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?
A culture that permits Ableism, like most forms of discrimination, is made up of language, micro-aggressions, and formal systems of oppression. Unlike many of the other D7(+) identities though, ableism isn’t as visibly addressed or unwelcome at Georgetown. Students and professors use many ableist phrases in classrooms, without even someone batting an eyelash. Discussions and events about disability are held without any disabled advocates or just disabled people in the planning conversation. This often allows disability to be seen solely in medical terms, rather than as an element of diversity, that our society should make efforts to work to remove unfair burden from. And when a disabled student or faculty or staff member has to endure all of these microagressions or more overt forms of oppression, such as being forced to take an MLOA, or having few resources other than the ARC, they have few means of seeking recourse.
To combat ableism, there are a few things that are necessary: education, visibility, and advocacy. Before getting in to how our platform, and our experiences influence all three, there is one thing that is essential to point out. Jimmy as a homeless advocate, and myself as an LGBTQ advocate, we believe in a principle that you phrase clearly in your work: nothing about us, without us. We acknowledge that good allyship, requires that we allow those who case the most about issues be the ones to take the lead and direct us on where to put our resources. These suggestions then, are always subject to review and revision by the disabled advocates that we would want to recruit to our executive.
On the education end, we would take a third of the GUSA fund’s budget and allocate it to the “What’s a Hoya” fund. The What’s a Hoya program has drawn hundreds of freshmen in to GUSA sponsored talks with faculty and staff on issues of 1) Safety 2) Mentorship 3) Diversity. What we want to do is tie thousands of dollars of funding and that powerful housing incentive to student events that are put on by student leaders and groups on these issues. Any event then on disability, put on by the disabled advocates and or their allies, would not only get a higher profile and funding level, but also would reach a whole new range of students from their first year here at the hilltop.
Also on the education end, we would be happy to use any excess executive discretionary funding, or excess SAO funding, to prepare a media campaign to end the use of certain phrases and words, including those that we may not even think about today (a list based off of your glossary of ableist terms and phrases). Any executive communication would be checked for use of any of these phrases or words to ensure that the executive itself does not commit any micro-aggressions.
Finally on the education end, in our platform, and through our endorsements, we have committed yourself to advocating for certain parts of the Cura Personalis initiative, perhaps incorporating studies on disability in to new or extant courses (obviously sensitive to make sure these classes don’t reinforce systems of oppression) is a way to add this awareness to our extant channels of advocacy.
Visibility is accomplished not just with the language campaign that would take place, but also in whom we would recruit to the executive. As the President of the most diverse Pride Board in years, I have learned how important it is to have an organization be lead by a chorus of different voices, who on occasion help me check and unpack my own privilege, but who also bring fascinating perspectives and ideas to the table that help us make a change that can include everyone. Jimmy also understands this, as the student leader who spear-headed the diversity initiative in the Corp so that they would track demographic information as a company/ We would recruit a similarly diverse exec, and while that means in part to a secretary position on disability, and a disabled representative on the What’s a Hoya Fund/Program, but also to any other position to which a disabled student would apply on the exec for which they have a passion and are qualified, we would make every attempt to ensure that they are supported. Recognizing disabled students AND faculty through our Hoya of the Week, AND Faculty of the Week programs, could also help raise the profile of disabled students at Georgetown.
As for advocacy, well, all of the above is part of advocacy, but we would want to encourage all programs related to disability have an advocacy or administrative component where possible. When Pride brought Mia Mingus comes to mind, where not only did she speak to students, but she also joined administrators for a luncheon, where she could discuss disability rights with them, beginning to give them a better understanding of disability justice. More on advocacy will follow in the later questions.
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?
As RA’s Jimmy and I have had to spend at least an entire day learning about each of the D7 identities. Now, one week does not an advocate make, and we did not limit our ally ship to learning during this one day. That said we do know that having these conversations with the RA staff greatly increased the sensitivity of RAs to ableism, and made them better equipped to deal with it when confronted. At the start of the new exec, I would seek to have all members of the exec undergo similar D7 based team building exercises, especially during the summer term. This would make the executive more sensitive to issues important to the disability rights community, but also set a tone in any writings, advocacy, and conversations going forward.
As for campus initiatives, the approach of the What’s a Hoya fund, and its housing incentive assignment process, would first and foremost believe in the principle of “nothing about us without us.” The idea of turning the What’s a Hoya program over to the student leaders, such as yourself, is to ensure that not only are the conversations about identities being had in a way that truly represents those identities but also allows those advocates to pick the topic of conversation. We are creating the financial and publicity incentives for groups to address disability going forward.
Should the campaigns I listed in #1 be carried out, it would make it more difficult for conversations to include ableist language, or to further oppress disabled people.