This post was written by Darlene Murrain.
Good afternoon everyone. I feel honoured and humbled to have been asked by Kathryn and Esther to deliver the Student Perspective speech today as well as being awarded the Jake Edelsen Award in Community Organizing. I want to also extend my congratulations to all the award recipients who have been recognized for their efforts and thank you to the donors for your contributions who made these awards possible.
If you were to ask me back in 2008 when I freshly graduated with my Behavioural Sciences diploma what my next endeavour would be, my answer probably wouldn’t have included Disability Studies. I didn’t know it existed until a former professor told me about it but in all honesty, I believe Disability Studies chose me and I’m glad it did. For a majority of us students, it all begins at the summer intensive, DST 501 “Rethinking Disability” with Esther Ignagni in what I like to call the “unlearning stage”. Unpacking and questioning disability was something I’ve never considered before and this opened up a whole new understanding of disability from the perspective of disabled people.. For me, this was not only revolutionary in altering my understanding but it forever shaped the way I interacted with the world: from the language I used, to the models and theories I referenced to the way I repositioned myself as an advocate and ally to the disability community. We were introduced to varying schools of thought by experts in the field like Kumari-Campbell, Razack, Freire, Finkelstein, Tregaskis, Garland-Thomson, Bell and Crenshaw just to name a few. What I loved most about the intensive was having the chance to spend a couple weeks with my classmates and bounce around our ideas and individual experiences with disability.
I always knew I wanted to be involved in community organizing for the inclusion of people with disabilities: I ran free a tutoring club for low-income children with learning disabilities, wrote a few proposals for international programs focusing on education for children with disabilities yet it wasn’t until I progressed about halfway through the program, I got that moment of truth. I learned about Inclusive Design in DST 614 and for me that was it, I found my calling! Now as a graduate, I can say that I have found a tangible way to apply my learnings and my passion for advocacy by considering future graduate studies in the field of Inclusive Design. My thesis project was a great wrap-up to my academic career at Ryerson as I explored inclusion for people with disabilities in the Anti-Black Racism movement. What I enjoyed most about the program is there were always opportunities to refresh your perspective and apply it to your everyday life. Let’s take the social model of disability for example. Think about how that one concept alone has altered the way you are in the workplace with coworkers, disabled people and their families. And also, how many teaching moments you had where you were talking to family and friends and you educated them about how societal barriers perpetuate disability. Sound familiar?
All-in-all, this program taught me how to think critically and consider new point of views. I never knew what a “critical lens” was before but eventually I found myself applying it to my studies. This leads me to give some advice to current students in the program. My first piece of advice to current students would be to take as many electives as you can and see what role a critical disability lens can play. The diverse range of elective courses give you the freedom to pursue other fields of study that enhance your journey through the Disability Studies program and I believe, makes you more well-rounded. One of the electives I took was International Community Development. I enjoyed this elective very much and being a Disability Studies student allowed me to bring the theoretical framework into it for my final essay about children with disabilities living in improvised communities. I also found that I was able to do that with a majority of my elective courses.
My second piece of advice is get to know the members of the faculty and staff. They’re awesome! They are so knowledgeable in the field and are so hands-on. Ask Paris about the random emails I sent her almost every semester about my course selection or Esther about the amount of times during DST 99 I showed up to her office just to pick her brain about my major research project. They were each always so gracious and accommodating to assist me.
My last piece of advice is to take your time through the program so you can really engage with the learning process. It took me a full 8 years to complete the program and it was not a fact I liked to share with people when they asked me but when I arrived on the presentation day for our final projects, I heard the journeys of other students and what it took for them to reach this point of completion. This made me proud of what taking this program has made me both professionally, academically and personally. I hope that throughout the remainder of your studies here at Ryerson, you will continue soak up all that comes your way to help you forge your academic path and ultimately become creators and influencers in the world at large.
I would like to end by thanking the biggest creators and influencers, our professors who exemplify the school’s motto of vision, passion and action. Your contributions impact not only our academic lives but help to shape the future climate of our society to be more compassionate, knowledgeable and inclusive. We appreciate all that you do to allow us to reach our highest potential in this field through your continuous support. You provide us opportunities to grow, to get involved and to lead. For me personally, your mentorship has molded me into the woman standing in front of you today. Thank you for choosing me 8 years ago to be apart of the Disability Studies family.