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.

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