Bridging the Gap Between Campus and Community

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Erik blogs about getting his CDN Chapter involved with the community near his campus.
Contributor
Erik Spangenberg, CDN Chapter President, Vassar College
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Eric headshot

I’m a person with diabetes that makes it known. When the alarms ring, I’m the first to joke that my spaceship has arrived. It’s sometimes hard to bring humor to a topic that is so personal and comes with so much struggle. But if you want to bring change and advocate for people with diabetes, as a person with diabetes, you have to make it known.

Not everyone who struggles with this disease is as open about it, and that’s completely understandable. For a multitude of reasons, sharing information about your chronic disease can be daunting to say the least. I had moments in middle school when I was made fun of for my diabetes, and it made me feel ashamed. It’s also because of those experiences that I felt drawn to become an advocate for those with diabetes, and chronic disease in general.

I am the president and (re)founder of the Vassar College Diabetes Network. I created the group after acknowledging a void amidst my college campus for people with diabetes. I also work as a wellness peer educator for my campus. Through these avenues, I’ve sought to create a support group for students with diabetes, and as it has grown, I’ve been compelled to do more in terms of education for a greater amount of people. If you have an idea, or a feeling about wanting to do more in diabetes, maybe this story can help you.

After tabling on campus for National Diabetes Awareness month for a few days, we were approached by someone who was interested in our mission. She was not a student and she invited VCDN to table at an assembly for rural women in the upcoming three weeks. The assembly was put on by the Rural & Migrant Ministry, a longstanding non-profit in New York that supports and uplifts rural communities.
 

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"As a specialist in negotiating with my own insurance, I felt confident in focusing on diabetes technology that could benefit the attendees."

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I was struck by how many came to our table for more information about diabetes, questions about insurance and sensors, and how a continuous glucose monitor could help them or their loved ones. Their stories were raw with emotion.

One of the leaders of Rural Migrant Ministry had come up to me and asked about my story. After sharing it, she spoke about her own diabetes, and how she struggles with checking blood sugars regularly. Her husband was a victim of diabetes-related complications, and had lost mobility due to nerve damage. It really, really hurt to hear, knowing about the newest treatments available for this disease that could have possibly changed that outcome.

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students tabling
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Many other women walked away with resources and information about next steps in diabetes care. Many were leaders in their own right, working on aspects of social justice, community building, and more, with diabetes an incessant pang in their background. What became clear was that this disease is not just something that affects an older population. As a group, we were asked to collaborate with the local school district and present in the middle school, and bring focus and attention on nutrition to prevent type 2 diabetes later in life. These community leaders were vulnerable with me, and in return I shared my own struggle with diabetes.

 

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"If you want to create change, you can’t be afraid of putting yourself out there."

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When it comes to diabetes, that means opening about your story, your passion, your struggle, and using it to connect with others. If you are a person of color, you have a connection with communities that are disproportionately affected by diabetes and other chronic diseases. As a Spanish speaker, I could converse with those that may have been reluctant to approach. Most importantly, I was able to get outside my comfort zone and offer something to the broader community.

Diabetes is tough. Using your diabetes as a tool for connection can be both rewarding, and complicated. I’m lucky to have been exposed to a summer camp for kids with type 1 diabetes and have been loving that community ever since. College Diabetes Network has been important for me in seeing that same connection through in an entirely new place. If you are a part of a Chapter of CDN, I urge you to reach out to your broader community. You are only an undergrad once, and finding connection in the people of your surrounding city can foster something that lasts a lifetime