On Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, I was diagnosed with a chronic ACL tear in my right knee. As I stared at the mangled mess of muscles that used to be my knee on the screen displaying my MRI results, I wondered how I was able to move at all. To put an end to four long years of suffering, I’m finally going to be having reconstructive surgery on Monday, Dec. 11, 2023. 

I originally tore my ACL on Feb. 3, 2019, while ice skating with some friends during my junior year of high school. I fell directly onto my knee and was in an incredible amount of pain, but I was eventually able to walk home and figured nothing too bad had happened. I played a lot of sports as a kid and was used to getting injured. The pain started flaring up again in 2021, right before my first year of college, and I got my first MRI that June. That was when I was told that my ACL was degrading, and I would eventually need reconstructive surgery, but that I could wait a few years. Now, my time is officially up. 

Over the past couple of years, I’ve slowly realized that getting this operation was inevitable. When I first got to campus in August 2021, I could walk from Writer’s Block to the CVS on Main Street and back, but I needed to rest for at least an hour afterwards before I could walk again. These days, I’m lucky if I can make the walk between Exley and Fauver without feeling it in my knees (yes, both of them hurt now) for the rest of the day.

As a result of the worsening pain, I’ve been walking with a three-pronged cane that turns into a chair, a reinforced knee brace for my right knee, and a compression brace for my left knee (which is necessary because it’s taken on the role of supporting most of my body weight as I walk). I’m even borrowing a wheelchair from a professor for the days when I can barely move.

I got the cane during the spring semester of my sophomore year, when I studied abroad in Paris and  quickly understood that I wouldn’t make it through my semester without a mobility aid. By the end of my time in France, I had to be carried up and down the stairs by my professors during a field trip because I could hardly stand. 

Part of the reason I’ve waited this long to get surgery is because I’m so incredibly scared of it. Despite the overwhelming pain I’ve been in every day, I felt that it was preferable to going under the knife. Even though the operation is already scheduled for next week, this past weekend—in a desperate attempt to prove to myself that I am actually able-bodied and don’t need to get surgery—I walked all the way from Fauver to Summies and back to get food. I felt like I was going to collapse halfway through. When I got home, my legs were burning so much from the exertion and their inability to support me that I didn’t need a blanket to keep me warm, even though it was freezing in my room. And the only reason I didn’t fall over during the walk was because I was wearing two knee braces and leaning heavily on my cane.

Because of this progression of events, my injury has become classified as a short-term disability. I take the medical ride—a service run by the University from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday through Friday—to get to every single one of my classes. As of the time of writing, I have taken the medical ride 232 times, waited an average of six minutes per ride, and spent an average of six minutes in the van per trip. This evens out to an average commute time of 12 minutes, but with a maximum wait time of 24 minutes and drive time of 11 minutes. I have to call at least 20 minutes early to make sure I make it on time to all my classes, and I’ve still been late sometimes. These long wait times are mostly due to the high volumes of calls and strange Middletown traffic patterns, and not the medical ride drivers. I love the medical ride drivers. Rocco, Rick, Joe, and Randy are all really nice; they know my schedule and where I live because I call so often, and they have been an incredible support system for me throughout this nightmare semester. 

You may be asking, “Caleb, what do you do on weekends when the medical ride isn’t running?” That’s a great question! I struggle. My options are as follows: (1) call Public Safety, hope they will take pity on me and are not tied up with anything else, and wait for them to give me a ride; (2) call the ride service that starts at 6:30 p.m. and runs until 2 a.m., and hope I have enough energy to hobble up the stairs of the bus or the giant step between the van and the street; or (3) give up and stay home. I opt for the third option more often than not. Most of the time, I can’t even eat dinner outside my apartment because of how early the medical ride ends. It’s been horrible to lose a large portion of my agency over where and when I go places. 

In addition to losing my agency over how long it takes me to get places, I’ve lost a lot of control over where I can live. Last March, I applied for a housing accommodation because of how limited my mobility had become, and was told that doing so would prevent me from living in a five-person Fauver. Fauver was exactly where I needed to be. It had an elevator, a bench in the shower for me to sit on, two (mostly) accessible entrances, and laundry on the first floor.

But housing accommodations at this school are only made for individual people, and I was told my options were to take a chance with the 41 housing options (out of 65 total for five-person groups) that were at least sort of accessible to me and hope that I landed in a Fauver, or remove myself from my housing group to live in a single in Hewitt or a two-room double in the Nics. I chose to test my luck and managed to get the last available Fauver, which I am incredibly grateful for, but my group was one bookmark away from disbanding.

However, the University has helped me in one area: getting accommodations for classroom locations. After I got my classes during pre-registration, the Registrar’s office looked through my classes and made sure that my classrooms were in slightly more accessible buildings. Anyone who goes to school on this campus will know that almost every single building is inaccessible, entered only through a set of stairs and lacking an elevator to allow me to reach classrooms on higher floors. 

Despite these efforts, the buildings where my classes ended up in—the Romance Languages and Literature building, Fisk, and Exley—are only semi-accessible to me. I have to enter Fisk through the back door (and walk up a steep hill to reach it from the parking lot), my classroom in Exley has a small set of steps and I needed to get a key from Public Safety to take a wheelchair lift so that I could enter the room at all, and I can’t go anywhere other than the first floor in the Romance Languages building. The fact that even after accommodations my classrooms are still difficult for me to enter is a testament to just how inaccessible this campus truly is to me. 

At the beginning of this semester, I felt like the University was no longer a place where I belonged. I met with Accessibility Services, who informed me that their purpose was to support students with lifelong disabilities, and that I needed to speak to Davison Health Center about what support I needed for my injury. They never once allowed me to call my injury a disability, despite the numerous restrictions it placed on my quality of life, and Davison defaulted to telling me to find support elsewhere whenever I asked for help.

I’ve sent countless emails to my dean trying to figure out how to get better support, and even brought my case to the Office of Equity and Inclusion. No one could provide me with the help I needed, and the conclusion I came to after a month and a half of having meetings with all of these administrators was that I should just give up and accept my fate. 

But I got lucky. My friend and housemate, Opinion Editor, Archivist, and Assistant Head Copy Editor Sam Hilton ’25 drives me to The Argus office every Monday and Thursday and carries me up the stairs to our second-floor office so that I can still fulfill my duties as an editor. My boyfriend, Editor-in-Chief Elias Mansell ’24, pushes me around campus in my borrowed wheelchair at night so I can get to and from work and Teaching Assistant (TA) sessions when I’m in too much pain to try taking the ride. One of the students I TA for drives me home from work when he can; my bosses at the Writing Center have allowed me to do all of my work virtually; classmates hold the door open for me so I can get into buildings where the automatic button doesn’t work; my professors haven’t punished me when I’ve been late to class for reasons out of my control. I’m infinitely grateful for the community that surrounds me and takes care of me in my time of greatest need. 

However, I believe the University can provide better support to physically disabled students, whether their disabilities are short-term like mine or more permanent. I was not allowed to borrow a wheelchair from the Davison Health Center as they deemed it a safety risk and believed I would roll myself into traffic. I was fortunate enough to be able to borrow one from a professor, but students who need mobility aids to get around campus should be given the opportunity to borrow them from Davison.

The medical ride is fantastic and a life-saving service for me, but students with disabilities shouldn’t have to lose their ability to get around campus on weekends or nights. The regular ride should be made physically accessible, and weekend daytime transportation services are critical for making sure students can have access to food if they can’t walk to get it.

Housing accommodations should not serve to limit students from having the opportunity to experience independence with their friends, and should allow students with physical disabilities to live in more accessible dorm options rather than making them suffer through a housing selection process that doesn’t guarantee their needs are met. All of these requests should be more than possible given the University’s large endowment and donor support. 

On a campus that prides itself on creating a welcoming and supportive environment for all students, it’s unacceptable to treat any one of us like we don’t belong here because of a condition we have little control over. It’s unacceptable to have placed so many limits on my experience here as a student this year. And while there is an escape for me because I’m getting surgery in a few days and will be able to recover and return to a mostly normal student life next semester, this kind of treatment should never be extended to any other students who come after me. 

I have a disability, despite what the University says, and I deserve to be treated better. No one should ever have a nightmare semester like this again.


Caleb Henning is a member of the class of 2025 and can be reached at chenning@wesleyan.edu