‘Celebrating disability pride and dignity’

Through THE FEED, we get to share with you not only the latest news on access and affordability in higher education, but also the groundbreaking programs and extraordinary people shaping our Georgetown community as we strive to become the university we are called to be. 

This week, we highlight Heather Fath (C’97), whose gift to the Disability Cultural Center (DCC) helps Georgetown support disabled students, faculty, and staff, and celebrate the vibrancy, contributions, and diversity of disability culture. Meeting the needs of disabled students is a critical part of Georgetown’s commitment to ensuring that all community members can thrive, as 14% of Georgetown students and 22% of adults in Washington, DC, identify as disabled.

Related: Georgetown Magazine: ‘Toward a more accessible, inclusive Georgetown’ >

‘A place of inclusion’

Heather Fath (C’97) has long understood the barriers to education for students with apparent and non-apparent disabilities. Fath, a DC resident, says it was difficult to provide her son, William, with an education that meets his needs: a self-contained classroom within a neighborhood school. Instead, William, born with disabilities, has to be bused to private school in Maryland.

“I have really been both shocked and saddened by the level of discrimination against this population, and the inherent bias and the rampant ableism,” Fath says. “It’s just been eye-opening to me.”

Fath’s encounters with educational obstacles and experiences of discrimination moved her to donate to Georgetown, which she calls “a place of inclusion.” To help the DCC continue to meet the needs of disabled students, faculty, and staff—and celebrate the vibrancy, contributions, and diversity of disability culture—Fath donated $600,000, which Georgetown has used to establish the Fath Family Disability Cultural Initiative Leadership Fund.

Related: Building an endowment to support disability initiatives at Georgetown >

The fund finances the sensory room within Georgetown’s new DCC space, which is an on-campus hub that celebrates disability culture and provides a place where disabled students feel safe and supported. The space also provides programming for disabled students, faculty, staff, allies, and those interested in learning about disability as an intersectional identity. DCC joins other cultural centers in the Office of Student Equity and Inclusion in a new student-centered space on the Hilltop. The space is also home to the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access, the Community Scholars Program, the LGBTQ Resource Center, and the Women’s Center.

A therapeutic space and new events

Georgetown is the first Catholic, Jesuit university to create a disability cultural center. Georgetown is also the first higher education institution in DC, Maryland, or Virginia to have a sensory room, a therapeutic space members of the Georgetown disability community can visit when they are overstimulated. The room is equipped with an interactive light fixture, textured walls, bean bags, and art created by disabled students and curated by disabled students on campus.

“We’re really thrilled to receive Heather’s generous donation, because it will help our disabled students with apparent disabilities and non-apparent disabilities find community and be able to be supported and celebrated on campus,” says Amy Kenny, inaugural director of the Disability Cultural Center. The sensory room, Kenny explains, “is a very exciting and important space on our campus that honors the dignity and worth of our disability community and values our needs.”

The fund also supports DCC signature events: the annual DisCo Grad (Disability Community Graduation Celebration), a special commencement ceremony for students with disabilities, held for the first time in May 2023, as well as ACDC: Arts Celebrating Disability Culture, which invites students to share art—such as dance, song, poetry, visual art, animation—in celebration of disability community and culture.

Launching the DCC has been a community endeavor led by Georgetown students, alumni, faculty, and staff, all of whom have worked together to promote greater awareness about disability as an identity and build a campus that provides resources and support for members of the disability community.

“One of the exciting things about DCC being new to Georgetown is that students and donors are invited to help shape what DCC can become and the community that we can co-create together,” Kenny says. “Creating a culture of access takes all of us. We all get to participate in creating a community where all of our students can co-flourish.”

Fath is excited to be part of this community and to help shape the “cultural shift” she says is needed to support the disability community—with Georgetown leading the way.

“There are so many reasons why I was motivated to give. This is such an area of growth, and it is really important that it starts at the university level. It’s exciting work because it’s hopeful. It’s about celebrating disability pride and dignity, and elevating people—not just their voices, but their souls.”

Thriving at Georgetown

As part of Georgetown’s commitment to the Jesuit value of cura personalis, or care of the whole person, the university strives to meet each student’s unique needs—through scholarships and support across all dimensions of learning and formation—so that they can participate fully in their college experience and discover who they are called to be. Visit our campaign website to learn more about how Georgetown is creating an environment where every student can flourish, a core commitment of Called to Be: The Campaign for Georgetown.

Read this Georgetown Magazine feature to learn more about the Disability Cultural Center and its work to build awareness and a culture of access across Georgetown’s campuses. >

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