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Students at the College of Southern Maryland spent several weeks this spring researching and investigating issues associated with invisible disabilities. Their work was in preparation of CSM’s annual two-day Social Justice Day event April 11 and 12.
This year’s theme, “Understanding Invisible Disabilities,” allowed students to explore issues related to invisible disabilities and how they impact the justice system, communication, media, and social and psychological well-being through a variety of projects, presentations and a simulation lab.
“We usually think of neurological disabilities when using the term ‘invisible,’ but we addressed the issue more broadly to include any disability that is not readily apparent. This may include learning disabilities, mood disorders, ADHD, PTSD or any number of medical conditions that impair daily activity,” said CSM Communication Professor Denise Gilmer-Knudson.
Nearly 130 projects culminated students’ research for the student juried poster session. Rachael Mehls won first place for her poster “Dyslexia: An Invisible Disability.” Second place was awarded to Stephanie Arnone for her poster “How Type 1 Diabetes Affects Interpersonal Communication.” Third place went to Amara Soffos for her poster “Can’t Take a Joke” that investigated the impact of sexual harassment on women.
The first day of the Social Justice Day event featured a documentary series that allowed students to step into the shoes of someone with autism as they viewed “Invisible Disabilities — The Problems of Perception” by Dr. Jenny Mackenzie. The second documentary, “It’s Real: College Students and Mental Health,” addressed mental health issues commonly experienced by college students. CSM Professor Christopher Ankney led a writing exercise following the documentaries for students to reflect and express their thoughts though poetry.
CSM Counselor Jennifer Fossell facilitated a panel where students addressed their own invisible disabilities, the daily challenges they pose and how they have found help and hope through education, counseling, accommodations and medical treatment.
“This year’s Social Justice Day was refreshing because it was made clear from the seminar discussions and research projects submitted by students that CSM is an open and welcoming college,” said CSM Sociology Professor Lisa Lynk. “Many students stated that they felt the atmosphere at CSM is student-centered based on learning opportunities inside the classroom and outside with programs like Social Justice Day.”
On April 12, Joseph Rollo, retired director of the Psychological Services Unit of Prince George’s County Police, spoke to students about the critical nature of police interaction with people suffering with invisible disabilities and how he has helped police officers who suffered from their own post-traumatic stress. Major Dan Lipsey, retired from Prince George’s County Police, talked about his personal struggles following an officer-involved shooting.
Jennifer L. Edwards, Kristi Bingham and Corrita “Rita” Myers from the Calvert County Crisis Intervention Center presented an information session to students entitled, “Breaking the Silence: Interpersonal Relationships and Invisible Disabilities.”
Students also had a chance to experience assistive technologies that are available to CSM students during an Assistive Technology Simulation Lab organized by Renata Zgorski, disability support advisor at the Prince Frederick Campus. Technologies like Kurzweil Reader and Dragon Naturally Speaking help CSM students with disabilities learn more effectively.
The event concluded with a book discussion facilitated by Gilmer-Knudson of “Supporting College and University Students with Invisible Disabilities” by Christy Oslund. A group of CSM faculty and staff shared theoretical and practical applications for students with disabilities. “CSM faculty and staff are committed to educating and assisting our students in obtaining their goals at CSM and beyond,” Lynk said.
Social Justice Day is cross-disciplinary program that came out of a student service learning project “Make a Difference Day.” The event addresses social, governmental and legal issues affecting society today. The initial event was a half-day program that has since expanded to a full day and now two-day event organized by a cross-disciplinary CSM committee with representatives from Sociology/Psychology, Education, Criminal Justice, Communication, Biology, Languages and Literature and Nursing.