Response to DRC to EAC: A Disappointing Change

Tatum Tricarico is an amazing woman with an equally amazing story regarding her advocacy work on behalf of Disabled students while at Point Loma Nazarene University. And we do not disagree with her view on Disability Justice and Theology.

The name change, created by PLNU faculty advocates for disability rights and supported by the president’s cabinet, was intended to reflect both the diversity of opinions on people-first versus disability-first language and the expansion of the center to also include students without disabilities in our mission. 

Over the course of a month, we all wrestled with the language issue that Tatum identified. We agree that language matters because it represents or misrepresents “culture,” which has its own artifacts, language, history, art and literature.

On the point of people-first versus disability-first language, we recognize that for many Disabled people, their disability is a major part of their identity, and we support their self-identity and culture. 

However, that is not the case for all Disabled people. In fact, many individuals with “invisible” disabilities such as learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, mental health conditions, and PTSD do not wish to be called disabled. Our hope is to also honor them as they learn to navigate their conditions and their own identities.

We think identity can be complex rather than singular to a specific group, a concept known in social equity work as intersectionality. 

The theory “takes into account people’s overlapping identities and experiences in order to understand the complexity of prejudices and privileges they face,” according to Psychology Today

For example, as the associate dean of the Educational Access Center (EAC), I am a Christian, female, disabled, first-generation student, abuse survivor, wife and mother. No one of those categorical labels dominates my identity. I am an intersection of all those things. Additionally, depending on the context of the social climate, each of those identities could be the subject of prejudice or privilege.

The EAC continues to work with intentionality to honor our legal, ethical, and missional commitments to support Disabled students at Point Loma. As we re-envisioned our university and model community for inclusion of all types of difference, we wanted the former Disability Resource Center (DRC) to continue the work of providing a safe place for Americans with Disability Act-eligible students (ADA) to access accommodations in and out of the classroom. However, we also wanted to create something that includes all people in a Christian community of higher education.

For example, faculty offered a Student Success Series of workshops this semester that were open to all students on topics such as reading comprehension strategies, how to write term papers and resiliency in the face of anxiety and stress. 

Another example of expanding our scope occurred when two students with disabilities (or Disabled students as Tatum prefers) worked alongside the chapel staff to create alternative spaces for participation in chapel. Students with intestinal issues may need quick access to restrooms, whereas students with social anxiety disorder need spaces with fewer students. A remote option for students in isolation/quarantine was also added. 

One of the primary missions of our university is to provide a Christian experience for everyone – including those who choose not to disclose their disability or condition. 

We have students with life-long disabilities and those with short-term disabling conditions. We have students who are proud of their Disabled identity and those who would prefer to share that identity only among friends/advocates.

This is why the Advisory Committee decided to change the name to something that reflected our shared mission at PLNU. 

As stated on our website, our mission is “To promote access for all members of the PLNU community by facilitating self-advocacy, removing barriers, providing resources for learning, and creating a culture that honors each person’s unique, God-given gifts.” 

We are inspired by I Corinthians 12:4-28 where Paul encourages all believers to cherish their gifts and celebrate the range of abilities that God has provided to accomplish His will in His people.

Written By: Pamela Harris, Ph.D. on behalf of the EAC Faculty Advisory Committee