October 29, 2008

Guest Blogger: Kristen

DisAbilities Convocation
by Kristen

Although I have been living with a disability my entire life, very rarely do I speak about it with other people, especially with people I don’t know. What would I say? What would people think of me? Would people even come? Should I let some of my guard down and tell the full story or should I be careful not to offend anyone? Would people be able to pick up on my speech impediment -- would I be able to articulate clearly?

As an administrator who comes across as being pretty comfortable in my own skin it may surprise some people to hear of these insecurities. However having a disability and feeling different is something I fought against my entire childhood/adolescence. Even though I am proud of who I am today, those feelings do come back every now and then. It takes a lot of work to ignore them but I do what I can!

Walking into the room I was shocked by the number of people who attended the convocation. I had sent some emails out to the RA staff and felt so supported by the ones that showed up. It immediately made me feel more comfortable and gave me the strength I needed to share my story.

So I got up and proceeded to tell my story. The short version is that on June 13th, 1985, I was diagnosed with a bilateral sensory-neural hearing loss of a mild sloping to moderate/profound degree above 1000 hertz in the right ear and of a moderate sloping to profound degree above 1000 HZ in the left ear. In English-I had a high frequency hearing loss. I would never be able to hear high pitched sounds of alarms, birds, crickets and certain speech frequencies. I couldn’t hear S, T, R, L, X, TH etc. That explained why I would walk around saying “Look at the “SARS” or “Happdede Birtay” Cute-but not appropriate speech for a 5 year old. Elementary & Junior High school had their challenges but for the most part I was able to ignore the fact that having a disability made me different. However, I had a hard time fitting in during my high school years and it resulted in me making some poor choices.

Coming to Stonehill as an undergraduate is probably one of the best decisions I ever made because it really helped me turn my self esteem around. I finally felt as though I belonged to a community and that I was accepted for who I was. I sincerely appreciate all that Dean Grant, Residence Life, Student Activities and Campus Ministry did to help me make this transformation.

One common theme that emerged is that, when you have a disability, people assume it means you are stupid. Other times people assume that they should not challenge you as much or give you a little bit of a break. Both of these approaches are wrong! Personally, it really bugs me when I have been having a conversation with someone at a normal volume but then when they see the hearing aids or hear my speech they start talking really slow or really loud. Seriously, if I couldn’t hear you, I would let you know. Now I just feel stupid!

Another frustration I have is cost/health insurance. Most health insurance plans do not cover hearing aids. The ones I wear, for example, are $6000.00. That’s money I could put towards school loans, car loans, savings for a house etc! Obviously it is pretty important to me that I hear so it’s just something I have to do but it makes me so mad that it isn’t covered by insurance -- it’s not like I did anything to make myself this way, it’s just how I was born.

Despite these frustrations of living with a disAbility, I felt really good about the program and feel absolutely honored to have been a part of it. I hope that those who were there gained some insight to the thoughts and feelings that I and others with disabilities have and look forward to future opportunities to share my story!

Editor's Note: This DisAbilities Convocation was the first one we had done at Stonehill, and we thank for the very courageous participants who shared their stories. It's never an easy task putting ourselves out there - especially in a professional environment that often encourages us to separate the two. But, as Kristen describes, sometimes sharing a personal piece of our history helps to connect in the future.

October 28, 2008


By guest blogger, Jeff Gallus

We all know the story of Chicken Little and how the moral of the story is to not always believe everything you hear. For many of us, this can be quite difficult because we are taught from a very early age to take information at face value (i.e. – teachers, media, family members, etc.). At the very least, most of us go from grades K-12 without questioning our sources of information. For some of us, we reach a point in our lives where we learn that we have to dig a little deeper to find the truth.

For me, that point came very early in my college career…I remember that day so vividly because it was the day that forced me to strip away my foundation and anything I ever learned about “our” great country…America.

I was sitting at brunch with one of my fellow RAs and one of my friends from Afghanistan. Wanting to know why we received the day off from classes, my friend asked me, “Why do Americans celebrate Christopher Columbus?” Everything that I learned in school rushed through my mind:

  • Columbus sailed the world to prove it was not flat. So he hopped aboard the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria…He DISCOVERED America and everyone was happy.
  • Europeans fled mother land in order to escape religious persecution. They decided to come to America. When reaching a giant rock (Plymouth Rock…kind of like the back in the colonial day version of Ellis Island) they realized that the land was inhabited by “Indians.”
  • Europeans turned into Pilgrims
  • The Indians loved the Pilgrims and they had a nice dinner together…we call this Thanksgiving.
  • John Smith married Pocahontas…Disney made millions.
  • America went through a revolutionary war, signed the Declaration of Independence, and called America our own.
  • Colonial America continued to grow in the name of Manifest Destiny…
  • Native Americans lost their land, still had Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims, but now lived on reservations sanctioned by the Government.

Then it hit me…

Everything I had learned in school had been a bunch of lies or half truths. I had been spoon fed American propaganda that all of my American brothers and sisters (Africans, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans) learned during their education. America, according to several generations of white leadership, was a country built off people looking for a new beginning; people with hopes and dreams.

The fact of the matter is that Columbus, during his “discovery” of America, enslaved the natives and killed them if they could not provide him with what he wanted…which was gold. Europeans followed suit, leaving their country to escape from being oppressed and persecuted. They came to America, killed off the natives, and claimed the land in name of Manifest Destiny. America, the land of opportunity and freedom, was built off of oppression, greed, and bigotry…and according to our teachers…God wanted it this way.

Hmmm…really? So…God’s message is to spread hate and kill others in his/her name? That is nonsense. That would be like if George W. Bush used God as an excuse to invade Iraq (http://www.commondreams.org/headlines05/1007-03.htm).

I hope you are catching on to my sarcasm because I’m laying it on pretty thick.

In all seriousness…

Our entire history consists of oppressing various groups in order to get ahead. We have been conditioned as Americans to believe that it is our right to live our lives as the oppressors. We are apathetic in our approach to create a society that strives for equality and unity of all races, sexes, and religions. These are the seeds that were sewn by our founding fathers; seeds that have grown and been cultivated to represent “our” country and who we are, as Americans, today.

How are we supposed to educate our children about things like racism and hatred when we refuse to accept the fact that “our” country was built off of those exact values? How do we overcome issues of systematic oppression when we fail to question the “truth” we have been given?

No, the sky is not falling, but we do continue to set our future generations up for failure by providing them with the same apathy and social ignorance that has been instilled in us. Now, more so than ever before, we need to shift directions and take action; not only to educate our youth, but also to pave the way for them.

As the Native American proverb goes, “We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.” It is time to live by the words “our” country’s Natives spoke. Let us retrace our steps and learn from our past so that we may create a new path for our future.

October 23, 2008

Race... in America... and at Stonehill

While I certainly hemmed and hawed about how much I should write on today's blog about Race.. in America.. and at Stonehill, I thought that there were some great links that I could just post. Those who get it - will get it. Those who don't - won't. Let's leave it at those two groups.

Which group do you REALLY fall into? If I were to ask another person, would they put you in the SAME group you just put yourself into? Or, would they say you actually knew a lot LESS or a lot MORE?

Here are some great provocative videos going around. I love this first one (though, I don't refer to myself as "yellow". Go girl!).

Oh SNAP! Okay, this next one is brilliant. While some of you will watch this next one and say that this is an obviously anti-McCain commentary (which, yes, it is) in this next video, I encourage you to focus on the message of "othering" and "that one". So, get off the "this is anti-McCain" for a hot second, and focus on the message being given about the "othering of America".

Are there ways in which we "other" people in our college? How do we and should we react to the "othering" of our fellow students and colleagues? Who decides who is an "other"? Should we always serve the majority, or are we here to serve all?

October 17, 2008

Halloween: A Free Pass to be Racist?

Here we go again... Halloween.

I actually like Halloween. I love getting dressed up. I love getting the kids dressed up. I love seeing how creative people can be (I once showed up in a long nightgown with a sign that said, "Freud." -- get it? I was a Freudian Slip.). I still laugh at the couple costumes that are Peanut Butter and Jelly. And, yes, the recycled Justin Timberlake costume of "**** in a Box" cracks me up.

But, I also cringe when Halloween comes around. Does Halloween, with it's intentional 24 hours of dressing in a way you normally wouldn't, give you a free pass to be racist?

While perusing the daily newspaper fliers to find something creative to make for my kids, my husband and me, I was hit by the number of racist costumes. Here are some of my personal "favorites" that were all within 2 pages of one another:

The Geisha Girl
Chinese Delivery Man (but with a big rice hat)
the Jamaican Dreadlock hat
The Sumo Suit (for both kids and adults, thank God)
The Ancient Chinese Secret costume (wig with top bald part and long black braid)

I'm not the only one thinking about it. Here is a great post from Racialicious that was originally posted at Angry Asian Man about "Asian Hair for Halloween."

So, does Halloween give us a free pass to dress in ways that might insult another culture?

The argument some present is that dressing in these costumes aren't offensive, rather they are honoring the traditions of that culture (... you know where *I* stand on that!). Yet, is there a difference? For example, one Halloween, a young 5-year old white girl came to my door dressed as a Geisha. I wasn't sure what to say, so I simply said, "Oh! What a pretty dress!" Her mother then responded with, "Thanks! We lived in Japan for 4 years and were excited when Sally could finally wear the dress!" Hmm... I wanted her statement to change my feelings, but I still felt like there was something wrong there. Should I have felt better that they got the dress in Japan, that her family had lived in Japan for years, and that, it seemed, they were filled with great excitement for this moment? If the mother had said, "Thanks! We got it at Target," would I have felt differently? I don't know... But, something still didn't feel right.

The conversation with adults has also come around with the Sumo suit costume. Seems at every college I work at, there is always some sort of Sumo Suit wrestling thing going on at Orientations or Fun Weekends. I hate the Sumo Suit. I hate that people (regardless of race) "dress up" as a large individual and then just pound into each other. What tops it off for me is when their helmets are shaped like buns. Yes, buns.

Is this offensive? I find it to be. I know that the sport of Sumo is highly respected. It's cultural. It isn't just about a couple of fat guys belly bumpin' one another out of a ring. There is an art. There is a meaning. There is great respect around the sport. Sorry, but watching a bunch of drunk college students belly bump each other with "Take that!! Hiiii--yaaaa!!!" doesn't seem respectful nor sacred to me..... WHY do we still rent these things???

The issue of Costumes also irked me when watching the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics this year. The American commentators kept saying how beautiful the individual COSTUMES were of "exotic" countries. Newsflash, American commentators - they aren't wearing COSTUMES. They are wearing CLOTHES.

Oh, Halloween. A free pass to be racist or a day of cultural respect? Hmmm....

Posted by Liza