Friday, September 04, 2015

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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Did You Know?

UTSA writes the book on all-digital libraries

As touch screens and e-books demand more and more attention from both casual readers and scholars, many people say the handwriting is on the wall for the printed page.

At UTSA, the handwriting is on the wall for a library that doesn't have any printed books.

Since March 2010, the bookless library in the Applied Engineering and Technology Building has given UTSA students an innovative way to read, research and work with each other to solve problems.

With ultra-modern furniture and a décor featuring desktop computers, scanners and LCD screens, the AET Library is designed to engage students in an online format. But it also offers group study niches and study rooms with whiteboards and glass walls on which students can write. The space encourages teamwork, communications and problem solving for the next generation of scientists and professional engineers.

Did you know? The UTSA AET Library is the nation's first completely bookless library on a college or university campus. It served as a model for Bexar County's first-in-the-nation public bookless library system and one of its branches, the Dr. Ricardo Romo BiblioTech.

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Events
Sept. 7, All Day

Labor Day Holiday

All campuses will be closed for the Labor Day holiday.
All Campuses

Sept. 9, 5:30 p.m.

Architecture Connects

The UTSA College of Architecture, Construction and Planning’s 2015-16 Speaker Series begins Sept. 9 with Toshiko Mori, the Robert P. Hubbard Professor in the Practice of Architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and principal of Manhattan-based Toshiko Mori Architect.
Buena Vista Building Aula Canaria (BV 1.328), Downtown Campus

Sept. 12, 11 a.m.

UTSA Football vs. Kansas State

Cheer on the UTSA Roadrunners at their home-opener against the Kansas State Wildcats.
Alamodome, 100 Montana St.

Sept. 15, 5:30 - 7 p.m.

Changing the Conversation: Recovery Works!

As part of National Recovery Month, a panel of substance abuse practitioners and members of the recovery community will discuss issues related to substance abuse treatment and recovery.
Durango Building 1.124 (DB 1.124), Downtown Campus

Sept. 24, 6 p.m.

The Power of Story in the Landscape of Memory and Identity

The UTSA College of Education and Human Development will host award-winning children’s author and illustrator Yuyi Morales. Morales will share personal stories that have influenced her work as an author and illustrator.
Buena Vista Building Aula Canaria (BV 1.328), Downtown Campus

Oct. 5, 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.

Civic Engagement Summit

This summit is an opportunity to showcase and share the variety of community engagement activities of UTSA students, faculty, and staff. The summit is currently accepting proposals for poster presentations. The Call for Posters deadline is Friday, Sept. 11.
University Center Denman Room (2.01.28), Main Campus


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