BY GRACE ROGERS
Drake University students discussing social justice issues isn’t a new phenomenon. But the Community Action Board’s (CAB) February social justice discussion focused on a topic that is not widely talked about.
“Another Drake student who was at our last dialogue suggested ableism as a topic, and it made me think that that is a topic that is extremely under-discussed at Drake,” Jamie Willer said.
Willer, a junior, is the President of CAB and is majoring in psychology and sociology.
“We’re all about talking about inclusivity in any regard of social justice, but not even in one of my sociology classes have I talked about ableism,” Willer said.
This month’s social justice discussion was last Wednesday in Stalnaker hall. The social justice discussion series aims to create a comfortable space of discussion for students to discuss issues affecting Des Moines and campus.
This month’s topic, ableism, is described as discrimination against people with mental, physical or other disabilities.
Common examples include buildings or rooms that are not handicap-accessible, or even just the common phrase “disabled” instead of “people with disabilities.”
“I really think that it’s important to have these sorts of conversations on Drake’s campus especially in regards to disability, whether that be physical or mental,” junior Annika Grassl said. “These problems do exist and they are not spoken about nearly as often or as strongly as issues of gender or race inclusion.”
The conversation ranged from a discussion of ableism in mainstream society to specific instances on Drake’s campus.
“Most of the handicap accessible door buttons do not open and most of the ramps are not shoveled before stairs,” Grassl said. “It’s a big issue on campus.”
Some students, like Grassl, attended the dialogue because they already felt passionate about the issue. Others came to learn.
“I am involved with the group that was heading all the campus climate stuff and figuring out the next steps for Drake to take,” junior Jackie Heymann said. “So whenever there’s a dialogue like this, I go to listen for ideas of things we can keep pushing Drake on.”
According to Heymann, discussions like this can spur real change.
“The Drake Administration is very responsive to students strategically using student power – pressing different buttons, tapping different levers, or whatever metaphor you want to use – to try and get things done,” Heymann said. “President Martin has been extremely responsive to students concerns and working with students to make sure that the university is a place they feel included, from what I’ve seen so far.”
This was a goal Willer had when creating the discussion, which she came up with the idea for over the summer.
CAB is planning on hosting one discussion each month in collaboration with residence hall staff.
“I know that these dialogues are a great way of initiating conversation,” Willer said. “It’s a way to get the conversation going, and what happens after that is out of my control, but obviously I’m going to hope for the best that the conversation continues.”