Disability and Diversity

My buddy Penny Richards from Disability Studies gave my name to the folks at Disability Services at University of Colorado, Boulder, as a possible speaker for a Diversity Summit in February. Their interest in including disability as diversity category grew out of an incident at UCB earlier this year, involving a food service worker who had been placed through Chinook Clubhouse, a vocational and rehabilitation center for adults with mental illness. After the suspect stabbed a student, all other employees who had been placed through this center were put on administrative leave, with pay, pending background checks. So, what Disability Services would like to do have someone with “excellent speaking skills” (hopefully me!) give a talk “to engage an audience of faculty, staff, and students, as well as people from outside the campus, interested in disability concerns on the following:

1) the negative social and psychological effects upon the community of persons with disabilities when violence occurs on campus; especially, when the perpetrator is identified as a person with a disability;

2) the importance of disability awareness for decision making authorities responding both internally and externally when violence on campus occurs;

3) defining how differing populations within the college’s or university’s disability population are affected by outbreaks of violence; and

4) outlining best practices for making university communities of disability more welcoming in the aftermath of such crises.”

One of their main points is that disability is an underrepresented category when it comes to discussions of diversity — reminds me of my own campus!

Some ideas we came up with through a telephone brainstorming session:

  • history of social attitudes towards persons with disabilities
  • “outing” individuals with nonvisible disabilities — links to GLBT history
  • individual privacy vs. security — stigmatizing minority to protect the normative majority
  • connections with other forms of medical surveillance past and present
  • no direct correlation, only media perception, about connection between violence and mental illness — in fact, incidence of violence higher among general population, mentally ill individuals are more likely to be victims of violence
  • traditional focus on mental health services tends to privilege the clinical/medical model which empowers medical professionals, whereas disability studies and disability services empowers individuals with disabilities themselves — administration at UCB favors MHS perspective, campus “safety” while failing to consider disability perspective
  • Disability services a place for individuals with disabilities to normalize identity, much like Women’s Center, GLBT centers, etc.
  • connections to discrimination against Arab Americans after 9/11, South Korean Americans after Virginia Tech (on that note, the Chronicle and other mainstream media been silent about shame/stigma imposed on those with mental illness).
  • implications for those who share diagnosis with the suspect — reluctance to disclose identity because of “guilt by association” — mis perception that those with mental illness are not safe to be around
  • how to reduce shame/stigma — see those with mental illness as part of community, not “safety problems”
  • English professors being asked to look out for “disturbing writing” by students

More thoughts on this later — seems to me we should do something similar here at CCSU.



1 thought on “Disability and Diversity

  1. Oh excellent, I’m glad to know they followed up on my suggestion. It just seemed like the perfect combination of topics for you to help them address.

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