Update to this blog post: Seems as though the University of Utah beat BYU to the punch on providing access to higher education .
“A whole new generation of students in Utah now has access to higher education. Utah State University opened a new program this school year for intellectually disabled students. For them, it offers the same promise that a college education does to any other young adult. “
You can read more on KSL.com
My daughter McCall was asked to participate on the Student Advisory Council at BYU this year. As part of her responsibilities, McCall was asked to create a project that would enhance BYU and it’s educational goals. McCall’s proposal had to make it through a rigorous vetting procedure and when all was said and done only three proposals out of forty were left to present to the then University President. McCall’s topic? Creating Opportunities at BYU for the Education of the Intellectually Disabled.
It took great bravery for McCall to stand before the former President of BYU and present in behalf of those with intellectual disabilities who desire to continue their education at BYU. Unfortunately, the response to my daughter’s presentation by the then University President was demeaning to say the least.
There was exceptional support of the idea of being more patriotic and understanding more about the United States flag. But don’t we have the 4th of July, Flag Day the Boy Scouts as well as other organizations that provide this information? There was also supportive of the idea of a website that would connect those majoring in different disciplines in order for them to work together. Can you honestly say that this isn’t already happening on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ as well as word of mouth?
These proposals, while positive, lack the ability to make a difference in lives not just today, but in the eternities. It is also interesting to note that these two proposals are ideas easily implemented and then forgotten. The mission statement of BYU reads: “….to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life. That assistance should provide a period of intensive learning in a stimulating setting where a commitment to excellence is expected and the full realization of human potential is pursued.”
It was suggested that enough has been done for those with special needs within the LDS Church, and by association, Brigham Young University. Yet only 15 years ago doctors were still telling parents to place their children with Down syndrome at the Utah Training Center and forget about them. Even today only 20% of children prediagnosed with Down syndrome are allowed to take their first breaths. Countries such as Belgium have legalized the euthenasia of children with intellectual disabilities, making it possible to essentially abort a child after it has been born.
Yes, the LDS Church has worked in the behalf of those with special needs. I am thankful for those, recognizing the possibilities and understanding the worth and value of each soul, who took upon themselves to advocate for the recognition of the potential of those with intellectual disabilities in all areas of their lives.
However, regardless of how much has been done, until enough has been done, the need to move forward continues.
While McCall’s presentation may not have been a favorite, she never should have left feeling so strongly the weight of a personal bias. (FYI, one of the first lessons you learn as a teacher in training is that you never ridicule a student’s project, especially in public.) The disdain for her project was felt so strongly by so many in attendance that she had people coming up to apologize for the rudeness she experienced..
Perhaps it is due to the generation this former University President was born in, but when a claim is made that those with special needs are indeed represented on his campus because ‘they are right there cleaning the tables at the Cougar Eat,’ then, truly enough has NOT been done.
By creating a program for those with intellectual and other disabilities, a college stands up and proclaims to the world the worth and value of those who don’t meet the typical definition of perfection.
Research shows the value of typical students working along side their peers with special needs. Having a sister program for those with special needs would not only enhance the person with the disability, but work to close the chasm between what is perceived to be ‘normal’ and ‘different.’ In other words, it would make a huge difference in the lives of your even your students with genius level IQs.
My daughter began the work to blaze a new future and change stereotypes for the intellectualy disabled at BYU. I believe that one day there will be a course of studies developed for those with intellectual disabilities and other special needs embraced by BYU.
History will recognize those willing to acknowledge potential in all it’s forms as well as those who refused to see the person rather than the disability. It needs to be said that those with special needs also strive to be included as BYU seeks to ‘develop students of faith, intellect, and character who have the skills and desire to continue learning and to serve others throughout their lives.’
An opportunity was lost to work towards making not just BYU, but the future a better place. It is exceptionally disappointing to realize that the time to contemplate McCall’s presentation was not even put forth. My daughter should have been able, like the two other presenters, to walk out of that room filled with her peers, believing her thoughts were valued every bit as much as the thoughts of the other two presenters.
Hopefully the next time a young, nervous student stands before a President of this Universtiy they will be given the opportunity to be heard and respected.
PS: Guess what rival school is working on a sister program for those with intellectual disabilities? I’ll give you a hint. Utah State. Go Aggies!