Thursday, December 2, 2010

Being Part of the Solution - The last 4 days and where to go next.

Dearest friends,

The outcome Eliza so desired, to finish her class, has come and gone. She, although still wondering what hit her and saddened by her loss, will be OK and set her sites on a new horizon of learning - hoping, in the not too distant future, that SOU and the community will find a way to welcome her back as a student. She, despite all she has endured, has a fancy to one
day experience the printmaking class... Hope springs eternal.

I would be lying if I were to say we are not unhappy over what happened and how it happened. We expected more from leaders within SOU. But we have also learned a lot of good things. We have learned that the students at SOU valued and supported Eliza being in their midst. We learned that out there in our home communities of Pinehurst and Ashland there is great caring, love for Eliza and all that she represents and that there are people who have weighed in - classmates, teachers, administrators, disability National organizations, relatives, friends, elected officials, community members of all types - each to express their concern over what transpired for Eliza. Many were outraged, all have scratched their heads over the whole ordeal from the handling to the final decision on Monday to not allow Eliza the singularly focused request to finish with dignity. Your letters, your caring, your encouragement and most of all your belief in Eliza have been a bright shining star throughout the last 3 weeks, helping each of us see that there WILL be a greater good that comes from all of this.

Last Saturday, trying for one more way to explain the importance and goodwill it would bring - to Eliza, the community and the University - we sent an email to SOU administrators simply asking that they consider allowing Eliza to come as a guest to the last 2 Ceramics classes, Nov 29 and today - to listen in, see her classmates projects and hear their final critiques. Rep. Peter Buckley (who's unwavering support has been huge and most appreciated) met with the President for an hour on Sunday, then with a larger group of Administrators for 2 hours on Monday advocating for a positive solution to the public's frustration. There was fear that it would get turned in to a disruption - possible media, etc. event, which we assured them it would not, but in the end they declined to allow Eliza to come. They proposed an alternative of having Eliza present her projects and critique at 2:15 on Dec 8th after one of several scheduled cleanup times and students would be invited to bring 1 of their pieces of art for Eliza to see. After thinking this through, we declined the offer. While this might be hard for some to understand, Eliza, and lots of kid's with differing abilities, spend a good deal of their time wanting to do what others are doing. They know what is "normal" and an expected part of a class and they know when they are being given special, unasked for, treatment. Eliza's learning has everything to do with experiencing the real version of art critique in the mix of a full class room of students. Focusing on her and having a random number of students whose schedules may or may not allow them to be there makes it not inclusive, but special. Eliza tried in every way she knew how to ask for the simplest request, 'please let me come', and that, the SOU administrators could not find their way to grant.

So...what happens next, where does it go from here? We are consulting knowledgeable advisers who are looking at all that transpired and will formally have the actions and decisions of the University scrutinized and they will either be found to have stood on solid footing or they will be shown to have acted in a way not conducive to current law. Those decisions will come over time.

In the meantime, we feel strongly that the thinking, awareness and attention that has come from all of this needs now to be channel towards positive change and working together to be a part of the solution to find ways to include as opposed to exclude. Many who have followed this story with interest have learned things they did not know previously. One of those things is who Eliza is. There are many other people, like Eliza, with Down syndrome or some other intellectual disability that also feel, think, dream and want opportunities in life to learn, grow and be connected to their communities. It is for both Eliza and these individuals that we ask you to join us and "think out of the box" - take your new found knowledge of what CAN BE. The change you each wanted for Eliza will happen when we collectively brainstorm and unite our knowledge and creative ideas to BE THAT POSITIVE CHANGE!

Just to spur your creative are some ideas that we are already hearing about:

1. Form a task force / commission comprised of students, faculty, administrators, community members, special needs advocates, elected officials and look into how other colleges and Universities are embracing this newest population of learners with Intellectual Disabilities. I just received an article, from a new-to-us Eliza supporter, about the College of Charleston's latest program called REACH - that gives students with Intellectual Disabilities a full college experience. REACH stands for Realizing Educational And Career Hopes.

2. Have events that promote the concept of inclusion and continue to raise awareness of indidivuals with intellectual disabilities - where the community works together to sponsor these celebratory events. One idea for an event of this nature currently being worked on is to do a screening of a wonderful documentary called "For Once in My Life" about the Spirit of Goodwill Band in Miami Florida.

3. Tap in to the resources that have been offered from authors, individuals practicing inclusion, disability groups from Living Opportunities to national organizations to explore ways in which both Universities and communities can promote inclusion through business, clubs, schools, etc. - honoring the gifts of all individuals and promoting the integration of these members of our neighborhoods to ensure they lead dignified, connected and meaningful lives.

There are many more creative ways to honor Eliza and all the individuals she represents. They need the support, love and caring that you have shown her to give them wings to accomplish their dreams.

If you have ideas, please let us know either by commenting to this BLOG or emailing us, so we can begin now - BEING THE CHANGE WE NEED.

Deb Evans


  1. As a mother of a 5 year old girl with Down syndrome... I applaud you and your friends for being a part of Eliza's life and showing her that she is a valuable part of society and that she is loved and valued. Thank you for being a Voice for all of our kids.

    How disappointing to have an Administrator who clearly does not share the same values.

    Thank you.

    Molly Ziriax

  2. Janet Felty said:
    Dear Eliza Deb & Ron
    RE: My facebook comment & two personal ceramics storys for Eliza.
    I posted the blog link to the 'guest opinion' on my facebook page & I want to share my comments with you since you might not see it on Facebook. Here was my comment attached to the link:
    I was excited my cousin Deb's daughter Eliza was following her dream to go to college. She has Down's Syndrome and had graduaded from Ashland HS. Recently she was taken out of her Ceramics class by Administrators at SOU during her first semester there. I am sad to hear that she will not be allowed to finish the only class she was enrolled in.
    I have been following the events and the huge outpouring of support by so many people in the area of Ashland Oregon and from all over. I have great admination for Eliza and parents Ron & Deb. You can learn more & write a note of support if you like on the blog at

    I have a few thoughts to share with Eliza: I took ceramics in High School and at a summer Art Institute. I had always thought about taking more art classes in College but never did take ceramics again. Even though that was such a long time ago, I still remember the projects I worked on and the amazing feeling to see the end result after they were fired and glazed. Those feelings are still with me. I know that right now your memories of the class experience & of what you did get an opportunity to learn might not all be "great" memories because of what happened with the SOU administration. But someday soon I hope you just have a good positive memory of what you learned and of the classmates you shared some time with. You will be able to have new experiences again in another classroom setting at perhaps SOU, another college, continued education course or even creating your works of art on your own. I encourage you to continue with your art & ceramics as long as you are enjoying it.

    Another story I want to share is about Jeremy and Johnny doing some ceramics when we were in Memphis a few years ago. At the Friends (Quaker) Meeting in First Day School the kids worked on a project where they made pots out of clay that were sold to raise money for "Pots for Peace". Nancy White who attends "Meeting" in Memphis led the project. I will look for some photos of our project to share with you and describe it a little better in future note to you. Jeremy Johnny and I really enjoyed the project & it is another really strong ceramics memory for me.
    Nancy White is the Ceramics Program coordinator at University of Memphis. Her photo and info is at the college website-
    I have not been in touch with her in a long while but I will send her a note to share your blog story.