Penn State Student Carlee Weber Finding Community Despite Adversity

Carlee Weber, a junior at Penn State studying public relations, has a condition called spinal muscular atrophy, which affects her muscles. Weber, therefore, requires a wheelchair, which has given her adversity during her time on campus.

However, she strives to get the most out of her college experience. Trying to do so can be challenging, especially because she believes other people sometimes don’t know how to interact with people that have visible disabilities like her, and therefore, look down upon her at times. 

“I want to be treated like I am 20 years old, because I am 20 years old,” Weber said.

When Weber needs to explain her condition to children or those unaware of what spinal muscular atrophy is, she keeps it simple by saying her muscles “are just weaker than yours.”

Weber’s condition, which is a progressive disease, affects all the muscles in her body, especially those closest to her spine.  

Weber has been an advocate when it comes to bringing awareness to this condition her whole life. She seeks to change others’ perspectives on the condition, even if it’s a small change.

“Even if I can just change someone’s perspective a little bit, that’s a win for me,” she said.  

Weber is also determined to be as independent as possible. She recently got a service dog, which is a two-year-old lab named Magenta.  

“Magenta loves life,” Weber said. “She loves working, she loves people, she loves treats.”  

Magenta’s youth and eagerness toward life sometimes is a challenge when Weber takes her in public, as she wants to befriend every stranger. However, Weber loves when Magenta is successful in helping her with whatever she may need.

“Before I had Magenta, I had a lot of social anxiety, because people would stare at me when I was in public,” said Weber. “I have a visible disability. People are going to look at me and wonder what’s up.” 

Now, however, Magenta receives more attention. This helps Weber’s social anxiety and makes her feel more comfortable in public when people give more positive glances compared to what she felt were looks of pity when she was by herself.  

“Having Magenta by my side, I feel like people look at her more than they look at me,” Weber said.

Magenta has also allowed Weber to have more independence and time alone.

“When you’re a young adult, you want to be alone sometimes,” Weber said.  

Since Weber has a visible disability, she had a unique experience when classes were mostly on Zoom during the pandemic. She could recognize how people treat her differently depending on what they can and can’t see.  

She found that some people made judgmental comments in regard to people with disabilities candidly to her on Zoom because they couldn’t see her disability, which surprised her.

“It’s kind of crazy to hear things like that,” Weber said. 

Despite this, Weber does appreciate how accessible Zoom makes classes for her.  

Weber is involved with various organizations on campus, including Delta Phi Epsilon sorority and the Access Club. Additionally, she has been on a THON Communications committee for the past two years.  

Weber says the Bryce Jordan Center isn’t the most accessible place for her, but it didn’t hinder her THON experience.

“My captain and my committee members always work with me to make it as accessible for me as possible,” Weber said.  

Out of all the things she’s involved in, Weber is most thankful for her sorority and how welcoming they have been to her. Her sorority fought for her spot in their building despite Penn State initially claiming it would be too expensive to make it accessible for her.

“My sorority sisters all banded behind me,” Weber said.  

Weber has had social challenges during her time at Penn State, especially due to time at home during the pandemic. However, she has found friendship in her sorority, especially with her big.  

She’s fond of many of her experiences at Penn State, but she looks back on her feature in Valley Magazine as one of her favorites, as the magazine gave her a platform for advocacy.  

Weber intends to graduate next fall and dreams of doing image management for clients. No matter where she ends up, she strives to continue being as independent as possible and advocating for those with spinal muscular atrophy.  

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About the Author

Teagan Staudenmeier

Teagan is a senior majoring in photojournalism and is one of Onward State's photographers. She is from Wilkes-Barre, PA, but is a Canadian at heart. On campus, she is involved in Photo Club and is an Aurora outdoor orientation leader. For more fun content, follow her on Twitter: @Teag_42.

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