University settles with Office of Civil Rights in MavPODs complaint

On Mar. 15, Minnesota State University, Mankato signed a resolution agreement with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights regarding the MavPOD complaint sent in this past September.

MavPODs, which arrived on campus in late August, are individualized enclosed spaces where students and faculty can complete homework and attend meetings. 

The initial complaint, sent in by MSU Professor of Social Work Nancy Fitzsimons, stated the MavPODs placed around campus did not allow full access to all students, specifically those with mobility disabilities. Because of this, the MavPODs went against the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“When I had filed the complaint and talked with the representative who’s handling the complaint, one of the things they told me, at the time, was the regulations didn’t really anticipate this. The only thing the office can do is to hold entities responsible for how the law is being interpreted through the regulations,” Fitzsimons stated. “I knew that unless they had found some other provision within Section 504 of the Rehab Act or the ADA within the regulations governing those two federal laws, this was probably going to be the best outcome there was going to be.”

The resolution agreement states the University must purchase and install another accessible MavPOD by May 1, with proof of purchase to be shown to the office by May 15. Additionally, the University must purchase another accessible MavPOD by Sept. 1 and show proof of purchase by Sept. 15 to comply with state law.

“My interpretation of this decision is the regulations saying, ‘Yes, you can discriminate,’ because I do believe this is what we would call, sort of, what is supposed to be ‘separate but equal,’” Fitzsimons explained. “That this decision allows for students to have some access in some places on campus, but it is not comparable to the access that a student without a mobility disability would have, and that the regulations allow for it.”

MSU freshman Val Weber, is one within the student population who can’t access many of the MavPODs put in place throughout campus due to a rare bone disorder that has left her in a wheelchair.

“I’ve had my disability for so long at this point that when you see things like that [inaccessible MavPODs] it’s in the back of your head, ‘Oh I can’t use that,’ but you don’t necessarily think too much about it just because there’s a lot of things you can’t use in your daily life that other people can,” Weber stated. “I didn’t really think about it and then after Nancy brought it to my attention, ‘Hey, this is kind of ableist,’ I was like, ‘Yeah, it kind of is.’”

Weber continued to discuss the initial purchase of the MavPODs and how the decision didn’t include every student in mind.

“It was kind of interesting because it shows it’s kind of an easy thing to miss if you aren’t really thinking about how these decisions will affect other people,” Weber stated.

Fitzsimons and Weber have worked together throughout the academic year to tackle other ableist issues found on campus. Fitzsimons expressed her frustration of these issues and how the University should do better.

“If we are a campus that says ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’, these are the exact opposite of what you say you are striving to create. It inherently affords some students opportunities that others are not going to have. They inherently send a message to students with mobility disabilities or anybody on campus that, ‘This isn’t for you,’” Fitzsimons stated.

She then went on to point out some of the good that came out of the MavPOD purchase.

“It [MavPODs] was an unnecessary purchase. It’s a want, it’s not a need. I think the only good, from my perspective, that has come from any of this is the increased awareness people are having about ableism. It is starting conversation, it is starting to have some recognition,” Fitzsimons explained.

Weber, on the other hand, is glad to see some action is being taken by the University.

“I think that was kind of a good decision to add more, but at the same time it’s still not as many as there are inaccessible MavPODs,” Weber stated. “I’m kind of glad they didn’t take away all of the MavPODs because I do know a lot of people use them. I feel like if that were to be the case people might have anger towards disabled students, like we took away something that they were using, and we don’t need that.” 

While the settlement is a step in the right direction, Weber pointed out some things the University should consider.

“I feel like there should be an accessible MavPOD either in every building or, if it’s a big enough building like the CSU, maybe one or two on each level because I know there aren’t a whole lot of people that have noticeable disabilities. Even people with invisible disabilities, sometimes they need more space,” Weber stated.

The University’s statement on the matter was: “Minnesota State University, Mankato is pleased to have reached a resolution agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights with regard to federal accessibility requirements and placement of MavPods on campus. The University worked with OCR, faculty experts and students to reach a solution that ensures the University fully complies with ADA requirements while also ensuring the MavPods are an asset that enhances the campus experience for all of our students and entire campus community. Minnesota State University, Mankato is committed to equal opportunity and non-discrimination in employment and education.”

Header Photo: MavPODs which launched in late August have been criticized for their lack of accessibility. Since then the university has planned to purchase more that are accessible for those with disabilities coming later this spring and early fall. (Mansoor Ahmad/The Reporter)

Write to Jenna Peterson at

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