How has your day been?
What have you been doing?
Just got out of class. We have been talking a lot about civil liberties and civil rights. It is really funny cause I was talking about a case concerning the Texas 10 Commandment Statue at the Capitol Building. It was a 4-3 split decision saying that the historical context of the Judeo-Christian tradition was really important for this country and that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was like “that is bullshit.” Pretty much it is an infringement on civil liberties and the establishment clause since the State is not supposed to induce a religion. It was a really hilarious debate since this current Supreme Court is now more conservative than ever before. I just sat there thinking that this [debate] was going to be really interesting because even though it and other statues like these endorse every Judeo-Christian message on the face of the planet, is it likely that every religious message in this country is going to be erased or demolished or taken away? I don’t think that is a smart thing to do.
Do you like your Civil and Political liberties class?
It teaches me that one of the most important things in college is humility. I wish a lot of people including myself had more of that because I think that we go into the sake of arguing just for the sake of arguing.
Discourse for the sake of discourse?
Right. It gets us nowhere. And I just wonder since I think this country is not as broken as people make it out to be.
Are you saying this [statement] simply as an American or as a Christian or what?
Yeah. As an American and a Christian who has been living in the states for a very long time, my entire life essentially, I wonder if religious people and those who aren’t religious agree on basic global issues since we do not want to hurl insults at each other. We do not want to discount the other for the false value in our positions being hasty understood and validated.
I am a Government and Philosophy major, so my thoughts are rooted in these teachings. The thing that keeps me sane is that I still have my friends, or I may be fooling myself into believing that I still have meaningful friendships. Maybe you are a better judge of that Campbell, but who knows. I think friendship in its most simple form is that “I understand you, and I understand our differences. And I respect those.”
It doesn’t mean that I have to agree with you.
Yep, in fact it means that I am willing to listen with you and sit across from you and not demonize you for what you believe or for how you act. These are things that you learn in elementary school and should understand on a basic level. These things are really very basic and yet, it is so rare now. I always ask people what they get out of arguing. There is nothing that you achieve from arguing.
I think you only feel more anger from arguing.
You just get angry and pissy. You are not happy and simply feel frustration. And even for religious people of which I am, [arguing] accomplishes nothing for me. Humility and understanding people can accomplish things on this campus, but trying to act all intellectual and one up a person, whether they are the same background as you or not, is not something that I find fun or valuable. Yeah, I come on sunny days like today and sit here on the Sunken Gardens and just ponder these things. I find rest. It is absurd the amount of stuff that you have to deal with every day so I unplug this way.
In a conversation between people, do you sometimes predict whether they are trying to be argumentative or do you try to come in with an open mind?
I try my best to come into the conversation with an open mind. Here at William and Mary, coming into a conversation with an open mind is critically important, especially considering I have a disability. My disability makes me see myself as different. Different in the way that people see me and how they are going to start conversations with me. Campbell, I have lived in the hospital and at school and at home. I do not think that people understand the literalness of that statement and its weight. That time in solitude taught me to hear things out and respond less to the noise.
What is it like living with a disability? Have you noticed how people sometimes react differently? Do they view you differently?
I think so. I think there are two ways to view that. There is the viewpoint of seeing how the [disabled] person is maturing through and over [their disability]. This person is emotionally over it and not suffering from the mental struggles it often causes. On the other hand, I have seen the other extreme of the spectrum where they expect the person to not have a normal and wide enough emotional bandwidth and thus lack an emotionally normal friendship with people. These two viewpoints are both very uncomfortable, and I know ultimately misses the point of striking up a conversation.
For both being seen living with this disability and talking with you?
Exactly. I want to be seen as normal, but with a little bit of knicks and visible scratches since nobody is perfect. I think my [disability] comes off a little bit more uneasy since it is physical and you can see it. When I slip and fall or when I am late or when I have to excuse myself from class, I notice people staring. Like I notice them looking at me in confusion. And I never really know what or how to respond. So let the awkwardness stand.
Why do you have to excuse yourself from class?
I get sick more often than most people. If a virus is going around, I am the first person that will probably get it. The considerate way to act is to say that you are sorry that I am sick or that I am missing class. If you are my friend that is—I do not assume that everyone should do X or should do Y— for most people asking how I am doing and if I can get anything for you goes a long way. I think those little things are helpful to people with disabilities, people with access to this campus in the most comfortable way. I think this is true for a lot of minorities on this campus, which can extend to religious minorities, ethnic minorities and see if they deserve the same respect.
What are some things that you want this campus to change since you are a Christian and disabled?
Take time out of your life. Take active time out of your life and get interested in something that you have no natural interest in, and yet benefits someone else. Take time out literally means your time is going to be used. Your comfort zones are going to be extended. One of the things that I do is spending time with people who are of completely different ethnicities than I am.
Do you do this simply because you want to learn?
Yes. For the sake of learning and since I just do not know. I think that is so important because it is not only beneficial for yourself, but also keeps you really centered. It does for me. My religious community (Agape) keeps me centered, but also expands my own opinions since people on this campus have radically different opinions than my own. It is really valuable for me to understand that this is a very colorful world. Earth has all different kinds of people speckled across all spectrums.
Do you want any changes done on this campus from an administrative standpoint and from a community standpoint?
Yes. Totally. I wish more professors and students could be more honest about the things that they need. For the student side, if you need an extension and if you are grinding on a paper at 3 AM, you should feel comfortable to say that you need an extension. The student knows whether or not that is a moral thing to do. On the professor side, I always wonder why they assign these papers all at the same time. It is weird and for some who have a typing disability on my left hand, I am sitting there thinking that it is absurd that the professor only gave me a week to work on this paper. When I ask for an extension, they always question on many occasions whether I need the extension or not, which is totally absurd. It takes 50 percent more time for me to write a paper than the normal student so yes I do need an extension.
Have you encountered any hilarious interactions on this campus regarding your disability?
Sometimes. Professors ask why I didn’t do this assignment on time or why I didn’t ask for the extension earlier. I always question in my head whether the professors are blind and cannot notice my disability when I walk around. Like no, I do not know what more I have to say. I try to advocate the best I can say, but I treasure my professors and I do not hold this worry against them. I know them and most other people have no idea what it is like to live with a physical or mental disability. I do not count it against them. On the professor’s side, I wish that they could say that their door is not only open to academic things but for other help and how they will not come in with any preconceived notions of you. I think that is really important. When I talk to my friends, yes they are a group of friends that I am really most close to. Yet, when I go out and extend beyond that circle to a wider crowd, I do not care about your gender, sexuality, or ethnicity. I do not want to sound preachy about this, but we are all in the same boat. It does not matter what religion you believe in. It doesn’t matter what gender you are. It does not matter what political ideology you ascribe to, because the point is to understand the other that is not you. Because for so long, my disability or my depression, I have no idea which (and this has gone on for 20 years), has inevitably made me the other and this is the uneasy comfortableness that I have to live life with. For people that are curious enough to ask about my disability and the surrounding stories, I will respectfully answer your questions and feel free to ask. Don’t feel so uncomfortable and feel the need to be so respectful that we lose our friendship, because the minute you do that, everything kinda unravels.
I remember the first time we met, one of the first questions you asked was, “What’s up with your walking?”.
I do remember that.
You had an uncomfortable look on your face when asked that.
Yeah I remember thinking “well shit. How do I ask this dude about his walking since I know that he has a disability.” And I think I just kinda went for it and asked you since I was curious that you showed up late to class pretty consistently. You were really fine with me asking that question too since it is probably a question that you have experienced a lot over your 20 some years.
It is that easy and it is okay to be blunt if you are willing to have a genuine conversation. If the person who is disabled doesn’t have a thick enough skin to answer those questions, then that person will have to understand that people have sincere questions. Some people have better ways of asking questions about your disability, but it is a matter of relative comfortableness when it comes to answering these questions. These questions are uncomfortable and they inherently have to be. And, I respect that. To the people that ask me questions, I actually applaud it. I think any disabled person should applaud it since it shows that this person has tried to bridge the gap and asks questions that are inherently uncomfortable.
To be completely honestly, I think the majority of our government class are uncomfortable to even approach you and ask about your disability and ask about everything.
My disabilities are only physical and it is undoubtedly true that they have mental and emotional repercussions. However, the disabilities themselves aren’t mental, and I hope that people understand the difference between them. It is totally fine for people to feel uncomfortable about being around me because disabilities are an uncomfortable thing to talk about. Granted it isn’t the best first impression to ask “what is wrong with you.” And I never took your question that way.
Yeah of course, coming from a background where you don’t interact with a lot of disabled individuals, first impressions are always scary. It is the first thing that you notice, yet it shouldn’t become that big of an issue. Talking to people with disabilities is uncomfortable, yet after interacting with you, I still notice your disability, yet it hasn’t become a big issue or problem.
It’s not, in fact, let me tell you a story that gives me a good laugh. I remember running into a professor late at night and asked if I was okay. I replied that I was fine since I naturally limp and stumble over myself a lot due to me not being able to control the left side of my body. She replied, “Okay good because I thought that you weren’t sober and were struggling to walk.” I politely responded that I cannot really control this “stumbling”. She turned bright red and walked away pretty embarrassed. It kinda goes back to what we were saying about how to approach people with disabilities since the first thing that you really shouldn’t ask is what their disability is or why they are struggling to walk. Yet, I knew her intent was in my interest and I was the dumb one because I didn’t know how to respond to her to absolve the obvious incoming guilt trip, but I felt like I needed to say that I have a disability.
Could you say that asking about your disability is almost comparable to the question of where you are from?
Yeah. I understand the similarities between being disabled and being a foreigner in the waspy culture of America on the East Coast. I want to see the best out of anyone I meet. If people like me ask what is the most lacking thing on this campus, it is kindness. It is really to say that I do not know anything about you. Thus, I cannot conclude every single minuscule thing about you. And frankly, I should learn everything about myself first before trying to learn more about other people on this campus. How do I figure and see the other? I hope we eventually realize that all these social, political, religious disagreements we are having are not all that worth it. The three most important things to me are kindness toward all, mercy that reconciles people’s brokenness, and a humble justice that lives to see a better world. Maybe I am a ridiculous dreamer, but I hope it is a dream worth having and ultimately sacrificing for.