Creating Inclusive Campus Communities: The Vital Role of Peer Mentorship in Inclusive Higher Education


  • Catherine Lewis University of Rochester



Disability, inclusion, higher education, mentoring, accessibility


Across the country, colleges are opening their doors to students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. At University of Rochester (UR), we coordinate one such initiative called “Transition Opportunities at University of Rochester (TOUR).” Inclusive higher education at UR is based on the philosophy that ACCESS + SUPPORT = SUCCESS. In order to help our campus grow in intellectual diversity, we cannot simply open our doors to students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).We must also provide support to help students thrive academically and socially during their college education.

At the heart of TOUR are symbiotic mentoring relationships. When traditional undergraduates mentor fellow students with IDD, they gain academic and teaching skills, greater disability/diversity awareness, and an understanding of how and why inclusive communities are valuable. In turn, students with IDD find greater inclusion on their campus and invaluable academic and social skills that will launch them into self-determined lives as contributing citizens of their community.

This paper will focus especially on the growth of academic inclusion on our campus, strategies for training and supporting undergraduate academic coaches, and stories about the impact of these peer mentoring relationships on traditional UR students, their colleagues with disabilities, and our campus as a whole.

Author Biography

Catherine Lewis, University of Rochester

Catherine Lewis serves as Associate Director, School and Community Relations, in the Office of Admissions at University of Rochester.  She previously held the position of Assistant Director, Rochester Center for Community Leadership at University of Rochester, where she taught about disability, mentorship, and inclusive higher education, coordinated academic access and peer mentor supports for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, oversaw a literacy tutoring program in partnership with Rochester City School District, and advised undergraduate student organizations dedicated to political and community engagement. Dr. Lewis received both her Master of Music and Doctor of Music degrees from the Eastman School of Music, and studied Higher Education at University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education. 


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