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Dianne Hengst aims to make disability part of nation's diversity discussion

Dianne Hengst

Dianne Hengst

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(Aug. 12, 2014) -- Third-generation San Antonian Dianne Hengst lived in a home that hosted international students from South Africa, Germany and Iceland. Her mother also cared for foster children, some of whom had disabilities.

As a child, Dianne never thought those children and teens were different. She just saw diversity, and she thought her family was cool.

"My family was accepting and inclusive," Hengst recalls, looking back on those good times.

It wasn't until years later, when she ventured outside San Antonio, that she realized her family, and her hometown, were unique.

"When I was growing up, San Antonio didn't seem to have the challenges with diversity that you saw in other parts of the country," Hengst recalls. "We were a diverse community, and we all just got along. In fact, it was more than that. We embraced our diversity."

As Hengst worked to earn her Ph.D. at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, a faculty member challenged her to advance the diversity discussion.

"I learned there was a space to teach others how to value and embrace diversity -- diversity that included disability."

Today, Hengst serves as the director of UTSA Student Disability Services. On paper, the office provides services to help students gain access so they can be successful. In reality, it does so much more.

Beyond meeting the immediate accommodation needs of students with disabilities, the Student Disability Services office works closely with Student Health Services and Counseling Services to provide comprehensive support to approximately 800 UTSA students with disabilities. Hengst says the three offices are a natural fit; they often end up seeing the same students and by working together, they're better able to help those Roadrunners navigate the challenges associated with their disabilities. Together, they have advocated for policy changes to support students with disabilities.

Some campuses say they value diversity, but Hengst says UTSA walks the walk. "It's owned here. And it's owned from the top down."

Despite the advances, though, there's still a lot of work to do. Many UTSA students have had such negative experiences leading up to UTSA that they're afraid to ask for help.

Hengst remembers one student in particular -- an international student who dreamed of becoming a scholar but stuttered. His disability would have barred him from graduate school in his home country. Filled with anguish, he lingered outside Student Disability Services for more than an hour before he gathered up the courage to go in and ask for help.

"Some people are afraid to talk about disabilities," she says. "In actuality, we should be scared to not talk about them. Shame and fear create a dynamic that pits people against each other."

As Hengst brings disability into the diversity discussion, she hopes UTSA will become a recognized model for other universities across the country. She wants people to understand that disabilities aren't weaknesses. Today, college students with disabilities compete under the same admissions requirements as other prospective students and they master the same curriculum. But they do these things while managing and overcoming their disabilities.

"Disability is an aspect of human experience that crosses all boundaries of race, class and gender, and it leaves a trail in all societies," says Hengst. "I see people with disabilities, perhaps more than any other group, possess attributes that help them adjust on a daily basis because they must think creatively about how to solve problems and accomplish tasks. Students with disabilities are one of UTSA's greatest assets."

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Events
Feb. 5, 6:15 p.m.

First Friday Stargazing

The UTSA Department of Physics and Astronomy's Curtis Vaughan Observatory will offer free stargazing for the public beginning on top of the 4th floor of the Flawn Science Building. Experienced astronomers will be on hand to show a variety of astronomical objects and answer any questions. This event is free and open to the public, so feel free to invite friends and family.
Curtis Vaughan Observatory

Feb. 6, All Day

10th annual San Antonio Writing Project Teachers' Conference

This year's keynote speaker is Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisper. The event will feature breakout sessions and a presentation by the Creative Writers from North East School of the Arts. The event is free and open to all teachers from Pre-K through university level. Attendees can earn a certificate for 3 hours of Professional Development Credit.
Riklin Auditorium (FS1.406), Downtown Campus

Feb. 9, 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. & 6 - 9 p.m.

Rowdy Gras 2016

The UTSA community is invited to attend the 3rd annual Rowdy Gras celebration! This year Rowdy Gras includes a daytime event from 11 a.m. -1 p.m. with a free food tasting and music on the UC Paseo. The main event takes place from 6 - 9 p.m. in the UC Lawn. The event includes free food, live jazz music, activities and giveaways.
University Center Paseo & Lawn, UTSA Main Campus

Feb. 10, 5:30 p.m.

UTSA College of Architecture, Construction and Planning 2015-16 Speaker Series

The UTSA College of Architecture, Construction and Planning’s 2015-16 Speaker Series continues with Dana Cuff, Ph.D., a professor of architecture and urbanism at the University of California, Los Angeles. In her talk, Cuff will discuss new forms of “studio” and new types of practices. Free and open to the public.
Aula Canaria Lecture Hall (BV 1.328), UTSA Downtown Campus

Feb. 13, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

29th annual Asian Festival - Year of the Monkey

The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures invites Texas and Texans to the Asian Festival. What began as a traditional family reunion for the Chinese New Year has expanded to include other Asian communities and participants, showcasing their unique culture and traditions.
The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures

Feb. 13, 1 p.m.

2016 Interdisciplinary Studies Colloquium

Join the UTSA Department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching in celebrating interdisciplinary inquiry at the 2016  Interdisciplinary Studies Colloquium.  The colloquium will include a panel of faculty and recent doctoral graduate and a showcase of the best IDS undergraduate inquiry projects of the year 2015. The event is free and open to the public.
Business Building (BB 2.06.04), UTSA Main Campus

Feb. 23, 5:30 p.m.

African-American Social Welfare Pioneers Responding to Community Needs

The UTSA College of Public Policy presents the Dean's Distinguished Lecture Series featuring Dr. Iris Carlton-LaNey, Professor of the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Dr. Iris Carlton LaNey will speak to the UTSA community about the role and impact of African-Americans in the social work profession.
Buena Vista Theater (BV 1.326), Downtown Campus

Feb. 23, 7 p.m.

Presentation and Book Signing with Luis Carlos Montalvan

Please join us for a presentation and book signing by Luis Carlos Montalván (Fmr. Capt., USA), author of the New York Times Bestseller Until Tuesday and the international award-winning childrens book Tuesday Tucks Me In. His books will be available for purchase at the UTSA Bookstore. This event is free and open to the public.
Southwest Room (DB 1.124), Downtown Campus

Feb. 25, 6 p.m.

12th Annual Black Heritage Gala

The 12th Annual Black Heritage Gala is a formal event which includes a student performance, keynote remarks by Michael Brown, an award presentation, dinner and dancing. Tickets are $10 for UTSA students and $15 for all other guests. Tickets are on sale now at Roadrunner Express. Contact (210) 458-4770 for more information.
H-E-B University Center Ballroom, Main Campus

Feb. 27, 9 a.m.

Cultural Contrasts in Latin America

The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures will host a free workshop focusing on teaching Latin American culture and geography for students seeking their teacher certification. The workshop includes free resources for teaching Latin American subject matter as well as presentations on language, identity, music, geography, and political and developmental history, and a special educators’ tour of the museum’s Los Tejanos exhibit. Free with registration.
The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures (ITC 3.01.02)


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