Page 2- The Michigan Daily - Thursday, September 8, 1988
BY JIM PONIEWOZIK
When Dar Vander Beek was seven
years old, she had a friend, Jim, who
used to tease her during recess. So
she decided to play a joke on him.
"You hit me one more time with
that ball," she threatened, "and
they'll take my leg off."
JIM THREW the ball at her.
Less than a month later, doctors
amputated her right leg, hip, and half
of her pelvis.
"Poor Jim went through the
hardest time," said Vander Beek, now
director of University Disabled Stu-
dent Services, almost 30 years later.
She smiles now as she recalls the
story, but the memory of losing a
limb to cancer is still strong enough
to bring tears to her eyes.
But not for long. Just as knowing
that she faced amputation did not
prevent second-grader Vander Beek
from playing the prank, neither has
confinement to her "Fortress" - an
electric wheelchair - prevented the
adult Vander Beek from leading an
INDEED, AS she sits behind
the desk of her ground floor Michi-
gan Union office, rattling off a list
of DSS programs or playing with
her dog, Bree, it is easy to forget
that she is under any physical burden
She is cheery, vital. She gestures
vigorously, jokes, talks about her
rose garden at home and a recent
shopping trip. Her disability only
becomes apparent as she springs up
on one foot to retrieve a set of doc-
And, as she recalls her struggle
with cancer, the pain - physical and
emotional - becomes apparent as
"My parents weren't talking to
me about how sick I was, but I'd
hear at night," she said. "I would
overhear my mother crying... I'd
hear them arguing... 'She's not go-
ing to live' - 'Don't say that.' My
dad was into denial."
EVEN AFTER Vander Beek
went through the amputation -
beating, though at a loss, the illness
which doctors said she had less than
a one percent chance of surviving -
her parents pushed her to "be nor-
mal," she said, which often meant
discouraging her from associating
with other handicappers.
"I was getting ready for my first
date," Vander Beek said. "And my
Mom said, 'I never wanted to see
you dating a handicapped person.' I
said, 'Well, why?' And she looked at
me and said, 'Because you can do
better than that."'
"I said, 'Mom, how many sons
are getting the same line from their
mothers and therefore will not date
me?'... She started crying and said,
'Oh, I didn't realize what I just
Because of the pressure on her to
deny her condition - only recently
has she started to talk to her parents
at length about the amputation -
she was left to cope alone with
much of the resulting psychological
she calls them - she also acts as a
counselor and friend, often going
beyond her normal duties to recom-
mend grocery stores or lend a student
her home computer.
And when "her students" graduate,
they each receive the same gift from
her - a box of stationery containing
stamped envelopes addressed to her.
Vander Beek's present and past
co-workers describe her as a crusader,
a determined worker not afraid to act
aggressively in order to ensure that
disabled students have as much op-
portunity to learn as other students.
LOUISE Shoemaker, who as-
sisted Vander Beek during her tenure
as director of disabled student ser-
vices at Hope College, praised her as
a "wonderful public speaker" who
revolutionized the college's disabled
programs by assertively "saying 'we
need to do something here."'
"She has pretty much single-
handedly... brought a number of de-
partments and units within the Uni-
versity into the realm of working to
accommodate the needs of disabled
students and staff," said Roselle
Wilson, associate vice president for
student services and Vander Beek's
One issue on which Vander Beck
has taken University administration
to task was her request that the Uni-
versity supply sign language inter-
preters in classes containing hearing
"They gulped," said Vander Beek,
at the $15,000 per student annual
price tag that the program will carry.
"But then I showed them the federal
and state laws" which require that
interpreters be provided. The
University gave in.
BUT IN SPITE of the Univer-
sity's reluctance on some issues, she
said, it has usually been willing 'to
adapt. "Sometimes they just don't
know what they need to do," she
said. "Sometimes you just hear
'budget.' But so far, when I've called
on an issue... there's been resolu-
There are still exceptions,
though. One notable example, she
said, is Hill Auditorium, where pa-
trons in wheelchairs are. forced to
watch performances from behind
pillars at the back of the auditorium.
Ironically, she noted, the auditorium
will host disabled violinist Itzhak
Perlman this month.
"If a person with a handicapping
characteristic... (can't see) Itzhak
Perlman in concert, then this Uni-
versity is not program-accessible" -
which federally-funded institutions
are legally required to be, she said.
And the psychological barriers
facing the disabled are often even
greater, Vander Beek said. Handi-
capped persons regularly have to face
disdain and revulsion from what she
calls "temporarily able-bodied" peo-
VANDER BEEK expresses her
perceptions of this attitude by para-
phrasing a popular poem.
strain and guilt, Vander Beck said.
"I GREW up thinking it was
my fault," Vander Beek said. "The
first time that I had cancer surgery,
they told me I had a bad tissue in my
leg, and they had to get in there and
take it out. Well, in the mind of a
child, I ate a Kleenex, and it was my
fault... and then it was my fault that
the family was going through a
But ironically, her disability
actually benefitted her in a way by
pushing her toward higher education
- although not necessarily for the
right reasons, she said.
"In high school, I heard things
like, 'You'll never find a man dumb
enough to marry you (she eventually
married and later divorced), so you'll
have to go to college'... which is
not only a sexist comment, but what
I call an 'ableist' comment," Vander
The ordeal also left her with an
appreciation for the problems of
others, which not only led her to
become a camp counselor and a Big
Sister while in high school, but also
caused her assume the role of coun-
selor to many of her peers.
of a limb,
"I NEVER DATED in high
school," she said, "but I was every-
body's Dear Abby."
The "counselor" facet of her per-
sonality eventually developed into a
career; after graduating from Califor-
nia State University at Sacramento
in 1975, she went to work as a
counselor and director at offices for
disabled students at CSU, Hope
College, and here.
Since taking over the Univer-
sity's Disabled Student Services in
1986, Vander Beck has become
known as a vocal advocate of dis-
Speaking before a Michigan Civil
Rights Commission inquiry on
campus last April, Vander Beek
likened the status of the disabled to
that of American Blacks before the
civil rights movement of the 1960s.
ALLUDING to the fight
against segregation laws which re-
stricted Blacks to sitting in the backs
of public buses, Vander Beek said,
"Disabled students are still waiting
to get on the bus" at the University.
In addition to lobbying on behalf
of her office's more than 220 dis-
abled clients - "my students," as
See Purple cow, Page 4
ABOUT THE IDENTITY SECTION
This year is the first the New Student Edition has included an Identity section - a section
devoted to students of color, women, gay, lesbian, and disabled students. Unlike most of the
NSE, Identity was conceived and written primarily by non-Daily staffers who wanted to share
their insights and experiences with the University community.
The Identity staff certainly does not represent all people, or all points of view. Put the issues
raised in this section are among the most important facing our University, and our society, 'today.
We encourage students to use the Daily as means of continuing to raise and debate these issues
on campus, and to tell us how we can better do so ourselves.
Because of space constraints, not all the material originally written for this section appears
here; however, readers can find additional articles dealing with issues of identity in the News
Thanks to Victoria Baecher, Adoleena Gonzalez, Delro Harris, Deyar Jamil, Jane Kang, Linda
Kurtz, Curt Lim, Jennifer Liu, Francis Matthews, Tracye Matthews, Pam Nadasen, Terri Park,
Todd Shaw, Joanna Su, Lillien Waller, Veronica Woolridge, and Rachel Zachariah for their time
and effort on this section.
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