Sophie Dau used a Federal Bar Association (FBA) civics essay contest as the springboard for her final project in Disability History, an elective taught by Dr. Nate Kogan.
The junior aced Nate’s assignment with her paper advocating stronger voting rights for people with disabilities. On May 29, Sophie learned via email that she also aced the national contest—she won first place, and a $1,500 scholarship.
As part of Nate’s op-ed essay assignment, he encouraged students to submit their work for publication. This is a recurring theme across Rowland Hall curricula: teachers help students develop and share their voices, often publicly, to foster change—from fourth-grade letters about brine shrimp to op-eds written for Upper School English and published in local outlets such as The Salt Lake Tribune. Nate’s assignment—inspired in part by the work of University of Delaware Assistant Professor Jairpreet Virdi—is cut from a similar cloth:
“One feature of being a historian is to address current events for a public unfamiliar with historical scholarship. Write a 900–1,200 word essay in response to an issue that has made waves in the media, or in response to media misconceptions of historical facts. You are encouraged (but not required) to submit your piece for publication to popular blogs like Nursing Clio, Remedia, All of Us (the Disability History Association blog), etc., or to general interest newspapers, like The Salt Lake Tribune or Deseret News, or magazines like Slate, Vox, or The Atlantic. This assignment ideally provides good practice for grappling with the field of public history and engaging a wider audience in historical context, evidence, and analysis.”
According to the FBA, over 250 students submitted contest entries on this year’s topic: “The 19th Amendment turns 100: Why is the right to vote still important?” In addition to what she learned in Disability History, Sophie channeled her knowledge from another one of Nate’s classes: Advanced Topics US History. And as the editor of the Upper School newspaper, the Rowland Hall Gazette, Sophie is no stranger to crafting her writing for a wider audience. Her understanding of and passion for her chosen topic shines through in her words, and we congratulate Sophie on this well-deserved win.
“Not Disabled and Therefore Deserve the Vote”:
Voting Rights for People With Disabilities
By Sophie Dau
The right to vote is so fundamental that a lack of voices from one particular group leads to a lack of representation for that group both politically and socially, and therefore continues the cycle of oppression.Although the U.S. was founded as a democracy, it was a long time before most citizens truly had the right to vote, and some are still denied that privilege even though it is fundamental to maintaining a representative government. Even now, certain marginalized groups struggle to have accessibility to polls. When we tell the history of gaining the right to vote, it usually focuses on two main groups: African Americans and women. Obviously, the 15th and 19th Amendments were huge steps in increasing suffrage for all citizens, but there's another group that has been historically left out of the discussion: people with disabilities. Their stories are incredibly important because they've gone untold and their disenfranchisement unquestioned or even supported by other minorities. The right to vote is so fundamental that a lack of voices from one particular group leads to a lack of representation for that group both politically and socially, and therefore continues the cycle of oppression.
Historically, people with disabilities, especially mental ones, have been denied the right to vote. During the Antebellum period, many states specifically barred either those under guardianship or those considered insane from voting.1 Many of those laws still affect people with disabilities today. The Utah Constitution, for example, states in Article IV Section 6 that “any mentally incompetent person… may not be permitted to vote at any election.”2 One major argument for preventing people with mental disabilities from voting currently is voter fraud, where someone who assists the person votes for who they want instead. Even if that happened—which isn't likely—it's completely unfair to prevent a significant number of people from voting just for a few outlying cases. As Michelle Bishop, an advocacy specialist at the National Disability Rights Network, commented, “it’s not the person with a disability committing the crime—it’s the caretaker or family member.”3 Although voter fraud is a serious issue, it is unfair to deny someone the right to vote based on their identity just because of a crime someone else could commit; that’s not protecting someone’s rights, it’s stripping them of those rights.
The mere idea of using disability as a way to argue against expanding voting rights reflects the attitude in the U.S. that either physical or mental deviation from the norm was justification to deny the right to vote.
Even a step further, both pro- and anti-suffragists used rhetoric around disability to either argue for or against suffrage for ethnic minorities or women. As historian of disability Douglas Baynton argues, this disability rhetoric appears most prominently during the women’s suffrage movement where, for the most part, the fundamental question wasn’t if everyone regardless of gender should be able to vote, but if women were able enough to vote.4 For example, opponents of women's suffrage argued "that women had disabilities that made them incapable of using the franchise responsibly," to which suffragettes responded that "women were not disabled and therefore deserved the vote."5 Rather than attack the underlying argument that people with disabilities don't deserve to vote, suffragists denied their disability or attributed it to inequality. Supporters of suffrage for black people drew on the same underlying logic. Fredrick Douglass argued that “the true basis of rights [to vote] was the capacity of individuals.”6 The fact that even suffrage activists, who clearly want everyone to vote, accepted the premise that voting should coincide with ability shows how deeply ingrained and unquestioned the ideology that disability is grounds for disenfranchisement has been. The mere idea of using disability as a way to argue against expanding voting rights reflects the attitude in the U.S. that either physical or mental deviation from the norm was justification to deny the right to vote.
Unsurprisingly, people with disabilities have struggled to get the right to vote, and even when they do, accessibility is still an issue. The first major legislation to help with voting accessibility was the Voter Registration Act in 1993. Although originally passed to stop discrimination based on race or gender, Section 208 allows for people with "blindness, disability, or the inability to read or write" to have someone help them cast a ballot. Other laws that have improved accessibility include the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act and the Help America Vote Act in 1984 and 2002, respectively. VAEHA requires that all federal polling locations be accessible. HAVA requires the polling locations and surrounding areas to be accessible as well as having at least one accessible machine. Both of these acts have been critiqued, though, because they only apply to federal elections and therefore don’t guarantee accessibility at a local level. Curtis Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, said in an interview with the Huffington Post that “accessibility can be especially difficult in smaller towns and rural areas where polling stations are often located in church basements, clubs and private homes,” which leads to many people with disabilities not voting.7 Despite making progress in voting rights, more laws are necessary to ensure full accessibility at polls as well as reducing the number of people with disabilities who are barred from voting.
The U.S. cannot claim to be a full democracy until everyone has the assistance and accessibility to participate as a citizen.
Although there have been major steps to increase voting rights for the disabled community, many states still bar those with mental issues from voting.8 There is not full enfranchisement for people with disabilities; even those who legally can vote don’t due to accessibility issues. In the 2016 election, only 55.9% of people with disabilities voted,9 compared to the national average of 61% (for women it was 63% and black voters were 59%).10 The U.S. cannot claim to be a full democracy until everyone has the assistance and accessibility to participate as a citizen. The right to vote is a fundamental way to feel like an active participant in society, so to deny many people this right denies them from feeling fully included, which only adds to their sense of marginalization, since people with disabilities are already excluded in so many other ways. Even 100 years after the 19th Amendment was passed, the fight for suffrage goes on for many minorities; it should go on until every citizen is enfranchised and has accessibility to polls.
Kim E. Nielsen, A Disability History of the United States (Boston: Beacon Press, 2012), 76.
Utah Const. art. IV § 6. https://le.utah.gov/xcode/ArticleIV/Article_IV,_Section_6.html?v=UC_AIV_S6_1800010118000101.
Vasilogambros, Matt. "Thousands Lose Right to Vote under 'Incompetence' Laws," Pew Research Center, March 21, 2018. https://pew.org/2HMUHyo.
Douglas C. Baynton, "Disability and the Justification of Inequality in American History," in The New Disability History: American Perspectives, ed. Paul K. Longmore and Lauri Umansky (New York: New York University Press, 2001), 43.
Baynton, "Disability and the Justification," in The New Disability, 42, 43.
Baynton, "Disability and the Justification," in The New Disability, 44.
Bellware, Kim. "It's 2014, but It's Still Difficult for People with Disabilities to Vote," HuffPost, November 4, 2014. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/voters-with-disabilities_n_6102132.
National Disability Rights Network, and Schulte Roth & Zabel. "State Laws Affecting the Voting Rights of People with Mental Disabilities." Table. 2016. http://www.bazelon.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/2016_State-Laws-Affecting-Voting-Rights-of-PWD.pdf.
Census Bureau. "Table 6: Reported Voting and Registration, by Sex, Employment Status, Class of Worker, and Disability Status: November 2016." Table. Census Bureau. May 2017. https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/voting-and-registration/p20-580.html.
Census Bureau. "Table 2: Reported Voting and Registration, by Race, Hispanic Origin, Sex, and Age, for the United States: November 2016." Table. Census Bureau. May 2017. https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/voting-and-registration/p20-580.html.
Baynton, Douglas C. "Disability and the Justification of Inequality in American History." In The New Disability History: American Perspectives, edited by Paul K. Longmore and Lauri Umansky, 33-57. New York: New York University Press, 2001.
Bellware, Kim. "It's 2014, but It's Still Difficult for People with Disabilities to Vote." HuffPost, November 4, 2014. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/voters-with- disabilities_n_6102132.
Census Bureau. "Table 2: Reported Voting and Registration, by Race, Hispanic Origin, Sex, and Age, for the United States: November 2016." Table. Census Bureau. May 2017. https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/voting-and- registration/p20-580.html.
National Disability Rights Network, and Schulte Roth & Zabel. "State Laws Affecting the Voting Rights of People with Mental Disabilities." Table. 2016. http://www.bazelon.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/2016_State-Laws- Affecting-Voting-Rights-of-PWD.pdf.
Nielsen, Kim E. A Disability History of the United States. Boston: Beacon Press, 2012.
U.S. Const. art. IV § 6. https://le.utah.gov/xcode/ArticleIV/Article_IV,_Section_6.html?v=UC_AIV_S6_1800010118000101.
Vasilogambros, Matt. "Thousands Lose Right to Vote under 'Incompetence' Laws." Pew Research Center, March 21, 2018. https://pew.org/2HMUHyo.
By Katerina Gianoulis, Class of 2023
Editor’s note: Katerina completed this assignment regarding her experience during the COVID-19 global pandemic in early May 2020. Readers should be aware that some observations in this piece are no longer current.
The spread of COVID-19 has had a wide range of effects. From how we are performing everyday activities to what we are seeing through the media, the consequences of coronavirus have had a toll on everybody in unique ways. Below, I highlight four values that coronavirus is changing and how they have affected my generation.
Material Values Are Shifting
The values we put on physical things have changed. Utah, home to the world’s biggest Costco, has run out of many supplies, including tissues, paper towels, and, yes, toilet paper. One thing I’ve noticed about these supplies and the general public is the immediate panic and overwhelming feelings—almost a mentality that we are all going to die. It’s scary and it really does rub off on people. I started to actually get scared because of the shortages of supplies covered by the news. Commercials are now telling the public not to worry about toilet paper, and that there is, in fact, according to Cottonelle toilet paper brand, “enough to go around,” and if you are generous, to “please #ShareASquare.” I wonder what the cartoon bears in the old toilet paper commercials are thinking. What’s happening to their one and only prized possession? How do they feel about it running out of stock all over? It is very important to stay safe, but neighbors of mine, at the beginning of the pandemic, left for one last huge trip before quarantine. They returned after picking up a very interesting device: a straw purifier. Yes, one of those gadgets that helps someone survive when stranded, allowing them to take in safe drinking water from lakes or rivers. If I’m not at home, you can find me at the Great Salt Lake, floating with my straw purifiers. The reason I bring up supplies is because I want to show how this panic has manifested in the purchase of supplies you would need to survive in the wild. Our material obsessions have shifted onto such unexpected objects.
But real-world effects can also have positive outcomes. Some effects due to coronavirus have been pretty good for the earth, like reduced pollution. Fei Liu, who is an air quality researcher for NASA, observed the levels of nitrogen dioxide that produce pollution in Wuhan, China. She stated, "This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event.” Another researcher on energy and clean air, Lauri Myllyvirta, talked about the pollution levels in China, saying, "It is an unprecedentedly dramatic drop in emission." This massive decrease in pollution is amazing for the environment, and we are starting to see some real-world effects of the virus. People have been outside more in their physical environments, which has also increased the value we place on our green spaces.
Communication Is Changing
Face-to-face communication is something this virus has changed, and I believe that it will make people more thankful for it in the future.
One strong and direct value that has been modified during this time is communication. It’s very weird not being in school. All social and physical interaction has changed, and up until now, I honestly hadn’t realized how much I took for granted actually being around people. Face-to-face communication is something this virus has changed, and I believe that it will make people more thankful for it in the future. I personally feel bad for my dog, for example, who can’t go up to other dogs during walks and can’t be petted by other people.
I did some research on the dos and don'ts of society while the COVID-19 pandemic exists, and according to heart.org, “In lockdown, or with a ‘shelter in place’ order, venturing out for other than government-allowed reasons could carry a penalty such as a fine or arrest.” I know for sure Europe has cracked down on the public harder than they have here. I have family in Greece, and they cannot leave the house for anything. People who leave their houses require specific documents containing a valid reason why they should be out, and police officers will ask to see those papers. Although strict rules like these are strange for everyone, governments all over the world have been acting quite responsibly and taking these matters very seriously.
Aside from social interaction, larger relationships, like the coming together of people, have been a big deal. Rowland Hall biology teacher Rob Wilson said he “hasn’t experienced anything like this since 9/11.” Wow. By this, Mr. Wilson meant the immensely strong world response and coming together of people. To think of times like these being compared to an incident as big as 9/11 completely astonishes me. In a way, this coronavirus pandemic unites people; we all want to get better and increase our global overall well-being. Nowadays, with social media and easier and increased communication, it is super easy to be opinionated and influenced about almost everything. On the other hand, everyone has the same interest with COVID-19, which is to get better. The world hasn’t stuck together and shared the same opinion on something in a long time, up until now.
Compassion Is Spreading
A result of people coming together has included putting the needs of the community before your own. For example, many of us now wear masks to look out for others, especially the elderly who are more susceptible to catching diseases like COVID-19. It’s difficult for me and many others who can’t visit their loved ones. It is a choice you make, and it is a hard one, but it’s for the greater good. One of my friends has a grandfather who had a birthday recently, and standing in front of the doorway six feet out saying “happy birthday” put tears in everyone's eyes, literally. This sad story made me realize the cost and sacrifices you have to make when actively putting the needs of others before your own.
Compassion for many people has grown due to the pandemic. Now that times are very uncertain, many people have and should be considering what they can do to help, and have been more aware. It’s difficult, but like the story I shared above, standing six feet apart is actually very considerate. Other activities include not hanging out with your friends (which proves to be pretty difficult, as I have seen it happen on social media with many teenagers), and not leaving the house unless it is absolutely necessary. On idealist.org, Alexis Perrotta talked about other activities, such as exploring ways to connect and volunteer virtually and to check on neighbors, especially the elderly, which is a small yet effective action. Perrotta makes another great point that I wanted to emphasize: suggesting to actually use up the supplies we have before panicking and going to get more. She stressed, “It’s very important that we use (cook it, eat it, share it, store it) what we have.” This action is the perfect example of selflessness and helping others with whatever needs they might have. Using supplies before getting more helps open up the stores for others who may need it, and gives them a chance to do whatever they need. In addition, many businesses have been amazing by helping out doctors, nurses, paramedics, and anyone on the front line who is risking their life for the sake of others who are sick. According to Mercury News, businesses went viral providing goods to health care professionals—for example, Starbucks gave away coffee and Krispy Kreme gave away doughnuts. Being aware of others’ needs, and doing whatever actions you can, broadens your perspective and helps you become a lot more empathetic.
Patience Is Becoming a Priority
Patience is what allows us to have motivation, and without it we truly couldn't make much of the situation that we are in.
The final value I wanted to talk about is patience. Now is not a time to be selfish. This is not a time to worry about insignificant things, like clothes, going-out plans, and shopping for fun. I’ve heard many kids complaining about quarantine and how bored they are on social media. Patience is difficult to have anytime, but now with all the rules and regulations it is very important. Deseret News published the story of an American pilot named James Stockdale who was captured during the Vietnam War and endured “repeated episodes of torture.” In an interview with Stockdale, he stated the importance of routine and how it got him through his tough times. His routine helped him gain patience that would help him to “prevail in the end.” Now, although his story is a lot more severe, I thought it was very inspiring and a story to compare with what is going on right now. Like I said, patience is never easy, and just like Stockdale, you truly face a battle within yourself and something that you have to work towards and change. It is way too easy for Generation Z to complain about how bored they are, how they haven’t seen any of their friends, and how they feel like they might explode with nothing to do every single day. Perspective, which many people can easily lose sight of, and patience seem to be hard to comprehend. But many of my friends, including me, have established our own mini routines every day, like exercising and going outside for a walk with our dogs. Patience is what allows us to have motivation, and without it we truly couldn't make much of the situation that we are in.
Top photo: Katerina recently helped celebrate brother Giorgio Gianoulis' graduation—while practicing social distancing.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread around the world this year, many of us have expressed gratitude to the men and women who are serving on the front lines.
Here at Rowland Hall, we are proud of the members of our community who have been dedicated to this work. Below, we highlight five of our alumni who are making a difference in the fight against coronavirus. We recognize the sacrifices that they—along with thousands of others, both in our community and around the globe—are making each day, and we sincerely thank them.
Molly Billings ’93
Martha (Molly) Billings, MD/MSc, is an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine at the University of Washington. She has been involved in the Harborview Medical Center response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Seattle as the director of the Chest Clinic, overseeing transformation of the clinic to rapidly adopt telehealth, opening a respiratory tent outside the ER, and creating a dedicated post-COVID clinic. As a medical educator, Molly has worked to adopt the training of specialists from in-person teaching to an online platform (this distance learning is very new—previously all teaching of medical students, residents, and fellows was done in person). Molly feels fortunate that Seattle’s predicted pandemic surge didn’t come to fruition, and that her hospital system has not been overwhelmed.
We are immensely appreciative of each other and our amazing colleagues, and grateful for all of you doing your part by staying home and following guidelines to prevent the spread of this unprecedented virus.—Chris Bossart ’05 and Jerica Johnson ’07
Chris Bossart ’05 and Jerica Johnson ’07
After graduating from the University of Utah School of Medicine in 2015, Chris Bossart and Jerica Johnson moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to attend the University of New Mexico (UNM). There, Chris completed residency training in emergency medicine and an additional fellowship in sports medicine, and Jerica completed residency training in family and community medicine.
Chris is currently an assistant professor at UNM’s School of Medicine as well as an assistant team physician for the Lobos. Most of his clinical time, especially during the pandemic, has been in the emergency department, both in Albuquerque and rural New Mexico. He has also volunteered his time in the intensive care unit (ICU) to help alleviate some of the stressors that plague ICUs.
Jerica is an assistant professor at UNM’s School of Medicine. She practices in an outpatient clinic focused on the care of refugees, undocumented patients, and underserved and marginalized populations. She also serves at a school-based clinic at one of the local public high schools, at a detention center with incarcerated high-risk adolescents, and at UNM Hospital as an attending physician for inpatient services and labor and delivery. During this pandemic, Jerica has continued to see outpatients, with a combination of telehealth and in-person visits. She was the first family medicine attending physician to lead a COVID-19 team comprised of confirmed COVID-19-positive patients and patients highly suspicious for COVID-19 infection.
Jeff Norris ’03
Jeff Norris is the medical director at Father Joe’s Villages, a large homeless service agency in San Diego that has been at the forefront of protecting their homeless neighbors. Jeff runs the agency’s Federally Qualified Health Center and has been directly involved in setting up mass lab testing, mass symptom screening, primary care, medication-assisted treatment, and other services for those experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Watch Jeff talk about the challenge of protecting homeless populations amid COVID-19 on PBS NewsHour.
Andrew Patterson ’10
Andrew Patterson is a firefighter and emergency medical technician at the Salt Lake City Fire Department. He and his colleagues continue to respond to all calls for assistance, but now with more protective equipment than normal. Protocols have also been modified to keep firefighters and the public safe—for example, on a medical call only one person approaches the patient, if possible, and does the initial assessment. Even during the pandemic, they have continued to respond to all types of emergencies, from fires and traffic accidents to the occasional cat stuck in a tree.
At Andrew’s downtown Salt Lake City firehouse, each truck and engine is staffed with four people. Team members work 48-hour shifts, and during this time the fire station is home, so social distancing presents a unique challenge. Firefighters take their temperatures twice a day, as well as disinfect and clean all surfaces at the beginning of shifts and throughout their time at the station.
Andrew is grateful for the opportunity to serve the public in Salt Lake City, and his entire team appreciates citizens’ support of first responders.
Bernard Geoxavier is a proud Trekkie.
“Don't feel afraid to say I'm a huge Star Trek fan,” he laughed.
The Upper School assistant principal has been a fan of the sci-fi television program since he was a kid, and over the years he’s grown to especially admire the writing of Gene Roddenberry, creator and producer of the original series as well as Star Trek: The Next Generation.
“Gene Roddenberry's writing is infused with a boundless sense of hope, optimism, rationality, and reason in the face of whatever challenge may be in front of you,” Bernard explained.
Bernard’s reasons for admiring Gene Roddenberry’s writing probably aren’t surprising to members of Rowland Hall’s Upper School community. During his first year as assistant principal, Bernard has infused the Lincoln Street Campus with his own unique blend of optimism, energy, and can-do attitude—he even has his own characteristic methods for spreading positivity, like enthusiastically greeting students as they arrive at school, a coffee in his hand and a boombox blaring by his side. This optimistic outlook has been especially welcome during a year marked by unprecedented challenges and global uncertainty. And while Bernard acknowledges that, like anybody, he struggles with what he calls his pitfalls and valleys, one of the major threads running through his life is a conscious effort to stay positive.
“One of the Star Trek taglines I hold onto is that pessimism is not a survival trait,” he said, noting that he applies this principle in his approach to helping students channel their energy towards finding solutions in a world where cynical, and even defeatist, attitudes can consume people. He believes one of the strengths of Rowland Hall is the combined effort among faculty and staff to connect with students and help them find solutions, whether to personal problems or global issues.
We're in education because we know we're on this greater journey to get better as people, as a species—to counteract those negative forces.—Upper School Assistant Principal Bernard Geoxavier
“We're in education because we know we're on this greater journey to get better as people, as a species—to counteract those negative forces,” Bernard said. He likened choosing to stay positive and to find solutions, even when the odds seem stacked against you, to how a gazelle behaves when hunted by a lion. “It isn’t like, ‘Well, you caught me. I guess I'll just lay down and give up.’ It's going to run, because as long as it has that ability and that drive, there's the chance that it's going to make it.”
Bernard wants students to acquire this outlook and learn these skills early in life so they will be better prepared to deal with disappointments and challenges. He also believes helping students in this area will assist them in making sense of the trials of today—and that it may play a role in their career and volunteer choices. As someone who came of age during 9/11—and who chose to enlist in the Army National Guard because of it, a service he still embraces today—Bernard understands how world events play a role in how people choose to give back to society.
“I think you're going to see the same spike of ambition and drive in public service in this generation,” Bernard remarked. “As I grew up and saw young men and women risking a lot to be in conflict zones, our students are seeing young men and women risk everything for others' health. I wouldn't be surprised if we'll see a renewed sense of dedication to community and a drive to go into the sciences or public health.”
Bernard said he is inspired by the Rowland Hall students who are using this time in history as an opportunity to look for ways to make a difference. Like the generations who came before them who also faced enormous challenges, he believes these students will rise above negativity to make the world a better place.
May they live long and prosper.