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 juices...here 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.