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At commuter school where parking can cost $15, protest follows change to handicapped spots

Administration explained the change. Did anyone read it?

Students and blue-collar workers at the University of Massachusetts-Boston revolted earlier this year when the commuter school hiked parking fees 150 percent.

When two parking spots with handicapped markings were paved over and redesignated with “authorized accessible” signs last month, students decided to protest again.

But their move appears to have missed one crucial bit of information: an email notifying campus what the new signs actually meant.

The administration told the university community Oct. 1 that the accessible spots next to the only dorms on campus were being “reclassified for the specific use of students with medical issues.”

Three days later, about 30 students waved signs and shouted at the Campus Center Terrace to protest the repaving of the spots, according to Mass Media, the school’s independent student newspaper.

On Thursday, The College Fix confirmed that the spots had been paved over to remove the original handicapped symbols. The new signs indicate that the spots are intended for “the residential community” (below).

The spots have long been prized on campus because they are accessible without toll booths. As a result, they have often been misused by people without disabilities.

Now, people have to coordinate with the Office of Housing and Residential Life to use them, one UMB student told The Fix. That means other students with disabilities have to pay to park at other lots.

MORENewman rails against ‘taxing the poor,’ hikes student parking fees 150%

The Office of Transportation Services told Mass Media that the spots were “never meant to be accessible parking,” but it’s not clear that it informed the newspaper about the Oct. 1 email explaining the change. The newspaper article makes no mention of it.

The UMB housing office did not immediately respond to a call and email from The Fix Thursday night, asking who exactly will be using the spots after the change.

With the redesignation of those spots, the closest parking for drivers with disabilities near the residence halls is now Lot D, which sits across the street and costs $15 a day.

‘You’re not really including anybody if you’re taking away their parking spots’

Parking problems at UMB can be traced back to financial mismanagement by the UMass system and corrupt state lawmakers, as documented by The Fix this summer.

The university system approved aggressive expansion plans for UMB based on inaccurate projections, including a “$65 million math error,” according to a Massachusetts-based research center.

UMB also chose to build an expensive new garage rather than demolish a dangerously unsafe garage that has been shuttered for 13 years. The administration jacked parking fees from $6 to up to $15 a day in certain lots to pay for that construction.

It didn’t help that Katherine Newman (below), the interim chancellor, built her academic career on railing against “taxing the poor,” sparking accusations of hypocrisy.

MORE: UMass System wants UMB students and grads to pay for its mistakes

Protest against the parking rate hike goes back two years, when administrators first proposed it.

A petition in the name of “faculty, staff, students, alumni, neighbors and other supporters” said the plan was a slap in the face to the “low-income and first-generation student population” that dominates UMB.

It called the hike “a backdoor pay-cut for our faculty and staff, many of whom have no choice but to drive to campus five days per week, and a backdoor tuition-increase for students who have no choice but to commute via automobile.”

The implementation of the $15 rate in February also sparked a protest by the professional staff union, which claimed to have been blindsided by the spike, CBS Boston reported. The administration said it notified the community twice before, in July and late December – perhaps a sign that large swaths of the community don’t read its announcements.

Student protesters appear to have been swept away by that narrative when they protested the unexplained redesignation of the two accessible spots by the dorms.

They bashed UMB higher-ups by chanting “This is not what inclusion looks like,” the Mass Media reported in Sunday’s edition. (The newspaper is published in print but not all articles are posted online. The Fix reviewed the print edition.)

“I’m feeling kind of angry because UMass Boston preaches diversity, but you’re not really including anybody if you’re taking away their parking spots,” one student told Mass Media. The administration also “wasted more money” by paving over the spots. (The report does not identify students beyond their first names.)

“Where is the president? Where are the administrators?” another protester asked.

One student, Mike, told the paper that “it is kind of dumb when people actually need those spots and they’ve been taken away.” He praised protesters who came out “in solidarity for some people who probably might not be able to do that or who might not feel comfortable doing that themselves.” (The article doesn’t specify how many protesters appeared to have such disabilities.)

MORE: UMB employees steal bundles of campus paper to stop ‘bad publicity’

Dominic said that “as a son of an amputee, and a lot of people in my family also have the right to use accessible parking, I think it is totally asinine that the university had the audacity to remove these spots.”

Using a megaphone, the protesters “could be heard from all around campus,” chanting “access for all” and carrying signs that said the same thing. Other original signage read in magic marker “authorized parking is ostracized parking,” according to photographs in the report.

Another protester complained that the administration made the decision “unilaterally without the input or messaging of the campus community.”

It’s also not clear whether the Undergraduate Student Government was informed that the redesignation was intended to serve students with medical issues.

Mass Media reported that the body met with the Office of Transportation Services, with student senators questioning and criticizing the repaving of the spots. It’s not specified what the office told them in response, other than the spots would not be changed back.

The Fix could not find a date for the alleged meeting or any other information about it online.

Announcement did not describe physical alteration of parking

When The Fix asked the administration for comment Thursday, a spokesperson forwarded an Oct. 1 email from Diane D’Arrigo, assistant vice chancellor for campus services, that large swaths of campus appeared to have missed. (Among them: the author of this article.)

Titled “Accessible Parking and Transportation on Campus,” it laid out “improvements undertaken to enhance and expand accessible parking and transportation options” on campus.

One of them is an Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible shuttle van that makes stops at several points “around the inner-core of campus” five days a week.

Mentioned near the end: “two parking spaces located near Residence Hall East are being reclassified for the specific use of students with medical issues” in the dorms. It did not mention how the spots would be physically altered.

It’s not clear that all staff in the Office of Transportation Services knew about these changes, either.

Before connecting with the spokesperson, The Fix called the transportation office to ask if it was reconsidering the redesignation of the spots following the meeting with the student government. The woman who answered the phone said that no one was available at the moment who could comment.

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IMAGES: Alexander Pease

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Alexander Pease is an undergraduate student at the University of Massachusetts Boston, majoring in political science. Alexander enjoys live music, drumming, all things politics, and his pet Shiba Inu.