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Diversity Strengthens Community

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Beginning schoolers play with each other outside.

Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

We believe that everyone deserves respect and a welcome place in our community. Educational excellence is possible when all members of a community have a voice and feel safe being their authentic selves.

An Invitation to Take Action

Attend a Dinner & Dialogue

Dates will be shared here when available.

Join a Justice, Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion (JEDI) Committee

Join one of our other antiracist groups

  • White antiracist staff book club: contact Ryan Hoglund
  • Antiracist faculty critical friends group: contact Abigail Bacon
  • Professional book readers' club and JEDI collaboration: contact Wendell Thomas

Apply to attend an annual conference

We typically send groups to the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference and Student Diversity Leadership Conference and the White Privilege Conference.

  • Faculty/staff: check with your supervisor
  • Students: contact Ryan Hoglund

People of color are invited to join an affinity space

Self-educate

Dr. Kate Taylor smiling at colleagues during a graduation ceremony.

Read Dr. Kate Taylor's remarks that preceded antiracist workshops in summer 2020. “The goal is to commit to personal accountability, growth, and action toward building an antiracist culture at Rowland Hall. A culture where students and faculty will not hesitate to affirm that Black Lives Matter.”

Editor’s note: Upper School English teacher Dr. Kate Taylor—a champion of inclusion and equity work at Rowland Hall—gave these focusing remarks over Zoom during a week of virtual professional development covering hybrid learning and antiracism. Teachers read Bettina Love's “An Essay for Teachers Who Understand Racism Is Real” prior to Kate’s remarks. Afterwards, they met in small, cross-divisional groups to share thoughts from the reading and explore and identify intentions for the Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) Learning Choice Board.

Good morning! Thank you for joining us. If you don’t yet know me, my name is Kate Taylor and I teach tenth-grade English in the Upper School. I am here speaking on behalf of the group that helped organize this week’s antiracist learning. Those folks are Allison Spehar, Emma Wellman, Abby Bacon, Jij de Jesus, Ryan Hoglund, Wendell Thomas, and Jennifer Blake. As current and past leaders of the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee and members of the senior administration team, we wanted to bring everyone together this morning to collectively frame the work that our school community will be doing this week around anti-racism. 

The goal here is not just to read a few articles and collectively wring our hands. The goal is to commit to personal accountability, growth, and action toward building an antiracist culture at Rowland Hall. A culture where students and faculty will not hesitate to affirm that Black Lives Matter.

Many public figures have observed that because of COVID-19, our world will not be the same, that this epidemic has changed the way our world works. We can certainly see how it has changed our teaching. 

This group hopes that the same is true of the recent global response against racism after the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. Too many times we have had such wake-up calls and, after a brief outcry, returned to the same operating procedures as before that lead to a culture where Black lives don’t matter. For our Black colleagues and students, we need to do better. For the entire community, we need to do better. 

As Bettina Love describes in the article we all read in preparation for today, we need to “leverage [our] power, privilege, and resources in solidarity with justice movements to dismantle White supremacy. Co-conspirators function as verbs, not as nouns.” 

We want to be clear. The goal here is not just to read a few articles and collectively wring our hands. The goal is to commit to personal accountability, growth, and action toward building an antiracist culture at Rowland Hall. A culture where students and faculty will not hesitate to affirm that Black Lives Matter. 

Our work as a community of antiracist educators is not to tell students what to think but to make sure we are giving space for them to think deeply and honestly about our history and to shift our school culture.

Our students expect this of us; they are participating in rallies and demonstrations, reading and making social media posts, seeing people across the country stand up and say, “enough.” They are going to be asking questions, wanting dialogue, and wondering if we are taking this seriously. Our work as a community of antiracist educators is not to tell students what to think but to make sure we are giving space for them to think deeply and honestly about our history and to shift our school culture. The training this week focuses on building our own knowledge and skills to create antiracist policies and curriculum, identify and speak out against anti-Black ideas, and acknowledge and move our school’s culture away from one that is centered on Whiteness. 

Arthur Ashe said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” We recognize that all of us as teachers and educators are at different points in our journey and yet, like moving to distance learning, we need everyone to make substantial progress in their own racial identification and acknowledgment of privilege. As we do this work, please be okay with mistakes, your own and others'. Even when the work might feel uncomfortable, we invite you to sit with that discomfort, recognize it as a sign of how important this learning is, and then commit to action on behalf of our Black students and families knowing that these actions will also support all of our families of color, of different genders and sexualities, and of different socioeconomic backgrounds. 

And now I invite you all to join your learning cohort for today’s small group discussions. Thank you for joining us.

Read More: Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

inclusion & equity

The Benefits of a Diverse Community

Rowland Hall’s diversity—encompassing differences in the human experience including those of ethnicity, race, national origin, family composition, religion, gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and learning styles—expands our perspectives, fosters understanding and creativity, and ultimately strengthens our community.

Through championing diversity, Rowland Hall empowers students to form meaningful relationships with people from all walks of life and to succeed in an increasingly globalized, heterogeneous society.

Inclusion & Equity Stories in Fine Print Magazine

Lauren Samuels ’11

Lauren Samuels ’11—a Rowland Hall graduate who competed for Rowmark Ski Academy her senior year and two postgraduate years—served as the youngest panelist on a July 15 U.S. Ski & Snowboard virtual discussion on how to remedy the glaring lack of racial diversity in snowsports.

Lauren, who identifies as Black and multiracial, spoke candidly about how systemic racism and discrimination impacted her skiing career, and how the industry might better foster a love of skiing among people from more diverse backgrounds. Excerpts featuring Lauren—a newly named member of the U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee—are transcribed below. 

Though the COVID-19 outbreak cut the 2019–2020 ski season short, Rowmark was grateful to have Lauren return (if only briefly) in a new capacity: FIS assistant coach and academic liaison. This fall, she’ll head to the University of Oregon to start a graduate program in sports product management, and plans to pursue a career in the outdoor industry.

Lauren has a rich history in ski racing. While enrolled in Rowmark, she spent much of each season traveling as an invitee with the U.S. Ski Team. She’s a J2 National Super-G champion who also raced in the U.S. Nationals and World Juniors championships. After Rowmark, she attended the University of Utah and competed as a member of their prestigious alpine ski team. She captained the team her senior year when the Utes won the 2017 NCAA National Championship.

We’re proud to call Lauren an alum, and we'll be referencing and building on discussions like this one as we redouble our commitment to equity, diversity, inclusion, and antiracist work.

Lauren Samuels ’11 ski racing

Lauren Samuels ’11 ski racing for Rowmark in Park City back in January 2012.

Transcription of Excerpts Featuring Lauren

In addition to Lauren, these excerpts feature moderator Henri Rivers, the president of National Brotherhood of Skiers and the CEO, president, and founder of Drumriver Consultants; and Forrest King-Shaw, a coach and staff trainer at Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows Teams.

[49:28]

Not until I joined the National Brotherhood of Skiers and went to my first summit did I see another skier of color besides my dad and my brother.

Henri Rivers: Lauren, I’m going to go to you first. And I really want you to be honest with us. Has racism and discrimination altered or shortened your career as an athlete?

Lauren Samuels: This question is hard to answer. Altered, absolutely. Shortened, possibly. 

Henri: I don’t want to put you on the spot like that because I understand where you’re coming from, I do. If you want to answer, you can, but we could rephrase it.

Lauren: I’m open to speak about it, it’s just tough to talk about. But I would say in regards to altering, it’s more what Schone and you, Henri, spoke about. I was already exposed to skiing because of family. I grew up skiing, learned how to ski when I was two. But once I got into the more—I mean really, even at the grassroots level, my home club, not seeing other people who looked like me, [having] that lack of comfort and support. And I was lucky to be involved with NBS, the National Brotherhood of Skiers, from a young age, where we had other athletes who were older than me and better than me that I could look up to. But not until I joined NBS and went to my first summit did I see another skier or ski racer of color besides my dad and my brother. In the topic of shortening my career, again, that’s hard to say, but I think possibly that shortened my career. 

I had the highest vertical jump on record when I tested at 15 years old on the development team and immediately I was told, ‘That's just because you're Black.’

Some language I was faced with at any level, specific stories with the U.S. Ski Team, being disrespected or being told that I wasn't working hard enough even though I would show up to our physical testing and break records. I had the highest vertical jump on record when I tested at 15 years old on the development team and immediately I was told, “That's just because you’re Black.” And then I continued on, [being told] I'm not working hard enough, but my fitness and everything shows that I am working hard enough. These are things that, that’s racist language—as much as no one said I’m not working hard enough or it’s just because I’m Black that [I’m] not making it to the next step. But I do believe there is some ingrained racism in our sport, and in the people in our sport, and in the highest levels as well.

Henri: It’s hard to even comment on that because I’ve watched you grow up. I’ve watched you as such a spectacular racer and I'm really sorry to hear that you had to go through that. Do you think having coaches—and I know it’s also a gender thing as well—but do you think that having coaches (male and female) of color would have helped you adjust to some of the things that you were exposed to?

I was told I had to braid my hair to ski downhill because it's the fastest, most aerodynamic style. Maybe if I had a coach who had an experience similar to mine, they would've come up with other ideas or not judge me for not braiding my hair.

Lauren: Yeah, I think it's more, again, about that comfort and belonging there. There comes a big relief, at least on my shoulders, when there’s another person of color on the hill that day. And it’s as minor as that: I know there’s someone else here who will stick up for me or speak out if something does happen or go that way. And same with being able to relate on other things. My hair: I can't braid my hair—it doesn't really braid—but I was told I had to braid my hair to ski downhill because it's the fastest, most aerodynamic [style]. Well, maybe if I had a coach who had that experience similar to me, they would come up with other ideas or not judge me so hard for not braiding my hair. It's things like that that I think a coach of color and female would help with, but I don't even want to say that it has to be a Black coach or look exactly like me. Does that answer your question?

Henri: Yeah, it does. Wow, you know, I take a deep breath because you know I have young racers as well and they will start experiencing those things. That is why we’re here, that is why we’re having this discussion, so that we can stop this type of thinking and these thought processes because they are unfounded, they’re unnecessary, and they hurt young people. Lauren is a young racer that should not have to experience these things. But this is what we continually do year after year after year. We need to stop the cycle. Forrest, my question for you, same question I had for Lauren. Has racism or discrimination altered or shortened your career (I know it has) with [U.S. Ski & Snowboard or Professional Ski Instructors of America]?

Forrest King-Shaw: Well, it hasn’t shortened my career, that's for sure. It’s altered it, oh, absolutely. And before we go too deep into this I wanted to comment on a couple of things Lauren said. I have two daughters that ski race and if you knew the discussions I had with them about helmets, that was something I had to figure out. I'm a man and had to learn how to be a better man by raising daughters. So I think there’s a parallel here. You don’t have to be in our circumstance. You don't have to be whatever gender or whatever ethnicity to be better at understanding what people have to carry.

Getting more kids and athletes from all aspects of diversity will expand our talent pool and make it better.

[1:06:46] 

Henri: Lauren, what do you think the U.S. Ski Team or [U.S. Ski & Snowboard] can do to develop more athletes of color? Have you ever thought about that? Is there anything that you think they could do a little different that would help attract or bring in—you know, that’s a hard question to ask because the snow industry, it’s a difficult sport to get into, but what do you think? Have you ever had any thoughts about that?

Lauren: Yeah, I’m going to kind of piggyback on what Forrest said about how it’s the outward-facing portion of your association, your organization, and that outreach, and partnerships with organizations like Winter4Kids and with [Share Winter Foundation]. I’m going to speak about one that I know purely off of location, it’s within a mile of my house: the Loppet Foundation. They are getting kids from inner city Minneapolis out skiing and on the snow, and they focus on nordic skiing. And I think starting at that grassroots level is really, really important. And like Forrest said, if your first experience isn't great, you're not coming back. But this is more about getting the new athlete, the new member, to love skiing in one way or another. If they dont love skiing they're not going to work their way up and be a coach. Or even at a later age, if you get exposed to skiing when you're 20, 30, whatever it is, if you don't love it, you're not going to stay involved in the sport. And again, really, it's a lot of the same as [what Forrest said]. That interaction between the elite level and the younger or less elite level, between the current athletes on the U.S. Ski Team and reaching out and connecting with those younger kids. Or even coaches, newer coaches to the sport, feeling like you matter, feeling like you can make it to that next level, to that next step, whatever it is. It doesn't have to be the elite track, but it can be. And I don't think that should be disregarded that getting more kids and athletes from all aspects of diversity will, one, expand our talent pool, and make it better.

rowmark

Rowland Hall community members unload donations for the Navajo Nation in the wake of COVID-19.

Since 2016, the schools and families of Utah’s Navajo Nation communities in Bluff and Montezuma Creek have graciously embraced teaching and connecting with Rowland Hall students and faculty during Upper School Interim and beyond.

They’ve invited us into their homes, shared their traditions, and even traveled to our school for race-relations workshops, strengthening our nation-to-nation ties. In the wake of COVID-19, Rowland Hall finally had a chance to give back. Our students, families, and dozens of alumni affiliated with Navajo Nation projects in past years rallied to collect three truckloads of resources for hard-hit Navajo families and schools.

Donations included 68 art kits for elementary-aged kids, enough art supplies to cover curriculum needs for all Whitehorse middle and high schoolers, 52 gift certificates, 200 homemade masks, five donation checks, and various household items—from toilet paper and feminine hygiene products, to cleaning supplies and pet food.

In mid-May, a small-but-mighty contingency of Rowland Hall folks made the trek down to Bluff: Director of Arts Sofa Gorder and her children, Jules Framme (fourth grade) and Solenne Framme (kindergarten); Director of Community Programs Allison Spehar and her daughter, Chiyoko Spehar (eighth grade); and alum Yuan Oliver Jin ’18. The group met administrators from local schools and the executive director of We Are Navajo, and they worked together to sort through every single donation and help get it to the best place. Donations included 68 art kits for elementary-aged kids, enough art supplies to cover curriculum needs for all Whitehorse middle and high schoolers, 52 gift certificates, 200 homemade masks, five donation checks, and various household items—from toilet paper and feminine hygiene products, to cleaning supplies and pet food. In addition to We Are Navajo and the White Horse students, donations went to the Rural Utah Project and to emergency medical technicians volunteering in Bluff.

Junior Elena Barker had been eager to visit the Navajo Nation for Interim this spring—she would’ve worked on art projects with kindergarteners. After the pandemic hit, she and her family sprang into action, donating art supplies for kids and gift cards to help Navajo seniors attend summer programs at a college in Price. “I wanted whatever we did to make kids smile,” Elena said, “or allow kids to explore different aspects of education that they are interested in.”

Sofia and Allison gave a sincere shoutout to the approximately 100 community members like Elena who put hard and fast work into making this happen. “Our effort does not go unnoticed,” Allison said. “There is so much gratitude from our partners on the Navajo Nation. And, in reality, it barely scratches the surface of the kind of support this community deserves as a part of our state and country.” The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and magnified institutional inequities, Sofia explained. “While there is so much more work to be done, this very moment is one that shows the true utility in authentic partnerships between communities that are vastly different, but that share boundaries.”

While there is so much more work to be done, this very moment is one that shows the true utility in authentic partnerships between communities that are vastly different, but that share boundaries.—Director of Arts Sofa Gorder

Junior Katie Kern—who visited the Navajo Nation for Interim in 2019 and would’ve gone again this year—echoed Allison and Sofia’s sentiments. “The people that I met in the Navajo Nation are simply good people who don't deserve what is going on right now,” Katie said, recalling how she loved dancing with the middle schoolers there, and meeting fellow high schoolers. “When good people go through something like this and resources become scarce, people need to come together and do what they can to provide some comfort.”

And we were able to provide some comfort, Sofia reiterated, due to our several years spent building trust and relationships. “Without these relationships, I am almost positive we would have seen less effort from our current and past students, and much less efficiency in getting the collected supplies to the right places and to the right people in a timely manner.”

Allison and Sofia gave a special thanks to the following community members who helped to make this happen through work and donations: Middle School Administrative Assistant Andrea Beckman; Brian, Karey, and Elena Barker; Martin, Krista, and Katie Kern; junior Samantha Paisley; parent Jacqueline Wittmeyer; Upper School Principal Ingrid Gustavson and family; and Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund.

Interested in helping from home? Consider donating to the Rural Utah Project or We Are Navajo.

Ethical Education

Dulce Maria Horn driving through the senior parade.

Senior social justice advocate Dulce Maria Horn feels an innate pull to help the Latinx community, and in her stirring words, to ultimately “change the policies which entrap the comunidad I love so dearly.”

This deep passion to spur change has put Dulce on a seemingly unstoppable upward trajectory—and one that’s further bolstered by an impressive series of scholarship awards this spring. 

In April, Dulce learned she’d won the Rotary Club of Salt Lake City’s $5,000 scholarship, which Rotarians give to one senior from each Salt Lake City high school. In addition to the Rotary honor, the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah announced in May that Dulce (along with senior classmate Ria Agarwal) won a $3,500 Youth Activist Scholarship for 2020. The senior also won a John Greenleaf Whittier Scholarship from Whittier College, where she plans to major in global and cultural studies starting in the fall. Whittier will be a crucial step toward Dulce’s longer-term goal: becoming an immigration lawyer and working with unaccompanied, undocumented minors to provide emotional and legal support.


In the above ACLU Utah video, Dulce explains what being a civil liberties activist means to her: using the power that we have "to fight for all rights, for all humans, regardless of any barriers."

The work that I do helps me to feel that I am actualizing the justice immigrants deserve, due to the fact that we are a historically and continually marginalized community.

Dulce is Latina and bilingual, and her life story is central to her work: she was adopted and came to Salt Lake City from Guatemala at six months old. She grew up in what she called a predominantly White, upper-middle-class world, and from a young age, she’s used her advantages to help others: “Due to my relative privilege and outlook on life, I pressure myself to support my family and community,” Dulce wrote in her Rotary essay. “The work that I do helps me to feel that I am actualizing the justice immigrants deserve, due to the fact that we are a historically and continually marginalized community.”

The Rowland Hall lifer developed an activist mindset early on: she was only eight years old when she started volunteering for Safe Passage, a nonprofit that aids families who are making a living from Guatemala City’s garbage dump. In eighth grade she volunteered as a teacher’s assistant at Horizonte Instruction and Training Center, helping Spanish-speaking adults learn English. And in 2018, she began volunteering for immigrant rights nonprofit Comunidades Unidas (CU), where she’s worked on Latinx community empowerment—including voter registration—and accrued several awards for her efforts. Accolades aside, Dulce finds the greatest rewards in the work itself: in the people she meets, and the progress she makes.

Through her work, Dulce met Vicky Chavez—an undocumented mother entering sanctuary with her two daughters. An unbreakable bond ensued. “Vicky’s daughters are no longer clients or friends; they are my sisters."

One anecdote is particularly emblematic of what drives Dulce. In 2018, through her work on deportation cases with the SLC Sanctuary Network, Dulce met Vicky Chavez—an undocumented mother entering sanctuary with her two daughters. Since Dulce is especially interested in helping children, she opted to work with Vicky’s kids. An unbreakable bond ensued. “Vicky’s daughters are no longer clients or friends; they are my sisters,” Dulce wrote in her Rotary essay. “Immigrants deserve fair and just laws and regulations that uplift rather than harm. No Ban. No Wall. No Remain in Mexico. No Separación.”

Rowland Hall Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund praised Dulce’s breadth of work and, in the case of the Rotary scholarship, explained what gave her an edge in an impressive applicant pool. “Dulce's engagement with the asylum-seeking community in Salt Lake expands the definition of service to include community activism. The Rotarians were so impressed by Dulce embracing an ethic of inclusion and working tirelessly on an issue from many angles,” Ryan said. The senior, he added, embodies a genuine concern for humanity and the conditions faced by the most vulnerable among us. “For those not even recognized legally to request a redress of grievance, Dulce is a powerful and compassionate voice.”

Thanks to Rowland Hall, I am one of the only people (and most certainly the youngest) to have roles in public speaking in my activist circle.

Though Rowland Hall had little to no impact on Dulce’s unique and extensive activism journey, she credits her school for giving her a solid foundation in public speaking. Through her work at CU and beyond, Dulce has made speeches galore, spoken at press conferences and on radio shows, and led workshops and classes. “I have no fear of public speaking, whether it be in front of the press or a tiny workshop. Rowland Hall helped greatly with this,” she said, adding she still remembers reciting poetry in second grade and giving a speech about a famous role model in third grade. “Thanks to Rowland Hall, I am one of the only people (and most certainly the youngest) to have roles in public speaking in my activist circle.”

For now, Dulce looks forward to continuing to fight for immigrant rights during her college years, and she’s happy that her scholarships will help her pay for Whittier. But true to her personality, Dulce is quick to shift the focus off of her as an individual, and onto the greater struggle: activists often work in silence and with little recognition, she said, trying to keep immigrants healthy and their families united. There are many others who are equally worthy: “Thousands of people deserve a scholarship for their hard work to keep immigrants safe.”

students

Sophie Dau waterfront portrait

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 ’00.

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.

student voices


  1. Kim E. Nielsen, A Disability History of the United States (Boston: Beacon Press, 2012), 76.

  2. Utah Const. art. IV § 6. https://le.utah.gov/xcode/ArticleIV/Article_IV,_Section_6.html?v=UC_AIV_S6_1800010118000101.

  3. Vasilogambros, Matt. "Thousands Lose Right to Vote under 'Incompetence' Laws," Pew Research Center, March 21, 2018. https://pew.org/2HMUHyo.

  4. 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.

  5. Baynton, "Disability and the Justification," in The New Disability, 42, 43.

  6. Baynton, "Disability and the Justification," in The New Disability, 44.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.


Bibliography

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.

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