Members of the Syracuse University community came together to share a meal—virtually—on Nov. 19, as the University held its 36th annual International Thanksgiving Dinner via Zoom. The celebration was started at the University in the 1980s by the Rev. T.E….
$1 Million Gift Launches fund to Aid Students with Disabilities
Syracuse University has received a $1 million gift from alumnus and former Orange basketball star George Hicker ’68 to launch a new fund to expand access and opportunities for students with disabilities.
Hicker, president of Cardinal Industrial Real Estate, based in Los Angeles, is a former SU Trustee with a longstanding interest in helping young people. The fund will carry the name of Hicker’s friend and former SU classmate Brian P. McLane ’69, one of the first students with a severe disability to attend the University.
“When we were enrolled at SU, Brian had to really fight to raise the consciousness of the administration and others on campus who were simply not aware of the challenges he faced on a daily basis,” Hicker says. “He was a collaborator and an advocate, and he got people to do what others might have deemed impossible. My goal for this fund is to help other young people with disabilities come to the University and achieve what Brian and I were both able to achieve here.”
McLane says he too wants prospective students and their parents to identify Syracuse University as the kind of institution that can make attending college a reality for them. “Many students with disabilities are not going to college because they see limited options or they believe a campus cannot give them the access and supports they need,” McLane says.
Hicker’s gift is meant to enhance the University’s national reputation as a place that meets and supports the logistical needs of students with disabilities. Nationally, and on the Syracuse campus, the number of students self-identifying as having a disability is on the rise, with the largest segment of those students reporting they have a learning disability.
“George Hicker’s generous gift honors the ongoing legacy of an extraordinary man, and it does so in the most fitting way possible,” says Chancellor and President Kent Syverud. “It will perpetuate Brian McLane’s passionate advocacy on behalf of students with disabilities by ensuring they get the opportunities and resources they need to get a great education and to thrive here. George and Brian are examples of how our dedicated alumni are having a positive impact on the learning experiences of current and future generations of students, and we are deeply grateful to them.”
The new fund seeks to support four initial projects in the areas of facilities, campus transportation, personal assistance and web-based technology and infrastructure. One of the first projects to benefit from the new fund will be in web-based adaptive technology and infrastructure. The Office of Disability Services, Information Technology and Services, Marketing and Communications, and the SU Library will work to ensure that University websites and all online content maintain a consistent standard of accessibility across campus. Training and support for accessibility practices will be provided to faculty and staff along with education about the need for Computer-Assisted Real-time Translation and interpreting services at campus events.
In the area of facilities improvements, plans include enhancing directional signage, modifying restrooms and water fountains, and installing automatic doors at building entrances. In order to mitigate the impact of weather and topography on students as they travel across campus, the University is researching the viability of a flexible passenger transportation solution.
For students with extensive physical disabilities who require personal assistance, the University is looking to develop a support system that will assist with the recruitment, training and oversight of personal, one-on-one aides. All of these efforts require additional funding and resources.
Interim Vice President of Advancement and External Affairs Charles Merrihew says Hicker’s gift has already helped to generate interest and support from several other donors who believe an inclusive campus—one that’s welcoming and accessible to all—is critical for the University. “George’s gift, and the commitments that have followed, make us confident that the aspirations of these SU philanthropists will be realized in the months and years to come,” Merrihew says.
Joining Hicker in launching and supporting the new fund are SU Trustees John Chapple ’75 and Howard Phanstiel ’70, G’71; Coach Jim Boeheim; former NBA head coach Frank Hamblen ’69; Larry Bashe ’66, G’68; and Dan Kaseman ’80.
“My hope is that the creation of this fund will increase the numbers and the diversity by disability on this campus over the next several years,” McLane says. “George and I both envision a day when Syracuse University will be seen as a destination point by students with disabilities wishing to attend college.”