Helfaer Theatre is a four-story building on Marquette’s campus that houses a stage and classrooms for students, many of which are theater majors, and professors. It provides a great place for learning and showing off the university’s talented students, but what it does not provide is reasonable accessibility.
In order for those unable to use the stairs to enter the building, they must take an out-of-the-way route. Once inside, there is no elevator, and the bathrooms are not wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs. Not only is this a problem for students with disabilities, but all patrons who attend the events.
The fact that there is no elevator in the building makes it more difficult for students with disabilities to access upper floors for classes or meet with professors. Students who participate in the theater’s plays shouldn’t have to worry about their friends or family members not being able to come to their productions because of accessibility problems.
These problems aren’t new. The building has had accessibility problems since it first opened in 1977. The Marquette Wire published an article in April 2016 detailing the accessibility problems. Then in November 2018, the Marquette Wire published another article on the issue.
Jack Bartelt, the director of disability services, said the office relies on people letting the university know what their needs are. People have publicly voiced their concerns, and the office is undoubtedly aware of these issues. Despite this, nothing is being done to fix the accessibility problems.
All students, families and alumni of Marquette should feel valued, but the delayed renovations are sending a different message by denying those with disabilities the necessity of accessibility.
The university should make renovations on Helfaer Theatre a priority, especially in light of planned renovations as part of the Campus Master Plan. It is unacceptable for the university to have a building on campus that does not accommodate the basic needs of students, patrons and professors. The school has the ability to switch classrooms for students with disabilities, but not the place a play is staged.
The lack of simple things like elevators and accommodating restrooms can cause embarrassment for students. No one should have to hobble up the stairs on crutches or struggle to enter the building.
Students should be proud of the work they produce and be able to show it off to whoever with ease. At this point, it is nearly impossible for students in wheelchairs or with other disabilities to take classes in that building with ease. With Helfaer Theatre lacking such simple accommodations, students may be forced to go so far as to select different classes because of their inability to navigate the building.
The university is several years into the Master Plan, with strategies in place for developments across campus. Despite this, the university has not made a statement as to whether renovations on Helfaer Theatre will be made anytime soon.
It is necessary that the university make these renovations a priority in the Master Plan and fundraising efforts. Marquette needs to demonstrate care and acceptance toward all students and community members, and making these renovations would be a huge step in doing so. The fact that such a prominent campus building lacks such basic amenities must be addressed with a sense of urgency.