Opening proclamation honors queer, trans and disabled students

The Ramapo community came together to honor Queer and Trans History Month and Disability Awareness Month in front of the Arch on Monday. The Women’s Center and LGBTQ Services partnered with the Office of Specialized Services (OSS) to host the Opening Proclamation event.

The event started with an introduction from OSS Disability Counselor and Notetaking Services Coordinator Abbe Benowitz about Ramapo’s commitment to serving students with disabilities, which started in the 1970s with Laurie Potter, the wife of Ramapo’s first president.

“Long before the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990… Laurie wanted to ensure that Ramapo was accessible to returning Vietnam veterans,” she said. “In doing so, she not only established the Office of Specialized Services, but she also took the lead on ensuring that Ramapo was constructed in such a way as to guarantee that the campus, particularly the academic buildings, would be easily accessible to people with mobility impairments.”

“We are a community grounded in trust and that trust comes about because we know our values.”

– President Cindy Jebb

Benowitz went on to discuss how Ramapo continues to support disabled students just as passionately today. 

“There are currently over 600 students affiliated with the Office of Specialized Services, and we have been ranked No. 1 in New Jersey… on the list of best disability-friendly spaces,” she said. “I am sure Laurie would be very proud of Ramapo’s strong and longstanding commitment to fostering an atmosphere that is both architecturally and philosophically accessible to all.”

Assistant Director for the Center for Student Involvement and Coordinator of the Office of Violence Prevention Marie-Danielle Attis then took the stage to share some thoughts about the importance of Queer and Trans History Month. She started by acknowledging the reality that members of the LGBTQ+ community are nine times more likely to be victims of violent hate crimes than non-LGBTQ+ individuals, according to a recent study.

“Why instead of addressing the critical issues relating to the safety of LGBTQ+ folks, people with immense influence are still using their power and privilege to perpetuate a culture that does not embrace diversity, inclusivity and acceptance?” she said. “I, for one, simply don’t get it.”

Attis said that she wishes that the month could just be about celebration but that it’s also necessary to bring awareness to the challenges that the LGBTQ+ community faces. “There’s a lot of reasons to celebrate this month, but there’s also a lot of reasons to reflect,” she said.

Attis then invited Women’s Center Student Queer Peer Services Coordinator Talia Criso to talk about what their queerness means to them. “I just want to say that queer is one of my favorite words. To me, it means to exist beyond any boundaries. To be queer is to be in a constant state of fluidity, growth and compassion,” they said.

While discussing the beauty of authenticity, Criso shared an anecdote about growing into their authentic self. They said that from their early teen years, they had the desire to shave their head but never followed through because other people caused them to feel shame and fear the consequences. Earlier this year, they finally decided to do it and found that the new style brought them joy.

“It is a genuine effort to try to learn how to have compassion and kindness for myself exactly as I am,” they said. “One of my favorite practices of love that I do with myself is to acknowledge when something I want to do feels scary and then do it anyway.”

President Jebb concluded the event by remarking about the meaning of these months for the Ramapo community and reading the opening proclamations. “We are a community grounded in trust and that trust comes about because we know our values,” she said. “It’s not just important to identify diversity, it’s so important to value it.”

The Women’s Center has a full slate of events lined up for Queer and Trans History Month, including the annual Pridefest on Oct. 11 and a gender-affirming clothing drive running throughout October. OSS will also be hosting events for Disability Awareness Month, such as a Student Panel on Disability on Oct. 11. A full list can be found on their websites.

Featured photo by Rebecca Gathercole