18 February 2015

GUSA Exec 2015 Disability Questionnaire: Sara Margolis and Ryan Shymansky

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 Sara and Ryan. You can also read responses from Tim and RenoJoe and ConnorChris and Meredith, or Abbey and Will.

Photo: Sara and Ryan smiling as they sit together in front of a building on campus. They're also wearing snazzily matching plaid.

To Lydia Brown and members of the disabled community, 

We're running for GUSA President and Vice-President because we believe that everyone at Georgetown deserves an advocate, especially members of the disabled community at Georgetown. The Administration’s disregard for the needs of diverse students needs to be combated through GUSA, and we have crafted a policy and platform to address this void.  

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?

We believe that a student’s ability should be considered an aspect of diversity and celebrated as such. GUSA needs to substantively and comprehensively address ableism, an insidious and damaging detriment to Georgetown’s campus community. If elected, we will strive to foster a campus community that fights oppression, ableism, racism, sexism, and all other forms of degradation.

In order to combat ableism and make Georgetown a more welcoming and inclusive campus for disabled students, we will focus on three main initiatives that will work to substantively address the dearth of resources and support at Georgetown.

We will diligently work to make GUSA inclusive to those of all abilities through awareness through increased education, solidarity with members of the disability community, and promoting agency and accessibility throughout campus. Through framing our policy and approach on these three initiatives and core beliefs, we hope to change the Georgetown community to be more accessible, open, and if elected, we will diligently work to further incorporate and institutionalize disability policy and disability justice into GUSA and the Georgetown administration. We want to make Georgetown a safe and accepting space for people of all abilities. Disability is an important and valued aspect of diversity that we firmly believe needs to be supported by GUSA and the Georgetown administration.

Awareness through increased education:
In order to combat hostility and to make all Hoyas feel safe and accepted on campus, GUSA needs to engage all members of the Georgetown community through building on the momentum and efforts of disability advocates over the last few years. To begin, we plan to institutionalize and strengthen trainings for student group leaders on combating ableism and increasing awareness and accessibility on campus for Hoyas with disabilities. While we cannot make these trainings mandatory, we hope to work personally with student leaders to encourage all to attend these workshops. In addition, we would like to work to have all GUSA Executive members receive training or attend a workshop in order to increase awareness within GUSA. Education is a catalyst for real change, and through expanding and institutionalizing the role of the Undersecretary of Disability Affairs and existing disability awareness workshops through diligent marketing and increased advertising, we hope to see genuine reform within our community.

Solidarity with the Disability Community:
As as student with an invisible disability, Sara recognizes the importance of connecting with disabled members of our campus to build a strong sense of community and empowerment.  That is why we have crafted a strong and concrete platform to combat ableism from Day OneTo begin, we will ensure that all Blueprint trainings and resources given to student group leaders include information on how to make proper accommodations for students with disabilities at their events. After selecting the next GUSA Undersecretary of Disability Affairs, our administration will convene a forum for students with disabilities and their allies to get feedback on how construction projects can be modified to have positive impacts on disabled students and other issues faced by this community.

Promoting Agency and Accessibility Through Campus:
Agency and accessibility are crucial aspects of our platform’s approach to making Georgetown a welcoming and accepting campus for all students. In order to ensure the full agency of students with disabilities, we will ensure that no student feels unsafe or uncomfortable because of construction or university policies.

Our biggest focus on promoting accessibility will be integrating the concerns and needs of members of the disability community into the 2017 Campus Plan and Georgetown’s Master Planning efforts. We propose working with the university to institutionalize a student voice that represents students in the disability community to actively participate in the Master Planning efforts. We will empower the Undersecretary of Disabilities Affairs to communicate the concerns and issues that have arisen with the Campus Plan and the university’s vision for Master Planning. Having the Undersecretary present at all these discussions with the university is a crucial part of making sure that all student voices are being heard. We will work with the university and advocates to make sure that all buildings are ADA compliant and meet the standards expected by members of the disability community.

Building on these three core tenets, our vision for the future is that we will work to lay the foundation to reduce the stigma around students with disabilities and create a campus culture that celebrates this aspect of diversity. We will lay the groundwork for a Disability Cultural Center that will provide a consolidated source of support and community for disabled students. Finally, we will ensure that all master planning and ongoing construction takes into account the needs of disabled students

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?

It is extremely important that the GUSA Executive serves as a leader on conversations and initiatives on diversity. For that reason, we will promote a number of initiatives to engage with the disabled members of the campus community and to support conversations about how to combat ableism. As soon as we appoint an Executive Staff and Cabinet, we will invite disability advocates on campus to host a training on ableism and how to fight it. We also plan to spearhead an initiative to bring together the Women’s Center, the GUSA Executive, and the LGBTQ Resource Center to expand dialogue, to address the intersectionality of these issues, and to propose reforms to address diverse students with disabilities.

A significant priority for our administration will be to institutionalize the Disability Justice Working Group so as to ensure that they can continue their important work for years to come. We also seek to utilize existing disability affairs networks to connect the GUSA Executive to conversations with disabled members of the campus community and to create a GUSA listserv for disability affairs that will be managed by the Undersecretary for Disability Affairs. Through these different means, we hope to expand conversations about combating ableism across campus, to build a coalition with disability advocates across campus, and to empower our Staff and Cabinet to be leaders on this topic.

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?

GUSA will have more influence than it normally does in University master planning efforts this year due to the scheduled drafting of the 2017 Campus Plan.  Administrators are aware of a greater need for student engagement than in 2010, and the structure of the Georgetown Community Partnership (GCP) will ensure that at least one student is in Steering Committee meetings when the Campus Plan is being written.  We will look to use these discussions to obtain a commitment to create a Disability Cultural Center, either through a memorandum of understanding issued in conjunction with the Campus Plan or included within the Campus Plan itself.  The Campus Plan, far from a roadblock for GUSA, should be viewed as an opportunity to speak to disability rights issues.  We should push for the Campus Plan to include language barring the University from constructing new buildings until existing structures are made ADA-compliant.  Construction presents its own challenges to those with physical disabilities, and any future master planning efforts should reflect prioritization of disability access on campus.  Indeed, master planning efforts generally tie in directly with the creation of Disability Cultural Center inasmuch as money not spent on the construction of new buildings can be redirected to Student Affairs. 

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 GUSA’s role as a leader in advocating for disability rights at Georgetown?

If Sara is elected President of GUSA, this will be a great step in increasing the visibility and representation of disabled students on campus. Sara has dyslexia, a cognitive disability that has prompted her to engage with on-campus resources such as the Academic Resource Center. Of course, having one disabled student in a leadership role on campus is not enough. At the beginning of our term, we will appoint a new Undersecretary of Disability Affairs to the GUSA Cabinet. Throughout the next year, we hope to expand the portfolio and reach of this position. We will also encourage the university to include students with disabilities and advocates from this community in discussions and committees surrounding the 2017 Campus Plan and master planning efforts. Specifically, our administration will ensure that our student-run Master Planning Working Group will have representation of students with disabilities. Furthermore, we will work with our Undersecretary of Disability Affairs to create a leadership course or mentorship program for students with disabilities, building on the existing of advocates within and for the disability community.

So as to make certain that GUSA remains a leader in advocating for disability rights at Georgetown, we will continue the important work of supporting and fighting for the creation of a Disability Cultural Center on campus. Above all, we will seek to institute real reforms and to push for a coordinated effort to ensure that GUSA is well-informed and prepared to fight for members of the disability community through awareness and education. 

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?

We will work with the university to ensure that the master planning process does not only take into account accessibility barriers, but also makes addressing them a priority in the upcoming Campus Plan. We will make every effort to engage students with disabilities in the master planning process and work to ensure that all new buildings meet ADA guidelines upon their completion. By convening a forum of students with disabilities to discuss issues with on-campus constructions, we will gain specific insights into how the university can improve accessibility in existing and ongoing construction projects. We will ensure that this forum includes the GUSA Undersecretary of Disability Affairs, members of the Disability Justice Working Group, and members of the disability community at Georgetown. Furthermore, our administration will ensure that ongoing construction logistics are modified to better accommodate disabled students on campus. 

Additionally, we will make it a priority to expand the SafeRides program and will advocate for the inclusion of a wheelchair-accessible van in the CSJ’s fleet. We see this as a major oversight that such a van is currently not operating at the university, and we will work with our Secretary of Student Health and Safety and Undersecretary of Disability Affairs to right this wrong as soon as we are elected. 

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

First and foremost, we will seek to promote Trevor and Omika’s cost-sharing agreement with Student Affairs in order to better serve the entire Georgetown student community.  We believe that GUSA is, at its core, an advocacy body--and throughout our administration, we plan to include and empower passionate student advocates through our administration.

In addition, we plan to continue advocacy for further improvements through building on our efforts to establish a Disability Cultural Center. The Disability Cultural Center is front and center in our advocacy efforts, and through the Disability Cultural Center, we hope to gather a community that can work with GUSA to plan and craft inclusive and accessible policies at university-sponsored events and programming. There are many serious improvements that need to be made to increase accessibility and inclusivity at university-sponsored events and programming. We plan to strengthen the previous partnership between the administration and GUSA for lessening the cost of ASL interpretation and CART captioning and expand the GUSA Fund to give student groups more funding to make their events more accessible to all Georgetown students. In order to address the lack of knowledge and understanding, we plan to expand the role of our administration and our Undersecretary of Disability Affairs to plan and provide training for group leaders and administrators about making all events and meetings accessible to all Georgetown students.

We think it is crucial to pressure the university to make all aspects of Georgetown, from its events to its buildings, open and accessible to all members of the Hoya community. We will continue advocacy through giving the Undersecretary of Disability Affairs a larger and more prominent role in our administration, solidifying the campaign for a Disability Cultural Center, and ensuring that campus event are accessible to all.

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

We believe that this is one of the areas that GUSA has the most room for improvement--we want to streamline communications and outreach to study groups to make sure that all students are aware of conversations happening on campus and have the opportunity to play a meaningful part in these conversations. As soon as we are elected, our Undersecretary for Disability Affairs will endeavor to expand and strengthen the reach of GUSA as an advocate for the disability community on campus. We will seek to create events that include the disability community in conversations about how to combat ableism and will promote existing events to try to increase turnout. We believe that there is a better way to message events and to communicate with the student body than has been previously demonstrated by the GUSA Executive, and by selecting a skilled and innovative communications staff, we will be able to expand GUSA’s advocacy efforts in not just the disability community, but in all issue areas.

Overall, we will work to bring advocates who are not typically involved with GUSA into our meetings and into conversations with administrators about accessibility barriers on campus and the importance of inclusivity. We recognize the paramount importance of giving advocates a seat at the table in order to ensure that they can fight for the issues they are most passionate about. Lastly, we will urge the university to include a permanent student advocate for members of the disability community on committees for master planning and the 2017 Campus Plan so that the disability community is given direct involvement with shaping the future of the university.

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?

We want to encourage the Georgetown administration to designate a university staff member to serve as a coordinator for event assistance services to ease the burden on both the students requesting accommodations as well as the student groups that are organizing events. We recommend that this staff member be housed in the Office of Protocol and Events or in the Center for Student Engagement.

We also want to work with the university to create a standardized policy for ASL/ADA accommodations for events on campus. In our pursuit of these policies, we will try to proactively address the needs of the disability community by making on-campus events and supportive services more accessible and available. We hope the different initiatives we have outlined in this questionnaire will all coalesce to address existing problems facing students with disabilities in addition to responding to future challenges that may arise as the demographics at Georgetown change or through the master planning process. 

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

As indicated in a Voice feature last fall, Georgetown’s IMLOA policy is enforced arbitrarily, lacks transparency, and fails to properly address the needs of students in distress or crisis. Currently, medical leave is the responsibility of CAPS or the Student Health Center, depending on the student’s circumstances. Each resource has a different set of procedures  We believe that a number of steps can be taken to clarify this process and to ensure that it prioritizes the safety, health, and wellbeing of students.

First and foremost, we will push the university to clarify medical leave policies so that there is more transparency throughout the process. There should be more collaboration when it comes to enforcing these policies and we want to see the university take a more active role in helping students before, during, and after a period of medical leave. We will also start conversations on improving the pro-rating and tuition insurance system so that both voluntary and involuntary MLOA are more financially feasible for students. If a student leaves halfway through the system due to medical leave, the student should be able to roll over what they have already paid upon returning to school.

In order to gain more information about the medical leave policies, we will encourage the university to disseminate a post-medical leave survey so that students can share what the university did and did not do well throughout the process. This is an area that university has a lot of room to improve on. With concrete data and feedback from students, we will be able to make specific recommendations to the university about how to refine the IMLOA process and increase accountability. 

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

Expanding and formalizing disability studies related coursework will be a major priority of our administration. In recent months, we have witnessed increasing momentum for a revamping of Georgetown’s course offerings. Specifically, the SFS is exploring the comparative benefits of minors and certificates, the College is looking into a four-credit course model, and students are calling for new majors, minors, and certificates. We hope to use this momentum to push for the creation of a formal course of study in disability studies.

Last year, GUSA Secretary of Diversity Affairs Alex Alonso made a list of all classes that would be cross-listed for Disability Studies Minor. Alex Alonso, a dedicated supporter and member of our core team, has diligently worked to integrate the needs of diverse students into our platform. Building on Alex’s work, we will use this information to ask the university to formalize this course of study. Incorporating disability studies related coursework into our administration and the broader campus community is crucial to promote understanding throughout the entire Georgetown community.

We also want to explore options for students to have the opportunity to take classes that provide Community Based Learning (CBL) opportunities that incorporate disability advocacy or volunteer opportunities. We plan to expand the portfolio of the Undersecretary of Disability Affairs to oversee the establishment of these CBL opportunities through working with the administration and off-campus advocacy organizations to craft a tangible and implementable CBL course that can integrate disability awareness and affairs into the Georgetown academic community. We will look at courses focusing on social justice or diversity advocacy that can successfully include a CBL opportunity in disability advocacy. In addition, we want to ensure that the university provides CBLs that are open and accessible to all students. We will reference and list all CBL opportunities that could be integrated into a Disabilities Studies major, minor, or certificate and work to create and merge classes that could contribute to open dialogue and discussion on campus through academic forums.

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