Paralympian discusses diversity

Story by Hannah Keisker

Photo by Luke Nankivell

diversity3_luke-w2000-h2000Activist and Paralympic athlete Matt Glowacki spoke about diversity and the influence of the media on Pomerantz Stage on Wednesday night.

Glowacki, a Wisconsin native, was born without legs. He said  diversity is not walking around noticing differences in people.

“You don’t get to be a diverse person by saying, ‘There’s an Asian person, there’s a crippled person, there’s a black person. Look how diverse I am,’” Glowacki said. “Diversity, to me, is a learning process we all go through as we learn more about ourselves through other people’s differences.”

Glowacki has been a professional speaker since 1998. He began his career speaking in elementary and middle schools. He said his disability allowed him to find his passion early, so he could turn it into jobs.

“It’s amazing the kind of impact that people seem to think I make, and it’s a real pleasure to be able to do it—that’s why I love doing my job,” Glowacki said.

Glowacki is the No. 1 most-booked diversity speaker in America. His other endeavors include owning a DJ company, making wheelchairs for himself and Paralympic athletes in eight different countries.

“So what that means is I get paid to talk about myself,” Glowacki said.

Mary Stang, a junior elementary education major, is the campus impact co-chair for Student Activities Board. She said SAB finds speakers in conferences and through agencies throughout the country.

“I loved it. I thought he was great. I have a special-ed endorsement, so it’s always interesting for me to hear about disability privilege and some of those different things. So, it was very interesting to me, and I thought he did a great job of making it engaging and funny but yet still having an educational message,” Stang said.

First-year pre-pharmacy major Mary Jo Elder attended the event for a class that discusses diversity in the workplace.

“I thought Matt was fantastic. He had a huge stage presence, very informative. He was very open about his disability and what that means for a person and how we should just understand a disability for who he is and not difference or anything like that,” Elder said.

Glowacki spoke on body image and racism. He used clips from “Family Guy” and “South Park” to show that parody and satire reveal stereotypes and social issues.

He said the media influences society and undermines our self-confidence so we will buy products. We spend 100 million a year on the diet industry, 20 billion annually on cosmetics and 300 million on cosmetic surgery, Glowacki said.

Glowacki explained that it’s important to combat these issues as a society.

“I believe the most attractive part of any person is their self-confidence,” Glowacki said. “Unfortunately, that self-confidence comes in a lot of different shapes and forms and we live in a society that tells women, from the time they wake in the morning until the time they go to bed, that they’re not good enough, they’re not pretty enough, they’re not smart enough.”

Elder said Drake does a good job of informing students about diversity and welcoming students who come from diverse backgrounds and very small populations.

“I would say that people here sometimes don’t have an open mind about things, but it’s something that Drake takes to heart by having speakers like Matt come in and explain that it’s not a bad thing to have a disability—it’s not a bad thing to have a diverse population,” Elder said. “It’s actually to our advantage to learn more about different cultures, different ways of life, and how people are different.”

Glowacki said the hardest part about his job is getting to all of the places he needs to be in the small frame. He speaks at 120-150 programs a year but doesn’t work during the summer or on holidays.

“I have to be in a relationship with someone that has enough of their own life that they’re not dying when I’m not there, but they appreciate the time that we do get to spend together,” Glowacki said.

Glowacki said unless he’s onstage, his disability isn’t that relevant in his life.

“I don’t wrap my identity in the fact that I use a wheelchair,” Glowacki said.

“It just seems to be one of the things that I do in order to make a living and make a change in people’s attitudes.”

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