Diversity Elevated

Conference helps raise awareness


Cathie Lawrence

Victor De Luna Jr. speaks to attendees in the Cafeteria during the diversity conference April 18.

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Los Medanos College held another Elevating Diversity conference April 18 with faculty, staff, students and allies in attendance. This time around the conference was centered on those with physical, psychiatric or learning disabilities.
The day started off with attendees registering and attending a Resource Fair. They were offered free stress balls and t-shirts designed by Students with Abilities Coordinate to Help Each Other Vice President Victor De Luna, Jr. The Los Medanos College Associated Student president and Elevating Diversity Conference Planning Committee co-chair, Gary Walker, then welcomed all that came along with Dean of Counseling and Student Support Jeffrey Banford and president of the college Bob Kratochvil.
SACHE President Kristi Ferrell introduced the first keynote speaker, former chief regional attorney at the U.S. Department of Education and the Office for Civil Rights Paul Grossman. His main focus was on the rights of students with disabilities.
He also gave attendees the disabled rights timeline noting issues he had with former presidents who continued to oppress disabled Americans by refusing to enact regulations that would help them. He specifically called out “Ol’ Gerry Ford who’s mostly famous for doing nothing.”
He spoke highly of his friends involved in drafting those regulations and helping with the protests following the inaction of the government. He mentioned former California Congressman George Miller.
“I was really sad to see him go,” said Grossman. “He was a very important ally.”
He showed a picture of a large group of protesters at a rally at San Francisco’s 50 United Nations Plaza.
“Small crowd right?” he joked.
Some of the disabled protesters crawled up the steps without the use of wheelchairs or braces to make a point, said Grossman. He also talked about the demonstrations outside former Secretary of Education Joseph Califano’s home.
Though he said he believes things are a bit easier for those with disabilities nowadays, we still have a long way to go.
“People are in jail because they have psychiatric or intellectual disabilities and we have no other solution than taking away their liberties,” said Grossman.
He ended his speech by noting people with disabilities can and should be accommodated for so they may have some of the same opportunities as everyone else. He said some people are rejected because tradition has put a stigma on disabilities, those who are disabled individuals are seen as inferior.
“Just because you’ve had a criterion for years and years and years doesn’t mean it’s essential,” said Grossman.
There was also a short period allotted for questions. Mable O. inquired why Social Security seems to ignore “little ones” with disabilities. Grossman suggested talking to the local school district to aid with getting help for disabled children.
LMC student Robert Brown commented on Grossman’s speech.
“Your speech made me cry, it really hit home for me,” said Brown. “You did a very good job.”
The audience then clapped for Brown.
Jesse Wade asked about accommodations should be made for veterans and Grossman resopnded the best accommodation for veteran is a reduced workload and suggested sports as a great pastime.
“If you don’t include vets in your sports programs you are missing out on giving them one of the most therapeutic experiences,” he said.
Lunch, catered by Chipotle, was served as everyone talked with one another before the next keynote speaker and attendees were encouraged to make a Sharpie handprint on a banner outside of the cafeteria.
De Luna introduced the second keynote speaker, LMC graduate Dr. Michelle Hernandez and talked about the way she inspired him to go after his dreams.
“She had made a difference in my life,” he said. “I love being different.”
Hernandez sat with LMC counselor and committee advisor Dr. Nina Ghellisi, who also talked about her experience knowing Hernandez. And Hernandez followed suit by jumping right in, starting with her own experiences with being a student at LMC.
“If I didn’t have such a good experience here at LMC, I wouldn’t have known what a bad experience felt like,” said Hernandez.
She admitted to doubting herself but she was able to overcome her struggles with help of her friends, colleagues and children.
She spoke on her experiences with instructors who seemed unnecessarily hard on her. Because of some of those experiences, she didn’t know schools were supposed to accommodate those with disabilities.
It was also a struggle for her to get jobs. Employers wouldn’t hire her but made comments about how inspirational she was to them, which only seemed to irk her because she was just as qualified as other people to do the jobs she tried out for.
Hernandez advised the crowd to have confidence.
“I would recommend you believe in yourself. It’s all possible, don’t give up. Your struggle will make you better,” she said. “Know that you can do it and that it will pay off.”
Student Matthew Johnson, who has been attending LMC since he was in high school, said he was enjoying himself and he liked how happy everyone seemed that day.
“I like what they’re talking about,” said Johnson. “I like that they’re trying to kill that mindset of hating people with disabilities.”
The audience members were encourage to attend one of several workshops, including one on psychological disabilities and Wounded Warrior, both of which were only open to potential or current LMC students. There was also a workshop on transitioning from high school to college and transferring to California State Universities and Universities of California.
They all ended around the same time, so afterward everyone made their way back to the cafeteria. After taking a group picture with the banner everyone went back inside the cafeteria for the drawing and there were several gift bags given out.
There was a little time left over for remaining comments and some of the attendees did just that, including a student from Heritage High School who spoke up and thanked not just the Diversity Conference Committee but also thanked the speaker and expressed gratitude toward all those who came.
When Walker was about to close the ceremony, Johnson got up thanked Hernandez and decided to dedicate a song to her. After his ukulele rendition of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s medley “Somewhere over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World,” the festivities officially ended but attendees stayed and chatted with the speakers and volunteers.