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25 February 2014

GUSA Exec 2014 Disability Questionnaire: Trevor Tezel and Omika Jikaria

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 Trevor and Omika. You can also read responses from Zach and Dan, Ben and Sam, and Thomas and Jimmy.

Image description: Trevor Tezel, a young white man with short brown hair, and Omika Jikaria, a young South Asian woman with medium-length dark brown hair, smiling at the camera in front of one of the buildings in Dahlgren quad with stairs and white banisters. The bottom right has the Trevor/Omika connect to Georgetown logo, which is teal and gray with the facade of Healy Hall.

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?

We must create a culture where disability is viewed as an aspect of diversity rather than as a trait that only requires accommodation. This needs to be our foremost goal as a campus and it will require a number of reforms. First off, GUSA and other organizations need to empower disabled students and listen to their perspectives on the issue.

The language of this question itself clearly articulates that disability issues are not properly understood on the Georgetown campus, and in order to combat this, it is crucial that we involve students who are already fighting for the rights of disabled students in all discussions about disability issues. This includes both disabled students and anti-ableism allies. Interested disabled students need to be appointed to decision making roles, which will provide them access to university administrators and resources.

In addition, we need to change the culture through education, which includes promoting disability cultural programming. Our primary goal is to promote the hiring of a “disability as diversity” staffer to operate this programming in a similar style as the LGBTQ Resource Center. We hope to also raise awareness through GUSA programming. Similarly, we need to explore ways to facilitate collaboration between disabled students and non-disabled students. By bringing more people, regardless of disability status, into the discussion, we expand the possibility that issues of disability will become less “taboo” on campus.

Additionally, certain procedural changes need to be made in order to ensure that disabled students have access to all aspects of Georgetown life. Some of these changes include, but are not limited to, greater funding to cover the costs of disability accommodations at student events and a memorandum of understanding to ensure that disabled students will be given the opportunity to  meet with the architects of any new construction project to discuss the needs of students with disabilities. We also support the creation of an accessibility guide for clubs, similar to No Wrong Door, so they can make their programming more accessible. We imagine GUSA as an institution that can disseminate promising practices to club leaders. By making these types of changes, disabled students are more empowered to access spaces and activities.

Omika and I are also very focused on combating sexual assault and other forms of violence such as intimate partner violence. We understand that disabled individuals are disproportionately victimized and may experience barriers when attempting to access services. As a result, we and any interested disabled students will sit down with Health Education Services, CAPS, and the Women’s Center at the start of our term to examine how they promote accessibility for disabled survivors. If their policies and procedures are inadequate, we and any interested disabled students will work with them to design better procedures.

Finally, we would strongly advocate for the expansion of the “No Wrong Door” program, particularly during NSO. It’s crucial that disabled students immediately feel comfortable at Georgetown and this expansion would assist this process. Similarly, the inclusion of the “No Wrong Door” program would give all students greater exposure to disability issues and reinforce the idea that Georgetown’s mission statement embraces and welcomes students of all backgrounds.

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?

As stated in the previous question, we believe that one of the most things that needs to be done in order to ensure that discussions on diversity are both productive and effective is simply get the right people in the room. We don’t purport to be experts on what initiatives would best serve disabled students, so it would be a top priority for us to have representation of disabled students in both our cabinet and staff. Specifically, we would appoint both a Pluralism representative and an under-secretary for disability. Ideally, these representatives will be individuals who are already engaged in the fight for greater resources for disabled students. At the start of our term, we would ask the under-secretary for diversity to reach out to their network and ask disabled students if they are interested in attending GUSA meetings with administrators or if they are interested in joining GUSA more generally. In addition, we would support the efforts of any disabled student to reform aspects of campus life at Georgetown outside of GUSA. This support could include resources from the GUSA fund, publicity, and other support.

Additionally, one of the biggest proposals in our platform, as well as our Executive budget, is an administrator-student committee to assess the state of disability advocacy and culture and physical accessibility of Georgetown. This committee would be crucial to ensuring that issues of disability are continually discussed and that new initiatives are always being considered. The committee would be composed of disabled students, able students, GUSA members, non-GUSA members, and administrators both from Student Affairs and other on-campus offices. Ideally, we would be able to have disabled administration and faculty members as well as representatives from IDEAA. In sum, the goal is to bring together the best possible group to engage with and address disability issues. We understand that forming a committee isn’t a solution but we regard it as an excellent way to bring the voices of disabled students, faculty, and administrators to the forefront in crafting policies.

We will also support your current efforts to create an accessibility survey to gauge experiences of disabled students.

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?

Our philosophy is that GUSA is a policy and advocacy body. If we were elected, we would use administrative relationships in order to set up the necessary meetings required to get an important initiative like this up and running. GUSA’s greatest strength comes from the respect that we get from the administration. Both of us have strong relationships with a variety of administrators, particularly in Student Affairs and the Women’s Center. These specific relationships would be crucial both to continuing the discussions about creating this type of center and to actually getting the center started. Creating a Disability Cultural Center is a major initiative that will require both much time, commitment, and financial support. Especially because of the financial aspect, this is an initiative that MUST involve administrators. We have no doubt that we would be able to successfully work with the administration in order to further the creation of this center. Our first push will be for a disability staffer housed in the CMEA that specializes in education efforts; we believe the addition of this staffer will be an intermediate step before the Cultural Center.

However, with that said, the creation of such a center must include a wide range of discussions. In order to ensure that this center is as effective as possible, it is crucial that an initiative like this be led by people who understand disability issues.

When exploring how to best start this center, we would want to both talk with disabled Georgetown students and with students at other schools that already have Disability Cultural Centers. We would draft a proposal using best practices from these meetings. Getting the insight of these groups would be potentially the most important aspect of the founding of the center. In the meantime, we would, as previously mentioned, push for the hiring of a staffer housed in the CMEA.

Additionally, this is not an initiative that could be rushed. While we would prioritize beginning the planning for this center, we could not promise that it would be completed by a particular date. Quality matters, and this is not something that we would want to be completed without enough thought. In short, the creation of this center would be led by students who best know the issue, but it would receive the full support of GUSA, both in resources, relationships, and personal commitment.

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?

Within GUSA, as previously stated, we will appoint both a Pluralism representative and an under-secretary for disability. Similarly, we would hope to appoint students with disabilities to other GUSA leadership positions. Additionally, as stated before, we would advocate for “an administrator-student committee to assess the state of disability advocacy and culture and physical accessibility of Georgetown.” Our goal is to include as many voices as possible, and creating these roles ensures that disability issues are always kept at the forefront of GUSA discussions.

Outside of GUSA, we would hope to provide resources for disabled students who want to run for leadership positions, if needed. We will also, in the fall, ask the under-secretary for disability to locate disabled individuals with possible interest in running for the GUSA Senate and we will promote their candidacy informally as we did with female-presenting Senators this year.

In terms of visibility, social media is one of GUSA’s greatest tools. We would use social media to promote disability initiatives in order to ensure that students have greater awareness of the different initiatives being undertaken. Similarly, we plan on continuing the “Hoya of the Week” program. We would love to highlight disabled students serving in leadership roles alongside able students.

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?

As stated previously, our platform clearly states that we hope to establish an “administrator-student committee to assess the state of disability advocacy and culture and physical accessibility of Georgetown.” This would be our starting point for addressing disability issues, and through this committee, we hope to be able to conduct a full review of the accessibility barriers that exist at Georgetown and then work to create substantive improvements on campus. We also support current efforts to institute a disability accessibility survey and we are happy to assist with your idea to photograph and highlight inaccessible areas on campus.

However, we believe improving conditions on-campus is a process. There is a lot of work that needs to be done in order to make Georgetown fully accessible, and we know that this is not a process that can be accomplished overnight. Given this, our plan for addressing these issues is a long-term plan. We would want to start off with those projects that have already had some forward movement; for instance, we would continue the advocacy efforts to ensure that the Northeast Triangle is fully accessible to disabled students. We also want to sit down with departments such as Heath Ed/Women’s Center to see how they are promoting service accessibility for disabled students. This work goes far beyond the ARC. An ideal situation would be one where major campus departments are asked to identify and rectify potential bureaucratic hurdles and other barriers to disabled students.

Clubs present a major accessibility issue, and as mentioned previously, GUSA should create a guide on promoting accessibility in programming so that clubs understand what constitutes an accessible space. This, like the No Wrong Door Initiative, is a good step because we do not have to wait on administrative bureaucracy to promote accessibility.

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?

This is a difficult issue because GUSA can’t necessarily control the actions of other organizations on campus. However, we can lead by example in that all disability-related programming created by GUSA and meaningful meetings GUSA has with administrators will include disabled people from the onset. If a disabled student is unable to attend the meeting or event, the students that can will loop in the disabled students in email communications and contact them about any talking points they have. Students that can attend will also provide meeting notes/summaries. This makes a lot of sense from a policy perspective because disabled students are the most knowledgeable about disability issues and as such should be empowered to lead on these issues.

We can also work with the Senate, which administers the GUSA Fund, to ensure that any disability-related programming that applies for funds MUST include disabled students in formulating said programming or at least offer a real opportunity for disabled students to join in organizing discussions. The Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee would serve as the final arbiter in these instances.

In terms of promoting awareness, GUSA’s social media efforts can be leveraged to promote disability events as well as GUSA’s name in attracting event cosponsors. What’s A Hoya also provides a valuable opportunity with high attendance to educate individuals on disability as well as highlight disability culture and history.

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