One Spartan’s Will: The road to an inclusive Spartan Stadium
When senior Katie Feirer purchased student section tickets for the 2013 football season, she was excited to cheer on the Spartans with the rest of the student community. It didn’t work out that way at first.
What she discovered when she attended her first game was that Spartan Stadium’s wheelchair-accessible platform was not located in the student section. Instead, Feirer and other students who use wheelchairs were segregated from their peers. Worse, the section designated for them was located on the other side of the stadium in the visitor section.
“Imagine being a Spartan sitting in the visitor section during the Michigan-Michigan State game,” Feirer remembered. “It was horrible!”
Feirer wasn’t the first adaptive student to face this problem at the 92-year-old facility, but she was the first who took matters into her own hands.
“I just wanted to be able to sit in the student section with everyone else” Feirer stated firmly.
Bringing the issue to the attention of the President’s Advisory Committee on Disability Issues (PACDI), she was told that adding accessible seating to Spartan Stadium was on a list of renovations to Spartan athletic facilities that were awaiting financial support. Feirer refused to take that as an answer.
She began raising awareness and generating funds for the project on her own. She created a Facebook page that gained tremendous traction for the cause.
“It wasn’t what she raised, but what she did,” said Greg Ianni, deputy athletic director. “She got the attention of the decision makers on campus.”
This included catching the attention of the athletic directors and even MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon, according to Ianni. He said that inclusion has always been an MSU priority and Feirer’s drive and dedication encouraged the university’s leaders to reevaluate how to make the accessible platform possible immediately. Ianni said that he and Athletics Director Mark Hollis devised a plan to put the $850,000 project in action as quickly as possible.
Construction began in summer 2015.The accessible platform in the student section was ready by kickoff of the September 12 home opener against Oregon. The section includes 24 wheelchair seats, each with a designated companion seat. When space permits, the platform is open to accommodate non-students who require wheelchair seating at the 75,000-seat venue.
“It was through her passion and enthusiasm that she really moved the rock a bit,” Ianni said.
Moving the rock is nothing new for Katie Feirer. As the president of the Council of Students with Disabilities (CSD) and a member of Future Leaders in Sports Entertainment, she doesn’t shy away from tough competition. Feirer says her favorite sport to play is power hockey—part of MSU’s Adaptive Sport & Recreation Club—because of the physical contact.
“There’s a lot of collision involved,” she said. “I just love it!”
Feirer continues to advocate for inclusivity through her involvement with CSD, and additionally has hopes of moving to Chicago. Feirer, who currently handles social media as a student employee at MSU’s Recreational Sports and Fitness Services, said she intends to pursue a career in advertising and media management once she graduates in spring 2016.
In appreciation of the work of Feirer and PACDI, the Spartan Athletic Department installed a large, raised-lettered plaque in the student section in honor of Feirer and PACDI. The plaque reads:
“In recognition of the President’s Advisory Committee on Disability Issues (PACDI) and Ms. Katie Feirer, Class of 2016, for the contributions to the Michigan State University inclusive campus community. September 2015.”
“This is really representative of our institution,” Ianni said. “We saw a student’s need and we responded to it. It’s what the leadership here—all the way up to President Simon—advocates for, and this project is a prime example of that.”
According to Feirer, her greatest sense of accomplishment comes from simply sitting in the fully packed accessible section and rooting for MSU football with the rest of the student population. Which is exactly where she will be during the Maryland game on November 14.
Stop by and join her in a rousing, “Go Green!”