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When Frances Perkins scholar April Graham ’18 arrived at Mount Holyoke last fall, she had a lot more questions than answers. After spending 20 years as a music journalist, being on a college campus —especially one with as many beloved and quirky traditions as Mount Holyoke — was all new. 

“Coming in, I had so many basic questions,” Graham remembered. “I was like, ‘What is Pangy Day? What is J-Show? I was so confused about where I should find resources, and what I should be doing.” 

While Graham and other Frances Perkins scholars — non-traditional students over the age of 25 — have access to the same orientation events and programs as traditional students, most are commuters, Graham said. Because of this, they don’t spend as much time on campus as other students might, and can feel isolated from the community and information they might need about student life.
Information on the College’s website can feel especially overwhelming and specific to traditional students, Graham said. 

Through talking with peers and professors, Graham eventually got the hang of things on campus her first year, but she hoped to use her experience to help other incoming FPs when she was elected president of the Frances Perkins Scholars Association (FPSA). 

The result is FranPedia, a Wiki-inspired page accessible to Frances Perkins scholars through the Mount Holyoke Google suite, created by Graham and her vice president Erica Watts ’17. The site uses photos and hyperlinks to guide its users through life at the college and tips for being successful there. 

Graham said the purpose of FranPedia is not to regurgitate information already available on the Mount Holyoke website, or at orientation events, but to make that information more relatable to Frances Perkins scholars as a group. 

For example, on FranPedia, Frances Perkins scholars can find information about the history of the Frances Perkins program, the group’s academic and social calendar, the constitution and student directory.

Graham has also included a breakdown of funding for prospective Frances Perkins scholars, like how many credits they need to be eligible for varying amounts for financial aid.

In addition to answering any practical questions incoming FPs might have about the school, Graham hopes FranPedia will also be a tool of empowerment for FPs. The website includes a page to list the academic honors and fellowship FPs have earned through the years, complied by Frances Perkins director Carolyn Dietel. 

“As FPs, some of us suffer from imposter syndrome, like, ‘I’m not smart enough to be here, I don’t belong here.’ This Wiki site just reinforces that FPs absolutely do belong here, and they do deserve to be here,” Graham said. 

The site also includes data on the current Frances Perkins scholars. For example, 31 out of the 97 current Frances Perkins scholars are parents. 

““It allows students to feel connected,” Graham said. “Like, wow, ‘there’s someone else here who has kids, or is married.’ I’m not alone in this.” 

Additionally, the site includes contact information for all Frances Perkins liaisons. The FPSA has liaisons in various campus departments, including the Career Development Center. The CDC is an important resource for FPs hoping to apply their previous work experience to what they want to do after college. 

“A lot of FPs have had really full lives before they come to Mount Holyoke,” said Graham. “So it’s important to figure out how to incorporate that into the work they do at Mount Holyoke, and also the work they are going to do after.”

Frances Perkins program Director Carolyn Dietel said she was “thrilled” that Graham and Watts have been able to invent and create a resource to make the college transition process smoother for Frances Perkins scholars. “I am always seeking new and better ways to share information and communicate with our very diverse group of Frances Perkins Scholars,” Dietel said. “I am delighted and grateful that Apriland Erica had the vision and expertise to create an innovative and dynamic tool that students can access at any time for real time information about the College and the Program.”

Graham said she recognizes that FranPedia is a work in progress. She’s been updating it weekly, and also created a new email account for FPs, so they can send tips they want to see on the site. 

 “I feel like this is my love letter to this community,” Graham said. “Because I think Frances Perkins scholars are amazing and I want them to have every available resource we can provide for them.”

'FranPedia' launches as a resource for scholars
September 15, 2016
Where Does Mount Holyoke Stand In Economic Diversity?

In the last decade, American universities along with the United States government have made strides to make college more accessible. 

However, a new study conducted by the Equality of Opportunity Project examined the success, or lack thereof, of American colleges in constructing economically diverse student bodies. The study revealed that the majority of elite universities are disproportionately comprised of students from affluent backgrounds. 38 American colleges were found to enroll more students from the top 1 percent of the income scale than from the bottom 60 percent. 

Colleges were ranked according to the ratio between students from the top 1 percent and bottom 60 percent. On the list of over 1,000 colleges, Mount Holyoke was ranked 226, with 5.2 percent of its students from the top 1 percent of wealth and 30.8 percent from the bottom 60 percent of wealth. 

A Mount Holyoke first year who receives financial aid and comes from a single-income family said, "I think they try, but they definitely could try harder... There could be more, especially helping with finding cheaper textbooks."

Victoria Parrish '19, who receives merit aid, said, "I've heard from others that Mount Holyoke was their best choice of school because it was fiscally more manageable. Mount Holyoke and the government provide subsidizing towards their education. I like to think that Mount Holyoke does that for its students, but of course there's always a limit on how much money they can give."

Bryn Mawr, another of the Seven Sisters, was ranked sixth in the nation in terms of enrolling the highest percentage of lower and middle-income students (13.7 percent of the student body is from the bottom 40 percent). Mount Holyoke is not listed in the New York Times article, but would rank higher than Bryn Mawr and Barnard at 16.1 percent. A Bryn Mawr sophomore who requested anonymity said, "Bryn Mawr, in comparison to other higher educational institutions, does have a more varied economic background. In my experience, this sort of makeup of the student body is an extremely beneficial thing for education experiences on the whole."

She added that "there is also very real criticism that while we do have a more diverse economic background, Bryn Mawr likes to brag about this fact rather than taking measures to increase the amount of low and middle-income students here." 
Indeed, many colleges advertise affordability and economic diversity as part of the school's appeal. However, as Danny Yagan, an assistant professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley and one of the authors of the study noted, there is a distinction between making colleges affordable to low-income families and expanding access to college for low-income families. Yagan told The New York Times, "Free tuition only helps if you can get in." 

According to the study, while approximately one in four students from the most affluent backgrounds attend an elite university, less than one-half of 1 percent of students from American families in the bottom fifth economic tier attend an elite college. 

The study also measured the role of colleges in promoting economic mobility. The statistics were measured based on the percentage of students from lower-income families who ended up in the top 40 percent from the college classes of 2002 to 2004. Mount Holyoke's social mobility was 9.4 percent, compared to that of the Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology, which was ranked first in terms of promoting mobility with 43.9 percent. 

Although the anonymous first year student sees her Mount Holyoke education as worth the economic burden, she still admitted that "Massachusetts is an educational superpower."


The 2016 Baccalaureate poem written and recited by Carly Bidner ‘16, was entitled “Never Fear / Change,” and began, “When Mount Holyoke told us to Never Fear / Change It’s safe to say we all [stepped] back and wondered how that slogan was arranged?”
Indeed, the significance of Mount Holyoke’s marketing campaign “Never fear / change” has been frequently questioned and discussed among prospective and current students. In particular, the slash placed between “fear” and “change,” raises questions on the intended inflection and interpretation of the slogan.

However, the ambiguity is very much the point. The slogan was implemented in August of 2013 as part of a new branding effort by the college. A press release for the new branding campaign issued on Aug. 12, 2013 stated, “The College proudly believes Never Fear / Change aptly describes the Mount Holyoke experience and will increase awareness of both its mission and its most compelling attributes.”

That the phrase can be read as “Never fear change” or “Never fear. Change,” is an intentional choice, meant to carry multiple meanings. The Mount Holyoke Alumnae Association website states, “while the slash signals some ambiguity, we feel that, like poetry, it is evocative and powerful.”

The slogan was the product of more than a year of research that consisted of surveys completed by members of the faculty and staff, as well as students and 8,000 Mount Holyoke alumnae, according to the College website.

“Never Fear / Change is a motto that is supposed to make you think, because Mount Holyoke itself is not just a liberal arts education,” said Victoria Parrish ’19. “What you learn in the classroom is not just content, it’s skills, and Never Fear / Change is a really great partner to that because it makes you think about what it means, and that’s what a Mount Holyoke education does too.”

Mount Holyoke alumna Kathleen Murphy Jasaitis ’88 agreed. “I think that it can be read in two different ways is clever,” she said. “The directive not to fear change itself, change as an abstract concept, is one that I think is more and more important as we get older. And the directive taken to the next level is to set fear aside and change in the face of fear. I know that’s not always practical, but it is a reminder that fear accomplishes little.”

Jasaitis noted that her only memory of Mount Holyoke branding from her time as a student is the block calligraphy of an M and H, which she says “just wasn’t appealing aesthetically.” Branding efforts change over time, as does campus culture. Said Jasaitis, “I’m still wrapping my head around the idea that anyone would call themselves a MoHo. To me, it sounds like an insult. But I see that people have embraced it. I guess that’s an elemental part of the Never Fear / Change idea.”

However, others are more critical of the unconventional structure. “It’s shocking grammar. I would not find it compelling,” said former Mount Holyoke student Kate Mellor.
Prospective students to the Mount Holyoke class of 2018 were asked to write about what Never Fear / Change meant to them for one of their admissions essays when they first applied to the College. Samantha Panikian ’18 said, “I had no idea what Never Fear / Change meant when I did my admissions essay, so I just wrote about an internship that I did that at first I was nervous about, but I learned not to fear the change. Looking back, I’m a little surprised how casual I was about interpreting it, but the prompt was super vague and didn’t really give you a lot to go on.”

Panikian said that her position on the slogan has changed over time. “The motto has definitely grown on me. At first I thought it was dumb and meant nothing, and I still think that a little bit, but it’s easy to make it your own with things like never fear / queer or never fear / charge and I like how everyone gets into it, even if it’s in more of a joking than a serious way.”

Indeed, the sense of humor that surrounds the phrase may now be part of the its significance, particularly since the phrase is not often used officially anymore. Keely Savoie, interim director of Media Relations said, “It’s not something we currently use,” though she added that Communications does use the phrase on posters.
Katie Cashin ’19 noted, “I really like how LITS made a parody of Never Fear / Change on the library charging docks, which say ‘Never Fear (lightning bolt) Charge.’” Cashin added that she would only support increased use of the phrase if used humorously. “It might get redundant otherwise.”

Neither Cashin nor Panikian attribute the slogan to influencing their decision to attend Mount Holyoke. Panikian made her choice based on the financial aid package she was offered, and Cashin attended because of the quality of professors, campus architecture and M&C’s.

MindPower, the marketing company that created the campaign, would not disclose the cost of the marketing campaign. A MindPower employee stated that “all contracts are totally different based on what the institution needs.”

Whatever Happened to NEVER FEAR / CHANGE?
Massachusetts voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use on Nov. 8, following similar votes in California, Arizona, Maine and Nevada. This event brought a familiar question back into the spotlight: Is marijuana allowed on campus?

The direct answer is no. At Mount Holyoke, consuming or handling marijuana could lead to disciplinary action or even imprisonment. According to the student handbook on the school website, three offenses for marijuana use or one marijuana distribution offense can lead to withdrawal or suspension from school.

One reason for this policy is the conflict between federal and state laws. Under the Federal Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, and its usage, possession or cultivation is prohibited. As a school that receives federal funding for student financial aidand research grants, Mount Holyoke is bound by federal law.

"Marijuana is a prohibited substance under federal law," said Jennifer Balut, director of the Alcohol & Drug Awareness Program. "The possession, use or sale of marijuana including medical marijuana, in any form, is prohibited on campus and during College activities."

"To ensure that our college receives federal student aid and grants, we must comply with federal policy including the Drug-Free Schools [Act], Communities Act and the federal Drug-Free Workplace Act, which classify marijuana as an illegal drug," Balut said.

The Massachusetts Marijuana Legalization Initiative, also known as Question 4, which legalized recreational marijuana in Massachusetts went into effect on Dec. 15, 2016. Even if the risk of a loss of federal funds wasn't an issue for colleges and universities, this new state law discourages drug use on college campuses.

The state law limits the legal age to consume recreational marijuana to individuals over 21, excluding many college students. It also forbids smoking marijuana in public spaces, such as campuses. Selling pot remains illegal until January 2018. 

However, the new law does give some leeway to students who live off campus in non-federally subsidized housing. Those who are over 21 may smoke at their residences with the permission of a landlord, and may possess up to 10 ounces of marijuana and six plants inside their home. 

This is not the first time that marijuana has stirred controversy over how Mount Holyoke reconciles state and federal laws. In 2012, when the state legalized marijuana for medical use, Mount Holyoke did not repeal its ban detailed on the website, stating that it does not allow marijuana use even for those holding a "registration card," the permission issued by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

The earlier policy conflicted with Associate Dean Rene Davis's statement in an article which appeared in Mount Holyoke News's Sept. 25, 2014 issue. Davis then said, "If a prescription is confirmed, the college would dismiss the violation and work with the student and Health Services to develop an appropriate plan for use."

Despite the official prohibition, marijuana is omnipresent in college life. Though relatively few cases are reported to Residential Life or the Campus Police, many students confess to smoking pot on a regular basis. 

A 20-year-old junior, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, called herself a "baby stoner." She used to make weed brownies – cannabis infused edibles – before smoking weed in a bong, a bubbler or a joint at her friend's house away from campus.

"In terms of stress release and pain killing, it's so good," the student said "The stress culture of this school is insane. Every single year during midterms or finals, people are posting on social media about how they are dying. Being a student here, sometimes I want to pull my hair out too." 

"If there's something that can help you relax, which doesn't have a side effect [like] anti-anxiety pills, I think you should use it by all means," the student added. "There's a huge epidemic of getting people hooked on prescription drugs like Prozac or Xanax. They have so many side effects which make people miserable. Weed is such a great alternative."

A first-year student, who also requested anonymity, said marijuana use is prevalent among her friends. They get the drug through student dealers at Mount Holyoke, Hampshire College and University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and smoke on a daily basis. They smoked in their rooms through a window until protesting posters came up in MacGregor Hall and CAs conducted a stricter search. 

Both students acknowledged the side effects of smoking. "The munchies are real," the junior said, referring to a strong craving for food after smoking weed. "Your mouth craves the sensation of eating food, but your brain can't tell you when you're full." She added that she also noticed a decrease in her lung capacity. 

Yet both students agreed that the side effects of marijuana are minimal compared to other substances. "Weed only makes you lazy and happy without hurting yourself or others. Your brain slows down, your body rests and the only thing you wanna do is lay on your bed eating," the first-year said. "I don't see the point of allowing smoking tobacco while banning weed, which actually has [fewer] negative effects."

MARCH 30, 2017


After this semester, the Blanchard Campus Store will be no more. After Reunion II — which falls during the last weekend of May — the store will be closed permanently and its space will be converted into a Student Life Hub as part of the new Community Center’s construction. The spirit apparel and Mount Holyoke- printed items will be sold at the Odyssey Bookstore in the Village Commons.

“It’ll be all there and in place in the fall,” said Shannon Gurek, the vice president for finance and administration and treasurer of Mount Holyoke College. Gurek, who devoted the majority of her four years at Mount Holyoke to getting the facility and Community Center master plans moving, said that the initiative is now accelerating at “lightning speed.”

According to the Mount Holyoke website, the Student Life Hub will provide shared space for advising, residential life, student government, religious life and diversity programming. The website states that the Student Life Hub will lead to “enhanced information sharing, better planning for students’ needs, heightened awareness of community issues and more opportunities for community celebrations of achievements.” This space will include conference rooms, private office space and open areas for staff and students to meet and plan.

Follett Bookstore Management’s contract expired with the College last year, but Mount Holyoke extended it another year as they finished plans for Blanchard. Originally the Blanchard Campus Store was run by Brennan College Services, but was then purchased by Follett, according to

The decision to move the store and transition to a different vendor was made by a small committee, which Gurek oversees. Gurek explained that the reason behind the store closing is the renovation of Blanchard and the addition to the Community Center, “When we were planning, we were talking about the highest and best use of the space in the building. We’re trying to get a ‘one-stop shopping’ space around student life issues.” When thinking about where the new store would go, Gurek said that the Village Commons immediately came to mind.

“We have a long relationship with the Odyssey for textbook sales. They’ve wanted to take over spirit-wear for merchandise. It seemed like the right time to give them the opportunity, because it’s tough to be a small independent bookstore — they’re closing up all over the place,” said Gurek.

According to their website, Follett is the country’s largest operator of college bookstores, serving 5 million students nationwide and providing textbooks, fan gear and gifts that represent over 1,200 colleges and universities in the United States, including Notre Dame, Stanford, Baylor, Villanova and Arizona State University.

Follett doesn’t own or rent the store’s space in Blanchard, but rather pays the College for the opportunity to sell their merchandise through a licensing agreement for items like school spirit-wear, imprinted gifts, essentials, caps and gowns, snacks and school supplies. Follett must remove all contents from the store space in the first few days of June, because renovation construction on the second and third floor of Blanchard will commence a few days later.

This is a similar arrangement to what the Odyssey will have with their contract starting June. The Odyssey will use the summer as a soft opening and will be ready for students in the fall for their official opening.

Emily Crowe and Joan Grenier, the store’s manager and owner respectively, have been traveling around Massachusetts visiting other college bookstores to get advice about trends, brand appeal, merchandising opportunities and about which sales representatives they will reach out to and create accounts with.

“We want to do this new job well, so we’re doing our homework,” said Crowe, because there are a lot of differences between the book industry, “which we know well,” and what it will be like to work with vendors for things like apparel, mugs, keychains and lanyards.
Crowe explained that the staff is still negotiating the contract with the College, but will officially be taking over the MHC merchandise this summer.

“We are tremendously excited about expanding that part of our business and especially the new opportunities it will provide to work with both the student and the alumni communities,” said Crowe.

Caps and gowns are ordered through Follett through a third party provider, so this job will be directed to the Odyssey in the future. The Odyssey is still working out how they will carry the essential items that the current campus store carries, such as cosmetics and snacks. They are meeting with an independent bookstore consultant to talk about the build out and redesign of the store to accommodate the new items. Crowe says to “stay tuned” for this. Gurek said that eventually there may be a “vending sort of solution,” with machines in Blanchard to get convenience items like this.

Until the Odyssey takes over, the current store will sell as much as they can and continue through their end date. Judy Nawoj, a current employee at the store who has worked there for 18 years, says that during the Commencement and Reunion weekends, the merchandise is usually “cleared out.” If there is any remaining apparel or imprinted MHC items, they will be sold back to the school.

Laurie Lombardi is another of the 7 Follett employees at the store. Lombardi tried to retire in 2013, but then returned for reunion and “had to come back,” because she missed it.
Lombardi has worked at the campus store for the last 20 years and remembers when it used to be on the bottom floor of Blanchard, next to the old student mailboxes. “Of course they got more mail at the time. They would scream when they got acceptances or LSAT scores. We had cards, trade books, full textbook rooms, sold the majority of textbooks with huge stockrooms and used to rent refrigerators," said Lombardi.

Back then, she said, they sold “real velvet hoods” for graduation gowns for $5 that "flew out of here."

Nawoj said they even had students drop off their film and the store offered photo developing. Starting in the fall, the space will be converted yet again. “The top two levels of Blanch will be renovated and ready to go in their new form and it’s almost like a tiered opening of the new Community Center,” said Gurek.

Another shift will be the mailboxes. Currently all first years get their mail in Auxiliary Services, which “was a test run,” according to Gurek. In place of the mailboxes that remain in Blanch will be a unity center. Gurek explains this will be a place where “people can come together to talk about different subjects and about how to unify and work together and think about different conversations or topics.”

Although Gurek is excited for what the Community Center will offer the campus, she admits it will be weird to separate with the Follett staff and that it was a difficult decision to make. Gurek says that there will definitely be some sort of “farewell and thank you event” for the current employees.

Each time students were asked about the store closing, they were surprised. When asked how they feel about the Blanchard Campus Store closing, Jadah Quick ’17 and Nyasha Franklin ’19 both exclaimed, “What!?”

They were shocked by the news. Quick’s first reaction was to respond with more questions on where students will get essential items. Although she’s never bought apparel at the school, she’s often taken advantage of the $1 notebooks and cosmetics since she doesn’t have a car to drive to other stores.

“It makes sense for what the school is trying to do with the new initiative for Super Blanch and the inclusive student environment they want to give us. The store does take up a lot of space,” said Quick.

Franklin’s reaction was immediate worry for the where the current employees will go after the store closes, especially since “they are so faithful to our institution.”

“The school should secure them jobs, because of how long they’ve been working here,” Franklin added.

Judy hopes to find another job through Follett in the area. Laurie says that she has enough grandchildren to keep her busy.

June 2017


On the evening of Tuesday, Feb 28, MHC Senators could be found sitting in four separate working groups. Each of these groups aims to address specific topics of student interest: AccessAbility Services, first generation and low income students, Facilities Management and the Career Development Center. The goal of these groups is to connect students with the respective offices regarding their specific concerns in order to generate positive change. Tuesday’s meeting updated attendees on the progress and concerns of each working group and introduced the directors and officers from each of the college departments addressed.

Before the working groups presented, SGA President Marwa Mikati ’17 provided administrative updates. She explained the policy regarding audio and video recording in classes that was recently passed by the College and states that students may only record classes if issued a letter from AccessAbility Services granting permission to do so. The professor must also be aware that the class is being recorded. She also highlighted the SGA Leadership Retreat that will occur this Saturday, March 4, which is open to all Mount Holyoke students. It takes place off campus, but transportation will be provided. More information and the link to RSVP are available in the campus-wide SGA email sent out Feb. 28. Mikati also informed attendees about a memorandum regarding transportation. The proposal requests that the College provide shuttles to Boston and Hartford Airports to pick students up after breaks at a lower rate than other transportation services. This is based on students’ expressed needs, and the student body will have an opportunity to provide input before the final proposal is presented to the College administration.

The first working group to present focused on AccessAbility Services. Lillia Baird ’18, senator from Jhumka, explained that the group is primarily focusing on improving communication between Access-Ability services and students. “It’s not uncommon to have difficulties when seeking services,” she said. The representatives from AccessAbility have been “very receptive” to the concerns of the working group according to Baird. Professor Amber Douglas, who has been overseeing recent transitions in the office of AccessAbility, worked with the group.

The working group focusing on first generation and low income students presented next. The group presented many of the questions that students have about their financial aid statements, ling taxes and paying for college health insurance. One solution to the confusion, according to the group, would be to provide more information to students about these topics. The group also spoke about some of the concerns of first generation college students, suggesting more resources for these students to meet each other and receive peer guidance. They shared that there is an existing group at Mount Holyoke called First Generation and Low Income Partnership, which functions under the student organization C.A.U.S.E. This group helps students of these demographics become involved with a community. This working group met with officers from Financial Services to discuss each issue presented.

The Facilities Management group detailed students’ issues with the lack of available drinking water in residence halls, specifically those with dining halls which are locked overnight and provide no outside water fountain. To solve this issue, the group is in communication with Facilities Management, whose director, Paul Breen, spoke with the group. Liz Brown ’20, senator from MacGregor Hall, explained that the group is also working on ways that they may address student concerns regarding laundry costs. Their current plan is to send a survey out to students assessing their laundry habits and present a proposal to Financial Services requesting a monetary allotment for each student to allow for a certain amount of laundry loads, instead of payments out-of-pocket.

The final group to present addressed the Career Development Center. Students’ concerns in this area were mainly related to job and internship opportunities. The lack of variety and availability of opportunities provided by the CDC was an issue, according to the group. They offered the example that many of the advertised internships relate to nance and business, yet students studying the arts and majors such as English hope to learn about more relevant opportunities. In addition, the group discussed the possibility of increased transportation to standardized testing sites and the creation of more mentoring opportunities. The group met with an officer from the CDC.

After preliminary research, each working group connected with the department with which their issues concerned. The next step for the groups is to create memorandums, according to chair of senate, Camille Gladieux ’18. Some of the memorandums created by working groups, like those that presented Tuesday, have had success in the past, such as those addressing parking and dining options. Some memorandums are more ideological and take more time, as their focuses range from very specific to very broad. “Change can happen in different forms. This is the more bureaucratic form of it,” said Gladieux.

After the meeting adjourned, dean of students Marcella Hall reflected on the topics presented by the senators and their groups. She explained that it was helpful for her to hear all of the concerns, especially those that intersected with student life. Dean Hall expressed that she took particular note of the issues concerning residence halls, the experiences of first generation students and with AccessAbility Services, as these relate to her department. “I think that myself and the officers of the College are incredibly grateful for this process,” she said of the senators’ presentations, adding that the working groups did a great job of communicating student needs. In many cases, she explained, there are parallels between what students and the administration are working on. “This is an incredible asset to us, this kind of partnership where we get to brainstorm how to make Mount Holyoke better ... We’re in it together.”



Autism Awareness Month is a misnomer. Chances are, you are aware of autistic people. The far more difficult question is whether or not you appreciate autistic people. A month that is supposed to be for the support, love and appreciation of autistic people becomes corrupted when we “light it up blue.”

If you’re unfamiliar with the phrase, “light it up blue” comes from the organization Autism Speaks. This group, rather than lifting autistic individuals up because of their autism, focuses on “curing” autistic people. I also want to make it clear that I am not autistic, but rather, I am the sister of and an advocate for my two autistic brothers. While all autistic people have important voices and perspectives to share every month, I use April as a time to share my brothers’ voices with as many as I can. My two brothers cannot talk and cannot effectively share with you what makes them happy, what makes them feel appreciated. So I will tell you.

My twin brother, David, loves nothing more than eating McDonald’s french fries, watching Disney movies on repeat, seeing airplanes take off (particularly at JFK or Bradley International, which he calls “Hannah Holyoke Airport”), and the entire state of Florida. He feels most appreciated when you take him to McDonald’s after the Special Olympics or when family comes over on Sundays for dinner.

My younger brother, Jonathan, is happiest when his family is near. He loves long walks and car rides, ketchup, puzzles and hugs. He feels most appreciated when you come home after a long time away (maybe after coming home from college).

I’m sharing these moments with you because these are what you do not see at face value. Because my brothers are nonverbal and very often make noises that do not sound like human speech, it is very easy for those walking by to stare and gawk. This is the “awareness” part — I’m sure that people are aware of my brothers’ neurodivergence when they stim and yell in public. I want all autistic people to be appreciated as they are and without any need to change or make us more comfortable. Appreciation is the next step. Appreciation is not supporting an organization that doesn’t support autism and autistic people as they are. It is celebrating the diversity, talents and voices of autistic people.
August  2017