The Disability Rights Coalition of Vassar College (DRC) is taking aim at issues of disability, accessibility and inclusion both on campus and in the greater Poughkeepsie community. One of the many Vassar student organizations with a mission centered around activism and intersectionality, the DRC welcomes all interested students regardless of ability.
The DRC was founded last semester, replacing ACCESS, the previous org with disability and inclusion as its focus. According to the DRC’s Facebook page, “[The group rebranded itself with] the intent of advocating for students with disabilities and educating the community on issues pertaining to disabilities as a whole and their intersections with other identities.”
This semester, the organization hopes to meet weekly to discuss upcoming events and different topics about disability. DRC President Anne Goss ’19 elaborated on what she expects the meetings to look like: “We had the idea that every month it’d be a different topic that we would talk about. We planned to do a month about how disability affects Black women, LGBT or different groups. We’re hoping to do a series each month for continued learning.”
In addition to regular meetings, the DRC plans to collaborate with the Office of Health Education this November to bring an art installation to campus to raise awareness about ableism and ability.
Treasurer Tom Racek ’18 explained the premise of the installation in more depth: “We’d like to show how art is viewed by individuals with disabilities. For example, we would write a Shakespeare piece backwards, or we’d have special screenings where you can’t see the movie, or you can’t hear it.” Racek continued, “We are trying to shed light on some of the difficulties that have grown to become everyday occurrences within our society.”
The art installation will add to the DRC’s growing list of events. Last spring, the org hosted disability rights advocate April Coughlin to speak at Vassar about issues such as accessibility as well as the struggles that occur when attending institutions of higher education while disabled.
Member Brian Xing ’18 commented, “She discussed her experience as a wheelchair-bound individual navigating her campus when she was in school. And she actually brought up some topics that people don’t even talk about.”
Through organizing these meetings and events, the DRC hopes to gain more visibility on Vassar’s campus. As the DRC is a relatively new org, Goss added, “We’re always looking to join events and collab with other orgs for activism on and off campus.”
She continued, “By trying to get involved with other orgs and events, it helps bring light to the fact that there are things on this campus and things in society as a whole that affect disabled people differently than able-bodied people.”
That said, the org is open to all opinions and suggestions for future events. Goss elaborated, “We have a lot of different ideas on things we’d like to do, but a lot of it is about gauging our members’ interests. So even though we have an exec board, we don’t make all the decisions. We do like to keep an open mind.”
When asked if there was any particular reason for starting the DRC, Goss explained, “I find that disability is not part of the dialogue at Vassar when it should be because disability is something that can affect anybody, regardless of their race, sexual orientation, class or any other intersectional identity—disability can affect anybody.”
Racek described the importance of having a student organization like the DRC on Vassar’s campus: “There are just so many instances where individuals with disabilities have just been coping with and dealt with for so long that it’s not necessarily a blip on the radar anymore. It’s nice to be reeducated about them because it’s just something you become accustomed to.”
Xing discussed the struggle of inducing empathy when there is a lack of a personal relationship, expounding, “In general it’s not a topic that people enjoy, and if you don’t actually know someone who has a disability, it’s really hard to feel that kind of connection.” With a student organization like the DRC, making these connections becomes a more accessible feat. The organization allows for a heightened understanding of the intersections between disability and other social identities.
Racek discussed his favorite part of being a part of the DRC: “My favorite part of the Disability Rights Coalition has been just becoming aware—becoming aware and becoming enlightened of the issues that are still very much prominent within our society, and how they’re ignored.”
Goss and Racek explained the primary mission of the DRC. As Goss remarked, “We’re hoping to bring voices to the students who are actually affected because we live here.”
Racek agreed, elaborating, “I think if anything it would be to help promote dialogue. If we can promote dialogue and we can promote awareness, then I think there can be plans implemented in the future, or maybe not-sofuture, that would allow a more inclusive environment and would also better help serve students, faculty and staff that identify as being disabled.”
The DRC anticipates tabling outside the ACDC in the near future to increase publicity. Additionally, if you’d like to be added to the email list, DRC asks you to contact either disabilityrightscoalition[a]gmail.com or chgoss[at]vassar.edu.
The DRC leadership hopes that more students will decide to join in their mission of inclusion. Goss concluded. “I think it’s a very important issue and very important topic to be a part of the discussion, so we hope to get more people involved to ensure that it will continue in the future.”