available for co-researchers and authors of the articles were also made available via in person meetings or email exchange related to additional clarification and questions involving PAR.

After the training, group discussions mostly veered towards specific issues related to struggles students with disabilities faced on campus. Co-researchers expressed ideas and often others added or offered appropriate challenges to ideas. The discussions naturally culminated into a desire to use weekly meetings as a collection of narrative data illustrating the experiences of students with disabilities on campus—similar to the concept of storytelling. Each week, the group discussed issues related to being a student with a disability on campus and how these experiences have impacted them psychologically, behaviorally, socially, and academically. Co-researchers told their stories, shared their emotions, and retold second-hand experiences of friends and peers. At the end of the meetings, one of the authors sent an email summary of the meeting to the team. After about three months of weekly discussions, co-researchers were presented by the authors with the idea of what to do with all of the data that had been passionately shared amongst the group.

Due to the vast amount of rich data collected by the group, the team decided that dividing the narratives into themes would be a way to help organize the information. Based on the summaries and memories of the past few weeks, co-researchers created themes that represented their lived experiences. It took about three to four meetings to explore and confirm the themes. At the end of each meeting, the themes were e-mailed to the group for review. The themes that had been created from the previous weeks were repeated at the start of the new meetings and co-researchers offered feedback. Often times, themes were not rejected, but combined with another similar theme. After the themes were confirmed and approved by the co-researchers, the themes were emailed to the group and distributed in writing as well as reviewed verbally at a meeting. Co-researchers were encouraged to share any concerns, changes, or ideas to the themes in the group meeting or to email their ideas. Group members tended to bring up concerns within the group or if they knew they would be absent, emailed the team to ensure their ideas were brought into the group in their absence (see Results section for description of each theme).

Once the themes were generated and confirmed, the PAR group expressed the importance of sharing this information with the university community in order to elicit awareness and facilitate future change particularly related to campus inclusion. As their PAR Action Project, the co-researchers created an hour-long presentation on campus sharing the themes developed during the PAR weekly meetings.

To examine the effects of participating in the PAR project on the co-researchers, a focus group was held during the last PAR meeting (after the PAR Action Project presentation) and conducted for approximately 45-minutes at the university counseling center conference room. Co-researchers consented to participate in the focus group and be audiotaped. The focus group was performed using a semi-structured interview guide inquiring about the co-researchers' experiences in participating in the PAR study. The focus group was led by the faculty co-researcher who had prior qualitative interviewing experience. The co-researchers were asked the following questions: "How do you think your feelings or thoughts about your disability have changed over your PAR work?", "How do you think your experience with PAR impacted your experience on campus?", "How do you think your experience with PAR impacted your ability to advocate for yourself?", and "How do you think PAR influenced your future career path?". Audio files were transcribed verbatim by an outside transcription service and then checked by two faculty/staff co-researchers for accuracy.

Participants

A total of 111 students responded to campus-wide email blasts and responded to an online screening survey. Of these 111 students, 69 students provided contact information and were invited for an introductory meeting to learn more about participating in the PAR study. Fourteen students attended the introductory meeting and consented to participate in the PAR project. There were 13 students (age range between 18 to 34) who completed the initial online survey and 10 students attended at least one PAR team meeting. The weekly discussions included six faculty/staff co-researchers from interdisciplinary areas including the school of social welfare, office of disability support services, and university counseling center.

One student reported their race as Black/African American, three students identified as Hispanic/Latino, seven students identified as White, and two students identified as other (biracial and West Indian). Six students identified their disability as psychological, two students identified having a learning disability, and five students identified a medical disability. Seven students reported that they were registered with the university's office of disability support services. Of note, due to the anonymity of the study survey that was collected online, the survey responses of the ten student co-researchers who consistently attended the PAR team meetings were not able to be distinguished from the 13 total students who completed the survey. The study sample size was found to be sufficient for the focus group particularly in reaching data saturation and diversity of perceptions (Krueger & Casey, 2010). In reviewing prior PAR projects, sample sizes ranged between 8 to 19 participant co-researchers (Agarwal et al., 2015; Fine et al., 2003; Foster-Fishman, Law, Litchy, & Aoun, 2010; Oyler, 2012; Smith et al., 2010; Smith & Romero, 2010).

Data Analysis

Two of the faculty/staff co-researchers (MB and AD) analyzed the focus group data using constant comparison analytic methods (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Data analysis involved reading through the focus group transcript while listening to the audio file to construct a list of response themes. The analysis involved each researcher individually coding the transcript to inductively determine the main ideas or themes (Strauss & Corbin, 1999). Upon completion of individual coding, the researchers met to compare their individually coded themes and reconciled any discrepancies that were found until reaching consensus of main focus group themes. The reconciliation process is important to qualitative research as it helps to minimize biases, accounts for all researchers' points of view during the coding process, as well as ensures that fundamental data are not discounted (Hill et al., 2005).

Results

The PAR study resulted in several important outcomes that highlighted the co-researchers' campus related experiences as students with disabilities. The following describes the 1) themes related to campus-life experiences that the co-researchers' discussed and compiled as part of the weekly PAR meetings, 2) the PAR Action Project presentation to the campus community, and 3) the individual and community impacts of the PAR study.

Describing Students with Disabilities' Campus-Life Experiences

Co-researchers discussed various topics related to the challenges university students with disabilities faced over the course of the PAR weekly meetings held over a period of approximately seven months. A major area that tied several of the 12 identified themes together was the recognition that there is often a lack of awareness regarding people with disabilities and the supports needed. Without such an awareness, people with disabilities directly and indirectly feel invisible. The themes generated by the co-researchers and the PAR Action Project presentation brought light to the lived experiences of students with disabilities. The co-researchers devised the following 12 themes after extensive conversations and opportunities to modify the themes through the course of the weekly meetings. The following themes highlight co-researchers' experiences as students with disabilities on campus. These themes ranged from the physical layout of the university to interpersonal interactions to internal experiences.

The first theme, navigating campus resources, highlighted significant challenges in seeking student support services on campus. For example, co-researchers shared that there was significant distance between offices for disability support services as well as poor office building signage for these services. Co-researchers also mentioned that the office of disability support services was not located on the campus map, which they agreed contributed to students not being aware of services or simply how to locate them. More specifically, discussions focused on the physical and psychological impacts of managing available campus resources. In addition, four co-researchers timed the walking distance between two frequently used support offices for students with disabilities, the offices for disability services and university counseling center. These co-researchers found that on average, it took almost nine minutes to walk between the two office buildings. The co-researchers expressed that there have been times when they had gone back and forth more than once a day and how this impacted their other responsibilities. Discussions on this topic highlighted how a physical disability further complicated and lengthened the distance between the buildings.

The second theme, stigma related to invisible and physical disabilities explained the psychological and physical challenges related to having an invisible (e.g., cognitive disability, mental illness) versus a visible (e.g., physical) disability. Some shared that professors and peers have made negative comments to students with invisible disabilities indicating that they do not have one. On the other hand, students with a physical disability spoke about professors and peers assuming they had invisible disabilities as well. This theme includes the stigma that was overtly and covertly portrayed to students with disabilities.

Third, isolation from peers, described co-researchers' feelings of alienation from other students, and a belief that it is harder to make friends as well as a debate on the impact of disclosing their disabilities to peers. Co-researchers highlighted a desire for spaces and groups that allowed students with disabilities to meet other students to build friendships and exchange resources. The next theme, no formal peer program, focused on how co-researchers believed there was a need for formal peer programming that would allow students with disabilities to connect with one another as well as allow students with disabilities to feel more recognized by the university.

The co-researchers also discussed the theme of internalized stigma, which emphasized their concerns regarding character flaws, loving self with stigma, and struggling to complete tasks after being told they were not capable. The sixth theme of self-care described how students with disabilities must adjust to the expansive amounts of free time in college, which was challenging, especially while living in a dorm or having limited privacy throughout the day.

The theme of having limited mentorship explained co-researchers' lack of professors who were knowledgeable about supporting students with disabilities, which contributed to difficulties in finding mentors to help them navigate their fields of interest. The theme of physical construction of the university impacts mobility, drew attention to how larger college campuses can be challenging for many students with physical disabilities regarding mobility and access. For instance, co-researchers shared that cracks in the pavements as well as malfunctioning automatic doors and elevators were significant impediments to their mobility on campus.

For the adjusting to college life theme, co-researchers discussed the struggles related to beginning their undergraduate careers and adjusting to the college environment as students with disabilities. The co-researchers emphasized the limited information disseminated about university disability resources at new student orientation and the challenges in managing the orientation program with a physical (e.g., spaces) and/or psychological disability (e.g., expectations to be in large crowds). Those who were not able to attend certain orientation events, due to not having accommodations, expressed concerns for academic and social consequences.

Overall, as the co-researchers entered the university, they shared a limited sense of belongingness, expressed developing learned helplessness, having less support than when in high school, and lacking education regarding the challenges of having a disability as an adult. These notions led to the transitioning from adolescence to adulthood theme, which described how co-researchers experienced challenges related to the differences in having a disability as a child or adolescent in school versus having a disability as an adult in college. For instance, co-researchers with cerebral palsy shared that resources in primary and secondary schools were prevalent; however, limited once they entered college. An emphasis was made on not knowing how to enter adulthood with cerebral palsy.

Next, the supports post-graduation theme described co-researchers' concerns regarding how to navigate resources after college especially in terms of career and graduate school planning. Lastly, the having to work harder theme emphasized the overall challenges of having a learning disability, physical limitation, or psychological difficulty and how that related to needing to work harder than other students to complete their post-secondary education goals.

PAR Action Project: Generating Community Awareness

The PAR Action Project developed by the co-researchers involved an hour-long presentation to 38 members of the campus community. The research team extended an invitation to University's ADA Advisory Committee, senior administrators as well as co-researchers' student peers and parents. Co-researchers believed in the importance of disseminating the PAR themes to the campus community particularly to members of the ADA Advisory Committee who are key administrators involved in supporting the needs of students and staff with disabilities, thus, the purpose of the presentation was to generate awareness of the experiences of students with disabilities. As a group, the co-researchers devised a PowerPoint presentation that introduced PAR, provided a background on university students with disabilities, PAR study methodology, the 12 themes generated from the weekly PAR group meetings, and future directions/recommendations for university programming and policies.

Individual and Community Impacts of PAR

Individual Impact

After the PAR Action Project presentation, co-researchers met a final time to conduct a focus group to learn about the overall experiences of co-researchers participating in the study. Constant comparison methods used to analyze the focus group data revealed six themes. The themes were identified after two research team members individually coded the focus group data. Following constant comparison sessions in which the two researchers compared and evaluated each of the identified themes and reconciled coding discrepancies (Lincoln & Guba, 1985), a total of six themes (empowerment, changed view of disability, being recognized as an individual, feeling supported/not alone, validation, and that change is possible) were confirmed.

Overall, co-researchers reported feelings of empowerment as a result of participating in the PAR study including the Action Project presentation. One co-researcher reported that "even though it was completely different years and different people, you know? And it felt empowering, it honestly felt empowering." Another co-researcher shared that during the project presentation, they had recognized a staff member in the audience that they had once interacted with stating that:

"…the last time they saw me I was distraught to say the least. And so, I was sitting there and I'm like, 'oh God, there's that person'. And I was like, how do I like, I hope this comes across good…like they don't give me the same perception they gave me last semester or last year, whatever…so it was challenging but definitely think I felt more empowered to go against these people and to hopefully make a difference from what they thought they had right in their minds at the time."

Additionally, co-researchers described a changed view of their disability. It was shared by a co-researcher that "it made me see my disability, or differently abled, instead of a negative or having to be forced to advocate, to more as, wow this could really be a positive thing". Another co-researcher mentioned that participating in the PAR study had "impacted my disability is that I feel like it's one of the very few times that my disability has been seen in a lightful way, in a positive way".

Some co-researchers described a sense of recognition for being "more than just" a student with a disability more specifically, one co-researched shared that "it felt nice to actually be recognized from the department and be seen as a person." Additionally, another co-researcher described:

"… like it wasn't, oh these are the issues going on in campus and we need to fix them. Like it makes me tear up, but it was one of the few times that people came up to us and was like, you by a name, like that was a great job, thank you for the presentation, like yes, we're actually human beings, you know."

Another theme of feeling supported and not alone was conveyed in the focus group particularly among faculty and staff. One co-researcher in particular shared that they felt "…really supported. We were really rooted for. And our voices, it was like you guys opened up a box of Pandora for us, but we were given that space. It was like the first time faculty allowed us that space." Along these lines, another co-researcher shared that "it was the first time the staff was like, no I got your back too, you know. That's how it felt it was the first time the faculty was like, you're gonna be heard."

The theme of validation of co-researchers' feelings was also found. For example, one co-researcher explained that "before the project like you know a lot of us were like, oh we have these experiences, but do other people have these experiences?" Finally, the theme of change is possible was revealed by co-researchers. Two co-researchers were particularly impacted by being a part of the project presentation stating that "this was literally a presentation and it changed so much. It was just starting the talk" as well as another co-researcher mentioning "just to be able to join them and say here's my story for 30 minutes. How can this help? That's amazing. So, I would say when it comes to PAR and how it's changed my life, it's just recognizing that we could make a difference." Overall, the co-researchers shared positive experiences in participating in the PAR study and found that the Action Project presentation was especially powerful and empowering for them to be able to not only find validation of their lived experiences with their peers but to also share their experiences more widely with the campus community.

Community Impact

As a result of this study, several programming changes were initiated on campus, which can draw attention to and inform changes needed at other higher education institutions. After the PAR Action Project presentation to the campus community, co-researchers were invited to participate in university-wide events (e.g., campus colloquium on disability awareness) and to various university-wide committees to inform programming and structural changes on campus (e.g., ADA Advisory Committee). University administrators used findings from the PAR study to inform the re-design of the university's office of disability support services' including informational resources (i.e., created student informational cards indicating the office of disability support services location on the campus map), creation of a designated sensory room where students can receive or exclude sensory input and work on self-regulating behavior, and a peer mentoring program that includes animal assistance programming and social engagement initiatives involving networking and peer relations. The office of disability support services also initiated faculty and staff lunch and learn workshops to share knowledge on engaging students with disabilities in the classroom and answering faculty questions regarding disability accommodations and best practices. All of these initiatives highlight the strong impact of including students' voices to inform campus inclusion.

Discussion

Through the PAR project, co-researchers voiced a variety of challenges presented to them as students with disabilities. As co-researchers channeled these ideas into themes, they were able to feel a sense of empowerment and connectedness that was described as lacking within the disability community. The co-researchers were, in part, no longer alone with feelings or thoughts of inferiority, discrimination, or normalcy. Not only were weekly exploratory discussions found to be enlightening, but the presentation took co-researchers' feelings of community to a systemic level. The co-researchers were heard and responded to by a wider audience. Not all challenges were reduced or eliminated, yet, a chip was made on individual and systems levels. This project produced important findings to help support universities at-large and gave rise to the idea that PAR can be used as a type of psychological intervention (although not as a replacement for counseling services) for those who experience discrimination and marginalization. The authors call for further studies to examine more of the nuances of using PAR as a psychological intervention.

Findings are also in line with prior research that confirm the need for inclusive learning and social environments, improved access to accommodations, increased collaboration between all university gatekeepers, and programming and policies to combat negative attitudes and beliefs towards students with disabilities (Lightfoot, Janemi, & Rudman, 2018; Sachs & Schreuer, 2011). The design of this project was tailored to be a collaborative experience between students, staff, and faculty and after the PAR Action Project, administrators were added. Collaboration was viewed as a key component in opening up an inclusive environment that opened doors for change. The voices and actions of all parties involved facilitated pieces of change for students with disabilities and these factors led to a meaningful experience.

Despite positive experiences engaging in the PAR project process and outcomes, several of the co-researchers expressed a continued concern about prolonging the discussion on campus about supporting the needs of students with disabilities. The co-researchers questioned whether their impact and the university-wide programmatic changes made would last past the conclusion of the study. It is imperative that postsecondary institutions incorporate programming and policies similar to those described in the outcomes of the present study in order to support all students with disabilities pursuing higher education. It is recommended that institutions develop and implement a coordinated approach to optimize resources and knowledge in providing technical assistance to postsecondary schools in supporting students with disabilities especially in providing accessible online educational activities and universal learning design (Kent, 2015; Wilson, 2017). Additionally, it is suggested that institutions of higher education incorporate greater disability awareness community programming, disability in their diversity initiatives, incorporate student voices when making campus-wide decisions, and integrate more information on student support services for students with disabilities for new and transfer student orientations.

While the present study adds to the current body of PAR research with university students with disabilities including the ability to empower and foster connection among students with disabilities, several limitations should be considered. The project relied upon a small, convenience sample of students available through campus-wide email blasts at one public university therefore, findings may not be generalizable to or feasible at other institutions. Also, due to the anonymity of the survey responses the authors were unable to specifically report how the co-researchers identified in terms of their race and gender. These characteristics were disclosed during weekly discussions; however, were not documented by the quantitative data collection that was used for the study to identify demographics. In addition, there was a challenge in recruiting a large committed student population to participate in the project. This challenge in recruitment may have been due to the time commitment that is required for a PAR project (e.g., committing to two hours weekly over a seven month period), students feeling uncomfortable with the prospect of sharing their personal experiences in a group space, and/or internalized feelings of stigma about identifying as having a disability. Lastly, the first email blasts were sent during the middle of the semester, which is often a busy time for students with midterm exams and it can be a challenge to commit to new opportunities.

Future research should include larger, more diverse recruitment of college students from various universities as well as implement longitudinal designs. This study demonstrates the power of incorporating students' voices in creating university programming initiatives that not only supports their academic success but also allows students to feel heard and supported as they engage with the campus community. Success in increasing campus inclusion of all students requires a collaboration among key university gatekeepers and students particularly in support of students who may not have visible disabilities.

Acknowledgements

This study was supported by a university presidential grant for departmental diversity initiatives. The authors would like to thank Dr. Ariana Robesco for her contributions to the study and Drs. Marisa Bisiani and Julian Pessier for their support.

Conflict of Interest & Disclosure Statement: The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest and no financial interest or benefit arising from the direct applications of this research.

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