Georgetown University Student Association President Trevor Tezel (SFS ’15) and Vice President Omika Jikaria (SFS ’15) announced their administration’s support for the creation of a Disability Cultural Center, a project led by GUSA Undersecretary for Disability Affairs Lydia Brown (COL ’15), on Feb. 23.

“The DCC will serve as a resource for students with disabilities and their allies, and will coordinate programming to educate the Georgetown community on topics such as disability rights activism, disability cultures and disability public policy,” a GUSA press release dated Feb. 23 said.

Although Brown released her proposal for the creation of the DCC in August 2012, Jikaria said that the GUSA press release will serve to catalyze Brown’s recent concentrated campaign.

“GUSA has always been in support of the creation of the Disability Cultural Center,” Jikaria wrote in an email. “As Lydia conducts a more concentrated campaign right now, we felt that a press release would be the appropriate way to highlight our support and bring attention to the proposal.”

Brown said that the Tezel-Jikaria administration, as well as the two previous GUSA executive administrations, supported her proposal, but that this week’s endorsement comes at a time of great change within the university.

“Trevor and Omika have been working with me their entire term on disability issues and have always supported a DCC,” Brown wrote in an email. “We’re releasing the announcement now because we’re on the cusp of the next opportunity for student advocacy in the matter planning process, and believe that recent events and dialogue around disability have pushed the DCC issue to the forefront. Essentially we feel this is the best possible time to reinvigorate advocacy on this particular issue.”

Brown said that this center is a necessary addition to the university community.

“It’s very important to have a DCC because we need to be able to have safe spaces for communities that experience societal and historical underrepresentation or marginalization,” Brown said.

The proposal for the DCC was first introduced by Brown in August 2012, and calls for the creation of social, educational, academic and supportive programs for the Georgetown disability community, in addition to increased disability rights activism and advocacy.
Through the center, disabled students would have access to leadership development training, professional networking opportunities and peer mentoring programs. The DCC would work with D.C.-based disability organizations and facilitate access to research and scholarship on disability in public policy and government.

Furthermore, the DCC would promote the inclusion of disability studies curriculum, scholarship, research and teaching throughout the university. The proposal also advocates for partnership between the DCC and other student groups to create “a more accessible, equitable, inclusive and diverse Georgetown,” according to Brown’s proposal.

If the DCC is created, Georgetown will be the fourth university in the world to have a cultural center devoted to disabled students, joining Syracuse University, the University of Minnesota and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“The DCC will provide a physical space for disabled students and allies to have conversations around this identity, provide various programming around disability topics and to act as a resource for disabled students,” Tezel said. “Without a DCC, or equivalent institution on campus, students like myself will not be able to leave Georgetown with the same learned understanding of the diversity within our community.”

Tezel added that his stance on disability issues has changed since he was introduced to Brown while serving as deputy chief of staff under Nate Tisa’s (SFS ’14) administration.

“When I originally came to Georgetown, I viewed disability issues as ones that required accommodations, treatment and nothing else,” Tezel said. “Meeting Lydia Brown and learning more about the disability justice movement has allowed me to appreciate disabilities as an issue of diversity. … Lydia really challenged me to think critically about issues surrounding the disabled community.”

The DCC would be a university-funded administrative office, managed by a full-time staff director and other paid staff. It would initially be housed under Student Affairs, though the proposal supports the creation of a central Office on Diversity and Inclusion, according to Brown.

The proposal names several possible locations for the center, including the Leavey Center or the Healey Family Student Center.

“I think it could be achieved within five years, which allows enough time to look for staff and to look for space,” Brown said. “It might start with a very small budget and a single person in a small office somewhere, and in five years at the end of that time, there’s more of a space for people to actually physically go instead of one tiny office.”

Both Tezel and Brown spoke about the importance of hiring an access coordinator.

Tezel said that this coordinator is necessary to control and manage the accommodations resources important to the disability community at Georgetown.

“This person would coordinate in order to ensure that reasonable accommodations can be made at any university event, whether it be sponsored by a student group, an academic department or an administrative office,” Tezel said.

Brown said that the Academic Resource Center is understaffed and underfunded, and that an access coordinator is needed to ensure that funding will be available to groups that need accommodations. The ARC currently provides support for students with Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, learning disabilities, physical disabilities, chronic health conditions and psychological disabilities. It conforms to the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and provides services including accommodated testing, assistive technology, medical housing, Communication Access Realtime Translation and interpreting for coursework, note taking services, and FM audio systems.

“I feel that there is an urgent need for the creation of this center because people with disabilities at Georgetown don’t have the kind of institutional support that we deserve,” Brown said.

Brown said that she has been disappointed by a lack of administrative support for the DCC. It has been over two and a half years since the DCC was first proposed, but Brown said administrators have only offered “non-committal vague statements without committing to any kind of concrete plan or timeline.”

Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Todd Olson said that he, in fact, hopes to engage with this idea further in the future.

“As administrators, we are committed to exploring these issues in depth, both through current staff who work with our students, and through the Disability Justice Working Group,” Olson wrote in an email. “This group includes students, administrators and faculty, and has been discussing a range of issues about student needs, the physical environment [and] educational needs for the campus community.”

GUSA President-elect Joe Luther (COL ’16) said that his administration will continue to work with Brown and support the creation of the DCC.

“Dialogue about this issue has too often been on the periphery of Georgetown and it is our hope that the DCC can change that,” Luther said. “We will continue to work with disability rights advocates in the coming year to make Georgetown a place which is inclusive and welcoming to all.”

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