Monday, February 25, 2008

University Failures

I was told to edit this for “tone” but it says what I want it to say. I am tired of being told to be patient, that “now” isn’t the time to be angry. Now is definitely the time to be demanding action. I should have been a lot more proactive a lot earlier. Waiting was pointless.

I came to the University of Minnesota’s Dept. of Rhetoric thanks to a DOVE (Diversity of Views and Experiences) Fellowship. My wife and I relocated from California because we had the impression the department and university would be inviting, supportive, and, most of all, a place where I would not be excluded due to differences.

It should be no secret to anyone that my fellowship and my studies are the result of a severe brain trauma. I have talked to many of my peers and some faculty about the injuries and their consequences. I never hide the following conditions:

  • Palsy and partial paralysis from neurological damage;
  • Six years in a body brace for spinal damage;
  • Chronic pain, migraines, and hypersensitivity to inputs; and
  • Diagnosed as “limited functioning” autistic, with high-functioning characteristics.

I have offered to talk to our department about autism, developmental disorders, and how I perceive experiences. I have conducted five seminars for other departments and universities (ACTC campuses). I have tried my best to explain to faculty my differences. I could explain everything from my vocal patterns to my uncontrolled movements. I could have been a force for education and appreciation. Of course, that was my naive idealism.

Instead, one faculty member told me my research was potentially harmful, causing a false sense of hope for the disabled. Another told me that auto-ethnography was not a valid form of research. The most recent conflict has a faculty member telling people I am a danger and a threat to others.

If students and faculty had been a close community, they would be aware of my willingness to answer questions. If this department were a real community, people would ask how I am, instead of talking about me as “odd and conceited” (as one student had the honesty to state, giving me the opportunity to educate and share).

Imagine if the department had invited me to speak, as Lisa K. from Disability Services suggested last year. Imagine being a department willing to learn and accept difference, instead of reacting out of fear and misunderstanding. Imagine actually knowing a little more about how someone experiences writing and rhetoric.

Instead, I have dealt with conflict after conflict. I have been advised by faculty not to “disclose too much” about myself. Forget that — fear of the unknown and fear of disclosure is why I am in constant conflict with this department.

If you want to know something about any colleague or peer, including me, you should be able to ask. You should be able to understand and appreciate difference. Instead, the Dept. of Writing Studies is preoccupied with internal strife and “power” struggles. Honestly, students should not hear arguments or be pitted against each other. Professors should be role models, not acting like high school children. It should have been our professors, our mentors, creating an environment in which we could be open and share our motivations for research and study.

Now, I am fighting just to remain at the university. I believe the entire mess that is currently my life could have been solved if other students and all the faculty had taken the time to ask questions and know me. Open exchanges, however, are not the nature of this department right now.

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