On Feb. 3, the Division of Campus Life announced the creation of the Disability Justice Student Initiative, a student-driven effort that aims to raise disability justice awareness and create community for students with disabilities. The Initiative is accessible to and supports undergraduate, graduate and medical students, according to the announcement.
“The DJSI means creating space, both physical and conceptual, for disabled, neurodivergent and mentally ill students on campus at an institution that wasn't built for us,” wrote Vanessa Garcia ’20.5 ScM ’22, graduate coordinator at DJSI.
As a graduate student, Garcia works to engage fellow graduate students in events organized by DJSI. Last semester, they organized “Disability in Grad School: A Conversation,” where around ten graduate students held a discussion centered around accommodations, identity and disability justice in graduate school. “In my position as graduate coordinator, I'm always trying to keep the grad student perspective in mind while we plan our programming,” they said.
According to an email to The Herald from Campus Life Fellow Akash Altman ’20, the Initiative explores “disability as a social identity campus wide and (cultivates) a community of support as disabled students identify and navigate resources.” Altman added that the Initiative’s work supplements the work of Student Accessibility Services.
Regarding the connection between Campus Life and DJSI, Altman stated that the former supports, mentors and provides resources and collaborative opportunities for DJSI, especially helping to connect it with other cultural and identity centers on campus. “We've been grateful for their support, especially the numerous staff who have contributed much time and knowledge to our work,” Altman added.
“There (are) a lot of ways that disability theorists quantify (the study of disability) as an academic field,” Undergraduate Coordinator Evan Dong ’22 wrote in an email to The Herald. Dong added that as a student initiative — especially as a disability justice student initiative — their team is “really hoping to think about how these principles in identity show up in our lives as students and as a social justice practice as opposed to (academia).”
Regarding ongoing projects and future plans of DJSI, Altman wrote that “the Initiative’s partnership builds on the legacies of Disabled people at Brown by centering Disabled students and their experiences” and that “DJSI programs will provide new co-curricular educational opportunities.”
The website of the Initiative cites “workshops, speakers, lectures, open hours, zine making (and) resource curation” as upcoming events this semester. In addition to these events, the Initiative also runs the “Disability Justice at the Intersections” Speaker Series, where speakers explore disability justice and its relationship with other anti-oppression movements in confronting identity-specific barriers to equity and inclusion. The Initiative will also host co-curricular educational and community building programs, where students empower themselves to create knowledge and impact their community using their own lived experiences.
“The DJSI, at its heart, is about students,” Altman wrote.