CofC Neurodiversity Initiative Seeks to Open Minds

CofC Neurodiversity Initiative Seeks to Open Minds

It takes all kinds of minds to make the world go ’round – including the kind that work differently from what’s considered “the norm.”

And it’s that neurological variation that has inspired the College of Charleston Neurodiversity Initiative.

beres rogers

English professor Kathy Béres Rogers

“The idea behind neurodiversity is that we’re all wired differently: We all think differently and at different levels – and that is cause to celebrate,” says English professor and medical humanities director Kathy Béres Rogers, explaining that the initiative is focused on embracing people with autism, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, epilepsy, schizophrenia, chronic migraine and psychological disabilities. And neurodiversity is not just about mental or intellectual disabilities: “The brain is plastic, so it adapts differently to conditions like trauma or physical disability. We’re all on this broad neurological spectrum – and welcoming that diversity creates a more understanding environment for us all.”

Anne Osowski, assistant director of the Center for Disability Services/SNAP, agrees: “Higher education institutions strive to have a diverse population of students, faculty and staff who feel welcome and encouraged to flourish in their academic or professional careers. Neurodiversity is important to not only recognize, but also embrace. When this occurs, we move in the direction of leveling the playing field in a natural way through a wide variety of learning styles which benefits everyone.”

With the goal of fostering such an environment at the College of Charleston, Osowski and Béres Rogers have worked with faculty, staff and students from across campus to create the Neurodiversity Initiative, a series of events between Sept. 27 and Oct. 28, 2019, highlighting neurodiversity as an important form of diversity at the College.

To get those neurons firing, the Neurodiversity Initiative Committee is encouraging the College community to submit non-digital creative works (e.g., art, photography, writing) that explore the question: “What does neurodiversity mean to you?”

“So, it’s really, really broad. But we wanted it that way to show the breadth of the diversity we have at the College of Charleston,” says Béres Rogers, adding that all the art submitted will be displayed in various locations on the College’s main campus and North Campus during the month of October.

The exhibition will kick off with a reception in the Rita Liddy Hollings Science Center, room 101, on Oct. 7 from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

To submit a creative piece for the exhibition, first complete this online form and then drop your submission off at one of the following locations by 3 p.m. on Sept. 27, 2019: 

Submitted artwork should be ready to hang, if applicable (i.e., already have d-rings, wire, frame, etc.), and –  while the art can be anonymous – you must include your name on your submission form in order to pick your work up (between Nov. 11–15, 2019). Everyone who submits a piece is encouraged to assist the Neurodiversity Initiative Committee with the installation and deinstallation of the artwork.

“We want this to be a campus-wide effort with far-reaching visibility,” says Béres Rogers. “That’s why we’re hanging banners and signs all over campus that have different statistics and information about neurodiversity.”

That’s also why the initiative is hosting brown-bag lunches throughout the month of October, which is Disability Awareness Month. Open to the entire campus community, all of these sessions will be held in the School of Education, Health, and Human Performance Alumni Center (86 Wentworth St.) from 12 to 1 p.m. They include:

  • Universal Design for Learning, Oct. 9: Psychology professor Cindi May and management and marketing professor David Desplaces will talk about the importance of universal design for neurodiversity.
  • Mental Health and Intersectionality, Oct. 16: Rachael McNamara, a health educator in the Counseling Center, and Reagan Williams, a senior psychology major, will share their insights concerning the ways that gender, sexuality, race, class and other elements of identity impact mental health and neurodiversity.
  • Beyond Accessibility: The Conversation with no Easy or Fixed Answers, Oct. 23: Jim Ward, senior instructor of art and architectural history, will discuss how a cultural landscape such as Charleston’s brings its own special challenges to preserving our built heritage while also making it serviceable to the demands of new times and creating a truly livable, democratic society for everyone.

“These topics are things that we should all be thinking about,” says Béres Rogers. “Neurodiversity doesn’t just impact the neurodivergent members of our community. It has impacts everywhere.”

Including the workplace – and that is why the College’s Neurodiversity Initiative events will culminate with a keynote address by Laura Owens, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the Exceptional Education Department and the president of Transcen, a company that works with large corporations to include neurodivergent people. She is an internationally known speaker having presented to businesses, organizations, schools and conferences in Ireland, Croatia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Chile and Portugal. The keynote address, “Workplace Inclusion,” will be on Oct. 28 from 3 to 4 p.m. in the Tate Center.