Tag Archives: education

Signal Boost: United States: Get Restraint and Seclusion Out of Schools!

I’ve been following the Keeping All Students Safe Act, an important piece of legislation for keeping disabled students safe in school. I’m horrified to learn that the Senate version of the bill, S. 3895, actually includes measures allowing for restraint and seclusion, which I missed when I posted about it earlier this year. (Mea culpa!)

“COPAA cannot support the current legislation because S.3895 permits restraint and locked seclusion as planned interventions in students’ education plans, including behavior plans and individualized education programs,” wrote the group’s executive director Denise Marshall. “By allowing restraint and locked seclusion as planned interventions, S.3895 weakens protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and legitimizes practices that the bill seeks to prevent.” (source)

If you are a USian with the time, please write your Senators and ask them to remove this portion of the bill. Restraint and locked seclusion are never appropriate for students and they most certainly do not belong in individualised education programmes. It’s time to take abuse off the table when it comes to options for disciplining students!

Signal Boost: United States: AHEAD 2011 Conference on Higher Education and Disability in July

The Conference and Program Committees and the AHEAD Staff are hard at work planning the AHEAD 2011 Conference to make sure attendees have an incredible time, get loads of new invaluable information and resources, meet new colleagues & friends (while reconnecting with “old” ones), and enjoy one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

For purposes of budgeting and planning, the following details may be helpful.

The Conference registration costs will be the same as they have been since 2008. For AHEAD members, the full registration will be US $475.00

The optional, and tremendously valuable, preconference institutes (between ½ and 2 full days) will cost between US $95 and US $295 depending on session selections for AHEAD members; again retaining 2008 pricing.

While nearly all events associated with the Conference will be held at the Washington Convention Center, housing for Conference attendees will be at the Sheraton Seattle Hotel (across one side street from the Convention Center). AHEAD has negotiated deeply discounted room rates for both single and double occupancy at US $199.00 + tax.

The overall schedule for the Conference will be:

Monday, July 11th: Preconference Institutes
Tuesday, July 12th: Preconference Institutes (Daytime) Welcome Reception (Evening)
Wednesday, July 13th: Keynote, Concurrent Sessions, Posters, Exhibits, Reception
Thursday, July 14th: Concurrent Sessions, Posters, Exhibits
Friday, July 15th: Concurrent Sessions, Posters, Banquet
Saturday, July 16th: Concurrent Sessions, Closing Plenary (ends at Noon)

If you need to register way in advance in order to encumber funds well in advance, please download the Advance Registration Form and submit it to the AHEAD Office with payment at your convenience. If you need special financial arrangements, please contact AHEAD’s Associate Director, Oanh Huynh, directly.

As always, if AHEAD may be of any assistance in your planning – please feel welcome to contact the AHEAD office at (v/t) 704-947-7779.

We look forward to seeing you in Seattle for
AHEAD 2011: Sustainable Access through Partnership!

Tons more information at the AHEAD website!

University Kicks Student With Down Syndrome Out Of Classroom; Other Students Protest And Are Ignored

I cannot imagine being told, 3/4s of the way into my first academic term, that my mere presence in the classroom “resulted in a disruption of curriculum delivery and interfered with the teaching and learning environment for the instructor and other students.” Especially with no prior warning, and especially when all 19 of my fellow classmates insisted that this was untrue.

Meet Eliza Schaaf, a 20 year old university student with Down Syndrome. In September she began taking a ceramics class at Souther Oregon University, with the support of her family. She was signed up as a full student, and registered with her university’s disability office. (Part way through the year she was required to be re-registered as auditing rather than a full student.) According to the blog the Schaaf family has set up:

Out of curiosity went to the SOU Disability Resources Office and made appointment to learn what accommodations are available to student with disabilities. None seemed relevant or needed. Did discuss the personal assistant option.

From what I’ve been able to gather from various news reports, Eliza’s mother, Deb Evans, was her personal assistant in the classroom, having signed a contract. This newspaper report at the Mail Tribune points out that the one-size-fits-all model of providing accessibility accommodations didn’t really work in this situation: personal assistants in the classroom were presumed to be for people with physical disabilities, so Deb was limited to setting up Eliza’s workspace for her. In the timeline of events, the Schaff family acknowledges that Deb was asked to not speak to Eliza or the other students during class time, and describes Deb as leaving the room and letting Eliza get any assistance she needed from another student who also signed a personal assistant contract.

Without any warning whatsoever, Eliza received a registered letter from the university informing her:

“At this time, Southern Oregon University does not offer a program specifically designed to provide specialized learning opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities. We have determined that even with the support of the accommodation(s) available at the post-secondary level, you are currently not otherwise qualified to meet the academic standards necessary to participate in this course.”

And, you know, I get that. I think it’s shitty, but I can understand that. Except for one minor problem:

Eliza didn’t develop Down Syndrome spontaneously half-way through October. She had Down Syndrome when the university agreed to accept her as a student, and when the Disability Accommodations Office agreed they really had no assistance they could offer her, and when the university agreed that her mother could be Eliza’s personal assistant, and when they told Deb Evans that she could sit in another room during the class.

The other problem is this: According to the letter Eliza received from university administration (You can read it here (PDF) transcription.):

Based upon our interactive process and classroom observation, we have conluded that there are no appropriate accommodations that would allow you to engage with the course material at the cognitive level necessary and required of university-level students. Specifically, we have made the following observations during your participation in the course….

Except, according to students actually in the class, no one observed. According to Mollie Mustoe, a student in Eliza’s class and one of the people behind the very vocal outcry about this situation::

She said what bothered her most was that the administration used students in the class as a reason to withdraw Schaaf without consulting those students.

“No one from the administration observed the class, and the administration never had a dialogue with the students about what we felt,” she said.


“She worked almost as independently as me,” Mustoe said. “What she couldn’t do on her own that’s what the personal assistant was for.”

The situation seems to be done and dusted. Despite a petition from all 19 of Eliza’s classmates, the people this decision was allegedly made in support of, despite the Student Senate at Southern Oregon University voting to support Eliza, despite 40 students signing a separate petition in support of Eliza, despite a protest, media attention, and multiple letters from around the world in support of Eliza, the university has decided to reaffirm their decision to force-quit Eliza from the classroom. She won’t even be allowed to come in for the final class. She will be allowed to get a critique from her university professor, though; the person who, it seems, is the one who has made all the complaints about her.

There are more than likely people reading this right now going “But a kid with Down Syndrome doesn’t belong in a university classroom.” Frankly, I’m not going to debate that with you. I’m not on the admissions team of a university. Unless you’re from SOU, you’re also not on the admissions team that has anything to do with the decision to accept Eliza. But Eliza was accepted by the university as a student. Any other student would be allowed to complete the course, even if they were disruptive, even if they were failing, even if they only attended three courses out of 12.

Frankly, this is shitty behaviour, and I am outraged both on behalf of Eliza, who deserved far better treatment than this, and on behalf of the students in her class who were used as an excuse and a shield by the university who then promptly ignored everything the students said in response.

Further Reading:
Disability Scoop: University Decision To Withdraw Student With Down Syndrome Sparks Outcry
Mail Tribune: SOU students protest rejection of woman with Down syndrome
The Arc: “I am not a disability”: Eliza’s Story
Mail Tribune: SOU dean reaffirms decision to drop art student with Down syndrome

Eliza’s University Experience

They Call it ‘Reverse Discrimination’

Affirmative action has to be among one of the most contentious, controversial, and misunderstood social policies. I encounter all kinds of bizarre attitudes when it comes to talking about affirmative action, not least of which is people who insist on calling it ‘reverse discrimination’ in some sort of backhanded attempt at suggesting it’s just as evil as denying people opportunities on the basis of being female, say, or a person of colour, and should be abolished on those grounds. Because, oogity boogity, under affirmative action, all people are not considered blank slates with universal experiences, and thus, it’s a discriminatory policy.

Here’s what affirmative action is: A policy and programme adopted in many regions of the world to encourage employers and educational institutions to consider the history of discrimination against certain classes of people when it comes to admission and hiring decisions. Such policies usually cover women, people of color/nonwhite people, and people with disabilities. The goal of affirmative action is to counteract the effects of centuries of discrimination to create more opportunities for oppressed groups of people by not shutting them out of education and employment opportunities, acknowledging that prejudices are often deeply internalised and people can’t overcome them by sheer force of will. (And are often not aware of how deep they run.)

Here’s what it isn’t: A demand to always hire/admit the marginalised person, no matter what. Yet, it’s often framed that way, as seen in the ‘reverse discrimination’ slang. Everyone, it seems, has a sob story about how ‘someone they know’ didn’t get a job because there was a less qualified Black woman or disabled man or someone else who was there to swoop in and take the employment opportunity away, riding smugly on a cloud of affirmative action1. I have had dyed in the wool liberals informing me with clear, innocent faces that their white, middle class, nondisabled, heterosexual, cis friends and relatives have been horribly oppressed by being passed over in favour of ‘underqualified’ marginalised people who just happened to compete for the same jobs/places at school. They inform me that this is unfair and awful and should stop immediately because it’s wrong.

People. No.

Here’s what affirmative action is about: When you have, say, an employer who is considering a group of job applicants, that employer is asked to consider the applicants equally. Not to, for example, throw out an application from a woman who uses a wheelchair for mobility because it will be ‘too hard’ to accommodate her. To give everyone reasonably qualified a chance to interview and to honestly and fairly evaluate applicants for a job, rather than deciding that someone is automatically unfit on the basis of personal characteristics. And, yes, if you have two equally qualified candidates, one of whom happens to be a member of a dominant group and one of whom does not, to consider preferentially hiring the person who has not benefited from discriminatory practices throughout life. No affirmative action policy demands that people hire the less qualified people, deciding whom to hire solely on the basis of who is the most oppressed.

People talk about ‘quotas’ and they talk about how businesses and educational institutions ‘get in trouble’ if they don’t have enough ‘token minorities’ and they miss the  point entirely. I see this depicted everywhere from pop culture (Cuddy yelling at House for not having a female physician on this diagnostic team) to casual interactions with people who inform me that they ‘would’ apply for a job somewhere but ‘some Latina will probably snag it from me anyway because they’re worried about not having enough brown faces behind the front desk so what’s the point.’ Actual cases where businesses and schools have been punished for failing to adhere to affirmative action policies haven’t involved a government auditor checking to see how many marginalised people they have, but documented discrimination against marginalised groups in interview and admissions policies.

Do affirmative action programmes in colleges and universities ask for more leeway on things like test scores? Yes, they absolutely do, and there’s a reason for that: People in oppressed classes are less likely to do well on standardized tests, for a whole lot of reasons ranging from unequal access to educational opportunities to biases built in on the tests themselves. This means that, yes, when an applicant identifies as poor, for example, that the school will weigh that in the student’s application and will consider the impact that poverty might have on test scores and academic performance. The school won’t say ‘oh, we should let a clearly unprepared student in because she’s from a lower class background,’ but the school will say ‘this student clearly has potential, even if she’s not there yet, so let’s give her a chance, given that she’s had an uphill slog to get to the point where she can even apply for college.’

What this asks people to do is to consider the historic role of discrimination in access to everything from education to employment, to recognise that because of the widespread and deep biases in society, some people can’t access the qualifications/experience that others can. And, yes, affirmative action does ask people to consider marginalised people preferentially, in the hopes of balancing out internalised biases and attitudes; trust me, people, in terms of how people actually behave, it’s a wash.

People say this is ‘unequal treatment’ and that ‘if you want to be treated like everyone else, you need to be held to the same standard.’ What they miss is that the standard is inherently discriminatory and biased. Holding everyone to the same standard is effectively an act of discrimination, because it demands that people fit into a mold they can never fit into, reach goals they can never attain, because the deck is stacked against them from the start.

It’s an attempt to compensate for privilege to say that the lived experiences of applicants should be considered to contextualise their applications. Not an act of discrimination. A corrective measure, an attempt to address and rectify an entrenched culture of prejudice by creating more chances for people who have historically been denied those chances, is not ‘reverse discrimination.’ And I’d like to humbly suggest that people retire that particular slang term, post haste.

  1. I note that this usually includes the assumption that the marginalised candidate was automatically, inherently, less qualified.

Recommended Reading for November 9, 2010

John Keilman for the Los Angeles Times: Technology opens new horizons for disabled

Yet for all of technology’s promised advances, some worry that the cost will keep helpful devices out of many people’s reach. Others are concerned that governments, schools and institutions might think that high-tech gadgetry has relieved them of their responsibility to serve the disabled.

“Technology is not a solution for every problem,” said Paul Schroeder of the American Foundation for the Blind. “It doesn’t replace the need for quality teaching. It doesn’t replace the need to teach social skills.”

Crazy Mermaid at Bipolar: Crazy Mermaid’s Blog: Paranoid Schizophrenia: Worst Disease in the World

During the tail end of my psychotic break with reality, I came to believe that there were zombies after me, ready to kill me in order to take over my body. My fear of them taking over my body eventually became so great that I decided to go to the local hospital emergency room, where I thought I would be safe from them.

Liz Sayce at RADAR Network: Health and safety: Stifling disabled people’s independence?

As politicians queue up to cite ever more ludicrous examples of health and safety excesses – making kids wear goggles to play conkers, cancelling historic Gloucestershire cheese rolling events, stopping trainee hairdressers having scissors – those of us living with health conditions or disability sometimes hesitate about which side of this argument we are on.

On the one hand, selected stories like this, designed to justify scrapping regulation, can – as the NASUWT just put it – play politics with children’s safety or put workers at greater risk. On the other, there is a massive history of health and safety being used as an excuse to stop disabled people from doing things. So – whilst I hesitate to join all the people selecting examples of health and safety excesses – we do need to look them in the eye.

Irish Deaf Kids: The Salamanca Statement and EPSEN Act (2004)

A key point:

“regular schools with this inclusive orientation are the most effective means of combating discriminating attitudes, creating welcoming communities, building an inclusive society and achieving education for all; moreover, they provide an effective education to the majority of children and improve the efficiency & ultimately the cost-effectiveness of the entire education system.”

allama at give the feminist a cigarette: Women as sociological ducks

In The Dustbin of History, Greil Marcus warns of the risk of losing sight of individual genius when talking about the blues: yes, it was created in response to slavery and oppression, but centuries of slavery and oppression only produced one Bessie Smith. Seeing Strange Fruit as the inevitable product of the horrors of American history denies the incredible personal achievement of Billie Holiday. And painting female depression as simply a product of the patriarchy denies the personal experience of mental illness to every single sufferer.

incurable hippie at Where’s the Benefit? Round-Up Post

There are plenty of must-read articles and blog posts which I haven’t had the time or the spoons to cover. All of the following are well worth a look.

Guest Post: Stuck and tired: How universities are failing disabled students (like me)

Diane Shipley is a freelance writer obsessed with feminism, US TV, memoirs and pizza. She writes about those things and more at her blog, the imaginatively-named Diane Shipley Blogs (http://blog.dianeshipley.com) and is almost always on Twitter (username: @dianeshipley).

You’re intelligent, personable, and get good grades. It might look like higher education is a given.

But it isn’t. Not when you have a disabling illness. Then, making it to graduation could be more challenging than you ever imagined.

Last year, I tried to finish the degree I dropped when I got ill back in 1998. The disability services department at my new university contacted me the summer before I started my course, asking what extra help I would need.

I had never been a student with disabilities before, so I couldn’t anticipate all the challenges I might face. But the system for reporting those I was aware of seemed doomed to failure: a disability advisor emailed my department in the first week of the semester to advise them that I needed my seminars and lectures to be accessible. Inevitably, this was too late. One of my lectures was in a building with a lift that was almost always out of order, leaving me the choice of missing out or making myself ill. And my registration experience was disastrous.

Registration and enrolment were in two separate buildings nowhere near each other. As no buses ran in that direction, this meant a fifty-minute round trip on foot, well beyond what I could cope with. So I emailed the university to explain this, asking if I could register and enrol online, instead.

Here’s where I point out something that should be obvious but seems not to be: when disabled students express a preference, it shouldn’t be brushed aside in favour of what administrative staff would prefer. Being assertive can be very difficult, especially in situations where someone has power over you. Expressing one’s needs can also be embarrassing, as many long-term illnesses and disabilities are stigmatised. It’s an issue that deserves to be treated with sensitivity, but too often isn’t.

Instead of granting my request, a member of staff from registry services suggested I meet her late in the afternoon, instead. Because her address was at the end of her email, and was somewhere I could access by bus, I agreed. But when I went to her office at 5 PM on registration day, the shutters were closed. Tired, upset, and alone, I vented on Twitter: “I don’t think this university cares about disabled students.” Then I called my mum in tears and she offered to leave work and drive me to the building where registration was taking place. I finally made it and explained the mix-up to one of the staff, who said someone there wanted to speak to me.

The head of registry services strode over and introduced herself, a stern expression on her face. She then shouted that I couldn’t say what I liked on Twitter without giving them “right of reply” and that the university did care about disabled students. “I’m fully conversant in equality law,” she snapped. When I mentioned the mix-up over where I was registering, she said that perhaps I should read emails more carefully in future.

She wasn’t wrong: I could have double-checked. But in my defence, starting university was an overwhelming undertaking, and confusion and anxiety are big parts of my illnesses. I had also made the mistake of assuming that no-one would suggest we meet somewhere I had specifically said I couldn’t access.

I was finally able to register but because of the delay, I couldn’t get into the student intranet until two days later, so the seminars I wanted to sign up for were full. This meant that instead of organizing them at times to suit my illness, I had to take whatever was left. When I contacted my departmental disability liaison officer to ask if I could be squeezed into more convenient seminars for a couple of subjects,  he demurred, and I got the impression he thought I was trying it on. I didn’t have the energy to argue that this seemingly small issue was essential to the management of my illness.

As I thought I would, I struggled with my schedule.  Ten hours of class time isn’t much, but I hadn’t counted on the extra time I’d need to walk to lectures (and then sit down and catch my breath). In retrospect, I needed to take taxis to my classes. But I was reluctant to organise this because one of the disability support staff told me that some taxi drivers were “funny” about short journeys.

But my biggest challenge was the fire alarms, which went off once or twice a week. We would traipse out of the classroom, walk down three or four fights of stairs, stand around for ten minutes, and then go back up again. I had no idea what disabled students were supposed to do, and didn’t know who to ask, so I just struggled on, my muscles spasming from pain and stress.

I know what some people will think: maybe I was too ill to be at university in the first place. But I had a good reason for attempting it: money. In England, if you’re on a full-time course, you are entitled to loans, grants, and bursaries, which add up to (just about) enough to live on. A part-time student is only entitled to £225 a year. So I took a risk.

It’s a risk that failed. Although I could cope academically, physically I was falling apart. After five weeks, I suffered a severe stress-induced relapse and the university recommended I take a leave of absence. This meant I wouldn’t have to reapply if I felt well enough to return, but I wouldn’t be entitled to student finance or disability benefits during this time, either. I only scraped by thanks to my overdraft, a little writing work, and my supportive parents.

This summer, I had to decide whether or to go back. I decided against it. I didn’t feel well, and I didn’t feel welcome.

I don’t think my experience is unique: I suspect it is more common than universities realize. The way I was treated is part of a much larger problem: how we, as a society, view people with disabilities. We need to stop being surprised when someone has special needs, and there needs to be a socially acceptable way of saying “I can’t do that,” or “I need more help”, especially in educational institutions and the workplace.

Policies like the British government’s plan to reduce the number of people claiming disability benefits (without regard for the number of people with disabilities) perpetuate the sadly still prevalent belief that those of us who have disabling illnesses which are not terminal or immediately visible are lazy, when nothing could be further from the truth.

The fact is, students with disabilities need better support. An attempt to understand and cater to students’ individual needs rather than just paying lip service to the idea of equality would be an excellent start.

Recommended Reading for October 19, 2010

Corina Becker at No Stereotypes Here: Real Communication Shutdown

I was recently asked by a person on Twitter to participate, and I responded that there wasn’t much of a point, since I am Autistic, and do not require to learn about difficulties that I myself face in communicating.

kaz at Kaz’s Scribblings (DW): trials and tribulations — learning foreign languages with speech disorders

in my forays into foreign languages, I have discovered that if I speak slowly and focus on pronunciation I automatically slip into stronger therapy. And I do mean automatically. And, like, I can’t even think “okay, I’m going to talk normally now”, I actually have to intentionally try and modify various sounds to be untherapylike. . .

Katherine Creag at My Fox NY: Woman Couldn’t Buy Inhaler During Asthma Attack

“I had exactly a twenty-dollar bill. It came to twenty-one and change,” Jack Brown said. “I offered him my cell phone, my wallet. I said I live right around the corner. I come in here all the time.”

He was told the inhaler with tax would cost just over $21. He was short a dollar and change.

staticnonsense at Some Assembly Required: Intersections of Disability and Transgenderism

Trans people get othered a lot. We’re pushed off as crazy, disordered, for challenging the social norms of gender and sex. Either by choice in trying to deconstruct this ancient structure, or simply by existing. Throughout history we’ve been institutionalized or “fixed” (or tried to be) simply for existing as ourselves in a world that focuses so strongly on the cissexist concept of penis = man = masculine and vagina = woman = feminine. Even now the disconnect of the body and one’s self identity is seen as a disorder, one that mu

Chally at Feministe: Unreality and the politics of experience

And it’s a bizarre experience because the person in the best position to speak about their own experiences and emotions is the person who has them. And, personally, I find the desire to go over horrible experiences with a fine tooth comb, tease them out, decide – retrospectively, calmly, objectively – on an appropriate response, (an appropriate reaction is whatever I judge to be appropriate, thank you very much) to add a whole new sickening layer to what I experienced. And then there are those demands for more details and irrelevant details and painful details, because whoever is “listening” thinks they get to decide what’s important.

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading at disabledfeminists dot com. Please note if you would like to be credited, and under what name/site.

Today in Journalism: You Used the Wrong Lede

In Houston, an autistic student is being denied accommodations and his parents took the school district to court to fight. However, they ran out of money and were forced to drop the suit. The student, Chapuka Chibuogwu, remains at home, not receiving an education, because his parents didn’t have the financial clout to pursue his legal rights. This is a story that plays out in communities across the United States every day, with school districts pouring money into fighting suits filed by people who are only asking for the accommodations they are entitled to under the law.

Enter the media, which decides to frame this case in a number of, shall we say, interesting ways. Chibuogwu’s parents are immigrants, and there’s a heavy focus on the ‘broken dreams’ narrative going on here, with a side of ‘all immigrants can succeed if they try hard enough’:

Dreams brought Kenneth Chibuogwu to America and in time determination brought many of those aspirations within reach.

“I worked hard. I came to this country with nothing,” says Kenneth.

This is a common element I see in stories about problems immigrants encounter in the United States. There’s a myth here that this country welcomes ‘the right kind’ of immigrants, people who work hard and keep quiet, and these stories frame problems as simply personally unfair, rather than as evidence of more systemic issues. They remind immigrants that they just need to try and they will succeed in the United States, since obviously things like racism don’t present any obstacles at all to members of the immigrant community. These stories present the United States as a fundamentally fair, free place, as the pinnacle of human achievement, and makes sure to grab pull quotes to reinforce this:

“There was nothing I could do but cry because I was so shocked that such a thing could go on in this country,” added Neka [Chibuogwu’s mother] of the repeated conferences with Alief administrators ending in stalemate.

In this case, the school district turned around to sue the parents to demand repayment of the legal expenses it incurred fighting the original suit, and when it lost, it appealed. This isn’t personally unfair. This isn’t about broken dreams. This is evidence of a systemic problem. When a school district is so opposed to accommodating students that it retaliates with countersuits when people attempt to get the district to comply with the law, that’s indicative of deep, sustained ableism.

And, of course, this article includes lines like ‘…a child who will spend each and every day of his life challenged with autism.’ Never is Chpauka Chibuogwu himself represented, except as a shadowy figure at the fringes of the story. Interviews with both parents are present, but he is firmly relegated to the sidelines.

This quote is illuminating:

“What they are trying to do is send a chill down parent’s spine about advocating for their children,” says Louis Geigerman, president of the Texas Organization of Parents, Attorneys and Advocates.

Note that Geigerman doesn’t say ‘this case is being used to threaten disabled students who need accommodations.’ Not ‘this case is designed to send a clear message that disabled students are not deserving of accommodations,’ not ‘the fact that this school district is fighting this hard to deny accommodations is illustrative of some serious problems with our education system.’ No. It’s about the parents.

Now, obviously, a child being denied accommodations in school is probably going to have trouble self-advocating, for a variety of reasons, ranging from ageist attitudes to perhaps not having access to information about self-advocacy to being around people who refuse to communicate on the student’s terms. So, clearly, parents play an important role in securing accommodations for disabled children and in forcing school districts to comply with the law. However, the complete erasure of the student in this case, and in most cases like it, is really frustrating. It’s a reminder that people with disabilities are defined by the people around them, rather than existing as individuals.

The only direct reference to the student is this editorial line thrown in at the end of the story:

As for Chuka, he’s now fourteen, attends no school and for five years hasn’t received a single minute of the free and appropriate public education that is his right.

That should be the centre of the story. The denial of education to the student should be the focus. The fact that the school district is violating the law should be the focus. Persecuting his parents with lawsuits is definitely part of the story, and it’s an important part, since the decision to attack his parents for fighting for accommodations is illustrative of the way the district views disabled students, but the story isn’t framed that way. The story is framed as a hardship for the parents, with the student as an afterthought. ‘As for…’ is the line you use when you are making a throwaway comment. This student is not a throwaway.

Dear Imprudence: Creating Space, Retaining Support

A recent Ask Amy column featured a letter from a college student with a common problem; parents who want to exert a high level of control. Here in the US, school’s been in session for a little over a month now, and the winter is coming on, and I suspect that the number of students struggling with the adjustment to college will be increasing, judging from my own experiences in college. The newness has worn off, it’s getting dark and cold, and, well:

Dear Amy: I love my parents, but even though I got straight A’s in high school without their assistance and have never gotten in trouble, they constantly nag me about homework and grades.

I thought this would end when I went to college, but I was wrong.

When I admitted I save my homework for Sunday afternoon, my mom chastised me.

She gets upset that I shield my personal life from her, but when I do share, she finds something to criticize, nag and/or make snide comments about.

When I ask my mom to stop, she either gets defensive or tells me it’s her job as my mother.

I am still recovering from depression, so I need more support and acceptance from my parents and less passive-aggressive criticism and nagging.

Any suggestions?

— Frustrated Freshman

There are a couple of interesting things going on here, and I wanted to tease out one in particular because I was just talking about it with Anna: Policing of study habits. Many people seem to believe that there is a specific ‘right’ way to study and that if you don’t study that way, you’re doing it wrong. Staying up all night to study is wrong, even if your sleep schedule is actually better suited to studying at night. Studying with music on is wrong. Moving while studying is wrong. There’s a whole long list of things touted as ‘good study habits,’ like ‘don’t leave your work until the end of the weekend.’

To me, what makes a good study habit is what works for a given student. By all performance metrics generally recognised and accepted, this student is doing well. Studying at the end of the weekend hasn’t precluded making good marks and going well in school. Clearly, it’s a system that works for this student.

For this student, there’s an added dimension of depression and the need and desire for support. When talking about your personal life or your approach to school results in judgmental comments and nagging, you tend to shut down, which means that you can’t access that support. Nagging this student about study habits sets up two things: The student is being told ‘school, you’re doing it wrong’ and is being told that support isn’t available, even if it’s wanted, from family members. That has an extremely isolating effect.

What does Amy have to say?

Dear Frustrated: I hope you are working with someone at your college’s counseling center. Because of your depression, you should receive ongoing support.

A counselor at school will be familiar with the issue of hovering parents and will help you establish a healthy and mature distance from them.

Your mother’s behavior has consequences. You should continue to reassure her but not offer details about your life which she is likely to criticize.

Because your parents are having such a hard time letting go, you will need to establish the distance necessary to grow. If your mother starts to nag and criticize, you should say, “Mom, I don’t like this, and it’s not helpful, so I’m going to have to check in with you later.”

Do your best academically, and also join organizations that will bring you in contact with other students outside the classroom.

And don’t drink. Alcohol is woefully omnipresent on most campuses, and using it will aggravate your depression.

Ah, ok, a lecture.

This student seems to have it pretty together. Depression is recognised as an issue and it seems likely that the student, you know. Knows there is a college counseling centre, although it’s worth pondering how accessible that centre is. How easy is it to make an appointment? Is it possible to discreetly get information? Many students don’t seek mental health counseling because they are afraid of the associated stigma, or because they can’t figure out how to work the appointment system, or any number of things.

The advice with the script to the mother is pretty sound; after all, the student did write in for advice about dealing with parents. But the added lecturing seems a bit unnecessary to me; the student isn’t asking for advice on dealing with depression, but specifically for advice on navigating a relationship with parents. That’s a separate, although related, issue. The question here wasn’t ‘how can I deal with depression in college’ but ‘how do I set boundaries with my mother while also asking her for the support I need?’ And the student specifically mentions wanting more support from the parents, not just in general; this is a letter about a family relationship and how to make it work.

Readers who have dealt with dynamics like this, how did you deal with it? What advice would you give the student on addressing the dynamics of the relationship?

How Do You Fight A Suicide Epidemic?

Content note: This post contains discussions of bullying, abuse, and suicide.

An alarming number of gay youth have committed suicide in the United States in recent weeks. There were probably more than I listed here; there tend to be disparities in what the media does and doesn’t report. Rates of suicide and suicide attempts among queer/questioning, undecided, intersex, lesbian, trans, bi, asexual, and gay (QUILTBAG) youth are estimated at approximately one and a half to three times that of the general youth population and possibly even higher; there aren’t nearly enough studies and there’s a particular dearth of studies when it comes to trans youth and youth of colour (.pdf, sorry). My friend Kirya Traber refers to this as an ‘epidemic’ and I think that’s an appropriate word to use; if you have a population dying at a rate that stark, it’s an epidemic.

Seth Walsh was a 13 year old middle school student in California. Walsh was experiencing bullying in school, the school knew about it and did nothing, and his parents withdrew him from school, putting him on independent study. Despite not being in school, he was still bullied. He attempted to hang himself and hovered on life support for nine days before dying.

Asher Brown was 13 too, a middle school student in Texas. His parents couldn’t afford designer shoes and he was mocked for his sexuality and his clothing. On the day before his death, he was pushed down a flight of stairs at the school. His parents filed multiple claims with the school requesting action on bullying. Nothing was done. The night before he died, he seemed sad, but when his parents asked him what was wrong, he said nothing. He shot himself in the head.

Caleb Nolt was 14, a high school student in Indiana. He was a twin, and enjoyed working on building projects and baking cookies.

Billy Lucas was 15, a freshman at a high school in Indiana. Again, school officials were notified about bullying. He endured years of teasing because he was gay. On the day of his death, he started fighting back against the bullies when they harassed him in class and he was suspended for it. He hung himself in the family barn.

Harrison Chase Brown was a 15 year old Colorado high school student. He was interested in history, volunteering with local historical organisations, and he loved music and art. An organ donor, he gave his heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas, and a lung after his death.

Cody J. Barker was 17, a high school student in Wisconsin. He was an activist who wanted to start a gay-straight alliance at his school despite the fact that he experienced bullying for his sexual orientation. Like me, he enjoyed watching James Bond and listening to Lady Gaga.

Felix Sacco was a 17 year old high school senior in Massachusetts. A guitar player, he was described as ‘quiet’ by many people who knew him. He threw himself from an overpass.

Tyler Clementi was an 18 year old college student at Rutgers. Classmates filmed him without consent during a sexual encounter and posted the film online. He asked for help and didn’t get it; in fact, some helpful Internet commenters even suggested that his roommate was unsafe around him because he was gay. He jumped off a bridge.

Raymond Chase, 19, was a college student in Rhode Island. He was out, proud, and enjoyed Harry Potter and dancing. Despite appearing happy on the surface to many of his friends, he hung himself in his dorm room.

One school district in Minnesota has experienced seven suicides in the last year, four of which involved gay students and bullying. One of them was Justin Aaberg, 13, who hung himself in July.

These young people were all failed by the people with a responsibility to protect them. Anti-bullying campaigns repeatedly tell young people to report bullying to teachers, and tell young people who witness bullying to report it, and to speak up about it if they feel comfortable and safe doing so. In all of these cases, there were documented patterns of bullying going on, including physical assaults in some cases. Classroom disruptions. School officials were clearly aware that something was going on, and they did nothing to support the endangered students in their midst. When the core of an anti-bullying campaign is ‘report it’ and reporting it does nothing, that sends a pretty clear message to people who are experiencing bullying in schools.

Knowing that students are being abused and threatened, knowing that suicide rates are especially high among QUILTBAG youth, school districts should not be standing by. Dealing with bullying is complicated, I’m not going to deny that, but it’s clear that many of these districts provided no support for endangered youth and those youth paid a high price for it. The solution to bullying often seems to be to allow (or force) the bullied student to withdraw from school, or isolating the bullied student in other ways, rather than confronting and addressing the abusive behaviour. Or the recommendation is to suspend the bullies, which is not the right solution either.

In 1986, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel said:

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

He was talking about the willful ignorance cultivated about concentration camps in the 1940s, pointing out that the same could be said about many ongoing human rights violations. The skyrocketing death rates among QUILTBAG youth in the United States are an epidemic. They are a human rights violation. They are an atrocity. They are a smear upon the already tattered reputation of the United States. For all the talk of freedom and equal protection under the law, youth cannot even be safe in schools.

We especially need to talk about violence against transgender youth and skyrocketing rates of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. The recent suicides have gotten a great deal of press coverage, which gives me hope for having a national conversation about this issue, but it’s important to avoid leaving trans folks in the cold; like many transgender people, this is a personal issue for me. While seeking out stories for this piece, I couldn’t find any news stories specifically focused on suicide among transgender youth and it’s important to be aware that our suicides are often not reported or are reported confusingly, making it hard to raise awareness and keep accurate statistics.

Youth advocates all over the United States are working with QUILTBAG youth, and many are working directly in schools. I think we need more of them, more people creating safe spaces for endangered youth, more people calling school administrations up on the carpet for their inaction, more people creating a framework for resistance to bullying in schools. It’s clear that school districts will not change from within, and that those that do want to change have no idea about how to do it; getting more advocates into schools feels like the only concrete thing I can suggest in the face of this epidemic taking my QUILTBAG siblings.

If you’re a QUILTBAG youth in need of suicide counseling, please call the Trevor Hotline: 1-866-4-U-TREVOR

The We Got Your Back Project is a new project to reach out to QUILTBAG youth that could use some support!