14 February 2013

Questionnaire on Disability for the GUSA Executive

Here at Georgetown, it's election season for the President and Vice President of the Georgetown University Students Association (GUSA), our student government. When the candidates and their running mates were announced last week Thursday, I sent each pair of candidates a six-question survey on disability issues. Here are the six questions (together, uninterrupted) and then each question itemized with its respective responses from four of the five candidate pairs (Spencer and Rob, Jack and Maggie, Shavonnia and Joe, and Nate and Adam) who submitted responses. Their responses are verbatim, including typographical errors.

I will be publishing my own responses and follow-ups to these questions and the candidates' answers within the next couple of days. Stay tuned! 

Lydia
Autistic Hoya

______________________________________________________________________



7 February 2013

To:       Spencer Walsh and Rob Silverstein
Jack Appelbaum and Maggie Cleary
Shavonnia Corbin Johnson and Joseph Vandegriff
Nate Tisa and Adam Ramadan
William Cannon Warren and Andrew Logerfo


Questionnaire on Disability for the GUSA President and Vice Presidential Candidates

1.) Several disabled students, representing a variety of different types of disability groups, have left Georgetown after experiencing extreme hostility from administrators, faculty, staff, and or students.[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?[2]

2.) Most conversations about diversity at least minimally address race, gender identity/expression, sexual orientation, religion, class, and age, and increasingly, are including status (i.e. citizen, resident, undocumented, etc.).[3] Disability is rarely included in these conversations despite its inclusion in a list of protected classes in Georgetown's equal opportunity and anti-discrimination statement.[4] In fact, when disability is discussed at Georgetown, it is usually in a highly medicalized context that pathologizes disability and assumes it is a health issue rather than a social issue and a diversity issue.[5] What would you do if elected to ensure that conversations and initiatives on diversity meaningfully include disability?

3.) Georgetown was the first university in the United States to hire a full-time imam as Muslim chaplain (Yahya N. Hendi). Georgetown was also the first Catholic university ever to open an LGBTQ Resource Center. We also host the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access and the Women's Center. Yet there is not currently a Disability Cultural Center on campus.[6] Syracuse University was the first university ever to open a Disability Cultural Center, followed by the University of Washington, Seattle. I am leading a committee of students and community members working to gain support for the establishment of a Disability Cultural Center on campus to celebrate disability pride and power, culture and community.[7] If elected, would you advocate on behalf of a plan to create and sustain a Disability Cultural Center at Georgetown?

4.) The outgoing GUSA executive represented a significant shift in encouraging more women to take on leadership roles in student government at Georgetown with the first ever women pair as President and Vice President, and the largest proportion of women in the executive branch ever. What will you do, 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?[8]

5.) Georgetown's campus is incredibly inaccessible for disabled students from a variety of disability groups. As highlighted in a November article from the Hoya,[9] students with physical disabilities and motor impairments continue to experience significant barriers in navigating campus. Less frequently discussed are other barriers to equal access for students with neurological, psychiatric, developmental, intellectual, sensory, or learning disabilities.[10] What would you do if elected to investigate the full range of accessibility barriers at Georgetown and advocate for meaningful progress from the administration in addressing them?

6.) Conversations about disability that occur in classes, student organization sponsored events, departmental sponsored events, and administration sponsored programming frequently omit the perspectives of disabled people both during the planning process and during the actual event[11], while the few events that do meaningfully incorporate disabled people throughout the process receive far less publicity or attention from the campus community than other diversity-related events and often occur in fairly cloistered settings[12]. What would you do if elected to advocate for meaningful inclusion of disabled people in conversations about us on campus?

I would like to publish responses to these questions to Autistic Hoya[13]. Otherwise, if there is objection, I will publish them via Facebook and other social media. Your time and consideration in providing written answers by February 13th, 2013 is greatly appreciated.

Regards,

Lydia Brown (COLL ’15)




[1] Two of these students were interviewed for my article “Disabled Hoyas Suffer From Prejudice, Not Impairment” in the Winter 2013 issue of the Georgetown Independent. One is Blind and Autistic; the other has bipolar and anxiety. Anecdotally, I know of several other incidents involving disabled students who chose to leave the university.

[2] Further evidence of an environment hostile to disabled members of the community is the reticence of many members of the Georgetown community with invisible or non-apparent disabilities to identity as disabled or having a disability—in some cases, the reticence is extreme. One Georgetown staff person told me that she felt it would be absolutely unsafe and uncomfortable to disclose her disabilities to her coworkers. One of the students who left Georgetown whom I interviewed said that Georgetown was an incredibly hostile place to be a disabled student, and that she would not feel safe identifying as disabled. The other student whom I interviewed said that while his blindness is apparent, he refused to disclose that he was also autistic for fear of retaliation and increased harassment.

[3] The “Big 7” identities in diversity discussions are usually given as gender identity, race, (socio-economic) class, sexual orientation, disability, age, and religion.

[4] The four available websites for candidate pairs (www.jackandmaggieforgeorgetown.com, www.nateandadam.com, www.shavonniaandjoe.com, and www.spencerandrob.com) all include position statements about social justice, diversity, or pluralism, but not one includes disability, never mind meaningfully addresses any disability-related issues, such as increased accessibility, disability empowerment, visibility of disabled leaders, hiring of disabled faculty, expanding Disability Studies course offerings and programming, disability cultural activities, etc.

[5] A recent op-ed published in the Voices section of the Georgetown Voice entitled “Psychology Student Psychologically Scarred by Psychos” exemplifies ableist bigotry against disabled people as well as the medical model exclusive approach to framing and discussing disability-related issues.

[6] A Disability Cultural Center does not provide the same types of supports and services as a disability support office (the Academic Resource Center). It is primarily a diversity and cultural center analogous to the others on campus.

[7] The Disability Cultural Center Planning Committee has our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Georgetown-University-Disability-Cultural-Center-Planning-Committee/466471490051398 and may be launching a dedicated website for the initiative during the spring 2013. We are in the process of drafting our formal report and proposal for the administration, student body, and the broader Georgetown community.

[8] As far as I am aware, there is scant representation of disabled people—either with visible or invisible disabilities—across student organizations, leadership initiatives, or GUSA itself, if any at all.

[9] See the article “Progress is Slow on Disability Access” on the Hoya’s website at this URL http://www.thehoya.com/news/progress-is-slow-on-disability-access-1.2945552#.URNdN2ekMis. Note that the article exclusively focuses on access as an issue relevant to physical disability, and does not address access needs related to any number of other types of disabilities.

[10] For example, classrooms that only have fluorescent lighting may be inaccessible to people with sensory processing difficulties. Fire alarm systems that use high-frequency flashing lights are extremely dangerous and potentially fatal for people with photosensitive epilepsy. Students with severe sensory issues regarding food or the environment may be unable to eat in Leo’s, but the process for obtaining a rare medical exception from the mandated meal plans during the first two years is not transparent or even conveyed to most first and second year students.

[11] For example, in November 2012, Dr. Thomas Insel (Director of the National Institutes on Mental Health) delivered a talk on autism in Gonda Theatre. No autistic members of the Georgetown community were included in discussions prior to inviting Dr. Insel despite the fact that his views and priorities on autism research do not represent those of autistic policy advocates and activists. In another example, in February 2012, when the Psi Chi Psychology Honors Society hosted a panel originally titled “Multiple Perspectives on the Autism Epidemic” that included five non-autistic speakers until I approached the event organizers and demanded autistic representation.

[12] For example, events hosted by Diversability, the student disability awareness forum, are generally far less well attended than events hosted by other diversity-related organizations. In another example, in fall 2012, the Academic Resource Center co-hosted an event with the DC Metropolitan Business Leadership Network on employment for people with disabilities. Based on the roster of attendees sent around afterward, less than five students with disabilities were in attendance, and perhaps as few as two were Georgetown students. 

[13] www.autistichoya.com or Autistic Hoya is my website/blog, where I typically write on disability politics and policy, the disability civil rights movement, critical disability theory, neurodiversity, the autism rights movement, Autistic culture and identity, and intersectionality.




______________________________________________________________________

1.) Several disabled students, representing a variety of different types of disability groups, have left Georgetown after experiencing extreme hostility from administrators, faculty, staff, and or students. 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?

Spencer and Rob: The goal of a University is to provide an opportunity for people from a variety of backgrounds to come together and learn — not just about the world but also about each other. Harassment and hostility directed against anyone at Georgetown is unacceptable and Spencer and Rob will work tirelessly to promote a Hilltop that is unified in our diversity. This is one of the reasons why we decided to run on the theme of one Georgetown.  We believe that diversity must encompass people with disabilities and we will make including liaisons to disabled students a key point of emphasis in building our administration. More broadly, we support a comprehensive audit — including GUSA and the University administration — of Georgetown’s accessibility for disabled students and how to overcome institutional prejudice against the disabled.  Moreover, we think that Georgetown should particularly look into how buildings can be adapted to better take into account the needs of those with disabilities.  

Jack and Maggie: It is absolutely unacceptable for any administrator, professor, student or other member of the Georgetown community to make disabled members feel marginalized or unwelcome in any way. Our platform hinges on ensuring GUSA can provide solutions for any problems that students face on campus, and we would approach those of disabled students no differently. We would actively engage the students most knowledgeable about the challenges disabled students face in order to identify concrete solutions to actively change the campus culture towards disability and provide new resources and benefits for disabled students. By recognizing the importance of pluralism in our platform, we will be able to welcome members of the disability community into discussions they have not been a part of previously.  Disabled students will see an ally and a resource in the student association, something they hope they will utilize to address the challenges they face on campus.

Shavonnia and Joe: One concrete thing we can do right of the bat is making Georgetown more accessible for the physically disabled. In our budget we have already allocated funds to make Georgetown more handicap accessible.  We would also like for our secretary of diversity to put a strong emphasis on disability as well as making sure to emphasis it in Pluralism in Action. How Pluralism in Action is currently structured we address racial, religious and sexual differences, but addressing the presence of disabilities on campus is neglected.  We believe having a campus wide dialogue about these issues will greatly increase understanding and foster a more receptive atmosphere.

Nate and Adam: We will reach out to professionals in the field such as Christina Nicolaidis and Dora Raymaker (Co-Directors of the Academic autistic Spectrum Partnership in Research and Education) amongst others. This will start the conversation on campus and raise awareness of the issue. Even though we recognize that just raising awareness isn't the solution, it is a very important first step towards achieving our final goal of making Georgetown a more welcoming and inclusive campus for disabled people, at least from an administrative end.


2.) Most conversations about diversity at least minimally address race, gender identity/expression, sexual orientation, religion, class, and age, and increasingly, are including status (i.e. citizen, resident, undocumented, etc.). Disability is rarely included in these conversations despite its inclusion in a list of protected classes in Georgetown's equal opportunity and anti-discrimination statement. In fact, when disability is discussed at Georgetown, it is usually in a highly medicalized context that pathologizes disability and assumes it is a health issue rather than a social issue and a diversity issue. What would you do if elected to ensure that conversations and initiatives on diversity meaningfully include disability?

Spencer and Rob: Diversity does include disability and a sense of social justice must include opening doors for students, which as The Hoya article you reference points out, is both a literal and metaphorical issue at Georgetown. In roundtables on diversity issues, we would seek to include a disabled perspective, making whatever accommodations are necessary to attract their input. We would also work with leaders like Lydia Brown to assess our progress in outreach and to better inform our perspective on this issue. We would be open to having a disability roundtable to discuss accessibility and access issues, as well as the social elements of disability, with disabled and other concerned students in the first month of our term.


Jack and Maggie: The GUSA executive can make strides to change the campus culture pertaining to students with disabilities in a more inclusive way by highlighting pluralism.  First and foremost, our administration would be focused on developing an executive branch that is fully representative of the Georgetown community.  Additionally, by highlighting pluralism instead of diversity, we can more adequately address the needs of disabled members of the Georgetown community. Traditional conceptions of diversity often neglect those who are disabled. By highlighting pluralism, we will demonstrate that Georgetown is diverse in many ways, but that it is vital that all members of the Georgetown community appreciate and respect that diversity. The pluralism summit we propose will include disabled members of the community. We also plan to actively coordinate student input on future building on campus. With a campus already inaccessible for those suffering from physical disabilities, we will ensure all new building is adequate. Furthermore, we plan to reform the bias incident reporting system to ensure the interface is more user-friendly, the university is responding appropriately with education, and the campus is alerted of bias-related incidents, all which should and will include students with disabilities.

Shavonnia and Joe: In our platform we have stated that we want to create awareness of the vast amount of diversity that we have on campus. Furthermore, we would be more than willing to help promote events created by all minority groups, which includes disability groups. We would love to allow for these students flier exclusively from the GUSA office and add their events to our weekly emails.

Nate and Adam: Not long ago members from the LGBTQ community were regarded as psychologically ill, and issues addressing them were highly medicalized. Having gone through this, it is impermissible for members of the LGBTQ community to allow fellow human beings to suffer from this sort of discrimination. This is a social issue that needs to be addressed; we will work towards including disability in all of our conversations and initiatives regarding diversity.

3.) Georgetown was the first university in the United States to hire a full-time imam as Muslim chaplain (Yahya N. Hendi). Georgetown was also the first Catholic university ever to open an LGBTQ Resource Center. We also host the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access and the Women's Center. Yet there is not currently a Disability Cultural Center on campus. Syracuse University was the first university ever to open a Disability Cultural Center, followed by the University of Washington, Seattle. I am leading a committee of students and community members working to gain support for the establishment of a Disability Cultural Center on campus to celebrate disability pride and power, culture and community. If elected, would you advocate on behalf of a plan to create and sustain a Disability Cultural Center at Georgetown?

Spencer and Rob: We believe that a Disability Cultural Center could complement the work of the Academic Resource Center and support its creation in some form. We believe that such a Center could have a joint mission of advocating for disabled students and providing a space for social events and engagement within the disabled community. Such a project will require a serious investment of University time, employees, facilities and financial resources, so we will begin the conversation immediately.

Jack and Maggie: We perceive GUSA’s role to be helping students achieve solutions to any problems they face on campus and empowering them to take action on their own by connecting them with the other students passionate about their cause and administrators who can be helpful. As a result, we would actively work with the committee of students and community members by providing GUSA support and resources to a Disability Cultural Center. We would hope that this office would be able to support programming, work with the Academic Resource Center, address challenges that physically disabled students face getting around campus, and work with Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) to better support students that face mental health challenges.

Shavonnia and Joe: Absolutely. We have actually questioned why there was not a disability center already at Georgetown. We would definitely advocate for the creation of a disability center and even search for space for this center. We are aware that there are some vacant offices on Leavey 4 and we would take is as a personal tasks to aid in the creation of this center. We want GUSA to represent the student population. Without a doubt, there are students with disabilities on this campus and at this present time they are being underrepresented or not represented at all.

Nate and Adam: Most definitely! Just as we are advocating on behalf of other diversity initiatives like the Center for Multicultural Equity (CMEA) and the Diversity Action Council (DAC), we plan to increase institutional and financial support for the Disability Cultural Center, especially for something so closely linked with our Jesuit Values as the promotion of a more inclusive Georgetown.

4.) The outgoing GUSA executive represented a significant shift in encouraging more women to take on leadership roles in student government at Georgetown with the first ever women pair as President and Vice President, and the largest proportion of women in the executive branch ever. What will you do, 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?

Spencer and Rob: Both of us are strong supporters of increasing diversity in all of its forms, including among disabled people, whether there disabilities are apparent or invisible. We will appoint a disability liaison, preferably a disabled student, to coordinate our outreach and our initiatives to improve accessibility and experience for disabled Hoyas. We will also encourage programming similar to the “Elect Her” conference, which focused on electing women to student government, that would specifically focus on disabled students.  It’s time that Georgetown finally provided a center within the university for those with disabilities. 

Jack and Maggie: We envision an executive branch representative of the entire student body, disabled students included. Beyond that, much like Clara and Vail did with other communities on campus, we will encourage disabled students to get involved in other initiatives, like running for the GUSA Senate, serving on various advisory boards or committees, and taking an active role in student engagement on campus.

Shavonnia and Joe: No student should be dismissed or not considered for a leadership role because of a disability. To increase students with disabilities in leadership positions we will actively seek out and recruit students from all minority groups, including the disabled, to join our executive.

Nate and Adam: We will engage the disabled community when selecting cabinet positions and when making decisions regarding diversity initiatives, thus increasing the visibility and representation of disabled students on campus.

5.) Georgetown's campus is incredibly inaccessible for disabled students from a variety of disability groups. As highlighted in a November article from the Hoya, students with physical disabilities and motor impairments continue to experience significant barriers in navigating campus. Less frequently discussed are other barriers to equal access for students with neurological, psychiatric, developmental, intellectual, sensory, or learning disabilities. What would you do if elected to investigate the full range of accessibility barriers at Georgetown and advocate for meaningful progress from the administration in addressing them?

Spencer and Rob: We would demand the University expand and fully fund the Academic Resource Center, while ensuring that their interactions with students with neurological, psychiatric, developmental, intellectual, sensory, or learning disabilities is sensitive and appropriate. We will work with leaders on campus and disabled students to leverage their voices and raise awareness, forcing the administration to come to the table. We also believe that a nascent Disability Cultural Center or project would be able to work closely with the ARC in shaping its approach to tackling all accessibility barriers at Georgetown.

Jack and Maggie: There are a number of steps our executive would take to advocate for meaningful progress in barriers to access on campus. First, we plan to add a cabinet position for housing and facilities. This student could work with disabled students on campus to address challenges that exist around campus, such as inoperable handicap buttons on doors and staircases that do not have adequate alternatives. Additionally, we would hope to leverage the work students are already doing in developing a Disability Cultural Center and the structure established with the student committee in order to generate student feedback and empower passionate students to address the most pressing problems.

Shavonnia and Joe: To address the physically handicap there are various procedures we would take. We have allocated money in our budget to implement ramps in places like the main door of Reiss and inside of Copley, where it is not easily accessible for wheelchairs.  We would be interested in starting up a working group to look into accessibility issues and work to put pressure on the administration to ensure equality for all students.

Nate and Adam: Regarding people with physical disabilities and motor impairment we will introduce and advocate for inclusive housing options and handicap-accessible housing. For students with neurological, psychiatric, developmental, intellectual, sensory, or learning disabilities we will further develop the Safe Spaces Initiative. We were one of the primary movers on this program, which was introduced to the GUSA Senate and Executive in March 2012.

6.) Conversations about disability that occur in classes, student organization sponsored events, departmental sponsored events, and administration sponsored programming frequently omit the perspectives of disabled people both during the planning process and during the actual event, while the few events that do meaningfully incorporate disabled people throughout the process receive far less publicity or attention from the campus community than other diversity-related events and often occur in fairly cloistered settings. What would you do if elected to advocate for meaningful inclusion of disabled people in conversations about us on campus?

Spencer and Rob: Just as you cannot have a serious discussion about issues important to women in a room comprised totally of men, discussions of disability must include disabled people. In the planning process, events must consider how to make accommodations to cover the full range of neurological, psychiatric, developmental, intellectual, sensory, and learning disabilities as well as a location in a space accessible to physically disabled people. Beyond that, efforts must be made to include disabled students on the agenda and events that originate among disabled students deserve to be extensively advertise. As GUSA executives, all of our events will follow this framework and our executive will reach out to disabled students to ensure that their voices are heard.

Jack and Maggie: Accessibility for campus events is vital to making them open and welcoming to all members of the Georgetown community. From Jack’s experience on SAC reviewing student organization events, he knows the importance of making them accessible and recognizing the challenges that different members of the community face. As GUSA executive, we will actively work to incorporate disabled members of the community in discussions about programming and traditional events. This will hopefully be a process that can be centralized in the Disability Cultural Center. As our platform displays, we will make sure GUSA is prepared to address any  problem or challenge students face on campus and empower them to find solutions on their own with the support of the student association.

Shavonnia and Joe: As stated previously we would love to include the disabled community in our efforts to help promote diversity groups to the rest of campus. We would also work to link the disabled community with the campus discussion by working with administrators to figure out when these events are going to happen and ensure the inclusion of the disabled at the events. 

Nate and Adam: We will engage the disabled community when making decisions regarding diversity initiatives and advocate on behalf of a plan to create and sustain a Disability Cultural Center. This way, the perspectives of disabled people will be taken into account when planning these programs, and will give the community more access to the administration.


 





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