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22 February 2015

No Modern Asylum: Call to Action in New Jersey

Content/TW: Discussion of institutions, asylums, ableism by staff/service providers, discussion of various kinds of abuse and violence against disabled people, including mentions of sexual violence and murders by families.

Photo: Black and white photo of people with disabilities neglected in a large, mostly empty room inside Willowbrook State School.

Christine Montross wrote an awful op-ed in the New York Times last week. She talked about our societal failure to provide supports and services for people with psychiatric disabilities -- and autistic people, especially autistic people with intellectual disabilities. And yes, this is a very real problem.

As adults with disabilities, we face inadequate, underfunded, and often outright abusive and coercive systems when we need help with housing, employment, medical needs, or just about anything else under the sun. Our doctors discriminate against us by deeming our lives not worth saving or treating with the same quality of care as non-disabled people. Our teachers abuse us in the name of behavioral modification and classroom control. We rarely have the right to choose who provides our daily services when we need help with household chores, taking care of ourselves, or getting from one place to another. If those staff abuse us -- and statistically, they will, financially, emotionally, physically, and sexually -- we are rarely believed if we tell. We have no power to change the circumstances.

We are murdered -- in hate crimes by strangers, by acquaintances, by our own families and often by our own parents. Those who kill us usually get away with it because society thinks of our deaths as mercy killings instead of callous, brazen murders. Our existence is criminalized -- how we move, communicate, breath become targets for police violence. Ezell Ford had psychiatric disabilities. Mohammed Usman Chaudhry was autistic. We languish in jails and prisons, denied equal access to necessary services, imprisoned because the system was designed to fail us. Combine a failing social services system with a failing criminal (in)justice system, and yes, you will find autistic people and people with psychiatric disabilities throughout our prisons.

Our parents and families are told our whole lives that once we turn eighteen, it's time to get a guardianship. It's time to start looking for group homes or residential facilities so we will cease to be "burdens" on our families until we stop breathing. Because we are perceived as perpetual "children" trapped in adult bodies, for whom the "burden of care" should no longer rest on the families who already had to "suffer" through eighteen years of dealing with us.

In other cases, even when our families do love us and believe that everything they do is genuinely in our best interest, they are told that the best way to help us, the only thing that can possibly benefit us, is to place us in institutions. This is where Christine Montross's op-ed dives from an important discussion on our failed services systems to a horrifically dangerous diatribe.

If you believe Christine Montross, the solution to our current crisis is to build new asylums. To create a modern asylum, better known today perhaps as simply an "institution," in which to place everyone with high support needs. Everyone with psychiatric disabilities, everyone autistic. She claims her asylums will be nothing like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. She claims her asylums will be full of supportive strategies to meet the sensory, emotional, and educational needs of their occupants.

But at the end of the day, even the least overtly abusive institution is still an institution. The solution to the problem of thousands upon thousands of us incarcerated in prisons without services is not to build different types of prisons. A therapeutic prison is still a prison. An institution where residents are not sent because they have been convicted of a crime is still a prison.

When you live in an institution, you lose the right to control even the smallest aspects of your day to day life. You have no choice over when you wake up or go to sleep. You have no choice over what activities you get to participate in. You are not allowed to leave without written permission and staff following you every step of the way. You are not allowed to decide who is allowed to visit you, when, or for how long. You are not allowed to decide which staff provide you with your services and supports. You are not allowed to decide if you get to work or where you can work. You are not allowed to decide how you will look, what clothes you will wear, what food you will eat, or what your own space will look like. You are not allowed to decide what medications or therapies are right for you, or which are not. You are not allowed to make your own decisions about dating, romance, or sexuality. If you are queer or trans, you will most likely be denied the right to even express who you are.

When you are in an institution, you lose all right to any choice.

And yes, institutions still exist. They exist under the guise of group homes, and therapeutic boarding schools, and specialized residential facilities, and correctional facilities, and locked psychiatric wards, and nursing homes, and provider-owned and managed farmsteads and ranches, and clusters of group homes, and gated communities, and isolated "campuses." What all of these disingenuous and not so-well-disguised types of institutions have in common is their shared propensity for coercion, abuse, and control of the people living in them.

De-institutionalization, the movement away from large-scale, publicly run institutions for people with disabilities, is not over. The only correct direction is forward -- toward greater autonomy, recognition of individual agency, support for self-determination, and increased funding for better and more community-based services and supports. The scientific literature is robust; community living is the best possible option. Why? Because it means that we have a chance to assert our right to exist in the same communities as non-disabled people. It means that we have a chance to reclaim control of our own lives, build networks of choice with one another, and forge alliances against the kinds of abuse that proliferate behind the closed doors of institutional settings.

Which brings me to this: The State of New Jersey is proposing a new plan for how they fund services. Their plan would require anyone providing housing services or supports to respect the rights of disabled people to control our own lives and decisions. Their plan would prohibit providers from warehousing disabled people in segregated group homes or any other kind of facility where we supposedly "belong" simply because we are disabled.

But there is a massive wave of providers fighting back, trying to prevent even one state from attempting to recognize what we have fought so long and hard for -- the right to dignity. Inclusion. Choice. Autonomy. New Jersey is letting the public send comments. We have until February 26 to make a difference for our community in New Jersey.

Will you tell New Jersey that we matter? That segregation is not the answer? That we needed choice yesterday?

Blog about it. Email the New Jersey folks. (ASAN wrote a helpful script that you can use and modify.) Tell the folks you know who care. Let's show them just how vocal our community can be.

No modern asylums, whether as brick-and-mortar large institutions, or disturbingly leafy green "campuses" for "those with special needs." We do not need more segregation. We demand recognition of our existence!

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.

GUSA Exec 2015 Disability Questionnaire: Joe Luther and Connor Rohan

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 Tim and RenoChris and Meredith, Sara and Ryan, or Abbey and Will.


Photo: Joe and Connor pretending to be serious while wearing suits and doing a prom-pose on Healy's steps. 

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?
           
Initially, we hoped to purchase an unmanned spacecraft, strap Dr. Holahan in with a package of Double Stuf Oreos, and jettison her into our magnificent galaxy. However, in- depth research and several IRB approved focus groups suggest that the general public would not smile upon this initiative (and anyway, we have not been able to determine if space travel falls within the GUSA purview). As such, we have cobbled together a few alternative ideas about combatting ableism at Georgetown. We would start by demanding that Master Planning committees prioritize our campus’ urgent accessibility needs. It is unacceptable that some Hoyas cannot easily and safely navigate our existing infrastructure, while master planning initiatives hurtle onward with shiny new construction projects. We would also strive to make Georgetown life more accessible to disabled students; handicap accessible CSJ vans, professors that are well informed about the necessity of sensory breaks and individualized attention, and increased programming about the erasure of disabled voices on campus are necessary to making Georgetown a more inclusive place.

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?

Hey, Undersecretary of Disability Affairs… you up? Oh, nothing. We were just thinking about you. Given that disability is rarely included in campus-wide diversity discussions and initiatives, we were just thinking that we should probably get together more often and work on fixing things. You know, weekly coffee briefings and such. Just you and us. It wouldn’t have to be a date… if you didn’t want it to. You wouldn’t even have to tell people about us. It could be our little secret. But just think about it. You, us, a couple of chai lattes, and the voices of disabled Hoyas chiming into our sweet, sweet diversity work. Town hall-style meetings to discuss accessibility? Advocating for the Disability Cultural Center? An active voice on the Diversity Justice Working Group responsible for periodic updates to students? Yeah, sure, we can bring more people into this if you want. There’s always enough chai to go around.

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 love Disability Justice for Georgetown and the proposal for a Disability Cultural Center at Georgetown – and when you love something, you just wanna tell the whole world. You have to. Your heart feels as though it’ll burst if you don’t share the beauty and mystery of life’s greatest gift. So, yeah. We will be vocal about the importance of establishing a Disability Cultural Center at Georgetown in order to get as many students on board as possible, which we believe will be effective in pressuring the University to include the establishment of a Disability Cultural Centers in the 2018 Campus Plan. Earlier this year we saw how Hoyas mobilized around the proposed consolidation of the LGBTQ Resource Center, the Women’s Center, and the Center for Multicultural Equity; Disability Justice for Georgetown deserves that same momentum. And besides – we doubt that anything but highly organized and outspoken people power will give us the power to grab the administration’s attention.

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?

First, we will make sure that any progress made under Trevor and Omika, as well as other administrations, is not lost in the transition period between our administrations. We’ll sit down with our dear friend TrOmika before they go off to bigger and better things to identify and assess what worked, what didn’t work, and what they think they could have done differently in handling these issues.

For our specific objectives, we will renew and expand the role of GUSA Undersecretary for Disability Affairs. We will not appoint anyone to this position without first considering the recommendations that we will request from several disability rights advocates, activists, and leaders at Georgetown, as well long-time GUSA members with experience in navigating administrative red-tape regarding disability rights. This role is pivotal in defining the organizational character of our administration, and our appointee will have the qualifications and means to affect measurable progress.

By reinforcing consistent representation of disability rights advocates in GUSA and amplifying the collective voice of the students, we can make sure that disability rights remains a priority for all GUSA officials and a foremost concern for all Hoyas.

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?

Together with the Undersecretary of Disability Affairs, the Disability Justice Working Group, and other interested parties, we would seek to gather a full list of formal suggestions about improving accessibility on campus. We would do this through an online anonymous Google Form, a town-hall style meeting, and confidential interviews with representatives from the Disability Justice Working group – ideally, we would offer a wide enough series of opportunities to report concerns that disabled students would be able to share their complaints comfortably. Once a list is compiled, we would present it to Master Planning Committees and meet with several administrators to figure out how to best move forward. When (inevitably) met with resistance from the powers that be, we will strap them to a wheelchair and force them to navigate campus that way for the next three days. We would suggest that this initiative last seven days, but we suspect that the administration is far too weak for that.

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

In addition to ensuring the proper implementation of TrOmika’s cost sharing agreement, we will work with the Undersecretary of Diversity Affairs to create a standardized policy with regard to ADA accommodations for students on campus while fighting for the Disability Cultural Center. The creation of the Disability Cultural Center would allow us to better serve the needs of disabled students on campus, as a centralized source of action and information will provide us with the necessary knowledge and mobilizing force to fight for accommodation. Oh, and we want the cost of ASL interpretation to be paid for by the university. Hey now, not too shabby!

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

We will heavily advocate for the inclusion of disabled students in discussions regarding the 2018 Campus Plan as well as in the planning and execution of any university- sponsored event focusing on disability rights and/or intersecting social justice issues. Though creating a standardized policy for including disabled students in conversations on campus, we will make every effort to be aware of upcoming conversations on campus and reach out to administrators and disabled students to make sure that the voices of disabled students are heard on campus.

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?

In the short run, we will push the University to provide more resources and funding to the ARC to ensure that it is able to accommodate diverse student needs. We will also ensure that the ARC provides students with a clear understanding of its capabilities and responsibilities, and that professors and TAs communicate to their students either on their syllabi or via email that these ARC resources are available. In the long run, the establishment of the Disability Cultural Center will serve as the epicenter of disability supportive services and community resources.

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

The current state of Involuntary Medical Leave of Absence is unacceptably opaque. The process of navigating an IMLOA is shrouded in mystery from start to finish, not unlike a Sherlock Holmes novel with the last 40 pages ripped out; it is unclear who is permitted to request that students are placed on IMLOA, whose requests are binding, and whether or not students have a right to a hearing upon being subject to an IMLOA proceeding. This is due to the university’s failure to delineate a clear and accessible policy for handling IMLOA requests.

A Luther-Rohan administration would advocate for the implementation of a standardized and transparent IMLOA policy. This would allow students going through IMLOA proceedings and those currently placed on IMLOA to understand and, if they wish, combat the IMLOA request. This policy will include an appeals process that is currently not available to students placed on IMLOA. Furthermore, we wish to include a position in the Student Advocacy Office that will advocate for those going through IMLOA process, as many students need a knowledgeable and supportive resource to help them navigate the proceedings. Finally, we will pressure the university to amend its criteria for readmission into the school through a standardized, accessible process that maintains the dignity of those seeking readmission.

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

A Luther-Rohan administration strongly believes in the importance of expanding campus- wide awareness of ableism and the obstacles that society places upon people with disabilities. With this in mind, we wish to take a pragmatic approach to formalizing disability studies related coursework by working with the Provost, the Undersecretary of Disability Affairs, to create a class specifically devoted to disability studies. While we understand that there is interest in creating a formal disability studies certificate or minor program, we wish to start with the creation of a single class in order to gauge student interest and, if interest is significant, use the class’ success as leverage with the university in advocating for the creation of a larger program.

GUSA Exec 2015 Disability Questionnaire: Chris Wadibia and Meredith Cheney

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



Photo: Black and white image of Chris and Meredith inside Gaston Hall, looking away from the camera at something in the distance. 

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?
           
Chris and Meredith understand that ableism exist within the Georgetown community. Through their years of experience working with special needs students, Chris and Meredith will diligently work collaboratively alongside administrators to help make the Hilltop a more welcoming and inclusive home for all Hoyas, especially special needs students, if elected. By meeting with two administrators from the Academic Resource Center to craft their disability rights platform, Chris and Meredith believe their proposed solutions to help special needs students around the Hilltop differ from other campaign platforms through their feasibility and achievability.

By advocating for an Access Coordinator, who will focus on making sure that all special needs students can easily access their desired destinations, as well as for a Learning Skills Advisor, who will focus on serving special needs students who might need help adjusting to Georgetown’s collegiate learning environment, Chris and Meredith will fight against the ableist culture extant within Georgetown, and will bring practical solutions to this difficulty.

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?

If elected, Chris and Meredith will whole-heartedly see to it that the GUSA Executive’s demographical make-up represents the diversity of Georgetown’s student body, and will expand the GUSA Secretary for Diversity Relations by creating new positions including Under- Secretaries for Race, Ethnicity, Disability Rights and Services, Socioeconomic Status, etc. With specific regard to the Under-Secretary for Ability, creating this position, which will be held by a student with great experience in this area, Chris and Meredith will see to it that conversations and initiatives relating to diversity, and specifically relating to disability and the experiences of disabled persons on campus, are not merely held, but promoted and utilized as effective tools for change and avenues between leading administrators and the voices of disabled students themselves.

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?

If elected, Chris and Meredith will actively collaborate with administrators for the creation of a Disability Cultural Center at Georgetown through gauging student support for this initiative, fund- raising, and then seeing to it that special needs student leaders have a primary voice in articulating how the Disability Cultural Center should be implemented on campus. First and foremost, know that Chris and Meredith support the idea of creating a Disability Cultural Center. Further, we believe our collaborative rather than antagonistic approach will go a long way in helping bring this beautiful idea to fruition.

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?

Chris and Meredith will sustain GUSA’s role as a leader in advocating for disability rights through the commitments stated above, and through remaining steadfast in our desire to put and keep disability rights before the eyes of administrators, we believe we’ll be very successful in maintaining GUSA’s stance as a leader in advocating for disability rights on the Hilltop.

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?

Chris and Meredith believe that any and all accessibility barriers should be addressed. In terms of the steps we will take to address said barriers, we will work with administrators to make sure that accessibility barriers are tackled quickly and efficiently, and will make sure to document these incidents so that going forward future construction/renovation/expansion projects will not pose barriers to special needs students, but rather, will take into account the needs of those with disabilities for all the years to come on the Hilltop.

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

Chris and Meredith believe that advocacy is a key responsibility of GUSA. As a result, if elected, we will remain passionately committed to advocating for improvements and expansions to accommodations at University-sponsored events and programming through working with the Academic Resource Center, and through our utilizing our Student Trust, if deemed a wise alternative, to see to it that all Georgetown events and programs take into consideration how to accommodate special needs students.

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

If elected, Chris and Meredith will advocate for meaningful inclusion of disabled people in conversations on campus through expanding the GUSA Secretariat for Diversity Relations, and hence, the attention and programming efforts GUSA gives to the subject of disability, and will also work closely with administrators to see to it that disabled persons are always included, but more than this, given leading roles, in decision- making that will affect their Hilltop experiences.

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?

Chris and Meredith will passionately advocate for increased availability of supportive services and community resources at Georgetown for disabled students by using the authority of the GUSA Executive to raise awareness as to this most important matter. Further, through the solutions stated above, we’ll work with administrators to address existing problems, and will prioritize disability rights as a top concern of our issue agenda.

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

If elected, Chris and Meredith will passionately labor to see to it that the necessary reforms to the Involuntary Medical Leave of Absence process come to fruition in a timely fashion. Chris and Meredith understand that there are large flaws in this system. Further, we believe our commitment to working with administrators rather than against them will enable us to efficaciously tackle them problems of this process, so that individuals will no longer be negatively affected by its inadequacies.

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

Chris and Meredith understand that advocating for the expansion and formalization of disability studies related coursework would send a message to the larger Georgetown community about our commitment to educating others about the importance of this matter. We will welcome the inclusion of disability studies related coursework as an aspect of our agenda in the coming year, and are excited about the new and fresh opportunities that will abound to make differences in this area.



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.