For the second year in a row, disability advocate Lydia Brown (COL ’15) sent a survey to all Georgetown University Student Association executive candidates addressing disability issues on campus and asking how they would respond to disability-related challenges if elected to office.
Brown developed a similar survey during last year’s GUSA election, posting the candidates’ responses on her blog “Autistic Hoya.” This year, the candidates were asked six questions relating to their perceptions of disability-related issues on campus, published online.
Brown’s first question addressed the topic of ableism, or discrimination directed against students with disabilities. According to the response of Thomas Lloyd (SFS ’15) and running mate Jimmy Ramirez (COL ’15), a comprehensive strategy, including education, visibility and advocacy, is necessary to stem this trend.
Additionally, Lloyd and Ramirez also described how the housing incentive used in the “What’s a Hoya?” program could be utilized to draw student attention to this issue.
“What we want to do is tie thousands of dollars of funding and that powerful housing incentive to student events that are put on by student leaders and groups on these issues,” their response said. “Any event then on disability, put on by the disabled advocates and or their allies, would not only get a higher profile and funding level, but also would reach a whole new range of students from their first year here at the Hilltop.”
Both the teams of Ben Weiss (COL ’15) and Sam Greco (SFS ’15) and Trevor Tezel (SFS ’15) and Omika Jikaria (SFS ’15) emphasized the necessity of promoting a discussion of ableism as part of a larger diversity initiative, while Zach Singer (SFS ’15) and Dan Silkman (COL ’15) pointed to Singer’s past success as GUSA chief of staff in overseeing disability programs as evidence of his ability to effectively fight ableism.
Brown noted that eliminating ableism on campus could be a difficult process that could take years.
“Ableism is not a problem that will disappear overnight, or even within one or two years of particularly responsive GUSA executives,” Brown said. “However, when students are willing to recognize and combat ableism on our campus that does send a very strong message to disabled people that we matter.”
Brown’s questionnaire asked specifically about candidates’ receptiveness to creating a Disability Cultural Center at Georgetown. This suggestion drew the approval of candidates, all of whom noted that such an objective would be a long-term goal of their administration. According to Tezel and Jikaria’s response, this initiative would be possible, but it would require the cultivation of relationships with the administration.
“Creating a Disability Cultural Center is a major initiative that will require both much time, commitment and financial support,” Tezel and Jikaria wrote. “We have no doubt that we would be able to successfully work with the administration in order to further the creation of this center.”
Additionally, the candidates responded to the question of how best to assist the administration in addressing accessibility barriers for disabled students at Georgetown. According to Weiss and Greco, GUSA is limited in its ability implement significant changes to university policy.
“We have a number of initiatives we would like to start, but at heart, the function of GUSA is to react to wrongs suffered by the students and act as a powerful force opening dialogue with the university on how to solve these problems,” Weiss and Greco wrote.
Brown’s final question to candidates dealt with the necessity of including disabled students in conversations about disability on campus. Singer and Silkman also mentioned the “What’s a Hoya?” program as one of several means of including all students in the conversation.
“Although GUSA cannot dictate the practices of student organizations at Georgetown, we can all agree that inclusion of disabled people is critical in all conversations, not just those that address disability issues,” Singer and Silkman wrote.
Brown supported the policies relating to disability enacted by the administration of current GUSA executives Nate Tisa (SFS ’14) and Adam Ramadan (SFS ’14), but she expressed a desire that regardless of the victor in the 2014 election, they would work toward additional achievements in this field.
“I am very happy with the work that Nate and Adam have put forward in supporting disability advocacy on campus during their term,” Brown said. “As of this time, the administration has not indicated any real commitment to plans for a DCC [Disability Cultural Council], but I am hopeful that continued support from GUSA and the broader student population, as well as other community members and alumni, will push the administration in the right direction.”
While Brown cited satisfaction with all tickets’ responses, she announced via Facebook that she has listed Lloyd and Ramirez first and Tezel and Jikaria second on her ballot.