Willa Peterson, Former Director of FSU Disability Services
These artifacts are very significant to the Fitchburg State University family. They are the remaining artifacts that the University owns from Willa Peterson who is a former faculty member of the university. One of the artifacts is Peterson’s FSC staff name tag, and another is a letter she had written to her students shortly before the final exam period had begun. The letter reads: “Dear Students: Good luck on finals! Congratulations to Paul for Who's Who; Tim for the MSCA Award; and Courtney for this year’s Garrett Conrad Award. Love, Willa.” This artifact is not just a letter to her students but a memory of the kind of person Willa was and the impact she made on the lives of those she encountered in and out of work.
Willa Peterson was the director of Disability Services at Fitchburg State from 2001 to 2005. After working with the University, she suddenly passed away from cancer. Willa was always described as kind, caring, and gentle; she made a huge impact on the lives of students and faculty members throughout the university. Many would say that she would always find a way to make her students feel like they were as equal as other students on campus. Because of Peterson, the campus has made many accommodations to those with physical disabilities. Thanks to her, the campus has become a better place for all students and faculty members.
Disability Services at Fitchburg State first started in the 1980’s; it was founded by Deborah Horton who had accommodated a little over thirty students who had disabilities. As the center progressed academically over the next few years, there still was a lot of work that needed to be done to the infrastructure of the campus to really accommodate those who do have disabilities. In the fall of 1993, two students, Jodie Silva and Christina Reed, volunteered to raise $15,000 to get a wheelchair lift in one of the buildings at the University. These two students were determined to get the wheelchair lift because they were interested in seeing how it would benefit the campus and they both had a form of disability that made them want to help out others with similar experiences. As the lack of accessibility affected more and more students, the effort in accommodating those with disabilities rose. Over the next nine years or so, those accommodations that once satisfied the twenty-five students who could benefit needed something more.
In the early 2000’s Willa Peterson took over as director of Disability Services, and numbers started to double with a total of 186 students enrolled by 2005. Around the same time, eleven students that were a part of disability services had gotten the chance to travel to England. Thanks to Peterson, these students got the chance to experience the same opportunities that those without disabilities do. She always made sure her students felt satisfied and equal.
Kellner, Lynne A., and Lisa Freden. “'If They Could See Me Now!': College Students Reflect on Their Experiences as Special Education Students in the K-12 System.” Review of Disability Studies, vol. 2, no. 1, 2006, pp. 58-76.
Maki, Julie. "Disability Services - A Historical Perspective." Honors English II , 30 Jan. 2020, Fitchburg State University. Class Presentation.
Semon S, Craig. “FSC community honors cherished administrator,” Telegram & Gazette, 20 May 2005.