Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bringing you up to date

Family, Friends and Followers of Eliza,
It is time to bring you up to date on what has transpired over the last 2 months. Some of you have received interim emails, most of you have not.
Following President Cullinan’s letter received on February 15th denying discrimination, we thought very hard about how to move this discussion forward in a way that can actually get the University to see the importance and benefits of developing options for
students with intellectual disabilities (ID) who so desire to experience college. Our research into colleges that are doing this have been very encouraging and opposite of Eliza’s experience to date.
While we were contemplating what to do, several unforeseen developments occurred. Through a classmate of Eliza’s since Kindergarten, we were contacted by a former Ashland High School graduate, Ruby Stocking, who is pursuing a documentary film major degree at Chapman University in Orange, CA. She had read the blog and she and 3 classmates – James Parker, Bobby Moser and Vivi Thomasi - were very interested in doing a documentary on Eliza for their Community Voices class. We talked it over and agreed it might shed some positive light on Eliza. For 3 weekends and 8 days of filming Ruby, James, Bobby and Vivi became our extended family! They followed Eliza everywhere and filmed hours of footage then headed back to Chapman to work their magic all the while solidifying an incredible bond of friendship with Eliza via phone calls and texting.
During the same period, an SOU ceramics major, Spencer Allen, who was present last fall in the ceramics studio, took an interest in Eliza, her story and her art. He began filming and working with Eliza on ceramics projects at Ashland Art Center. He too, along with his partner and daughter, have marched into our lives. In both cases, the question of who Eliza is and what she desires, what claims have been made and what she deserves have become a focal point. We fully understand that these unforeseen connections and the outpouring of our community in support of Eliza last fall have stemmed from the very fact that she has been included and accepted and educated beside her non-disabled peers all her life. These friends, neighbors and school peers have not see her as a disruption but merely as a person who sometimes does things differently, yet still is a community member and student, the same as them, who belongs.
With the emergence of film to shed light on the insensitive and unnecessary way Eliza was treated, we decided to ask to meet with either SOU administrators or Oregon University System (OUS) staff to see if we could find resolution without further damage or expense to either Eliza or SOU. At first there was no response to our phone calls and email requests. So Rep. Buckley volunteered again to intervene on Eliza’s behalf and met with Joe Holliday, OUS Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Success Initiatives. He learned that in order to talk, Eliza would first need to state her dissatisfaction with the President’s decision. He also learned that representatives from OUS Universities had formed a task force to begin looking into developing inclusive programs for students with ID due in mid April. Two days following their meeting we received our first correspondence from OUS stating that they would not meet with us per our informal request.
So, we prepared and submitted a formal appeal to the Chancellor asking to save tax payer money in this time of extremely strapped funding for education in Oregon and simply meet with us to talk and try and resolve the issue. We also stated that if this was not fruitful or if they would not grant a meeting than we request a hearing to fully vet all sides of the story to an impartial party.
On April 12th we received a letter from OUS that a meeting would not be granted and they were undecided about the hearing.
On April 29th, having heard no word about the hearing we filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) laying out specific reasons why Eliza was discriminated against. There has still been no communication from OUS on the hearing request or further word on the task force’s findings. There is also nothing to report on OCR at this time.
As for the documentary, we learned in late April, early May that Eliza’s documentary titled Hold My Hand has been nominated for the Cecil Award at Chapman’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts. With long awaited anticipation, Eliza and Deb flew down to LA last week and had a wonderful time visiting with Ruby, James, Bobby and Vivi and soaking up that California sun leaving Ron and Isaac to contend with 3” of snow on the Greensprings and partake in AHS track district meet in Bend! Eliza was very excited and just a little nervous to give a speech to the Community Visions class and took quite literally the “hold my hand” mantra throughout our stay!
Then on May 12th, we joined nearly 500 people in the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts auditorium and watched 6 remarkable documentaries! It was a tearful and emotionally charged night for all of us. And while the film didn’t include a good portion of the activities we traipsed all over town to shoot AND took me several days to process the overwhelming emotional impact, it is a stunningly beautiful portrayal of Eliza, her life and her struggles with what being rejected has brought to light.
We are extremely thankful for the friendships we have made - both with SOU and Chapman students - and for the gift we have been given from these four talented and compassionate film makers. We look forward to sharing it with all of you. The world will change when enough people can see that saying yes is OK. We do not need to bar those that desire an education merely for the reason that they are too different or we believe they can’t learn enough. We just might discover that their diversity is equally important - for teaching compassion, acceptance and learning a different way of seeing things. By valuing each of us for the gifts we bring maybe finally we will see that everybody belongs and everybody contributes in their own unique way… and that is a very good thing.
Stay tuned for more soon on the results of the SOU fun art day and on the upcoming screening of the Documentary in Ashland at AHS’s Mountain Avenue Theater on June 1st from 6:00pm-8:00pm.
We thank each and everyone of you, from near and far, for your unwavering support. Please continue to check back frequently to Eliza’s BLOG at www.elizaschaaf.com as that will be the vehicle we use to communicate future developments.
All our love,
Deb and Ron
debron3@gmail.com
541-601-4748 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 541-601-4748 end_of_the_skype_highlighting

1 comment:

  1. Thank you again for showing how the foundations of inclusion can rally towards community and creative output.

    I am looking forward to both films. (the Think College film and the film made by Eliza's peers).

    Very excited, too, about the Task Force.

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