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UIU Diversity and Inclusion Blog

#3. Overcoming a Disability

by Colleen M. Irvine, Director of Disability Services

“Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.”
— Nido Qubein


October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and Disability History Month—and a time to pay tribute to the accomplishments of people with disabilities. This year also marks the 30th anniversary of President George H.W. Bush signing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in many areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications, and access to state and local government programs and services. You can learn more about the ADA on the Department of Labor website.

There are many people who have adapted to or overcome a disability — historical figures, athletes, musicians and people we interact with every day. Here, a UIU student recounts how their disability impacts their learning:

  • “I never realized I had a disability until my third-grade teacher mentioned something to me and my parents. Soon after that I went through many tests and appointments to figure out what exactly was getting in the way of my reading and comprehension. School has always been difficult for me, but since figuring out my disability, I have had many great teachers and adults that have helped me by showing me tricks and different ways to understand written material. Sometimes I am able to use audio resources in addition to the written material, which helps. Still, to this day, I encounter frustration almost every day not being able to easily comprehend and taking double or triple the time to do homework compared to my friends. I have learned to accept that it will probably always take me longer than others, but it does not make it any less frustrating. Today, I am handling my learning disability by communicating with my teachers and working with the disability office here at UIU—they are amazing.”

A UIU employee shares their story of how they manage their disability and serve as a role model for students:

  • “It is really scary having a mental disability and telling people that I have one. As a community leader, it is important to be as open as possible about it, help end stigma, and show that we can be successful. I have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) from my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and, apparently, social anxiety disorder and depression. My OCD relates to the fear of catching an incurable disease from unknown sources, and I obsess about it until I am able to use hand sanitizer, wash my hands or shower. As a kid I was attacked mentally, emotionally, and physically. I always had to have my guard up. Now that I am out of that household, my brain can’t shut off the constant need to be on high alert, so it has shifted its focus to everyday items I come in contact with. I always have had issues communicating because my brain thinks so fast and differently. I also pride myself on being a very logical person, so I really struggle with the illogical sides of my disability. However, fighting it can be like quick sand—the more you struggle the further you get entrenched. I have built a successful career in higher ed doing something I love and being a role model for those young men and women who are afraid to be open about or acknowledge that they might have a mental disability. Most of us are normal people you interact with daily—your friends, family members, professors, coaches, staff, and coworkers. Some of us are concerned how people will react when they learn of our disabilities, because we are scared that we will be looked at as less than the amazing people we are.”

Another UIU student shares their story:

  • “As a child I loved to read, I could tell you all about the book, but writing it down was totally different. When I was told to write, my mind was blank, like an empty canvas. At first people just told me that I was lazy, that I should “try harder.” As my grades slipped, so did my mental health. I was slowly becoming more and more anxious and depressed. I tried so hard, but was getting nothing in return. When I got into high school, everything was a lot more difficult. Things were faster, and teachers didn’t have enough time to help everyone that was falling behind. My freshmen year, I got the worst grades in my life, my GPA dropped and so did all my confidence in myself. After that, it got slightly better; the anxiety and depression were still there but I thought that I could just push them away and not think about them. However, I imploded towards the end of my senior year and became a shell of who I was. My classes were easier, but everything else was difficult. I hid everything pretty well from my family, which is why no one really saw the full extent of the symptoms I was having and the difficulty I was having to stay together. In college, everything sped up to the extreme. I started to miss deadlines for assignments, and I couldn’t keep up in class. It was then that my family and I decided that I should be tested for a learning disability. When I received my results, I was relieved to finally figure out what was going on in my brain, but also scared of actually knowing the truth. I thought I was broken, that I was the only person going through this sort of thing, but I soon found out that there were many people like me. It made me feel relieved that someone else understood me and what was going on in my brain. Now, as a junior, I’m still having some trouble with classes, but help from my teachers and from everyone who works in disability services has made it much easier. It’s a struggle every day, but it’s a struggle that can helped.”

When I initially attended higher education, I was young, energetic, and excited—much like most of our Upper Iowa students. I completed a year then took a break (marriage and kids followed). I returned a few years later and was very focused on doing well. Nursing school is hard, but once I became a nurse, I found out how much I really loved the medical field. I worked in mental health on an adolescent inpatient unit for several years. Then it happened; I was injured at work, and my life changed dramatically (“In an instant,” some would say). I suffered a trimalleolar fracture, dislocation and extensive nerve damage in my right ankle. After several surgeries, hundreds of hours of physical therapy, casts, braces, wheelchairs, crutches, and canes I emerged as a “walking-again” member of the world, although I had a pretty significant limp, and I couldn’t stand for long periods. In between the surgeries and rehabilitation, I had returned to college for a new career—there aren’t many nurses who are NOT on their feet a good part of the day.

I thought about people like Rick Allen (Def Leppard drummer who lost his arm in an automobile accident, and didn’t let it stop him from playing), Michael J. Fox (actor with a diagnosis of early onset Parkinsonism, who continues to act but has also started a foundation that has raised over $233 million for Parkinson’s research) and John Nash, and Stephen Hawking, and Temple Grandin, and my aunt Teresa… the list goes on and on.

I had my parking permit, a will to beat down that feeling of defeat, support from my family, and help from Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation. It wasn’t easy walking across campus, climbing flights of stairs, and sitting in lecture halls where I couldn’t be comfortable. When my professors realized I had a disability (and I’ll be honest, my pride had a really hard time saying that) they were usually pretty understanding if I opted to sit away from others so I could use an additional chair to elevate my foot, or when I might be a few minutes late to class if it was on the third floor. I didn’t even think about getting accommodations and I honestly don’t know why. Looking back now, I don’t think I was aware that help might be available.
I worked hard and graduated with my bachelor’s degree in Social Work in just three years. I applied and was accepted into the Advanced Standing Graduate Program and I obtained my master’s degree in Social Work Administration.

Some of my motivation to succeed was based in anger, as I refused to give up on the notion that I would be a productive member of society or let anyone tell me that I was disabled.

I re-entered the workforce and eventually had one more intense surgery where they used donor bone, hardware, and magic to re-build the whole ankle. I have accepted that I will continue to have some limitations, but I don’t limp anymore and know that my disability doesn’t define me; instead, it is empowering.

I’m telling you this not to brag or pat myself on the back. If you had a setback or feel like you are riding the “struggle bus” every day, you can prevail and succeed. I was lucky in that my disability was obvious. For many, an intellectual disability or a mental illness is not obvious, and could easily be overlooked. That is why I try hard to assist students the best way I can in UIU’s Office for Disability Services. We all know that no one is perfect, and we all have flaws. But, when you can adapt or overcome; achieving success is all the sweeter.

If you, or anyone you know could benefit from help through the Disability Services Office, please reach out. We’re here to help: (563)425-5949;

#2. Black Trans Lives Matter

by Nickie Michaud Wild, PhD

June 2020 will forever be remembered as a tipping point in the United States’ history of race and politics. After the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, protests spread rapidly throughout the country. It was also Pride Month, and besides frequent declarations that Black Lives Matter, activists also drew attention to another truth, that Black Trans Lives Matter. Why have activists emphasized this, and why is it important?

It is important to first realize that the United States does not do a very good job of tracking murders by gender identity.

Scholars focusing on the experiences of transgender people have historically hesitated to specify the relative risk of transgender homicide because of substantial limitations of available data. The definition of transgender itself varies and can represent a very broad or very narrow category of people who defy traditional expectations of gender. Although this definitional issue may seem academic at first, it has significant consequences for how to categorize both murder victims and the estimated transgender population. (Stotzer, 2017)

It’s easy to gain an understanding of murder rates by age or location, for example; these data points are practically uncontestable and are not subject to interpretation. With this in mind, it is extremely important to listen to the lived experiences of trans individuals, especially in regards to the higher levels of violence they face.

This is where trans communities come in, and why they are vitally important sources of information. They have long reported that Black trans women are disproportionately killed in the United States relative to their numbers in the population. What this means is that each individual Black trans woman has a higher likelihood of being murdered compared to most other people. In fact, these women are often victims of “overkill,” a term that means that the person who murdered them was acting in a particularly violent, premeditated way.

This heightens the importance of understanding intersectionality, when two or more of your identities come together to create a harsher form of disadvantage. Critics of the theory say it puts us into ever smaller and smaller distinct categories, but without it certain forms of oppression may not even come to light.

This year, Pride Month was more important and special than ever, as it dramatically highlighted the intersection of Black Lives Matter and Pride Month. The history of Black trans involvement has always been inextricably linked to the beginning of the Gay Rights Era, with Black transgender activists like Marsha P. Johnson, who was an integral part of the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969 and lifelong activist.

In addition, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in a 6-3 decision on June 15, 2020, that gay and transgender employees cannot be discriminated against or fired because of their identity, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination “because of sex.”

Identities are not the only thing that are intersectional – so are forms of discrimination and institutional disadvantage. Job loss impacts housing, child welfare, access to healthcare and safety. Work on eliminating all forms of discrimination, violence, and prejudice, even very specific ones, has the same effect but in a positive and intertwined way. If communities unite to protect and advocate for each other, and for the members they have in common, their resources expand. This is basic social movement theory, where people’s time and energy for activism are resources that are just as important as money. There have been specific protests and vigils calling for the end of the violence towards Black trans women, but these tend to be in major cities; however, there are multiple ways to help even if you can’t attend. Calling attention to the problem is a great way to start, as is calling out bigotry whenever you hear or see it.

If you are in the LGBTQ+ community and are missing the support networks during the Coronavirus pandemic that you would normally be able to turn to for help, The Trevor Project has launched an online support community for teens and young adults.

#1: Welcome and an Introduction

By John Grummel, PhD

Welcome to the UIU Diversity and Inclusion Blog and thank you for joining this conversation on diversity, equity and inclusion. I would like to first thank the UIU Diversity and Inclusion Committee, especially members Dr. Nickie Michaud Wild and Danielle Cushion, whose efforts made this a much better introduction to our first UIU Diversity and Inclusion Blog. Upper Iowa University is committed to promoting and facilitating diversity and inclusion in its many forms. This blog, created by the UIU Diversity and Inclusion Committee, will address various diversity issues and concerns relevant to its students, faculty and staff, and many issues that could be addressed, particularly given the events of 2020. In future blog entries, members of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee and the wider UIU community will address numerous issues concerning diversity, equity and inclusion.

Topics will include the current national (international) protests sparked by the senseless killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police including police brutality against people of color, Black Lives Matter, white privilege, systematic racism and microaggressions. We will also discuss Pride; the recent Supreme Court decision indicating that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of a person’s sex, among other factors) also covers sexual orientation and transgender identity. There will be discussions of the oppression and violence against the LGBTQ+ community, especially violence against transgender individuals (at least 15 transgender women or gender non-conforming people of color have been murdered already this year). We will also discuss the state-sponsored oppression of the LGBTQ+ populations in numerous U.S. states.

There will be discussions addressing the increase in ethnic, religious, or racial violence, such as the increase in the number of attacks against Asians after President Trump referred to COVID-19 as the “China Virus” in late March 2020. There will also be posts concerning the continued discrimination against persons with disabilities 30 years after the passage of the Americans with Disability Act.

As Dr. Ahmad points out in the June 9, 2020, edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education, equity in 2020 must be more than just a university diversity statement, and that “there is simply no way that colleges and universities can—or should—remain quiet or neutral at this critical juncture in history.”

The UIU Diversity and Inclusion Blog is intended to be a part of a broader action—to be more than just a diversity and inclusion statement –to promote and facilitate inclusion at Upper Iowa University. We will endeavor to create a discussion about diversity and inclusion that explains how the two, while often used interchangeably, are different. Through these discussions we aim to illustrate the importance of both, promote understanding and ultimately facilitate action.

Furthermore, we hope that others will get involved – if you are unsure how to participate in this conversation, contact members of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee. UIU already has a student Pride organization (which needs more members) and is looking to create a Black Student Union, among other organizations, actions and events. If you are interested in working on the Diversity and Inclusion Committee or one of its subcommittees (LGBTQ+/Ally, Engaging Men, Human Resources, Disabilities, Athletics, Multicultural-Diverse, Student Activities), please contact us. Again, I would like to thank you, the UIU community, on behalf of the UIU Diversity and Inclusion Committee for joining us on this journey.

UIU Diversity and Inclusion Committee
Jean Merkle (Co-Chair), Dean of Students ([email protected])
John Grummel (Co-Chair), Associate Professor of Political Science ([email protected])
Crystal Cole, Director of Counseling and Wellness ([email protected])
Danielle Rosario Cushion, Associate Athletic Director of Student Affairs ([email protected])
Erin Doherty, Head Lacrosse Coach ([email protected])
Matthew Foy, Associate Professor of Communications ([email protected])
Mary K. Hutson, Head Competitive Cheer Coach ([email protected])
Colleen M. Irving, Director of Disability Services ([email protected])
Jager, Joy, Project Coordinator Project Stand UP ([email protected])
Nickie C. Michaud Wild, Assistant Professor of Sociology/Pride Club faculty advisor ([email protected])
Olivia L. Schnur, Counselor ([email protected])
Brock Wissmiller, Associate Athletic Director ([email protected])

Upper Iowa University Diversity and Inclusion Committee Mission

The Upper Iowa University Diversity and Inclusion Committee is committed to promoting and facilitating social justice, diversity, and inclusion by embracing, enhancing, and celebrating diversity and inclusion at all levels of the University and the surrounding communities. Upper Iowa University defines diversity beyond race and disability; embracing one’s culture, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, nationality, religion and variety of thought and seeks to attract and serve a diverse and inclusive group of employees and students. Upper Iowa University and the UIU Diversity and Inclusion Committee recognize that diversity and inclusion are fundamental to the quality and excellence of the faculty, staff, and student body.