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New Award Proposed by the Mills Disability Alliance

Honoring a former employee, the Mills Disability Alliance has proposed a new award for faculty members who show dedication and awareness of students with disabilities.

A proposal for the Ruth Masayko award is circulating among faculty and department chairs. The annual award, whose recipient would be voted on by students, goes to a faculty member who has “shown a unique willingness to accommodate students with disability needs and who seeks to understand students’ situations,” according to the proposal.

Ginny Murphy, president of MDA, said the award has two main goals: “One main purpose is to create awareness of abilism issues. The other is just to be thankful and recognize people who’ve made a difference.”

There would be a general nomination period where students nominate professors they feel are deserving. The top three or five candidates would be selected for the final voting.

In the proposal, MDA is also seeking feedback from faculty about how students with both physical and learning disabilities are accommodated in the classroom and on campus.

“We decided we wanted positive reinforcement,” said junior Grace Campbell, a member of MDA.

Several members of the club met with President Janet Holmgren and Hilda Hernandez-Gravelle early in the semester when they first thought of the award. It was after Masayko’s resignation was announced early in the semester that they decided to name the award after her.

“I can’t express in words how I feel,” said Masayko, a self-described “chatty” woman who said she was speechless when the announcement was made at her farewell. Calling it one of her proudest moments next to having her children, Masayko said, “It’s so personal and special deep down in my heart,” modestly adding that her former colleagues at OSL also deserve recognition for their work with students

Masayko started SSD, the Services for Students with Disabilities (formerly DSS) over 10 years ago. Masayko, a Mills alum, worked as a master tutor for students with disabilities, while she was a student at Mills. After graduating in 1992 with a BA in English, she was hired by the College and began officially building the program in the fall of that year. Early funding to develop SSD came primarily from the donations of two alumnae, Masayko said, along with an allotted budget from the College. When the program started, Masayko said she was assisting 35 students, the majority of whom had non-apparent disabilities. Today, SSD assists nearly 150 Mills students.

Masayko said her decision to leave SSD was based on a number of factors. Currently pursuing another Mills degree, her doctorate in education, she wanted more time to focus on her studies. “I think it was just time for me to go,” she said, adding,” I think things are changing at Mills, and the administration wants a different path for student services to follow.” Having built the program from the ground up, Masayko said she wasn’t sure she was prepared to stay and see the program change drastically.

“When we found out Ruth was leaving, we wanted to do something, as a club, for her, and this was already in the works,” said junior Rosalie McGie. “Once we named it, it was like here we go.”

The group, open to all students interested in issues of abilism, aims to “increase awareness of ability issues” and “find solutions to issues of discrimination as they arise through discussion and critical thinking,” according to their mission statement.