Eunice Kennedy connects with CCS students

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, executive vice president of the Joe P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation and founder of the Special Olympics, came to the College on Tuesday, Oct. 31 to observe the Career and Community Studies (CCS) program.

The CCS program is designed to give students with disabilities an opportunity for higher education at the College.

Accompanying her were Jane West, her personal assistant, Madeline Will, the Assistant Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan and representative for the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), and Steve Riggio, CEO of Barnes and Noble and benefactor of the CCS program through NDSS.

Shriver and the other guests began their visit to the College by meeting the six CCS students and faculty members. This was followed by a presentation about the program. Finally, they attended a class where they observed the first year seminar Human Ability Unplugged, a class with both CCS students and non-CCS freshmen, taught by Jerry Petroff, co-director of the CCS program.

The class session featured a guest speaker, Bernard Carabello, a man with cerebral palsy who was institutionalized from age 3 to 21, when he escaped. He has since worked to abolish the institution system.

Carabello spoke of the abuse he faced in the Willowbrook institution. Such abuse included being put in a straightjacket, getting beaten with sticks and having his head kicked against a wall. He emphasized that such abuse exists today in institutions.

“This is the year 2006 and we still have institutions,” Carabello said. “That is so hard to believe after all we did in the ’70s and ’80s. There’s still abuse going on.”

One story, Carabello recalled, occurred in 1966 when Sen. Robert Kennedy, Shriver’s brother, came to Willowbrook to visit the institution. “They gave us new clothes all because Sen. Kennedy came to visit,” he explained.

Shriver then asked him, “What happened after that?”

Carabello said everything went back to the normal conditions of abuse after Kennedy’s visit.

Shriver continued to be involved in the class discussion, asking what has changed people’s minds concerning discrimination toward and the institutionalization of disabled people in the last 50 years.

“I don’t think we were educated enough,” Carabello replied.

Shriver also emphasized that, despite the abuse cited by Carabello, America is one of the most progressive countries in the world concerning the treatment of people with disabilities.

“I think if you go overseas you don’t find any country that does as much good as we do,” she said.

When Shriver left, she shook hands with both Carabello and Petroff, and encouraged the students in the class.

“Keep after them, keep it up,” she said. “Just keep after everybody and say ‘It’s your turn.'”

Carabello said he was “honored” when he found out he would be speaking in front of Shriver and other guests. “I have a lot of respect for Shriver,” he said.

“Carabello was thrilled to be part of it,” Petroff said.

Carabello was unsure of how Shriver reacted to the fact that abuse still exists in institutions, however. “I’m not sure of her reaction in general,” he said. “I would say . she was surprised that abuse is still going on.”

Nicole Gallo, freshman open options in the school of Culture and Society and member of the Human Ability Unplugged class, said, “It was an enlightening experience to see such a strong, resilient individual stand up for his beliefs and have Shriver there to hear his experiences and show her support for the College.”

William Behre, dean of the School of Education, thought the class was interesting as well. “It was neat how (Shriver) took part in the class,” he said. “I thought it was interesting when she had the exchange with Carabello about Sen. Kennedy’s visit.”

Class member Kaitlin Drew, freshman deaf education/English major, said, “I thought the dynamic between her and (Carabello) was really interesting.”

Shriver’s visit was put together by Rebecca Daley, coordinator of the CCS program, and the Kennedy Foundation.

Rick Blumberg, co-director of the CCS program, was the facilitator for the morning session with Shriver. He introduced the guests and facilitated discussion with the CCS students and their mentors.

Daley prepared the CCS students with their presentations.

“The students had prepared for her arrival by putting their thoughts down on paper,” Daley said. “They did some research and became very well informed of Shriver and her and her family’s efforts regarding persons with disabilities. They did not appear to be very nervous, but rather looked forward to the whole event of her coming.”

Asim Safdar, a freshman CCS student, said, “I felt very excited when I learned that Shriver was coming to visit us,” he said. “It was neat talking to important people.”

“We had an overwhelming positive response from all of our guests,” Daley said. “Shriver was engaged and involved in many discussions. I think we could not have held a more dynamic and engaging event.”