Thursday, December 2, 2010

Deb's recent flurry of emails Saturday through Tuedsay Night to SOU Administrators

I will say I am including these emails because somehow through this whole ordeal it seems relevant and important that an ongoing chronology include the emotions and missives written in the heat of the moment. For the last 4 days we have put forth a new burst of hopeful messages to the SOU administration in yet another attempt to get them to HEAR the voices that are out there and to see if reason and asking could break through to some new place that maybe they would take a
chance on going. Some people advised us a while back that once SOU dug in its heels it would not change. I guess being raised Quaker, where consensus and negotiating until sides are fleshed out and understanding and trust and working cooperatively is achieved, I have had a hard time throwing in the towel when I have understood how much Eliza just wanted to be in that class. So in order below you will find the email we sent to the SOU administrators on Saturday asking them to see if they could see their way clear to allow Eliza to come to class this past Monday and Wednesday as a guest. Peter Buckley - who deserves 5 gold stars for his effort to try and get SOU to see the benefits of this offer to everyone - worked for hours over the weekend and on Monday to try an negotiate a deal.

Here's the email sent Saturday, followed by a letter written and sent with it from Eliza. Along with the email and letter went the 61 letters of Support to SOU and 723 signatures and comments - all asking for the SAME THING:

Dear Dean Arp, Dean O’Bryon, Associate Provost Walsh and Professor Strangfeld,
We would like to make one last request that you consider allowing Eliza to attend the last two “Introduction to Ceramics” classes this coming week on Nov. 29 and Dec. 1 as a guest. As we have communicated to each of you since Eliza opened Dean Arp’s letter on November 9th, Eliza has been wounded and hurt by your decision to suddenly remove her from class and with only 5 classes remaining. It has been an extremely emotional time for her and for us. Many in the community have felt her pain and have sent letters and signed the petition asking that she simply be allowed to finish. You have, as indicated in the second letter sent to Eliza from Dean O’Bryon, been unmoved to allow the closure she and others have asked for. If she were to be allowed to come experience the last 2 classes as a guest, this could help restore her sense of dignity as a person and restore faith on the part of the community that SOU can be compassionate and flexible.
We are attaching 3 files – The first is a hand written letter from Eliza asking that she be allowed to come to these final 2 classes. The second is a collection of 61 letters of support that have been sent over the past 2 weeks to President Cullinan and Dean Arp. We know these are only part of the letters you have received. The third file is a PDF of the signatures and comments of more than 700 people – teachers, current and former students, administrators, friends, relatives, heads of Disability Organizations, PhDs, Authors, Elected Officials – each asking that you allow Eliza closure by welcoming her to attend these final 2 classes.
We understand that you are under no obligation to do so, but ask you to consider granting this request as a good will gesture on the part of the University to show a compassionate and conciliatory side concerning this issue - to Eliza and to the broader community you serve.
We would appreciate hearing back from one of you about this request. We can be reached at 541-601-4748 (Deb), 541-601-7929 (Ron), or by email at We are also more than willing to come in and discuss this with each or any one of you.
Thank you for your consideration.
Deb Evans and Ron Schaaf

cc Mary Cullinan, President
Vicki Purslow, Assistant Dean, College of Arts and Sciences
James Klein, Provost
John Eldridge, Vice President of Student Affairs
Representative Peter Buckley
Representative Sara Gelser
Senator Alan Bates
Senator Ron Wyden
Senator Jeff Merkley
Congressman Greg Walden

When we got word Monday night around 6:00 that all the negotiations had ended up with the same answer - no she can not come to class and that instead a 'gallery' time next week was offered after one of the cleanup periods for Eliza to do her own critique in front of what ever students may come...I wrote this email to Eliza's Professor:

-- Hi Robin,

Well I wish this had all gone differently. Through it all I have often wondered if we had just communicated more openly between the 3 of us and could have troubleshooted any rough spots and come to common ground as I feel we were doing the last 9 classes, the outcome would have been way different. I remain to this day sure that you were kind and considerate of Eliza. I'm not quite sure how you felt about me being in the class, although never felt you meant unkindly toward either of us.

I am writing to let you know that we have talked over the offer that Peter Buckley relayed to us this evening. We will decline the offer and want you to know so you don't go to the trouble of creating a flier etc. for the class. I believe from the very beginning when I sent my first email to you a week before class started that all we expected, and Eliza's only desire, was to be treated no differently than the other students in your class. We did not ask that you alter your teaching style or change the curriculum.

The same remains true now. We, and the hundreds of supporters who have spoken up on behalf of Eliza have singularly asked that she merely be allowed to finish the class with dignity. This, in her mind, and ours, is to BE a part of the class at the regular time. Because you and I haven't had the opportunity to speak directly to each other, I can assure you that we are not interested in tricking or disrupting you or the students in your class. Our comments to date on the BLOG and in the media have been in response to how Eliza and we have been treated and the insensitive decision, right or wrong, with or without legal backing, that was handed to Eliza with NO prior communication or warning and with every indication from you that her presence was working. We have always believed that open, honest dialog is the best way to move through any new situation. Your superiors, didn't see this to be their prerogative.

I do believe you know that Eliza is just a person. She tries her best. She certainly doesn't require or expect you to have to hold her to a standard of performance. She just wants to belong, be included, be a part of an experience that many individuals her age get to experience. Was she really interfering? Or was that somebody else's interpretation of what this path might lead down? Either way, if you could shed yourself of the advice and opinion of others, and you look at what the students would like and what you know from watching Eliza - do you really think her presence on Wednesday would change what students' say or how they feel about the art they are critiquing?

I know the 11th hour has come and passed. But I would say to you, that the simple solution is to allow her to be present in class on Wednesday, not to exclude her. We would all be in agreement - students, Eliza, community - that this is the thing that brings dignity and honor to her and the University. A decision otherwise, means that SOU administration, again thinks that it speaks a 'higher truth' and holds more 'intelligent knowledge' than all the collected voices out there. It's really very simple, she has asked to be a part of the class, your choice and those of the people above you are either granting that to her or not. We aren't playing a political "Game". We are advocating for the desire and dreams and wishes of our daughter. There is a huge difference. Perhaps someday if you have children of your own, you will understand what it means to "give them wings". Please remember you are an educator, in every sense of the word and my daughter merely is asking for an education.

I wish you all the best. I admire you as a ceramics professor. I'm sorry that a simple dialog, on a human heart level, did not occur that could have alleviated the disappointment and outcome we are left with.


Deb Evans

I guess I was hoping for a reply from Robin, who through out this whole ordeal has emailed me once to say that she couldn't talk to me (after class 4) until Eliza signed the correct paperwork...which Eliza did on Oct 11th, but still I have never heard back from her. I suppose in thinking about this now...that is odd. It does make one wonder what is the relationship between Professor and her superiors or possibly attorneys?

I did get this short email back however on Tuesday:

On Tue, Nov 30, 2010 at 1:06 PM, Alissa Arp <> wrote:
Dear Ms. Evans,

I am writing to let you know that we have received the email you sent to Professor Strangfeld dated 11/29/10.

Alissa Arp

Alissa J. Arp, PhD (541) 552-8173
Dean, College of Arts and Sciences
Southern Oregon University
*The Premier Public Liberal Arts University in the West*

Hmm, I wondered what that meant exactly, maybe they'd reconsider, maybe they wouldn't reconsider? So I remember thinking late Tuesday night I would just take a moment and tell them exactly what I was thinking...I guess that's something I have a great need to do. I've always believed in communication...It gets hard when it's so one sided. Here's what I wrote Tuesday night to Dean Arp:

Dear Dean Arp,

I only wish you could see and feel the pain that we are feeling at what seems to us an extremely unfair singling out that you and the administrators have done to Eliza. She is distraught over your uncaring view of who she is and your equally callous way she has been treated. She has tried her best to appeal to you to ask that she be allowed to simply sit in the class tomorrow. What agenda have we ever had other than that - from the moment we got your letter? I wish you could explain to me, and to her, why the 3 of you felt so compelled to, behind her back, dismiss her, without at least seeing what she was accomplishing before pulling the rug out from under what was a great class and a wonderful stretching and taking in of art, concepts and manifestations of ideas for her. Have you seen her art? The argument over whether the University was prepared for someone like Eliza, could have easily waited for the course to end. If you bothered to ask anyone about Eliza and our family you would have known what a golden opportunity she/we could have been to further the community's view of the University. You see, the communities of Pinehurst and Ashland embraced Eliza's ambition and drive to reach to be all that she can be and that IS enough - for Eliza - and for every student.

I just spent 7 hours today making wreaths with many of my friends and neighbors up here on the Greensprings for a Pinehurst School fundraiser and not one single person that I have talked to can even begin to comprehend what somebody in your positions could have been thinking to so heartlessly dismiss her from a dream she has had for over a year. Every person I know is wondering why you would have treated the kid they know and love like this and if you can do it to Eliza, who else are you hurting? Where is your heart? Maybe you need to see and feel the tears that stream down our faces.

She wants 1 be allowed to go to her class. The community of Ashland and beyond has singularly asked you for this same 1 thing. We completely and utterly are flabbergasted that that is something not one of you is able to see and act on. Do you really think we would jeopardize the Professor, and other students by wanting to in anyway disrupt the class if we were graciously allowed to attend as guests? We want closure - closure to the CLASS that she was taking, not a specially added event for her. We want the pain that we are feeling from outright rejection and insensitivity to go away. Perhaps none of you has ever raised a child with special needs. Life is not overly complex and simple inclusion, being liked, being in the mix to learn IS the joy, is the motivation, the inspiration that she is guided by. Everything a University would hope for its graduates - to learn, to grow, to think and be a whole, creative, wonderful human being - these are her hopes. How is she to achieve them when you feel you know best and slam the door in her face? When you refuse to see the pain you inflict? Did you see the art she created? Did you hear her reasons why she chose to represent certain things in her life in this art? Did you ever see how she behaved in the class from class 5 through 13? If you had, and had an open mind, you would have seen her "fit in". The over 781 signatures, 61+ letters, do they mean nothing to you? Are you that immune to your actions that you can not feel the hurt and alienation you have inflicted on the whole community of people who have opened their hearts to Eliza and see that humanity and dignity should have come first and figuring out a way forward for future opportunities second?

I would ask you again to ease the pain you have so quickly doled out, have some shred of compassion for her desire and the desire of so many that WANT TO BELIEVE that there are feeling human beings somewhere within the SOU Administration, because from this end, there is NOBODY, capable of feeling, that could have come to the conclusion you all came to last night. Protocol and Protectionism do not stand up to Decency. Your actions are being judged harshly, because they ARE harsh. It is an ivory tower answer, in a world that is asking for humanity.

Perhaps one of you would like to sit with Eliza tomorrow from 1:00-3:50 and explain in your rational way why her heart doesn't feel any
better. Sometimes I wonder if your beef was ever with her or with us? Administrators are suppose to be leaders, we have given you every opportunity to lead with dignity and compassion and have been met with every request for consideration since Nov 8th with "we know better". Do you? Great leaders, take in all sides, look for positive outcomes, aren't fearful to try things, are receptive to feedback and ideas from others, can admit when necessary when mistakes have been made, have integrity, poise and grace, inspire others to be and do their your actions reflect these traits?

I can not even begin to explain to you, if you have not already felt it somewhere in your being, that there is still an opportunity to let her come. A chance to heal the hurt of a person, her family and her community who so desperately wants and is asking you to PLEASE MAKE THE RIGHT CHOICE and simply allow her to come tomorrow. After that, there is no chance to heal that hurt...there is only hurt.


Deb Evans

Slowly...I am trying to release this hurt and this anger. It depends on the time of day whether I burst into tears or just shake my head at the wonder of it all. Relief and a vision to move forward will come soon I hope. Tomorrow Eliza and I head off to my Mom's and her Grandma Lu's 90th birthday celebration. We have been looking forward to it for months. Eliza is bringing her Grandma one of her tissue boxes as a gift. I guess we really should be thankful for all the wonderful outpouring from friends, family and now so many way beyond our sphere. Thanks to you all...we will be alright when the dust settles and hopefully these doors that were so rudely slammed shut will open back up again for Eliza and for many others. I can say this... INCLUSION feels WAY BETTER than exclusion.

Thanks for listening.

1 comment:

  1. Deb- you are addressing this very heartfelt issue with courage, strength, and an advocate’s heart. You embody a mother’s love for her child so completely. I am so happy to learn there are still some people that work from such pure and authentic values. Thank you for the opportunity to take a part of my day to read about you and your courageous daughter. Hang in there and keep fighting for your daughter’s equality within higher educational institutions.
    - Jaynette (from the bay area in California)