26 February 2014

GUSA Exec 2014 Disability Questionnaire: Ben Weiss and Sam Greco

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. These are the responses provided by Ben and Sam. You can also read responses from Trevor and Omika, Zach and Dan, and Thomas and Jimmy.

Image description: Sam Greco, a young white man with short light brown hair, and Ben Weiss, a young white man with dark brown hair, sitting on the steps in front of Copley Hall's gray stone facade, smiling at the camera. At the bottom is a dark blue banner with white text with the Facebook icon for Ben and Sam for GUSA, the Twitter icon for @VoteBenandSam #achieveyours and the website benandsamforgusa.com, with large text BEN AND SAM. 

Question 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?

Our main priority will be is empowering each individual student so they can achieve their goals. We will use this same approach for every student and every community at Georgetown. We will provide the resources disabled students need so that their Georgetown experience can be the best possible.  It is self-evident that Georgetown does not currently provide the resources that ensure accessibility at Georgetown. Unfortunately, real change will only come through a cultural shift in the collective Georgetown psyche.

The first step to combating the problem of ableism on Georgetown’s campus is to start a dialogue around the issue that ensures that all students recognize the causes of the current, unacceptable campus attitude.  We recognize disability as an issue of diversity, in which much-needed campus dialogue can only come through engaging students of diverse backgrounds. We plan to use the unique nature of GUSA as a bully pulpit to galvanize the university’s attention and dialogue around disability issues, among others. With this in mind, our cabinet will work with Lecture Fund to bring in speakers on ableism to grow this dialogue on campus.

We hope that by supporting a campus-wide accessibility survey that you worked on over the past semester, we will be able to assess the current campus sentiment, and then identify the problem areas that are revealed. This will produce a very productive narrative regarding the current status on campus.  We will engage student leaders from all across campus in these discussions. We plan to be facilitators to these discussion, but envision the greatest stakeholders as the leaders of these discussions.

Furthermore, the No Wrong Door guide should be provided at New Student Orientation so that students are immediately aware of the resources that are available to them. The location of these resources should become second nature to anyone that needs them, and by providing them in this guide, we  can help students feel at home.

We hope you would engage with our administration and help our GUSA guide dialogue and policy around ableism  at Georgetown  This is not a topic limited to a specific group of people.  The discussion needs to involve the entire campus, and it starts with involving our entire cabinet.  In initiatives they are pursuing, accessibility should be in the forefront of their planning so that all Georgetown students can be involved in any student program or initiative.

Question 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?

First, we will create a Secretary for Disability within our cabinet to advocate specifically for disabled members of the campus community. This person’s primary responsibility will be to converse with members of the disabled community and ensure that all involved parties are consulted meaningful and regularly. Based on these conversations, the Secretary will advocate for the initiatives put forward by those with disabilities.

Additionally, we will work to publicize and encourage events through our access to benefits reform and the creation of a personalizable events calendar on HoyaLife.com. Access to benefits reform will allow individual students to reserve rooms, rent equipment from the CSE or SAC, and have access to select benefits that recognized student groups already have. This will allow students to reserve adequate space and hold more successful events that can be supported, at least in part, by Georgetown.

The second policy piece, the customizable calendar of events on HoyaLife.com, will allow any student to pick what topic areas interest them and receive emails regarding events, speakers, and opportunities related to those interests. For disabled students and those wanting to be involved in the conversation, this calendar will allow them to easily learn about events. These students will then be able to effectively educate themselves and contribute to the continual conversation. We will shape our policies heavily on input from the conversations at these events.

For students who cannot access these resources online, we will provide the online resources through GUSA office  at all times

Question 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?

As stated in our platform, we will support ongoing efforts to establish a Disability Cultural Center on Georgetown’s campus. It is essential that the Georgetown community understands the necessity for a Disability Cultural Center on campus. Through their already established relationships with Georgetown administrators as GUSA senators, we will work to initiate new conversations about the importance of funding this center to support all disabled students on campus.

Until it is, they will utilize GUSA resources to advertise cultural opportunities for disabled students at our university and expand the conversation around disability as a form of diversity. They will ensure that the voices of disabled students are heard in their ongoing mission to include every identity in the goals of student government.

As Lydia and this brochure advocating for a Disability Cultural Center at Georgetown remind us, it is an identity that has been too often forgotten in the past. We will work to change that.

Question 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?

The GUSA Executive, under both Clara and Vail and Nate and Adam, worked to increase the diversity of the GUSA Senate and Executive along a variety of axes, including improved representation of women, members of the LGBTQIA* community, and students of color. Yet there is very little representation of disabled people—either with visible or invisible disabilities—across student organizations, leadership initiatives, and GUSA.

We would be pleased to work with you and build off your advocacy for those with disabilities at Georgetown. Therefore, we will work to establish a Disability Cultural Center that would coordinate peer mentor programs, leadership training, guest lectures and symposia for students with disabilities. We hope this Cultural Center who go a long way towards ridding Georgetown of a debilitating culture of ableism that risks robbing Hoyas of individuality and identity. We hope this Cultural Center would help disabled students earn leadership roles on campus and more effectively advocate for the disabled community in general. Just as the Women’s Center seeks to ensure equity for female Hoyas and the LGBTQ resource center seeks to ensure equity for LGBTQIA*-identifying Hoyas, so too would the Disability Cultural Center seek to ensure equity for the disabled community at Georgetown.

Second, we will work to create uniform standards for accessibility at student group events, ensuring that every student has every opportunity to attend every event. This kind of accessibility for any student group event would better aid disabled students in running for leadership positions.

Finally, one of the best things that GUSA could do would be to advocate for disability reforms at Georgetown. Indeed, GUSA is unique as its institution in that it acts as the main voice of Georgetown students. We will break down GUSA’s own barriers for participation in GUSA events and elections.

We want to further empower disabled students at Georgetown by taking an active role in their representation. Our Disability Cultural Center would not only help galvanize the community around one institution, but will hopefully better focus the voices of many into one unified voice more effective in its relationship with the University administration. We look forward to hearing more from the disabled community at Georgetown in the Executive and in the last hours of this campaign.

Question 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?

The issues here need to be framed in conversation with the university administration in the context of the urgency these problems prompt. A fundamental function of the administration should be to address such hurdles with definitive action and inclusion of students in the discussion. Clearly this has been lacking.

To be clear, we do not see the GUSA Executive as the solver of every problem and the arbiter of higher justice. Our view of the office in question is one of promotion and advocacy on behalf of the students. We have a number of initiatives we would like to start, but at heart, the function of GUSA is to react to wrongs suffered by the students and act as a powerful force opening dialogue with the university on how to solve these problems.

Our proposal on how to handle the issue of accessibility barriers and urge the creation of meaningful and lasting policies from the administration is to use the weight of GUSA as an elected voice of the students to open up these conversations and convey to the administration the sense of urgency with which these must be addressed. While the university may see the quality of lighting in the classroom as an issue they can push to the back of their agenda, we are here to stress the importance of addressing the quality of lighting, communicating to the university that this is an issue with serious health risks to certain students.

Our job is to be open. Any Executive ticket who cannot acknowledge the limits to their own knowledge does not deserve to appear on the ballot. As GUSA President and Vice President, we will work to be accessible, so you can come to us and tell us that the events occurring at the university are not providing disability accommodations.  In building a more open and inclusive Georgetown, we view our role as hearing everything students have to say and then fighting for them and the changes they wish to see.

When you ask us how we will investigate the full range of accessibility barriers at Georgetown, what we hear is that you and others have seen pressing issues on the Hilltop. We want to listen to what you have to say, and then solicit responses from other students who have seen similar issues. We will draw from the students for issues to pursue. Our slogan is Working for You for a reason: we intend to be your voice, with whatever weight our office may bring.

When you ask us how we will advocate for meaningful progress from the administration in addressing these barriers, we hear that you want us to stand up for you and others who for a multitude of reasons cannot stand up for themselves. Our pledge to the Georgetown community is to hear rather than simply listen, and to work with the administration. That is why we have begun to build a team involving people like GUSA Senator Abbey McNaughton, who has worked on accessibility and plans to continue working. When we pull in as many voices as possible, we can identify the pressing issues while forming a coalition of those willing to work with the administration to affect real change.

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

We believe that the heart of the issue is publicity. The Georgetown community is inherently a vibrant, active, and intellectually curious one. We want to learn. We want to understand. We want to be included in conversations so that we can better understand every issue and advocate for different student groups. Many pluralism-related events and groups receive organizational aid from GUSA and the university, but there is clearly a lack in support of disability education and awareness events.

We intend to rectify that. GUSA, and in particular the President and Vice President, should act as an arm for outreach, working for the inclusion of disabled persons in conversations and events on campus. We want to work with the administration and other student groups to centralize the events process through HoyaLife.com so all students can publicize their events and learn about other upcoming events. This will have two effects:

First, we will be able to generate publicity for these very conversations that are lacking in support. There are many at this university who are willing and yearning to be involved in such discussions, and increased publicity will strengthen these conversations while allowing for the greater participation and education our community.

The other benefit of centralizing events will create a succinct collection of upcoming programs for all students. This way, an event that focuses on disability access and advocacy can include all students in the conversation. We don’t pretend to have some higher knowledge of which programs must be bolstered and which can prosper on their own. We want to include all involved parties in the conversation so that we can determine who should participate in an event, and eventually, what policies will best serve disabled students at Georgetown.

We will work to create a proactive GUSA. Could we promise to include you and your events in a weekly email, buried under a heap of other student events? Sure, but that barely scratches the surface of what we are capable of and what a GUSA executive should be doing. We want every voice included in the policymaking process. If you feel the best course of action is to send out an all school email detailing an upcoming event, we can work to make that happen. If there is an administration-sponsored event occurring regarding disabilities that does not include disabled students and you want us to fight to change that, we’ll work to accomplish that. We want GUSA to be an organization that works for the students; we will always work for you.

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