Recently, I spoke to my college students about excellence.  I teach a 9:30 am seminar, and I became annoyed with latecomers showing up at 9:40, 9:50, 10:30 am, or later.  I asked them a few questions.

You set a doctor’s appointment, and you show up on time, but the doctor shows up late.  How would you feel?  How would you feel if you dropped off your clothing at the cleaners, and got the clothing back with holes in it?  You hire a lawyer to defend you against a lawsuit.  You both show up in court, and you realize that your lawyer hasn’t done his homework and has no clue what he’s talking about.  What would you do?

Students responded that they’d file complaints, refuse payment, and even sue.  They all have higher standards for other people than themselves.  They all see college as a necessary step to becoming police officers, nurses, elementary school teachers, and other professions.  Their actions trigger my suspicion that they want the degree more than the education. Hopefully, they’ll eventually see that an education is about more than getting a job that pays well.  An education helps us to be of service to others.

I started the certificate program in Adult Learning after I got my job, because I wanted to, not because I was mandated to.  Most of the people in my program are in the same boat.  We didn’t come here to get a job.  We came here because we want to be excellent at what we do.  We want to be excellent because we care about adult learners.  Having classmates who are curious and committed and enthusiastic makes a 6:30-8:30 pm class enjoyable, broadens my thinking, inspires me to try new things at work and, ultimately, enables me to be of better service to my students.

I hear that CUNY SPS students are unique in that a lot of us are already working, and came here to get better.  I know that education is also even more than about doing a job better.  It can be a transformative experience.  Until my students realize that, I’d be grateful to hear from other students about the interplay between their studies and their work.

Rhonda Harrison is currently studying at CUNY SPS to earn her post-graduate certificate in Adult Learning & Program Design. She is a social worker with a background in workforce development and currently works as an Advisor at a community college.

“She has been convicted. Bail revoked.”

Those are the words I received in an email from a former professor of mine. Anna Stubblefield was convicted of two accounts of rape. The verdict reached my email on Friday at 11:59am.

I know, some people are happy. They think, “A rapist has been put in jail and now Dman and his family can begin to heal.” That statement is the furthest from the truth.

The disability community is in so much emotional pain right now. For myself and so many of the members of the disability community this is history on repeat. Over and over again we are denied rights, are silenced and locked away. All because society has placed us in a figurative box, we can’t be sexual, we’re not worthy of love and we’re not people. Having impairments dehumanizes us according to society. If we can’t speak the way society demands we do, then we’re truly invisible.

Twelve people—a mixture of women and men of many different racial backgrounds, all of them appearing able-bodied, ruined two lives, those of Anna Stubblefield and Dman Johnson. Did they know what they were doing? Yes. They had a different viewpoint though. Those people thought as they sat in the jury room that they had the power to “save the disabled boy,” “make things right” and “serve justice” because, “She should’ve known better than to be sexual with someone physically helpless and mentally defective.”

Let’s take a glimpse at who they really imprisoned. Literally speaking, Stubblefield is sitting behind bars. She’s not serving a life sentence so eventually she’ll be free. Or will she? Stubblefield can never get a job working in any kind of teaching position EVER again. Once she is free, finding a place to live might be difficult, as her name will be added to the sex offender’s list. She’s lost her place in the world. Her name will forever be tainted.

With the guilty verdict also came a second imprisonment: Dman’s. No, he’s not literally behind bars. Instead he’s serving a “life sentence” of being denied independence, his voice and a life of his own. His voice forever silenced by the State of New Jersey. Not once was he allowed to speak during a trial that revolved around him. Instead the prosecution made assumptions. They ASSUMED he was “mentally defective” and “physically helpless.” He will remain forever imprisoned in society’s perception of disability.

As a member of the disability community, I can’t help but feel angry, upset and guilty about the entire situation. I’m angry because it’s 2015 and the state of New Jersey still views disability through a eugenics mindset. To the state, Dman and Stubblefield could never have loved one another. How could they? Stubblefield is able-bodied and Dman is disabled. They still frame love as an emotion that is exclusively open and entitled to able-bodied people. In contrast, people with disabilities are believed to be non sexual—“She can’t have sex, she’s in a wheelchair,” or “He’s too mentally defective to consent to sex or know what is going on.” People with disabilities shouldn’t be sexual or romantically involved with each other or able-bodied people because they’re inferior, simply because society can’t or doesn’t want to process the concept of us having sexual desires or romantic relationships. The moment people realized Dman could be and was sexual was when the relationship between Stubblefield and him was torn apart. This is eugenics era thinking, an outdated way of perceiving disabilities and the people who have them.

I’m also upset because after all that we, as people with disabilities have experienced—sterilization, institutionalization, the fight for civil rights leading to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990—all of these milestones are meaningless if society still views people who use different methods of communication or have “severe physical disabilities” as “mentally defective” and “physically helpless.” The outcome of the Stubblefield case demonstrates that we still have a long way to go as a society in terms of the acceptance and inclusion of people with disabilities. After the verdict, I’m wondering when and if our society will ever get to that point.

Lastly, I feel guilty. As irony would have it, I received the news of the verdict as I was on my way to a CUNY Coalition for Students with Disabilities (CCSD) meeting. We were electing a new E-board and discussing various ways in which we can create change and make the overall CUNY experience better for students with disabilities. How could I think of creating change with and for my fellow disabled CUNY students when Dman was locked in the narrow box of society’s perceptions of disability and the one person who had the chance at helping him gain independence was sitting behind bars? All because they loved and wanted to be with each other? It just didn’t feel right. It still doesn’t. I get to spend time with each person I love and care about while the legal system denies Dman and Stubblefield that same opportunity.

My thoughts and support go out to Dman, Stubblefield, everyone that knows them and the disability community during this very sad and difficult time. If I’ve learned anything from this case, it’s that I need and will continue to advocate for and alongside the disability community, especially for the members of the community who use different forms of communication and are silenced by society. None of them will go unheard.

#freeDman #FreeAnna

Danielle Lucchese is a second year graduate student in CUNY SPS’s MA in Disability Studies program. Born and raised in Staten Island, she moved to Manhattan last year at the start of her CUNY SPS experience. When Danielle’s not hitting the books or writing papers, she enjoys exploring New York City, photography, writing poetry, playing volleyball, reading fantasy novels, listening to music and spending time with family and friends. 

I speak very candidly about my past. I have experienced homelessness, independence at an extremely early age. However, the one thing never changes and always remains are the choices that I have made. In life the only thing we can control is our choices. We can’t decide the family we belong to, or what adversity we will receive, the only thing we can change is our reaction to these circumstances.

I have been on my own since I was 15, with a very strained relationship with my parents. I have since, moved past the circumstances that caused this strain and am content with my decisions. I’ve been in recently deliberating law school or my future and the manner in which I have chosen to live for such a career that I was thinking about choices.

Now as a mother, I always pray that I will instill enough in my daughter that although I will not always agree with her decisions, that she makes decisions that she can grow up, reflect and be proud of. Decisions made today, can haunt your future when they are made equivocally.

I am proud to look back and realize that I struggled for many years, from hunger, homelessness and trying to balance, work, life and school. However, I never gave up, I still haven’t given up, but most importantly than any of that, no matter how hard life got, I fought the good fight to be someone that when I achieved success I could inspire others by doing it the right way. It didn’t matter if it was the longest, hardest, toughest way. I chose to fight. So my words to you today are, no matter how hard life gets, no matter how hard life hits, you swing right back and keep fighting for your dreams, your ambitions, for your path.

My biggest dream is to work with children because I myself grew up at 15. I want to be the person that can tell them that I believe in them because I can recall when I made the choice to take my GED at 16, (I was on college level then) I had someone who believed in me. I enrolled in college immediately after completing this. Unfortunately, I had to put a roof over my head, and worry about other things that school had to take side steps. The one thing that again remained was, I was constantly in and out of school. Because no matter what I knew I had to do this. This is my choice and I still choose this today.

Jessica is a full time mother, employee, and student. She works as an Immigration Paralegal and is working towards a Bachelor’s degree in Business. Jessica loves to volunteer with organizations that are targeted towards children. She recognizes that children are our future and sometimes they need someone who believes in them.
Jessica’s motto: Balancing everything is difficult but achievable. 
One of Jessica’s greatest passions is writing. She says, “You have the ability to connect with reader’s in a way that speaking sometimes you simply can’t explain. I have been through a lot in my personal life and am very open about my struggles, but I live to be an example to not only my own daughter but to others.”

The Leftovers, HBO’s drama based on the novel of the same name written by Tom Perrotta, returned this Sunday for its second season. Season 1 focused primarily on the people of Mapleton, a fictional town about an hour drive north of Manhattan, and their dealing with the mysterious disappearance of 2% of the world’s population. In season 2 the story shifts to Jarden, Texas, appropriately nicknamed Miracle National Park, as not one person was taken from them in the Sudden Departure.

There is a bleak nature to The Leftovers, unlike anything else on TV at the moment (perhaps the only thing close in the “dark” department is, oddly enough, Review, which is great, but a comedy) that sucked me in entirely midway through last year’s first season. It’s grim. It’s depressing. Add that to a level of despair that will undoubtedly turn people off. It’s a divisive show, with a view of the world most people wouldn’t dare tackle nor one they want to be a part of.

Damon Lindelof, co-creator/writer, is no stranger to polarizing television. When LOST ended it’s 6 season run in 2010, many were unhappy, feeling they were left with more questions than answers. I was not one of those people, but I can’t argue with those who thought the show should’ve gone in a different direction. I didn’t agree with all the decisions made regarding the final couple of seasons, but I believe no less in Lindelof, who helped create something wholly original and unique, unlike anything else on TV then and with its failed copycats in the years since.

Alan Sepinwall, excellent TV critic for, posted a wonderfully candid interview with Lindelof that gives great insight into the process of creating such a show, and the pitfalls of controlling something the magnitude of LOST.

The Leftovers is a show about grief, but it’s also a show about hope. A hope that these people can move on with their lives. Maybe not to rebuild the lives they once had, but to expand on lives they never thought possible. The departed are not coming back. We, the viewer, have been told by the creators that we won’t ever find out what happened to them. That focuses us entirely on what’s happening on-screen, right in front of us. There’s a supernatural aspect of the show that’s exciting in a non-alien way. No matter what your religious allegiances, it’s a show that tests your faith.

Mapleton has burned, figuratively, and to a point, literally. The Garveys, along with Nora (Carrie Coon’s performance as Nora Durst is transcendent and one of the great new TV finds in recent memory) are leaving that behind to start anew. I can’t wait to join them.

Here’s a beautiful piece of music from season 1’s Soundtrack. Part of a deep, emotional, and often contemplative score:

Twitter: @BobbyJDaniels

Robert is a current student here at CUNY SPS, pursuing a degree in Communication and Media. He is interested in platforms of media, especially those related to digital media; and a fan of serious film as well as this current golden age of television.

When I was a social work student studying for my MSW, my professor said that every family is built on an economic “floor.” In other words, families need a certain level of income in order to be stabile. The more holes in the floor, the more unstable the family, triggering the need for social services & income supports.

Despite the fact that fast food workers will soon be able to make $15 an hour, the living wage debate is still continuing. On the evening of Thursday, 10/08, there will be an event in support of a real living wage in New York City. Check out the link to find out more at

I don’t know exactly what will be happening, but I hope to check it out. Maybe I’ll see some of you there and we can debrief the whole event later.

Rhonda Harrison is currently studying at CUNY SPS to earn her post-graduate certificate in Adult Learning & Program Design. She is a social worker with a background in workforce development and currently works as an Advisor at a community college.

Dear people seeking justice for Dman,

You think you are doing good on the side of humanity. You believe that you’re “saving” another person with a disability from being “taken advantage” of. You take pity on him and his family. Why do you feel like Dman was abused? Violated? Since I first heard of this case, I realized this case was not as straightforward as you and the media made it appear. This case goes beyond what you claim is abuse. Beyond a man with physical disabilities. Beyond hydrocephalus and cerebral palsy.

I have disabilities. My eyes sometimes like to play intense volleyball matches against each other, preventing me from seeing objects and people as they really are at that moment–it’s called nystagmus. Additionally, like Dman, I too have hydrocephalus. My quality of life is dependent upon a shunt, a tube in the back of my head that regulates the drainage of the fluid from my brain.

People here me out. They see me. Listen to each syllable I speak. They treat me like the 23-year-old graduate student that I am. My voice is heard. This is what is missing, from the Stubblefield case. I mean after all, aren’t there supposed to be two sides in any court case? In terms of this case the voices that should be heard in the courtroom are those of Anna Stubblefield and Dman Johnson. Why then is this case different? Why is only Stubblefield’s voice heard? I know why.

Dman was silenced because of his disabilities, especially because they impact his speech. Both hydrocephalus and cerebral palsy, like many disabilities, affect each person differently. My hydrocephalus did not impact my voice in any way. My friends with cerebral palsy can speak. Dman cannot “speak,” at least not in the way that society or the courtroom see fit. He can communicate though.

Have you heard of facilitated communication (FC)? I know it’s been forbidden to be said in the courtroom. I know, it’s “controversial” but did you ever think that for Dman, it’s his way to communicate? Don’t you think his voice should be heard? If you hired an independent facilitator, who is not associated with Dman or Stubblefield, then the court could get Dman’s side of the story. You had a different agenda though. You didn’t let him speak. You wanted to keep things “simple.” You’re too afraid to “complicate” the argument. So your solution? Deem him incompetent and parade him around the courtroom like kindergarten show and tell project. To you the voice of a person with a disability was too much for you–both in the effort it would take to allow him to share his story and in the emotional toll it would take on you. Allowing Dman to have a voice would mean that he would be heard and the images you constructed of him and disability would be shattered.

You claim this case is about sexual assault and harm to a disabled person. You’re right about the harm but for the WRONG reasons. Dman was harmed but it certainly was not by Stubblefield. Instead, it was YOU who harmed him.

Dman is an adult. He was attending college. He presented at the Society for Disability Studies. He had some aspects of independence. In an instant however, his independence was taken from him.

Throughout a trial where he is the focal point, he is absent. This is all too common with people with disabilities. Especially with disabilities that impact the ability to speak. If you wanted to prevent Dman from harm, you would do whatever is necessary to let him communicate his side of the story. You would give him his voice back.

You denied him communication. You think nobody cares or will notice. The truth is the disability community and many other people noticed that you silenced Dman and as a member of the disability community, I chose to speak up.

#lethimcommunicate #liberateDman


A Disabled Person

If you’re unfamiliar with the case, here’s a blog post by fellow CUNY SPS student Emily Brooks.

Danielle Lucchese is a second year graduate student in CUNY SPS’s MA in Disability Studies program. Born and raised in Staten Island, she moved to Manhattan last year at the start of her CUNY SPS experience. When Danielle’s not hitting the books or writing papers, she enjoys exploring New York City, photography, writing poetry, playing volleyball, reading fantasy novels, listening to music and spending time with family and friends. 

Shanntell Hamilton is pursing a degree in Communication and Media here at CUNY SPS. She works at the Freelancers Union providing holistic medical care. She recently completed prior learning assessment courses and shares her experience with us.

Shanntelle Hamilton

1. Why did you choose to continue your education at CUNY SPS?

At the time, I was looking for an online university that caters to my busy schedule; being that CUNY SPS is also a CUNY school and supportive of my personal needs, this was perfect for me.

2. What is the single most important professional or personal goal that you would like to achieve while at CUNY SPS or after graduation?

While attending CUNY SPS I would like to achieve more confidence in my writing, and I plan on achieving that goal by participating in the writing workshops offered at CUNY SPS.

3. Why did you decide to participate in PLA at CUNY SPS?

I felt for years that my job experience has gone unnoticed due to the fact I didn’t finish college. I felt that my work experience would be recognized and that PLA would also bring out the college knowledge in my work that I didn’t know I had.

4. How has the PLA opportunity helped you progress at CUNY SPS? Has it changed your view of what it means to return to school? If yes, how?

After completing PLA I have received a total of 9 credits which almost fulfilled my requirements of required elective courses, because of PLA I will now be graduating a semester early. PLA has also given me the confidence that no matter your age or circumstance you can take your experience and go back to school and achieve your goals.

5. In which ways do you believe you have or will benefit from PLA?

My on the job skills have improved and now I have more confidence knowing that I received college credits.

6. What did you learn, if anything, from the PLA process?

From the PLA process I’ve learned how to build a portfolio. My PLA portfolio was the first portfolio I have ever constructed.

7. What advice would you offer someone considering application for admission to your degree program? What advice would you offer someone considering PLA at CUNY SPS?

I would say when considering the Communication and Media degree your writing is crucial, and be prepared to write articles, blogs, journal entries, and create portfolios. Also be passionate about current events and the all the media platforms changing our world on a daily bases. When Considering PLA be prepared to interact with classmates and your instructors and have a good time dissecting your on the job skills.

There have been so many times when I’ve felt like life was impossible. Whether it was work, home or tough circumstances, facing a wall of doubt and fear isn’t easy. Maybe you’ve also felt this way at some point, but I’m here to share that I’ve learned “impossible” all depends on how you look at it.

In May of 1999 I was finishing up the spring semester at a private university and was 47 credits away from my BA in Health Care Administration—I was on my way to accomplishing a dream—getting my bachelor’s degree! Everything came to a sudden halt that June with the unexpected death of my father. It was a really difficult time for my family and I, and I knew school had to be put on the back burner while I helped my mother and family get through this…and I myself needed to figure out this new life without my dad. Years went by and things moved forward as best they could, but I left the dream of finishing my degree on the funeral home steps that year.

I thought about going back to school for years, but the older I got the smaller that thought became; it just seemed impossible. One day a friend challenged me to find a school, fill out an application and apply. I usually can’t resist a good challenge so I thought to myself, “fine, I’ll just apply.” I hadn’t been in school for FIFTEEN years so going back was impossible in my mind!

Guess what? I was accepted into CUNY School for Professional Studies and fifteen (15) years later, I find myself working towards my BA in Psychology! Psychology of all majors!! Impossible! Truthfully, I was scared to death of what it would be like to juggle a full time job, a hectic home life and school. Perhaps psychology was a perfect choice since I wondered what I was thinking!!

The thought of going back to school seemed impossible, learning how to study again seemed impossible, the hard work seemed impossible, but then I realized it’s just about how I was looking at that word. Impossible. The word impossible itself has motivation built in it—impossible for me became I’M possible!! When I felt overwhelmed and questioned my decision to return, I say to myself DIANNE, I’M POSSIBLE and I’m reminded I can do this and I’m doing it!!!! I’ve now completed 4 semesters and I couldn’t be happier! It’s hard work, but it’s also given me back the ability to dream about the day I get my degree. Impossible is a word of the past!

So, if you’ve let go of a dream like I had, or are just facing a really tough time in your life right now and the circumstances seem impossible, I encourage you to take a breath, say a prayer and remember nothing is impossible—if I’M POSSIBLE then so are you!!!

Till next time……


Dianne Galasso is a Brooklyn native since birth! In 1991, she received her AAS in Journalism from Kingsborough Community College. She studied at St. John’s University from 1993-1999. Dianne has had photographic and written work published, as well as has edited for other published authors. Since 1991, Dianne has worked at a medical center in Brooklyn in various job functions, currently as a Manager in the Nursing Education Department. She has coached girls’ softball, volunteered in the women’s and children’s ministry in her local church and is an active resource in the lives of children.  After a 15 year hiatus from school, Dianne is currently a student at CUNY SPS where she is pursuing her BA in Psychology.

Kathryn Walker is a current undergraduate student in our Business program who used past work experiences to earn Prior Learning Assessment credits towards her degree. She shares her thoughts on the experience with us.

Kathryn Walker discusses Prior Learning Assessment at CUNY SPS

1. Why did you choose to continue your education at CUNY SPS?

Professional progression can be somewhat hindered without at least a BS. Today, having an AS does not wield the impressive influence that it did 25 years ago (when I received my AS). In going back to school to complete my BS, I needed a flexible schedule so that I could juggle school with my full-time job and home responsibilities. Although there are several on-line schools, CUNY SPS had the best price with a high-quality brand name.

2. What is the single most important professional or personal goal that you would like to achieve while at CUNY SPS or after graduation?

Personally, I look forward to losing the weight I gained since starting back to school. Professionally, I look forward to having increased opportunities. With a combination of extensive experience in making executives look ridiculously good and an official, formal BS—look out!

3. Why did you decide to participate in PLA at CUNY SPS?

One complaint that I had with CUNY SPS was that there was no “experience” credits available. Having to take every course for every credit made the attainment of the degree especially long, and in some cases, frustrating. With my experience, there were some classes that I thought, “Why on earth do I have to waste my time and energy doing this?” Doing the PLA gave me the opportunity to gain credits for the PLA class itself and credits for a class called Writing at Work. This afforded me the time and energy to spend on another class, thus fulfilling the curriculum a little faster.

4. How has the PLA opportunity helped you progress at CUNY SPS? Has it changed your view of what it means to return to school? If yes, how? 

PLA helped me to fulfil the curriculum a little faster. It did not change my view of returning to school. It would have been helpful to have had “experience” credits available sooner. One classmate in the program (from another school) said that he had received 36 credits for previous work experience, and he was on target to finish his BS after one year. I kind of felt like a schmuck because I had been forging along for three years, and at that time, was only eligible for 6 credits with the classes I had left. It was still worth it though—every bit helps.

5. In which ways do you believe you have or will benefit from PLA?

I thought it was an interesting exercise in analysis. Explaining one’s knowledge is usually an abbreviated variation of “I know stuff because I’ve done stuff.” PLA asks students to elaborate on the “stuff:” what did you do; what were the circumstances that led you to do what you did; what did you observe while doing what you did; what did you learn from your observation; and how have you applied that learning to the point of confidently being able to say “I know.” PLA teaches a student to methodically analyze and explain the claim that he/she knows something. Interesting, but also exhausting.

6. What did you learn, if anything, from the PLA process?

I know a lot of stuff ☺.

7. What advice would you offer someone considering application for admission to your degree program? What advice would you offer someone considering PLA at CUNY SPS?

The sooner you start back to school, the better. The longer you put off going back to school, the more out-of-sync you are with everyone else in your life. That being said, it is never too late to go back to school. Just do it. If there are any ways to get credits for life experience or work experience, take advantage of them as soon as possible. Understand that every class will take a minimum of 12 hours per week, so you need to allow sufficient time for this. Pace yourself and manage your time wisely to lessen the chance of being overwhelmed.

What is Universal Design?
by Antonia Levy & Christopher Leydon

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word accessibility?

Ramps, designated bathroom stalls, closed captioned video, or maybe screenreading software? While these things allow people with physical disabilities or sensory impairments to use the school’s facilities, creating a truly inclusive institution involves more than making architectural adjustments or offering technological aids. It means building accessibility into all services we offer — including our website and the videos posted on it, online course sites and the documents posted on them, and even the forms used by admissions, financial aid, or human resources.

“What if there was a paradigm for higher education that would simultaneously address issues of equality, accessibility, social integration, and community? … What if it provided guidance for physical spaces, student services, and technology? Universal Design (UD) in higher education can do all this and more.” (Burgstahler 2008: 3)

Universal Design is a set of design principles originally developed for commercial products and architectural design with the intention to “design for all” beyond mere accommodations. Universal Design in Learning (UDL), which takes its inspiration from these principles, is now a widely used paradigm in education for more inclusive teaching and learning. The following table illustrates these principles with a few examples of how each applies to instructional and non-instructional contexts at institutions of higher education. (Click on table below to view full size file, or view Accessible PDF.)

CUNY SPS Blog - Table for UD Principles

(Table adapted from Burgstahler 2008: 14-16; UDL Online Project 2009.)

Implementing Universal Design means considering accessibility in every decision we make, and all of the tasks we perform. With UD, accessibility isn’t the icing on the cake, instead it’s baked right in.

This article kicks off a monthly series introducing Universal Design (UD) as it applies to the context of higher education and to our work at CUNY SPS. Over the coming months we will cover each of the seven principles of UD with practical examples for both faculty and staff, including things you might not immediately associate with accessibility — or inaccessibility. Catch you next month!

Questions or feedback? Email or

Burgstahler, S. E. (2008). Universal Design in Higher Education. In S. Burgstahler & R. Cory (Eds.), Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice, 3-20. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

UDL Online Project. (2009). Examples of UDI in Online and Blended Courses. Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability, University of Connecticut, Storrs.


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