24 April 2016

Georgetown makes progress on disability, but continues to fail.

Photo: Chalkboard with text that says, "Uncovering Institutional Ableism at Georgetown."

I've been out of Georgetown for almost a full year now, but while a student, I spent a lot of time agitating around the rampant ableism pervasive everywhere from classrooms and news coverage to the student services infrastructure and everyday social life.

In October 2015, Georgetown brought in two external consultants with PhDs to conduct an audit/review of the Academic Resource Center, which among other things (student-athlete support and general academic support), is responsible for disabled students on campus. They completed and submitted their report in January 2016, identifying multiple systemic issues with the ARC, though in my opinion, the report could have been far more damaging than it already is (and which is no doubt the reason Student Affairs is refusing to provide the full version outside its division). Even the disability working group within the administration seems to have only received the three-page executive summary but not the full report. 

Earlier, The Hoya published an article on this report, quoting choice bits of it, but did not publish the actual document, which was a disappointment. Their editors, however, published an op-ed asking the university to make public the results of audits like the one spurring this report, so I have to assume that Georgetown's administration stepped in to prevent The Hoya from publishing the full report (or at least I have to wonder whether this was the case -- certainly seems questionable). So as an alumn who isn't currently beholden in any way to the university, I've taken the liberty myself of making the full 14-page report available to the public, both the copy I obtained and a complete text-accessible transcription (typos and all) on this page (below the text of this post). 

The public, and particularly, the Georgetown community and anyone disabled considering going to Georgetown or accepting a job offer there, should know about this fucking bullshit -- and more that didn't make it into the report, either because it was outside the scope, was omitted, or was unknown to the reviewers.

This report identified issues with all three areas that the ARC is responsible for -- support for disabled students, support for student-athletes, and general academic support.  

This report identifies numerous issues, including this lovely tidbit about the ARC's office horrifically and ironically being inaccessible to wheelchair-users (because that makes 100% sense for the office serving disabled students. okay.): 
Across all stakeholders, the ARC's space, located in the Leavey Center, was described as inadequate, embarrassing, and deplorable. The students underscored the problems from a user's perspective. The ARC is not wheelchair friendly which is disconcerting since it is the location of disability services for students.
Not to mention the signage issue (discussed in the report) -- there's also an old sign pointing to the old location of disability services behind Darnall, which, that's not where the ARC is now or has been for many, many years. (And until a couple years ago when I pointed it out publicly, the Braille sign for the LGBTQ Resource Center was literally posted above the doorframe, because, didn't you know, all blind people are eight feet tall.)

And this great description of the testing accommodations room ("great" here meaning "any adjective that would never ordinarily be associated with the term 'great'"): 
The room for accommodated testing, located on a different floor of the Leavey Center, can only accommodate nine students. Its location as separate from the ARC is problematic in that the ability to proctor exams is limited. Additionally, staff cannot fit in the room to observe and there is no technology to provide oversight. The room was described as a "former closet" and "claustrophobic." It lacks ventilation, becoming unpleasantly warm. Noise from the hallway contradicts the accommodation of a "distraction reduced setting."
The report even offers lengthy comment on the ARC's complete inadequacy in supporting student athletes (two staff -- one only for the women's basketball team, and the other responsible, in theory, essentially for the rest of the over 800 total student-athletes), which is also impressive (not in a good way) given the typical trend of universities spending disproportionate amounts of funding on anything athletic. The associate director responsible for most student athletes admitted that she resorts to text-messaging students instead of arranging face-to-face meetings because of the ridiculously overwhelming caseload.

The report notes severe understaffing across all three domains, which, if rectified, will also necessitate a move to a different space (and hopefully one that is actually physically accessible, though ideally, every space on campus would be physically accessible...). Note the literal devaluing of disabled students -- it's cool to spend $50 million on this brand new varsity athletic training facility, but why bother hiring more staff for disabled student support services? Let alone opening a Disability Cultural Center (which would cost far, far less to get off the ground).

Disturbingly, however, in making the important point that international students, low-income students, first-generation students, and other nontraditional students could benefit greatly from specific academic support resources, the report's authors claim that there is a disproportionate focus on disabled students and student-athletes.

Can we stop playing oppression olympics for maybe one half minute? Firstly, disabled students (and apparently student-atheletes), are currently being fucked over by a profoundly ableist campus community (in addition to the infrastructure issues discussed in this report) and are completely not a priority at all. Secondly, can we just not pit ourselves against each other? What about disabled international students, or first-generation and low-income students, or disabled low-income students, or disabled and first-generation nontraditional students? The struggles and experiences can not only overlap but can also blend.

Yes, let's bring in specialized staff to support international students, non-traditional students, first-generation students, and low-income students, alongside staff for disabled students and student athletes.

But stop talking about these completely underserved and nonexistent areas as though we have to be in competition with each other. That's what ablenormative, white supremacist capitalism wants -- competition with each other for limited resources instead of collective, intersectional organizing to benefit everyone currently marginalized by the way things are.

Another disturbing finding in the report -- that virtually everyone interviewed during the two-day review (side note: that is SUCH AN INSUFFICIENT AMOUNT OF TIME TO THOROUGHLY REVIEW HOW MUCH GEORGETOWN SUCKS ON DISABILITY) cited Jane Holahan and the ARC as the campus experts on disability. Yeah, let's all defer to the office that consistently denied a deaf student access to interpretation for anything outside classes, and denied a blind student access to brailled materials. Because that makes perfect sense.

(In theory, yes, the ARC should be a central resource on disability issues, but given its current systematic problems, I adamantly oppose centralizing disability-related functions and internal technical assistance there. The ARC doesn't work with the disability studies faculty, the National Center for Cultural Competence led by the fantastic Tawara Goode, or the Center for Child and Human Development -- a federally-designated University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities. That's understandable to an extent -- faculty who do disability studies related work are focused on scholarship of disability theory; the NCCC and CCHD are primarily focused on cutting-edge research and policy development outside the university gates. But all of that only underscores the need for a Disability Cultural Center with full-time staff to serve as a central nexus for all things disability-related.)

For the same reason, the report's recommendation to train resident advisors, faculty, advising deans, and others who might interact with disabled students is great -- except where it recommends that ARC be responsible for that training. I don't trust them as far as I can throw them, and considering I'm a small human with little upper body strength, that's a no. Yes, do training on ableism and disability and how not to be a douchebag working with disabled students. But bring in people who not only know what they're doing but who aren't already embedded in the university and thus beholden to it (and likely unwilling to be critical at all, especially when critical is what is desperately needed).

In 2002, almost fifteen years ago, disabled students complained about inaccessibility at Georgetown, and Holahan responded then that change takes time. In 2008, physically disabled students and learning disabled students met with Holahan and the ARC again over inaccessibility and pervasive ableist attitudes in the classroom, only to receive the same non-response -- that the university is doing its best and that change takes time. In 2014, the university convened a working group ostensibly on "disability as a social justice issue," that interestingly, originally excluded me from the announcement about its inception and first meeting even though I held an official position on disability within the student government at the time. That working group released its own report last summer, which frustratingly also fails to articulate many important concerns or offer concrete timetables for its recommendations.

All of that history to say, the Academic Resource Center external review report is a great start, but it doesn't go nearly far enough.

Where is the talk of the school's tendency to pressure students with psych disabilities to leave? Or the talk of the school's continued physical inaccessibility, as dissected in an article published this week, which will be undoubtedly exacerbated by the continuing construction everywhere? When will d/Deaf students on campus have full access to all aspects of campus life? When will Georgetown begin offering courses on American Sign Language, to complement the weekly classes offered by student organization GU Signs? What about the pervasive institutionalized ableism in general and the long history of ableism overall? When will the disability studies course cluster lead to an actual minor in disability studies and the recruitment of additional disabled faculty, especially faculty of color? When will the administration commit to a plan for a Disability Cultural Center?

Will any of these five steps toward ending ableism at Georgetown that I wrote about in November 2014 actually happen? There's progress on two of them: GUSA and Student Affairs now have a central pool of funding to cover ASL interpretation and CART captioning at campus events outside academic classes, and in the fall, Georgetown brought on its first access coordinator within Student Engagement to oversee use of those funds and implementation of accommodations outside the housing and classroom contexts. (Side note: I'm excited they hired a woman of color into the position, but dismayed that they hired someone who previously had zero experience doing disability work of any kind.) But the other three? As far as anyone can determine, nothing.

This report is a wonderful start, but it is far, far from over.

Georgetown, as a disabled alumn and activist, it's well past time to get your shit together. Do better. Your disabled students at a minimum deserve to be at a campus that treats them like human beings, and right now, that doesn't seem to be the case for way too many of us. You now have the opportunity to start making things right, so the next cohort of students with disabilities might have a better experience than the folks I know who were literally driven out of your university because of the institutional ableism or the folks I know who right now are scared to tell their fellow students or co-workers about their disabilities for fear of retaliation.

The idea that Georgetown values cura personalis, the whole person, will remain absurd until the university makes a sustained commitment to dismantle ableism throughout the campus culture. Right now, I'm rather unwilling to believe that anything significant will change simply because this report exists somewhere internally. I'll be waiting to find out whether you'll actually act upon not only the recommendations in this report, but also the many, many other areas of total failure (and sometimes plain old mediocrity) on disability. I believe in actions, folks. It's great the external audit happened. Why keep the results quiet unless they're that embarrassing? And if the university is truly concerned or embarrassed, then you'd better get a move on breaking out of the pattern of reluctant appeasement and complacency.

I'm waiting. 


You can download or save the full report in PDF (not text-accessible). 

Since the PDF is ironically inaccessible, I have transcribed the following text-accessible version of the full report, attempting to preserve as much of the original formatting as possible as well.


Georgetown Academic Resource Center External Review

Review held: October 28-30, 2015

Report submitted; January, 2016

Executive Summary

The Academic Resource Center (ARC) is a department within the Division of Student Affairs which is responsible for providing academic support for all students with a special focus on supports for student athletes and supports for students with disabilities. The reviewers were charged with identifying the specific strengths of the department and suggesting areas for improvement, consistent with the mission of the division and Georgetown University. 

On October 28 – 30, the reviewers met with the staff of the ARC, colleagues within the division of student affairs, faculty and advising deans, the Disability Working Group, students, and other University partners including legal counsel. The reviewers concluded that the mission and vision of the department are in line with different respective fields and yet are not well integrated in an overall structure. Moreover, the resources and structure of the office are not consistent with best practice and indeed could pose a risk to the University regarding its limited ability to provide for legal and ethical accommodations for students with disabilities. Descriptions of the programs, services, policies and procedures of the ARC are not consistently communicated to students, staff and faculty. This can lead to confusion and lack of outreach to those who would benefit from the expertise of the ARC. We have outlined the strengths and challenges of the department and presented a number of recommendations.


  • The department mission and connections to the University mission actualizes the Jesuit philosophy in its approach to provide specific, caring comprehensive support for a diversity of needs in a context of promoting academic excellence. 
  • The dedicated and experienced staff are well respected by all stakeholders including students. 
  • There is connection and strong collaboration within the student development division colleagues, academic advising deans, office of diversity and equity and University Counsel’s office. 
  • The disability working group is caring and knowledgeable concerning individuals with disabilities. 
  • The students recognize that they are receiving adequate supports and they respect and value the ARC staff and yet they also see the necessity for improvement of ARC resources. 

  • Inadequate staffing has stretched a dedicated leader who does not have the time to structure the department and provide adequate supervision to the associate directors and other staff. 
  • The limited number of ARC staff has created a minimal ability to serve the populations it professes to support. 
  • Space is inadequate in size and function, misaligned and leads to separation of services and isolation of some students. 
  • Technology is not being used to address basic efficiencies including data collection, scheduling, administrative procedures, and assistive technology. 
  • The department branding does not clearly articulate the populations it serves on the website; publications are outdated. There is a need for a recognizable icon that includes the multi-pronged focus of the ARC. Indeed, even the Division of Student Affairs end of year report for 2013-2014 depicts the ARC with the handicapped icon, representing only 1/3 of its focus and a fraction of that population. 


The reviewers are making recommendations in the following categories which are detailed within this report.

  • Increasing staff and revising current staff positions New positions needed include a Learning Strategies Specialist for Students with Disabilities; a Learning Strategies Specialist for the diverse undergraduate and graduate student populations; an Accommodations Coordinator; and an additional Academic Counselor for athletes. Additionally, several graduate students should be permanently budgeted. Revised positions include the current Associate Director for Student Disability Services and the current Disability / Learning Skills Advisor. 

  • Space and Location We are recommending relocating the Academic Resource Center to an accessible and well-traveled setting that includes enough offices to comfortably house ARC staff, student spaces, program areas, conference room and administrative areas. Recommendations include a Testing Center within the relocated ARC (or very close by) and the creation and installation of appropriate directional signage to the ARC’s current and future locations. 

  • Technology We are recommending technology and technological support to increase administrative efficiency, data collection, record-keeping, and monitoring of student-athletes progress. Increased technology should also include current assistive technology. 

  • Policies and Procedures Our recommendations include consistent branding of the ARC with consideration of all the populations that it serves, outreach efforts to normalize academic support, education for instructors and all university staff working with students with disabilities, and the improvement of procedures for hiring tutors. We recommend the creation of a liaison system to the ARC and also a committee to investigate the accessibility of institutional websites. 

These recommendations are intended to be comprehensive and consistent with best practices. Other highly selective universities (e.g. University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University) have or are increasing academic support services for all students, including students with disabilities. Nearby American University’s Academic Support and Access Center, with similar responsibilities and comparable enrollment, has a staff of 19 individuals. 



The Academic Resources Center (ARC), established at Georgetown University in 2003-2004, brought together learning support, disability services, and tutoring. Support for athletes was added at a later date. The current Director, Jane Holahan, assumed her position during Academic Year 1998, before the ARC's current configuration. Currently, the ARC's mission includes both disability and academic support services, with a particular focus on academic support for student athletes. The ARC is described on its website as "[providing] students with the tools and support needed for academic success" and divides these supports into three categories: Disability Support; Student-Athlete Support; Academic Support. These areas of responsibility, also highlighted in the Division of Student Affairs end of year report, 2013-2014, are mission central for a university that is committed to supporting its students, especially students who may be most in need of academic support programs and services.

As a Jesuit institution, Georgetown is committed to an education that helps students integrate their intellectual experiences with their lived experiences. The education takes into account the whole person and actively engages students with considering how their learning can be used for the greater good of our world. the ARC helps students ensure that they are able to grasp the intellectual offerings of the University by providing academic accommodations for those with disabilities, support and monitoring for those who are athletes, and general academic strengthening opportunities for those who need additional academic support. In the case of each population, there is an attempt to reinforce their identity development as scholars whose specific needs may require a specific academic approach. This provision of services specific to the needs is consistent with an Ignatian approach of meeting students where they are, and helping them to be open to improvement not only for themselves, but for others.

The ARC is one office within the Division of Student Affairs which is responsible for addressing the developmental needs of students. This review is designed to describe the specific strengths of the department and to suggest areas for improvement, consistent with the mission of the division and the University. The Vice President of Student Affairs and the Associate Dean have requested a review with a list of recommendations to impove the services and ultimately the experience of students at Georgetown University. 

The following individuals were invited to provide this external review and submit this report: 

Dr. Sheilah Shaw Horton has been the Vice President for Student Development at Loyola University of Maryland since 2011. She came to Loyola after a 25 year career at Boston College. In both universities she has overseen the provision of services for academic support for student athletes as well as supports for students with disabilities. Dr. Horton has a Ph.D. and a Masters' Degree in Counseling Psychology from Boston College and has taught in the department of Counseling Psychology.

Dr. Myrna Cohen is the Executive Director of the University of Pennsylvania's Weingarten Learning Resources Center. In this capacity, she directs academic support programs and services for all of Penn undergraduate, graduate, and professional students and oversees the University's Office of Student Disabilities Services. Dr. Cohen is also on the senior staff of Penn's College of Arts and Sciences and Adjunct Associate Professor of Education at Penn's Graduate School of Education. She received her Ph.D. in Education from the University of Pennsylvania in 1992.

Support for Students with Disabilities

Federal law, trends, and the ARC

Following national trends, the number of students with disabilities at Georgetown University has risen dramatically. In 1998, there were less than 200 students registered with the disability support office. This number grew to 660 students by February, 2015, an increase of over 200%. They have also noted a significant increase in students as a result of the growth in the School of Continuing Studies, including online at the undergraduate and graduate level. The numbers reflect a growing public awareness of disabilities, as well as the increased availability of federally mandated services in high schools for students with disabilities. Highly qualified high school students, accustomed to appropriate services and accommodations are attending postsecondary institutions with the expectation that the university will provide a continuation of appropriate services and accommodations. At Georgetown University, it is the responsibility of the ARC to provide services and programs that support the legal mandate for its students with learning, physical, and psychological disabilities and ADHD. This responsibility is significant since failure to address legal requirements can result in the institution's loss of federal funding. The Rehabilitation Act and the ADA prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities by institutions like Georgetown University that receive or benefit from federal financial assistance. These laws require that reasonable accommodatinos be provided to otherwise qualified students with a disability so that they have access to the same education and programmatic opportunities as their non-disabled peers. Both the Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Jutsice are charged with insuring that institutions adhere to these mandates. Moreover, there is a "greater ethical imperative to ensure that accommodations for differently-abled students are crafted responsibly and implemented with the utmost respect and dignity." (NASPA, 2015) An overview of the laws can be found on the website of the office of Civil Rights at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/disabilityoverview.html

The passing of the ADA Amendments Act in 2008 has made it "easier for an individual seeking protection under the ADA to establish that he or she has a disability." (NASPA, 2015) The direct effect on postsecondary institutions has been an increase in self-identifying students, more documentation to consider, additional accommodations to determine and, ultimately, to actualize. The effect on the number of exams to be accommodated is exponential. Additionally, the students and needs have become more complex. Nationally and locally, both the number of students with psychological disabilities and students with chronic health conditions have realized the greatest increases. Often, these students require the closest consideration for appropriate accommodations and the greatest amount of time to collaborate with offices and colleagues throughout campus as well as external experts and parents.

There are additional demands on student disability offices that fall under the responsibility of the ARC. These demands are making an impact on staff time and the need to update their areas of expertise. For example, students with temporary conditions (e.g. broken dominant hand, concussion) require the support, time, and resources of the ARC. There is an increase in graduate students with disabilities. These are students who have received services and accommodation in their undergraduate schools and expect continuation. Students with disabilities taking online classes present additional challenges to the need to provide web-based access. On the rise are students requiring housing and dining accommodations. Last year 132 students requested medical housing. In addition to living spaces that accommodate physical disabilities, there are more requests for medical singles, or carpet free and/or air conditioned spaces for students with allergies. Legal changes affect the definitions for service animals and comfort animals and students are increasingly requesting these accommodations. In order to consider student requests, ARC staff must also understand how the Fair Housing Act and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Section 504 apply. These changes, in turn, increase the need to collaborate with other campus offices and the time to thoughtfully consider documentation. 

A closer look at Georgetown University and disability issues

There is an impressive awareness of disability issues by some Georgetown University administrators. The Disability Working Group is a source of collective information positioned to inform the University and the ARC. Georgetown's students with disabilities are an articulate and appreciative group who can provide the thoughtful user perspective. University health insurance covers the costs of, at least, some of disability testing. Dr. Holahan and the ARC were consistently cited by all stakeholders as the campus experts on disability issues, laws, and support for students. This praise was uniformly accompanied by awareness that the staff and resources were challenged by the increasing demands. This sometimes led to reluctance to contribute to this imbalance with yet another question or request. We were told that "we worry about so much work for one small office." However, this concern is counter-productive to the support of students and education of the University's staff and faculty.

The ARC's location and lack of space (addressed in more detail later in this report) was another repeated concern throughout the two day review. Beyond the problematic physical setting of the ARC, there are additional accessibility concerns. There is a lack of campus signage to direct current and prospective students and visitors, especially those using a wheelchair or crutches, to the disability office in The Leavey Center. Current construction further complicates directed travel and there does not appear to be additional guidance around construction for individuals with disabilities. Finally, understanding the ARC's resources on the University's website is as difficult as finding its physical office location since its main webpage lacks the department's name as its headline and clear articulation of its three-pronged student focus. 

The imbalance that exists between legitimate demands on services and the resources to meet those needs inevitably leads to unintended neglect. We heard concerning scenarioes of student situations, including the experience of a deaf student who could not access a campus event that did not have an interpreter. Faculty are often unaware of policy and students have been in the uncomfortable position of educating their educators. Concern about Georgetown's support for its students with disabilities was summed by one adminitsrator, "At a university that prides itself on excellence, we are just meeting compliance." In February 2015, a report was written by the director that outlined similar concerns and recommended staff adjustments. Our recommendations build upon and expand this proposal.

Recommendations for support for students with disabilities includes the following:

1) Increase the staff and refine  current positions in order to meet federal guidelines and the ethical obligations to provide access and support for students with disabilities so they can participate in the same postsecondary experience as their non-disabled peers. 
Refine the current responsibilities of the Associate Director for Student Disability Services who should focus solely on the coordination of services for students with temporary conditions, chronic health, and physical disabilities, including sensory impairments and mobility-related disabilities. In addition to individual work with students, this position should consult and coordinate with Housing, Dining, Student Health Services, and Event Planning. Moreover, this individual would coordinate all accommodations for deaf students, including Gallaudet students taking courses at Georgetown University. 
Rationale: These responsibilities are among the most time consuming and include areas of current and anticipated growth. This position would provide time for the Director to supervise a very complex work environment, set policies, stay current on legal changes, and represent the ARC throughout campus. Both the Director and Associate Director for Student Disability Services could (and should) continue to work directly with students because this is one of their strengths and also to keep their pulse on student challenges and issues. 
Presently, the Director is working 12 hour days to fulfill the needs of the ARC. We heard repeatedly that the ARC is "understaffed" and that the workload is "staggering." An additional concern in that the Director is a wealth of institutional knowledge, but there is no succession plan built into the organization of the ARC. 
Hire a Learning Strategies Specialist for Students with Disabilities to provide individual appointments, programming, and online workshops on university relevant skills such as academic reading, writing, time management, and study strategies for students with disabilities based on the students' documentation and their expressed academic needs. These responsibilities are currently being only partially filled by the Associate Director.
Rationale: Learning support will include instruction on academic skills and study strategies that can increase independence and self-sufficiency. Comprehensive support goes beyond legal requirements to support the whole student within the academic and extracurricular settings. Presently, the ARC staff can provide some of this support, but we heard that it was often "rushed" and not always available. This is clearly due to demand, not the skill set of the ARC staff.
Hire an Accommodations Coordinator to schedule, coordinate, and oversee the increased number of accommodated exams, special technology needed in the exam situations, note-taker accommodations, and e-text oversight.
Rationale: These tasks have become the responsibility of the Coordinator of Administrative Services whose primary responsibility is the management of the ARC, including scheduling services and programs and the multitude of support needed for this complex office. It is clear that the ARC needs a full-time individual in each of these positions.
Hire Graduate Students with experience and interest to assist with learning support, facilitation of workshops, tutor training, and coordination of exams during peak exam periods. These positions should be permanently build into the budget, rather than accessed during time of staff vacancies.
Rationale: With training and support, graduate students can contribute additional energy and ideas, as well as instructional assistance. This staffing structure also supports graduate education and promotes interest in a field sorely in need of future leaders.
In addition:
Revise the position of Disability / Learning Skills Advisor to full-time at the town campus to better support the growing number of students with disabilities, adult learners and online courses that are associated with that campus. Specific time should be allocated for meeting and connecting with ARC staff on the main campus.

2) Provide education and training for faculty, teaching assistants, resident advisors and others who work directly with students with disabilities. While it is difficult to require faculty education, this should be a clear mandate from Georgetown Administration. Faculty should be encouraged to include syllabus statements that describe the ARC as the resource for students with disabilities and the location for academic support for all students.

Rationale: We learned from students that they were often in the uncomfortable position of educating their instructors. Faculty should be aware of legal requirements and University policies and procedures for supporting students with disabilities. Through programming and print and web-based materials, faculty must be made aware of the ARC as the central department for the self-identification of students with disabilities and the determination of accommodations. This will insure a consistent process as reqiured by law. They should also be provided with information on correct terminology to replace language that is offensive to students with disabilities (e.g. "wheelchair bound").

3) Provide signage that directs prospective and current students and visitors to the ARC, with clear indication that it is the location of disability services. Within the Leavey Center (or future location), provide directional signs to the ARC.

4) Provide the ARC with a database to coordinate scheduling of appointments and accommodated exams, as well as a notes system to track accommodations and a student's activity record with the ARC. The volume of accommodations and the flexibility and planning required to implement these accommodations can be managed better with an online service and it also will improve student accountability for requesting accommodations. The ARC staff has requested "Clockwork" which may fulfill some, if not all, of these recommendations. Provide technology for administrative efficiency and contemporary methods of communication. Presently, letters to faculty informing of a student's disability accommodations are presented to them by students on carbon copied paper.

5) Develop a liaison system with representation from key academic undergraduate and graduate programs. 

Rationale: This is necessary in order to strengthen ties with individuals who are advising students, to inform departments and programs of law, policy and procedures, and to offer consultation support. This is already done informally, but not consistently. The liaisons should meet, as a group, at least once a semester with ARC administration.

6) Convene a committee, including the ARC Director, to investigate the accessibility of institutional websites, courseware, and online course materials.

Rationale: More course and research material is available through online print resources and video. Also, there has been an increase in online courses. The OCR, DOJ and advocacy organizations such as the National Federation of the Blind are scrutinizing these resources to insure that they are accessible for individuals with a variety of disabilities. Again, it is also the ethical obligation to make educational materials available to all.

Services for Student Athletes

Student Athletes have a unique experience at universities in that their identity as athletes is comparable to their identity as scholars. Their time commitment to the sport is essential to their existence in college and they are expected to deliver on the field, courts and facilities as well as in the classroom. Their personal experiences, history, family challenges, etc. mirror the complexity of the student body. In general, research and literature on the student athlete experience suggest that academic support and counseling must also take into account the involvement of coaches, compliance officers, trainers, teammates and others who are intimately involved in the daily life of student athletes. Communication between all the parties, ongoing monitoring of students to identify academic needs, referrals to the counseling center, wellness programs, leadership and career development and general academic support are all essential components of an effective student athlete support network. A recent review of academic support programs by Navarro and Malvaso (2015) suggest that student athlete development is best approached by an integrative approach where student athlete programs co-exist with other services such as the approach at Georgetown supporting the overall student engagement. Placed within an academic support office in the division of student affairs seems to be consistent with best practice for an objective holistic approach, as outlined by Navarro and Malvaso.

At Georgetown, there are 27 athletic teams encompassing 846 varsity student athletes which is approximately 10% of the overall student population. The staff who support these students are housed within the ARC and includes an Associate Director, Shelly Habel and an Academic Coordinator for Women's Basketball, Adam Polacek. Within the Athletics Department there is an Assistant Director for student athlete development who manages the NCAA expectations for wellness programs and other compliance issues as well as all matters related to Men's basketball. Study halls are run by coaches. 

While the ideal situation would be for all student athletes to find an array of services at the ARC to nurture their student athlete experience, the reality is that simply ensuring that all 700 students remain in academic compliance is a challenge due to this limited staffing structure. The one associate director is responsible for meeting with students to discuss their academic needs, coordinating of proctoring exams for 25 teams when students travel as well as providing academic monitoring for students. The overview outlined by Shelly Habel describes the array of services provided and the challenges the office has in trying to meet the growing complexity of demands. A minimum of all first year student athletes should have close communication but this is not possible. Currently, coaches have recommended that 120 first year students, as well as 39 students who are on probation meet regularly with Shelly. Due to the sheer number of students under her purview, she can only monitor those who are previously identified as at risk. While she would prefer personal interaction, she has had to use text messaging in lieu of face to face meetings in order to be more efficient and expeditious with students. Progress reports are not consistently sent to faculty of all sports, only those for students who are at risk. The inability to outreach to all faculty limits the support and promotion that the majority of student athletes need. A minimum of all first year student athletes should have some check in with their faculty; however, this is not possible with the current structure. Overall, it is questionable whether Shelly's approach to supporting students via text and engaging primarily with those who are at risk is consistent with a Jesuit approach of cura personalis. Indeed, it is a minimalist approach in order to manage the large volume of students and their complex needs. 

The tutorial support provided to student athletes is coordinated by the ARC staff however they are challenged due to limitations on tutors in a variety of subjects. We heard of the process taking several weeks to hire student tutors, limiting the ideal academic impact on the student athletes.

The academic coordinator for Women's Basketball is focused entirely on this one team, often traveling with the team to proctor exams and offer academic support. All of his time is focused on the success of the women's basketball team and therefore he is unable to offer any additional support to other sports. The men's basketball team advisor reports to Athletics. Several of the community members suggested that this sends mixed messages regarding the academic focus of these two teams. The value of a focused approach is individualized attention for the students on these highly visible teams. The challenge however, is that they are isolated and may not be receiving the holistic Georgetown education if they are so limited in their scope.

The NCAA required Life Skills program, which includes programming on the five pillars of academic excellence, athletic excellence, personal development, career development and community service is coordinated through the Athletics department. While this ensures student athlete participation, the student affairs departments who specialized in these life skills and in particular the ARC are not integrated with the programming. Georgetown's goal of providing a quality education may be limited when the life skills programming and academic support are not aligned as students learn best when they are able to experience the connections between the various aspects of their college experience.

Despite the limited staffing, the department has been successful with helping students maintain academic compliance. Shelly reported that the numbers of student athletes in a given year who find themselves ineligible are very low (less than 5 per year) with the exception of basketball. Further, she indicated that one third of student athletes make the Dean's list and several teams have an overall g.p.a. of 3.4 or above. Adam indicated that 5 women's basketball players had a 3.0 last year and received Big East All Academic Honors. Priority registration for student athletes on the basketball teams and special workshops for football players, are strategies which have helped to maintain compliance and academic success for student athletes.

Academic support is an important factor for prospective student athletes and therefore availability for recruiting meetings is also a necessary role that the advisor to student athletes must play. In this case, Shelly meets with prospective students and their parents in football, soccer, volleyball, lacrosse and track. Each of these teams has significant numbers of students, requiring a fair amount of Shelly's time.

Feedback from colleagues of the ARC reported that while the department works extremely hard, they must rely on colleagues to reach their goals. The advising deans and others in the division of student affairs are able to provide support for students who tend to fall above the "at risk" status, yet need additional support.

Recommendations for support for student athletes includes the following:

7) Increase the staff by one full time Academic Counselor in order to provide an integrated experience beyond mere compliance for student athletes. Comparable universities such as American, Duke, Villanova, Boston College, University of Pennsylvania, and Fordham University have between 3 and 7 professional staff members to support student athletes. These offices also engage students in laedership development, counseling, career development, and tutorial support specifically for student athletes- far beyond a compliance-only model.

8) Co-locate all the staff in the department so that they are able to consult, share resources and bring the women's basketball team in closer connection with other student athletes. Currently the separation of offices and space isolates the team and limits the natural engagement opportunities that can occur when these students are physically isolated from other resources.

9) Improve the policies and practices for hiring tutors. Students often are not aware of the need for tutorial assistance until mid-semester, yet it becomes challenging to hire tutors at that time. A review of the hiring policies and practices may identify changes that can improve the experience of acquiring a tutor and lead to greater academic success for students.

10) Utilize technological solutions for academic monitoring of courses so that more students can be monitored before they are at risk. Also, technology can improve the process for requesting tutors to reduce the time to acquiring a tutor

Academic Support 

The ARC website indicates support in three categories: Disability Support; Student-Athlete Support; Academic Support. It invites students who want to improve their academic skills such as note-taking, test-taking and time-management to "take advantage of the resources" of the ARC. Such academic support is warranted for talented university students whose approaches to learning and studying should match the challenges and opportunities of the curriculum. However, the ARC's lack of space and staff has led to the prioritization of students with disabilities and student-athletes over other students in the Georgetown student body. During our meeting with various stakeholders, especially faculty and Advising Deans, we learned of specific cohorts of students, who would benefit from individual academic support with a learning specialist. These include international students, STEM students, individuals from under-resourced high schools, graduate students, and those students who "never had to study in high school." The ARC stats have also noted a significant increase in students as a result of the growth of the School of Continuing Studies, including online at the undergraduate and graduate level. There appears to be a lack of outreach that would invite students to engage with the ARC and normalize the use of academic support. It was also suggested that the knowledgeable ARC staff could be more fully utilized as ongoing direct support to Advising Deans, not only during times of student crisis.

Recommendations for Academic Support:

11) Hire a Learning Strategies Specialist to work with undergraduate and graduate Georgetown students on university-relevant skills that support their work across disciplines. Provide an array of supportive services for the diverse undergraduate and graduate student populations to support Georgetown's commitment to the cognitive and metacognitive growth of their students.

12) With the input of students, develop outreach through print materials and social media with the objectives of informing students, faculty, staff, prospective students, and parents about the resources of the ARC and diminishing the stigma of academic support.

Space and Location

Across all stakeholders, the ARC's space, located in the Leavey Center, was described as inadequate, embarrassing, and deplorable. The students underscored the problems from a user's perspective. The ARC is not wheelchair friendly which is disconcerting since it is the location of disability services for students. Office space is inadequate to house all the staff who should be working together. Since increased staff is needed for the ARC, there will not be enough space in the current location

The ARC is difficult to locate, both geographically and on the University's website. Although its location in the student center would seem ideal, it lacks the visibility of other major offices such as the Career Center. There is a scarcity of campus signage to direct students and visitors, especially those using a wheelchair or crutches, to the disability office in the Leavey Center. Current  construction is reason for even more directional signs. Once inside the building, there is a lack of indicators. Additionally, locating the ARC on the Georgetown University's website brings up a descriptor page with "Academic Resource Center" hidden among the text.

The room for accommodated testing, located on a different floor of the Leavey Center, can only accommodate nine students. Its location as separate from the ARC is problematic in that the ability to proctor exams is limited. Additionally, staff cannot fit in the room to observe and there is no technology to provide oversight. The room was described as a "former closet" and "claustrophobic." It lacks ventilation, becoming unpleasantly warm. Noise from the hallway contradicts the accommodation of a "distraction reduced setting." With increased numbers of accommodated exams, ARC staff must often vacate their offices to provide additional testing areas. When an accommodation is not fair and equal, students may file complaints. The testing space should meet determined accommodations in terms of quiet, lighting, and ventilation. It should include ample space for proctoring.

Recommendations concerning space and location:

13) Relocate the Academic Resource Center to a setting that includes enough offices to comfortably house ARC staff, student spaces, program areas, conference room and administrative areas for reception and workroom. The location should be easily accessible and in a well-traveled area of the campus. The ARC Director and staff are the best determiners of particular space needs. 

14) Work with University architects to create and install appropriate directional signage to the ARC's location. Other accessible expectations such as braille on the elevators and accessible restrooms should also be a priority. 

15) Create a Testing Center in close proximity to the ARC. Consider lighting, adjustable desks, and technology (including assistive technology). Build this center to accommodate future needs by considering five-year trends and benchmarking other institutions that have built areas for accommodated testing.


Navarro, K. & Malvaso, S., (2015) Synthesizing Research on the Contemporary Student-Athlete Experience: implications and recommendations for NCAA Student Athlete development programming. Journal of College and Character, 16:4, 263-269, DOI: 10.1080/2194587x.2015.1091358

Grossman, P.D. & Smith, E.J. (2015). Five Things Student Affairs Professionals Should Know About Disability Law. Washington, D.C.: NASPA Foundation. 

04 April 2016

Hello, internalized ableism

Content/TW: Internalized ableism, passing for neurotypical, not passing for neurotypical.

Hello, internalized ableism

I don't believe in the ableist, classist hierarchy that treats autistic people as "legitimately autistic" only if they have an on-paper diagnosis while other autistic people are treated dubiously and with suspicion if they self-identify without (obtaining) an on-paper diagnosis. That hierarchy privileges the medical/psychiatric-industrial complex as the sole arbiter of autistic identity and experience. (In other words, only considering someone to be a "real" autistic person if they have a paper diagnosis means that you believe that only medical/psychiatric professionals can define who counts as autistic.) That hierarchy also privileges those who have class privilege, especially compounded by other forms of privilege. Class-privileged white people, for example, are more likely to have the resources necessary to access a paper diagnosis, than lower-income people and people of color, and especially low-income people of color.

Others have written extensively on the issue of privileging paper diagnoses and marginalizing self-identified people, most famously in the letter "Who Can Call Themselves Autistic?" penned more than ten years ago by some of the greats in the autistic movement. I won't linger long on that topic of conversation.

I wanted to preface this post with that caveat on diagnosis and self-identification because I'm starting my story here (and I'm unapologetically autistic in the way this story unwinds, which is to say, it's both extremely linear, logical, and intuitive all at once, and not at all):

I received a paper diagnosis through a neuropsychological evaluation when I was in eighth grade. (At the time the label used in my evaluation was "Asperger's" but I identify myself as autistic because I believe in creating solidarity among autistic people rather than reinforcing artificial divisions between autistic people based on ableist ideas about which types of autistic people are acceptable or desirable versus not.)

From the time I was a small child, I never quite fit in with other children my own age, whether with other Chinese American children or with children in my classes or with children in my childhood church. I was painfully slow on the uptake when figuring out that people I thought were nice to me or were my friends were actually treating me like shit.

But somewhere between the time I received the autistic diagnosis and now, I had fallen into a kind of complacency in my young adulthood (I'm in law school now) as a disability activist about my own disabled identity and experiences. From believing that autism was something to be ashamed of (and that would result in my classmates bullying me even more if they found out) to actively organizing protests against organizations like Autism Speaks for eugenicist cure rhetoric, I've now settled comfortably into a role as a Professional Activist TM.

(What is a career activist anyway? How horrifically has the nonprofit industrial complex injected social movements with white supremacist capitalism?)

Part of my work nowadays brings me across the United States to speak at colleges and conferences and with all sorts of other groups interested in anti-ableism training. I talk about privilege a lot and one of the types of privilege that I discuss is passing privilege -- maybe better termed "being less fucked." I talk about hidden disabilities versus apparent disabilities, and how sometimes, a particular person might be apparently disabled but at other times they're not. (Someone who uses a wheelchair might not be apparently disabled while lying in bed. Someone autistic might not be apparently disabled in a still photograph taken when they weren't stimming. These are still maybes and don't account for more complicated experiences.)

I use myself as an example, especially in casual conversation. I tell people that I generally pass for neurotypical and that to most people, especially those who aren't terribly familiar with autistic people, my disabilities are fairly hidden.

(Maybe sometimes I'm giving this long introduction or caveat for my own existence as a way of trying to navigate the double bind we're often placed into as disabled people -- if you're "high-functioning" you can't speak for the really disabled people; if you're "low-functioning," those must not be your ideas at all! -- and avoid the accusations that I'm a not-really-disabled person profiting off of "really" disabled people.)

But lately, I'm coming face to face with the realization that I'm wrong about whether, to what extent, and how often I pass for neurotypical. I'm realizing that even if I don't identify myself as disabled or autistic, other people still read me as "different" and that as much as my gender identity, (a)sexuality, and race might contribute to that perception, my disability is an inextricable part of the equation. Years after receiving a paper diagnosis and winding my way through layer after layer of educational privilege where I thought I might be perceived as somewhat weird but not fundamentally deviant, I find that other people still intuitively peg me as some kind of neurodivergent (whether or not they know that word) and often attach negative aspersions to that perception.

And frankly, that's scary.

It's scary, sure, because it means I could face discrimination I didn't think I might have to deal with (being relatively less fucked if able to pass for not-disabled), because it means I could be read more easily as a target for potential violence (given the rates of all forms of violence against cognitively and developmentally disabled people, especially those read as feminine or women), because it means I am more visible than I realized and visibility itself also means violence.

But it's also scary because I'm becoming intimately acquainted with my own internalized ableism in all the little dark crevices in corners of my mind I forgot existed and haven't thought to check, and I can't shake the immediate thoughts that I should try harder not to seem so autistic in public or else what am I doing wrong that other people can tell? Essentially, I'm finding that my reactions to this ongoing realization of just how much my neurodivergence shows are that there is something wrong and that I should feel ashamed and self-conscious if (non-autistic) people can tell that I'm autistic. For all the time I've spent in conversation with other disabled people -- and autistic people in particular -- about ableism and neurodivergence and neurodiversity and radical disability, I have never stamped it all out.

We build cultures of perfection in activist spaces. This is not unique to autistic or disabled spaces. Purity politics pervade activist and social justice spaces. Call-out culture demands that in the rush to create safe spaces, we shut people out and throw them away if they fuck up once. (This is not about forgiving privileged people for repeatedly entitled or outright abusive behavior targeting marginalized people. This is about disposability politics.) We're constantly competing for limited resources ("likes" and "reblogs" and "retweets," all the twenty-first century trappings of social capital -- and that word "capital" is critically important), trying to be better activists, always on, always saying the right thing. We give pithy acknowledgements of privilege and past ignorance/fuck-ups, but functionally act as though in the present time, we no longer fuck up because now we're Educated. That it is our duty to jump down each other's throats at the slightest mistake or misphrasing -- ignoring the completely classist, racist, and ableist implications of expecting people to always say the right thing and never accidentally say the wrong thing or not know the correct terms.

All we've done is replicated the painful violence of white supremacist, (cis-hetero) patriarchal capitalism in supposedly revolutionary, transformative, liberatory spaces.

All we've done is take the practices we find harmful and do the exact same things to each other.

We've created activist cultures where it is not acceptable to talk about ongoing struggles with internalized ableism, yet we expect autistic and other disabled people doing disability movement work to be politically perfect (that is, to have no traces anymore of any internalized ableism.)

We have created a mirror image of the "overcoming" supercrip/inspoporn narrative we all hate:

Ambika was diagnosed with autism, but she went to social skills class and occupational therapy and tried so very hard to succeed despite autism and now she's in medical school and has overcome all of the autism-related deficits that predicted she would never make it this far! 

Now we have a different "overcoming" story and it's just as toxic:

Ayodele was an autistic teenager when he first met autistic neurodiversity activists, and then he started going to anti-Autism Speaks protests and local ASAN chapter meetings, and writing his own blog on Tumblr and now he's working for a national disability rights organization and has overcome all of his internalized ableism from being in the self-contained special ed classroom! 

Yet no one seems to notice the painful irony of exactly how similar these narratives are -- though we condemn one and exalt the other.

So where are our spaces where we can heal not just from the trauma inflicted on us by others but also from the ongoing trauma we inflict on ourselves? Where can we be vulnerable, truly vulnerable, without fearing the consequences of enforced ostracism from "safe spaces" that privilege an ableist facade of having-it-together and overcoming-internalized-oppression?

So here I am, feeling very much at the edge and isolated from most autistic spaces these days, trying to reach my tendrils through dark corners of webspace in the hopes of reaching those of you who, like me, are struggling to uproot our own internalized ableism while maintaining the public facade of impenetrability.

Hello, internalized ableism. I don't miss you and I don't like you very much at all. 

Hello, internalized ableism. You seem to be very comfortable inside my mind, but I think it's time for you to start packing and moving out -- for good. 

Hello, internalized ableism. You know me far, far too well. You're hardly a stranger here. 

Hello, internalized ableism. You're living in my brain and I can't ignore your presence anymore.