Georgetown University students and administrators have created an endowment to support disability-related initiatives on campus following a $50,000 donation from graduate Tiffany Yu (MSB ’10).
On June 15, Georgetown University launched the Disability Empowerment Endowed Fund. The goal of the endowment is to fund initiatives that support disabled students in the Georgetown community, including disability-centered courses, guest speaker events and community member research projects.
According to the university, the endowment will need $100,000 before it can officially launch, meaning the fund relies on community donations for the remaining $50,000. Once the endowment reaches $100,000, the university will withdraw approximately $5,000 each year in perpetuity to fund disability-centered programming.
The endowment came to fruition as a result of collaboration between students, alumni and Georgetown administrators, according to Dominic DeRamo (COL ’23), member of both the Georgetown University Student Association Accessibility Policy Team and the GUSA Accessibility Coordination Team.
Yu, who is a disability rights advocate and entrepreneur, hopes to see the Georgetown community affirming its commitment to combating ableism through donations to the fund.
“I now want to know that both alumni and students feel committed to having a permanent place within the ecosystem of campus that continues to invest in disability initiatives in perpetuity,” Yu said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya.
Nesreen Shahrour (NHS ’23), chair of the GUSA Accessibility Policy Team, recalled feeling shocked but optimistic after Yu offered to provide an initial donation for the endowment.
“It just left me with a feeling of hopefulness. I am hopeful that we can enact change here on campus and can improve culture for students with disabilities here, and you know, to see that happen is really monumental for me,” Shahrour said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya.
According to Murphy, students have been working with administrators for months to form an endowment related to disability programming; after they reached out to alumni for advice and support, Yu came forward with the starting donation.
The university has been supportive of the endowment, according to GUSA Accessibility Coordinator and Accessibility Policy Team member Gwyneth Murphy (SFS ’23).
“In my mind, it’s a major step forward and the conversations we’ve had with administrators have been nothing but positive,” Murphy said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya.
Georgetown is committed to creating a more accessible campus, according to a university spokesperson.
“In addition to our overall efforts to improve campus accessibility, we respond to special student needs as they arise, as well as soliciting input from students with disabilities on these issues,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya.
This endowment is essential to dismantling ableism on campus and affirming disabled people’s identities, according to Yu.
“One question I get a lot is ‘why should I care?’ The fact that we even ask that question is already dehumanizing to a disabled person because it is assuming that we don’t have inherent worth and value to take up space on this campus,” Yu said.
According to Murphy, current activists are building off years of work from previous student disability activists. Faculty member Lydia X. Z. Brown (COL ’15) championed disability rights while a student at Georgetown, calling on the university to establish a Disability Cultural Center, which would serve as a community resource for disabled people in the Washington, D.C. area.
A Disability Cultural Center would provide a much-needed space dedicated to disabled community members, according to Brown.
“I would have loved to have that space be available to me, and many other people I knew would undoubtedly also have loved to have had that space exist,” Brown said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya.
Now, Murphy, Shahrour and DeRamo are working to make Brown’s proposal a reality. The trio launched an Instagram account in December 2020 to raise awareness for disability rights on campus and advocate for a Disability Cultural Center. Furthermore, the GUSA Accessibility Policy Team released a proposal supporting the Disability Cultural Center, outlining activists’ specific vision for the center.
While the endowment will not specifically fund the creation of a Disability Cultural Center at this time, Yu is hopeful that it will encourage the campus community to support disability-centered activism in the future.
“They are two different things that ultimately contribute to the same dream of disability inclusion on campus,” Yu said.
While the Disability Cultural Center is still the initial planning stages, Murphy hopes that student activism will encourage Georgetown to contribute funds from the endowment to the establishment of the center in the future.
As of July 12, the endowment has received $10,941 in community donations, according to Yu.
The decision to launch the endowment is a significant step in rejecting and dismantling ableist attitudes in the Georgetown community, according to Murphy.
“I don’t think there has been a single act by Georgetown University in all of history that shows more potential commitment to the disabled community than this,” Murphy said.
CORRECTION: This article was updated on July 14 to accurately reflect the relationship between the endowment and funding for the Disability Cultural Center.