26 April 2015

Don't listen to them.

Sometimes I am asked, if I could say anything to my younger self, or to an aspiring organizer just starting out, what would I say?

This is the answer I give. This is what I wish I had known. This is what so many of us need(ed) to have said to us:

People in power will say anything to silence you. 

They will play to your emotions and guilt you. They will make you question whether anyone you love truly supports or understands you. They will tell you that you'll never get anywhere with whatever tactics or tone you're using.

They will tell you that what you want is unrealistic or impossible. They will tell you that you don't really know what you're talking about. They'll hit you with numbers. They'll hit you with condescension. They'll hit you with deeply invasive personal attacks.

They'll water down everything you demand and try to co-opt your movement. They'll even hit you with flattery and try to win you over.

Don't listen. 

And, just as important, as scary, as necessary to know:

People in community with you will hurt you. 

They will question your values. They will make you doubt your own politics and faith. They will try to turn your friends and fellow activists against you. They will take the language of social justice and twist it to their own ends.

They will attack you with bitterness and rage for even the smallest mistakes. They will make it all about them instead of about the community or the movement.

They'll come down on you for falling in love with theory. They'll come down on you for not understanding theoryspeak.

They'll shame you for every action you don't or can't participate in. They'll tell you to get out of the movement, that you never belonged in the first place.

Don't listen. 

14 April 2015

Undoing Racism & Anti-Blackness in Disability Justice

Content/TW: Anti-Blackness, racism, police brutality, ableism, descriptions of violence

The post below the picture/fold appeared in shortened form as "Tackling Ableism and Racism in the Criminal Justice System" in the ENDependence Center of Northern Virginia's April 2015 newsletter for a special issue on intersectionality. In the wake of the unfolding catastrophe with Kayleb Moon-Robinson, an eleven-year-old Black Autistic student from Virginia convicted of virtually fabricated felony charges for an incident stemming from kicking a trash can and now facing potential time in juvenile detention, it seems especially relevant to share in its full, original version (with one small correction).

Not only Virginia, but nationally, we face a continued crisis of centuries of surveillance and policing of racialized bodies. Indigenous, Black, Latinx, and Brown people have always been the targets of state violence and the violence of structural racism. When combined with ableism, those at the intersections live in fear of constant violence without any hope of justice. It's long past time that our movements, our organizations, our activists in the disability community start addressing our replication of white-centric structures and start challenging racism -- and anti-blackness in particular.

Here's a start: Morénike Giwa-Onaiwu's petition for Kayleb & the ASAN statement on his case.

#BlackLivesMatter #JusticeForKayleb

Photo: Kayleb, a young Black kid with glasses, wearing a gray hoodie, standing outside in a snowy driveway.

--

In February 2010, a passerby saw a young Black man outside a middle school library in Virginia and called the police to report a suspicious black male, possibly armed. After police arrived, an officer approached him, demanding identification. The young man outside the library appeared obviously agitated and distressed, and attempted to walk away calmly several times. By the end of the encounter, eighteen year old Reginald "Neli" Latson and the officer had a violent altercation, and Neli was facing over ten years in prison for the crime of going to the library while Black and Autistic.

In 2009, two police officers approached a young South Asian man sleeping on the sidewalk. One officer claimed the young man pulled out a knife, which his partner later denied ever occurred. The officer fired four shots, murdering Mohammad Usman Chaudhry for the crime of sleeping outdoors while Brown and Autistic. The internal affairs review of the shooting found the use of lethal force had been within the scope of department policy.

Over the past six years, however, the largest autistic rights organizations led by autistic people have only occasionally addressed police brutality against disabled people. Only recently have our organizations issued public statements in such cases, demanding real justice for members of our community impacted by the violence of our criminal injustice system. It is no coincidence that most disability rights organizations, with relatively few exceptions, are led entirely or mostly by white people with disabilities. While police brutality certainly impacts white disabled people, such as eleven year old Emily Holcomb, arrested and removed from her school in handcuffs after defending herself against violent physical restraint, disabled people of color are particularly vulnerable to state violence.

Many activists within the autistic community will describe ignorance borne of ableism as the root cause for police violence against autistic and other disabled people. They will urge better outreach to police and prosecutors and training on developmental disabilities as the solutions. Yet they will rarely, if ever, acknowledge the equally insidious impact of structural racism not merely on which of us are most vulnerable but also on how our community responds. Police training is important and useful, but no amount of awareness training will erase unconscious ableism and racism. Outreach can lead to better outcomes for some, but those of us who experience multiple layers of marginality cannot rely on police as an institution to protect or serve us. Before they hear our presentation on respectful interaction with autistic people, they see Black and Brown faces and project racialized criminality onto neurodivergent bodies marked doubly by race and disability.

This is what intersectionality means: to practice social justice in ways that grapple with the complex impacts of multiple systems of structural oppression (or systemic injustice, if you will). For those of us who are non-Black autistic activists, that means recognizing that behavioral compliance, indistinguishability, and conditionally passing as neurotypical can be tools of survival for Black autistic people. Resistance to arbitrary norms of abled and neurotypical existence can take multiple forms. Survival and resilience can mean navigating complicated tensions between out and proud autistic existence and safety from racialized violence. Intersectionality demands complexity without easy answers or simple slogans, because the real lives of everyone in the movement are infinitely more complicated than single-issue politics can recognize. Intersectionality requires thoughtful organizing and intense labor if we truly seek to build more just and equitable communities.

24 March 2015

5 Ableist Reasons Autistic Bloggers Lag Behind


(Autistic tangent/photo description: So the title of this post contains the phrase "Ableist Reasons" and the word "Bloggers." I thought I'd find a picture of me typing on a laptop, but couldn't find one, so I settled for this photo of me at the University of Victoria in November 2014, giving a talk appropriately named "The Ableism Crisis: Violence, Marginality, and Disability Justice." So the slide says "The Ableism Crisis," which means I get to pretend it's related to this post, which I guess it is, if indirectly.) 

I've been in the autistic/autism blogging world for a few years now, and while there have certainly been folks at it for much longer than that, it's been more than long enough to notice this one trend: blogs mainly about autism written by non-autistic parents of autistic kids are much, much more likely to attract ridiculously large audiences than blogs mainly about autism written by actually autistic people.

This trend remains largely true even for autistic bloggers who've published their own books (or contributed to books), autistic bloggers who are also parents (whether of autistic or non-autistic kids), and autistic bloggers who post fairly frequently (which I've not been doing so much for the past year or so).

(There are only a handful of exceptions, including John Elder Robison, better known for the several books he's authored, and Landon Bryce's ThAutcast. And of course, it's important to mention that both John and Landon are white men.)

The purpose of this brief post isn't to rag on non-autistic parent bloggers, especially those who've been fantastic allies to the neurodiversity movement, but to discuss some of the deeper ableist reasons that autistic bloggers just can't match pace with non-autistic bloggers (parents being a main constituency, but certainly not the only category of non-autistic bloggers who write about autism). The purpose of this post is actually to talk about some of the deep-seated prejudices that result in the disparity in readership so we can start untangling and challenging them. These reasons are all related to each other, and not entirely separate, but worth talking about if allies (bloggers and readers alike) truly want to center the voices on autism that matter most -- those of actually autistic people.

1. Autistic bloggers are automatically suspect as frauds, especially if they self-identify.

Because of horrifically ableist ideas that autistic people are incapable of having ideas, a sense of our own selves, or emotions -- let alone cognitive grasp of other people's perspectives as separate from ours or the ability to express ideas of our own -- autistic bloggers will be accused of lying about being autistic or otherwise being fakes. Because of the monopoly of the psychiatry/medical-industrial complex over access to a diagnosis (and therefore "legitimacy" as autistic), autistic bloggers who self-identify as autistic but who don't have a medical diagnosis are especially at risk for accusations of fraud. But even autistic bloggers who do have formal medical diagnoses are frequently accused of lying about being autistic. After all, autistic people can't write words or communicate to others since we are so self-centered and locked inside our brains.

2a. Autistic bloggers are presumed to be exceptional instead of representative of many autistic people.

Even if an autistic blogger is believed about their status as autistic, they will be questioned about the applicability of their experiences, ideas, or opinions to any other autistic person. At best, their blog will be treated as an occasionally interesting foray into one autistic person's musings about their life while autistic -- in other words, treated as a personal interest story, but not a source of reliable information, theories worth thinking about, or direction for either supporting autistic people or advocating for changed policies/practices.

2b. This is closely related to the assumption that "if you can write on the internet / keep a blog / respond to these comments, you are very high-functioning and Not Like My Child.

(We know of course that that's not true, since autistic bloggers have a diverse array of skills, abilities, impairments, and support needs.) And of course, if you dismiss an autistic blogger as irrelevant because of their supposed "mild" or "high-functioning" autism (things that don't actually exist), you're not going to treat their blog as a reliable or authoritative source of information or ideas about autism.

3. Autistic bloggers are thought of as writing only about their personal experiences, whereas many parent bloggers are welcomed as writing about "universal" or "shared" experiences (which also ignores other axes of privilege/oppression).

Again, this is a common manifestation of oppression -- members of an oppressed group are denied collective identity or experience through a rhetoric of "individuality," while members of the relevant dominant group have their experiences privileged as universal and default. It's important to note that the most popular (non-autistic) parent bloggers also tend to be white and from middle and upper-class backgrounds, which most certainly contributes to continued erasure of autistic people of color and no/low-income autistic people.

4. Non-autistic "experts" have presumptive authority to speak about autism and autistic people, while actually autistic people have to "prove" they are even able to speak about themselves as individuals, let alone our group as a whole.

For this one, oppression plays out with the assumption that members of the dominant group are treated as automatic experts/authorities with "objective" opinions while members of the oppressed group are considered incapable of having opinions or ideas that are "objective" and therefore valid to people beyond their group. In other words, people assume that things like having the letters PhD after your name, being a special ed teacher, working as a therapist or clinician, or researching autism at a university automatically make your opinion "objective" and authoritative -- and therefore worth listening to. At the same time, people assume that being autistic means you are automatically "too close" to the issue, and thus personally biased, to have an "objective" opinion -- and therefore that everything you say should constantly be doubted and questioned, even if it's about your own personal experiences.

5. Autistic bloggers are believed not to exist.

It's the only possible explanation for so much of the hateful, dehumanizing rhetoric about autistic people all over the internet. (Actually, it isn't, but it's what I tell myself so as to not be completely pessimistic.) Autistic people are believed not to be reading articles about autism, and certainly not to be blogging about it. If you believe that autistic people cannot express ideas, you won't assume that any autistic people are actually writing about being autistic anywhere. You won't search for those blogs, and you won't find them. On the other hand, you will think to search for scientific research on autism, blogs by (presumed non-autistic) parents of autistic children, and advocacy organizations for autism (also presumably run by non-autistic people).

And there you go. Five ableist reasons autistic bloggers lag behind in audience numbers, stability, and growth.  An ongoing source of frustration throughout the autistic blogging community, and one whose numbers are even more sharply divided -- most of the prominent blogs by actually autistic people are still by white autistics, with only a handful of exceptions. We're here, we're writing, and we'd like to think we're not doing this as idle, futile exercises with no one around to care or keep reading.


22 February 2015

No Modern Asylum: Call to Action in New Jersey

Content/TW: Discussion of institutions, asylums, ableism by staff/service providers, discussion of various kinds of abuse and violence against disabled people, including mentions of sexual violence and murders by families.

Photo: Black and white photo of people with disabilities neglected in a large, mostly empty room inside Willowbrook State School.

Christine Montross wrote an awful op-ed in the New York Times last week. She talked about our societal failure to provide supports and services for people with psychiatric disabilities -- and autistic people, especially autistic people with intellectual disabilities. And yes, this is a very real problem.

As adults with disabilities, we face inadequate, underfunded, and often outright abusive and coercive systems when we need help with housing, employment, medical needs, or just about anything else under the sun. Our doctors discriminate against us by deeming our lives not worth saving or treating with the same quality of care as non-disabled people. Our teachers abuse us in the name of behavioral modification and classroom control. We rarely have the right to choose who provides our daily services when we need help with household chores, taking care of ourselves, or getting from one place to another. If those staff abuse us -- and statistically, they will, financially, emotionally, physically, and sexually -- we are rarely believed if we tell. We have no power to change the circumstances.

We are murdered -- in hate crimes by strangers, by acquaintances, by our own families and often by our own parents. Those who kill us usually get away with it because society thinks of our deaths as mercy killings instead of callous, brazen murders. Our existence is criminalized -- how we move, communicate, breath become targets for police violence. Ezell Ford had psychiatric disabilities. Mohammed Usman Chaudhry was autistic. We languish in jails and prisons, denied equal access to necessary services, imprisoned because the system was designed to fail us. Combine a failing social services system with a failing criminal (in)justice system, and yes, you will find autistic people and people with psychiatric disabilities throughout our prisons.

Our parents and families are told our whole lives that once we turn eighteen, it's time to get a guardianship. It's time to start looking for group homes or residential facilities so we will cease to be "burdens" on our families until we stop breathing. Because we are perceived as perpetual "children" trapped in adult bodies, for whom the "burden of care" should no longer rest on the families who already had to "suffer" through eighteen years of dealing with us.

In other cases, even when our families do love us and believe that everything they do is genuinely in our best interest, they are told that the best way to help us, the only thing that can possibly benefit us, is to place us in institutions. This is where Christine Montross's op-ed dives from an important discussion on our failed services systems to a horrifically dangerous diatribe.

If you believe Christine Montross, the solution to our current crisis is to build new asylums. To create a modern asylum, better known today perhaps as simply an "institution," in which to place everyone with high support needs. Everyone with psychiatric disabilities, everyone autistic. She claims her asylums will be nothing like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. She claims her asylums will be full of supportive strategies to meet the sensory, emotional, and educational needs of their occupants.

But at the end of the day, even the least overtly abusive institution is still an institution. The solution to the problem of thousands upon thousands of us incarcerated in prisons without services is not to build different types of prisons. A therapeutic prison is still a prison. An institution where residents are not sent because they have been convicted of a crime is still a prison.

When you live in an institution, you lose the right to control even the smallest aspects of your day to day life. You have no choice over when you wake up or go to sleep. You have no choice over what activities you get to participate in. You are not allowed to leave without written permission and staff following you every step of the way. You are not allowed to decide who is allowed to visit you, when, or for how long. You are not allowed to decide which staff provide you with your services and supports. You are not allowed to decide if you get to work or where you can work. You are not allowed to decide how you will look, what clothes you will wear, what food you will eat, or what your own space will look like. You are not allowed to decide what medications or therapies are right for you, or which are not. You are not allowed to make your own decisions about dating, romance, or sexuality. If you are queer or trans, you will most likely be denied the right to even express who you are.

When you are in an institution, you lose all right to any choice.

And yes, institutions still exist. They exist under the guise of group homes, and therapeutic boarding schools, and specialized residential facilities, and correctional facilities, and locked psychiatric wards, and nursing homes, and provider-owned and managed farmsteads and ranches, and clusters of group homes, and gated communities, and isolated "campuses." What all of these disingenuous and not so-well-disguised types of institutions have in common is their shared propensity for coercion, abuse, and control of the people living in them.

De-institutionalization, the movement away from large-scale, publicly run institutions for people with disabilities, is not over. The only correct direction is forward -- toward greater autonomy, recognition of individual agency, support for self-determination, and increased funding for better and more community-based services and supports. The scientific literature is robust; community living is the best possible option. Why? Because it means that we have a chance to assert our right to exist in the same communities as non-disabled people. It means that we have a chance to reclaim control of our own lives, build networks of choice with one another, and forge alliances against the kinds of abuse that proliferate behind the closed doors of institutional settings.

Which brings me to this: The State of New Jersey is proposing a new plan for how they fund services. Their plan would require anyone providing housing services or supports to respect the rights of disabled people to control our own lives and decisions. Their plan would prohibit providers from warehousing disabled people in segregated group homes or any other kind of facility where we supposedly "belong" simply because we are disabled.

But there is a massive wave of providers fighting back, trying to prevent even one state from attempting to recognize what we have fought so long and hard for -- the right to dignity. Inclusion. Choice. Autonomy. New Jersey is letting the public send comments. We have until February 26 to make a difference for our community in New Jersey.

Will you tell New Jersey that we matter? That segregation is not the answer? That we needed choice yesterday?

Blog about it. Email the New Jersey folks. (ASAN wrote a helpful script that you can use and modify.) Tell the folks you know who care. Let's show them just how vocal our community can be.

No modern asylums, whether as brick-and-mortar large institutions, or disturbingly leafy green "campuses" for "those with special needs." We do not need more segregation. We demand recognition of our existence!

18 February 2015

GUSA Exec 2015 Disability Questionnaire: Tim Rosenberger and Reno Varghese

I have condensed the questions, which appeared in long-form in the questionnaire sent to candidates with background information and examples, to highlight each candidate's answer. This year there were ten questions. These are the responses provided by Joe and Connor. You can also read responses from Joe and ConnorChris and MeredithSara and Ryan, or Abbey and Will.



Photo: Reno and Tim smiling in Dahlgren Courtyard in front of the chapel.

1. What would you do or change to combat ableism (disability oppression, prejudice against the disabled) and make Georgetown a more welcoming and inclusive campus for disabled students if elected?
           
The stories shared in the set up of this question, along with our own experiences during our time at Georgetown, again make it clear that ableism exists at Georgetown, there are no ifs, ands, or buts, about it. There are two sets of stakeholders that need to be better educated about disability in order to make campus safer for disabled students. The first of these is the administration, including staff at the ARC. The services offered by the ARC, as well the discourse that surrounds disability in most administrative circles, focuses almost exclusively on the medical model of disability. As a member of GUPride, Tim has extensive experience working with administrators to shift administrative perceptions on certain issues. While he was a board member, the administration took substantial steps towards recognizing the complexity of the Trans* identity, including with a policy change that finally allowed Trans* students to change their name on their GoCard without any quotes, parentheses etc. This was accomplished by inviting key administrators in to spaces with advocates with experience in higher education policy. In these education sessions, casual luncheons, GUSA could invite advocates to help educate and work with key administrators, along with provider a safer space for key students to raise their concerns. Part of this education would invariably involve a discussion of what an "accessible" space looks like, a more accurate and broad reaching definition of ableism, as well as the importance of having spaces where disability can be explored as an element of identity. Apart from these actions of inviting advocates to meet with us and admins in change-making spaces, we would stand with any disabled students who would perhaps want to raise concerns anonymously in a format such a formal petition to administrators.

The second key stakeholder group would be the student population. Reaching students who would otherwise be disinterested in any kind of diversity or social justice work can be accomplished through programs such as What's A Hoya and NSO. Our platform spells out expanding the What's A Hoya program to push students who are first years in to diversity related program. We want to increase funding to this program to help programs around elements of identity and health, which have included segments about disability in the past, This will make this program sustainable. We would push to have all NSO coordinators incorporate inclusive language in to their sessions with new students, much like how they are now asked to request preferred gender pronouns from the incoming students upon meeting them.

2. What would you do if elected to ensure that conversations and initiatives on diversity, especially those managed or initiated by the GUSA Executive, meaningfully include disability and disabled members of the campus community?

Reno, as a man of color, and Tim as a gay man who has programmed with Pride for years, both believe in the "nothing about us without us" slogan. Part of good allyship means elevating the voice of those who you are the ally to, rather than setting you own agenda on those issues and asking for input. Put simply, this ticket would not pursue any action on disability until we are sure that the voices of the key stakeholders, disabled students, are included and at the front. Any GUSA established meeting on disability with any stakeholder would have to include a disabled person. We would not grant What's A Hoya Funding to any event on an element of diversity that didn't include individuals who claimed that identity for themselves. In the executive we would continue to house the office of the undersecretary for disability affairs, but we would hope to recruit an executive that would include disabled students throughout the office.

3. If elected, what steps will you take to advocate on behalf of a plan to create and sustain a Disability Cultural Center at Georgetown?

We would continue to support, as Trevor and Omika did, the committee working to create a long-term plan for a Disability Cultural Center. This is a key time to act, as the administration is looking to rethink the location of its offices and resource centers. It was during that town hall that we were disheartened the way that Dr. Todd Olson avoided answering your question about establishing a DCC at Georgetown. We would be willing to help finance an even larger awareness campaign on social media, through demonstrations, and other means, to help energize the student body around this issue as it has been done on Free Speech issues and Divestment in recent years. The steps above will contribute to this change as well obviously, as these educational steps would encourage the administration to move towards supporting disabled students more holistically rather than just meeting basic needs (even if we get that lucky). We would want to attach some more urgency to this project than in past years, because we know of the desire to reorganize the offices. Tim's experience in advancement may also help us begin to plan financing options for this center to protect it long-term.

4. What steps will you take, if elected, to increase visibility and representation of disabled students (both with apparent and invisible disabilities) in leadership roles on campus, whether in GUSA or elsewhere? How will you sustain GUSAs role as a leader in advocating for disability rights at Georgetown?

As stated in the earlier questions, we believe that any initiative around disability rights or issues must include a disabled person. Therefore we would need to recruit interested disabled students well outside of any initiative simply for say the DCC. As an element of identity, ability status is an important consideration for any academic, athletic, housing, master planning, or really another committee. Not only will we need a new Undersecretary for Disability affairs (Congratulations on your coming graduation!) but we also will incorporate disabled students in to *every* relevant committee. Many tickets don't see how say, master planning and the campus plan, require input from disabled students who could raise concerns about types of fire alarms, elevators, housing arrangements, etc. We would push to make sure that nothing is said about a disabled person without them in any meeting that has any GUSA input whatsoever.

As for leadership roles, we believe that the educational measures taken above, and by placing disabled students in to our key meetings, we would help elevate the voices of these students to places where it would encourage more disabled student to come out, and harder for other student groups or leaders to avoid interaction with out disabled people.

5.  What steps will you take if elected to investigate the full range of accessibility barriers at Georgetown and advocate for meaningful progress from the administration in addressing them with current campus infrastructure and as part of future construction/renovation/expansion projects?

For too long GUSA administrations have seen the concerns of disabled students as a niche topic that should be placed in a silo unto itself. We believe that disabled students should be intimately involved in all discussions concerning student life and the future of the university. When dealing with current campus infrastructure, disabled students will be a part of all conversations in our administration about rehabbing existing Georgetown buildings. We will welcome input from the Secretary of Disability affairs on all aspects of campus life and will encourage active participation from this secretary in finding a truly representative group of students to serve on all related boards and committees.

In terms of future construction, we will make sure that the Secretary of Disability Affairs and designated representatives play an instrumental role in the creation of the campus plan. The next two campus plans will shape the five and twenty year futures of Georgetown. Specifically, we will make funding for non-academic buildings a priority. The campus needs to make sure that students can participate in all aspects of campus life beyond academics. For an example, Poulton Hall continues to lack an elevator inhibiting the opportunities for participation in the arts for students with mobility concerns. New construction should be used to address mobility issues on campus by creating graded areas of passage for students across campus. The proposed undergraduate corridor in the twenty year plan, should it be created, could do a great deal to alleviate challenges for students moving across the length of the campus.

To bring these concerns before university administrators in a manner that would lead to effective progress, we would ensure that access for all students was a hallmark of our administration. By making it clear that these issues are key priorities, and that we view them as inextricably linked to GUSA projects like the campus plan, we can reasonably anticipate improved results for disabled students.

6. How will you continue advocacy for further improvements and expansions to accommodations at university-sponsored events and programming?

We were thrilled to learn of the expansion of University funding to have events ASL interpreted with only around 20% of the cost falling upon the student group. We would seek to expand this pilot program should we see that that remaining percentage is still enough to discourage groups from making their events fully accessible. That said, we want to formalize rules within SAC and distribute materials that make it clear that accessibility is about more than ASL interpreters. Its about strong smells, flash photography, etc. We would ensure that all SAC commissioners and SAC leaders are briefed on ALL elements of accessibility. In addition to this education campaign, we would work to find other incentives to make more events truly accessible. A consideration could be a stipulation that GUSA fund support or What's A Hoya support would require that the event be fully accessible on request, with prepared publications explaining what is requirde to make such an event accessible.

A broader, University Wide audit of our programming would have to take place. Part of the job of the Secretary of Diversity Affairs would be expanding the "No Wrong Door" document to include the "No Wrong Program" campaign. The meetings with administrators with key stakeholders described above would be a forum for the dissemination of this sort of document.

7. What would you do if elected to advocate for meaningful inclusion of disabled people in conversations about us on campus?

The idea that we as a campus community would ever consider having a dialogue about an identity without including that identity in the discussion is utterly abhorrent. While it is important that we focus on diversity within the context of ability, we need to make sure that our conversations are framed by, and involve, persons who actually identify with the identities we are discussing. Failing to do so would be no less concerning than having a conversation about LGBT persons that excludes the gay community or a discussion on race that fails to include the identities being discussed. As a baseline, we must make sure that these important discussions occur with greater frequency and always involved disabled people.

There are specific ways we, as GUSA executives, can help shape and inform this discussion on campus. While it is difficult to see how we would go about changing how things are discussed in classrooms, we can use GUSA initiatives, such as “What’s a Hoya” to elevate the campus discourse around this issue. First, working with an empowered Secretary of Disability Affairs, we can make sure that all “What’s a Hoya” programing works in some way to address intersectionalities between disability rights and concerns and issues of gender, class, socio-economic status, and race. By making all programing intentional with respect to disability issues, we can combat the idea that disability rights are a niche issue. We can also make sure that disabled students feel they have programing that concerns all of the dimensions of their identities. Finally, we can use the incentive of housing points and increased funding to promote positive programing while penalizing groups who fail to address disability issues, or offer actively unhelpful programming, with denied access to such future What’s a Hoya benefits.

It is our hope that disabled students will hold us accountable on this large and important promise. We appreciate that we don’t understand every nuance of identity and “What’s a Hoya” will only work if students invest in the program and force campus conversations to capture all of the facets of identity.

8. What will you do if elected to advocate for increased availability of supportive services and community resources at Georgetown for students with disabilities, as well as address existing problems?

GUSA must first fix the problems with existing resources before undertaking new initiatives. First, we cannot have university administrators running the ARC who are known to have complicated and fraught relationships with campus’ most visible student activists. It is essential that we work to improve the support structures of the ARC. We also need to make sure that CAPS is equipped to handle the unique concerns of students with disabilities. We already employ CAPS specialists for some identities and students with disabilities is a natural extension of this progression.

In terms of new and increased resources, I believe that the disability cultural center for which we are advocating could be an effective resource just as the campus LGBT center serves various gay students on campus. We can leverage the cultural center to drive opportunities for cross class mentorship for disabled students. GUSA would be happy to help implement such a mentorship program.

Finally, as GUSA executives we would endeavor to be consistently work with activists to remain responsive to the needs of all communities. For students with disabilities, this would manifest itself in a very prominent position for the Secretary of Disability Affairs and a new working group engaging disabled students.

9. What will you do if elected to advocate for reforms to the Involuntary Medical Leave of Absence process?

Having nearly lost Georgetown due to circumstances outside of his control, Tim would hate to have any other student go through such an experience. We cannot be a community that arbitrarily pushes students our by creating a byzantine set of hurdles that make returning unachievable. Students should leave voluntarily if they feel the need for time away, but should not be forced out of the school. Unless a student has a conduct violation, Georgetown should never make someone leave the school who desires to remain part of the community. For students struggling, but desiring to remain here, we should provide the needed support for them to succeed. Georgetown cannot force people out because of its inability or unwillingness to provide them with competent support structures.

Assuming we cannot eliminate involuntary leave, we should make sure that all students facing such a ruling have the help of the Student Advocacy Office in preparing to combat the decision. We should also work to make sure that campus resources like CAPS help students prepare responses combatting the assertion that they must leave.

Our specific advocacy work will focus first on attempting to eliminate this form of medical leave. It will then move to reforming the appeals process. Finally, we will make sure the university seeks to actively support students attempting to return after such a leave. Resources should not terminate for students who leave halfway through the completion of their degrees. To make sure every Hoya who wants a degree can leave with one, we must focus on connecting existing resources with these students and move our efforts into reforming a system that harms students already at their most vulnerable.

10. How would you see advocating for expansion and formalization of disability studies related coursework fitting into your administration if elected?

Georgetown should undoubtedly create more formalized course work options in this area. Georgetown was once a pioneer in interdisciplinary study. We can be again. Allowing students interested in disability studies to have a formal option for receiving a major or minor designation in this area would be a good start. Georgetown already sees the value of some areas of study based around identity, and disability studies would be an excellent and fitting compliment to the courses and areas of study already offered. We also already have courses that would naturally fit into a new major or minor program. These courses include selections from numerous liberal arts and performance and visual arts programs.

Georgetown should feel uniquely obligated to engage in this field of academic exploration as a Catholic and Jesuit institution. We must provide academic courses that allow or the better understanding of all facets of identity and disability studies is a natural extension of this mission.

GUSA’s role in this endeavor is as an advocate for existing student movement. GUSA should empower student activists who are already working on this endeavor. We will coordinate with the academic counsels to see this project to fruition.