This fall 3-Week, students in one of Hiram College’s unique interdisciplinary courses took a stand against the everyday stigmatization of mental illness and disability.
This new course is “Gimpy Geezers: Representations of Disability and Aging,” taught by Erin Lamb, assistant professor of biomedical humanities, and Michelle Nario-Redmond, associate professor of psychology. The class focused on ageism and ableism, and all students in the class had to do an intervention project.
“Students were free to design these projects themselves, and we’ve had some really innovative and different ideas,” Lamb said. Students’ projects included a perspectives survey, an experiment focusing on attitudes toward elderly drivers and accessibility awareness projects. Some students even did a bystander experiment by going to a local Walmart and staging an instance of prejudice against a wheelchair-bound student.
Chemistry majors Danielle Kohut ’16 and Nancy Wells ’15 chose to create posters for the Kennedy Center that feature the faces of Hiram College who have been diagnosed with a mental illness or disability. The point of this project, Kohut said, is to allow these individuals to promote the most important aspects of themselves – because it isn’t their mental illnesses.
“What better way to intervene than to show people that disability or mental illness is not the most important thing about you?” she said.
The posters feature Hiram College students and faculty, and the focal point of the posters announces the mental illness or disability with which the subject is struggling:
“THIS IS WHAT ADHD LOOKS LIKE.”
“THIS IS WHAT ANXIETY LOOKS LIKE.”
“THIS IS WHAT PTSD LOOKS LIKE.”
Under these bold headlines are lists of what the subject wants others to take away from the picture: that they’re athletes and scholars, parents and friends. They can speak other languages. They live positive lifestyles. They are artisans, adventurers, musicians and activists. These students and faculty members do not wish to be defined by their mental illnesses, and want to remind the world that anybody could be experiencing such a stigmatization.
“This poster project is based on research that you can complexify the category because people think these stereotypes are associated with the broad group,” said Nario-Redmond. “But they don’t realize how multifaceted individuals are, especially when you attach the label.”
“We’re hoping that people realize that it could be them,” Wells said. “If you see something on that page that you can associate with, you could be that person.”
The students are pleased with the positive feedback on the project. The group received ten volunteers on the first day they pitched the project, and they have continued getting volunteers.
“People are even coming forward with their own posters and saying, ‘This is what I have, but here’s the bigger image of who I am,’” Wells said.
“They’ve all been so wonderful, and we’re so grateful that they were willing to step forward and volunteer for this.” Kohut added.
Professors Lamb and Nario-Redmond are also pleased with the outcome of the class and of the projects.
“It’s been a great class. We’ve have a lot of great participants,” Nario-Redmond said. “Students don’t seem to be afraid to express competing opinions or things that are controversial.”
The dedication that these students put into these accessibility projects have helped them forge a connection with the disabled community through education and awareness.
“There are a lot of wonderful people who are very active in the mental illness and disability community who are stepping forward and who are starting these conversations, and I think that’s a really wonderful thing to happen,” Kohut said. “In the end we’re just hoping to step in and say, ‘Let’s help. We’re going to do something small, but hopefully it’s going to work in the end.’”