The event's student performers and Dr. Amy Kenny pose in Riggs Library
Category: Student Experience

Title: Students Celebrate Disability, Culture and Community at Art Showcase

A student performs at Georgetown's ACDC: Arts Celebrating Disability Culture event. He stands on stage in Riggs Library and speaks into a microphone. Behind him is the animation he created.
Kelvin Doe (C’23) presents his animation, “You Move with Everything, Everything Moves with You,” in Riggs Library on March 15.

On March 15, Kelvin Doe (C’23) stepped onto a stage in Riggs Library to present an animation he had created. He was nervous. He had spent weeks designing this animated short, in which he synced all the movements in the animation with one another. 

For Doe, presenting this animation was much more than an extracurricular project — it represented his relationship with his disability. 

“For as long as I could remember, people would ask me, ‘why are you moving around so much?’ I would look down and realize my legs fiercely moved up and down as my hands shook side to side,’” Doe said in introducing the video. “This art piece is my visual representation of a sensation I feel constantly. It is a celebration of disability culture because part of recognizing my disability was coming to terms with my ever present need for movement.”

Doe was one of 15 Georgetown students who presented their art in a student showcase that celebrated disability culture and community. “ACDC: Art Celebrating Disability Culture,” an event hosted by the university’s Disability Cultural Initiative (DCI) and sponsored by the Division of Student Affairs and Office of the President, featured art from a wide variety of mediums, from song to spoken word and sculpture. 

“Art is transformative. It invites us into someone else’s lived experience and the way that someone else experiences the world, and it expands our notion of what disability is and can be,” said Amy Kenny, associate director of the DCI, which supports, educates and empowers disabled community members. 

“It allows us to not be objects of pity but subjects of our own stories, and it’s multifaceted and diverse in itself. I wanted the Georgetown community to get to revel in the richness of this creativity.” 

Doe, who honed his animation chops in a seminar taught by Professor Elyse Kelly in the Department of Art and Art History, and in Lauinger Library’s Maker Hub, said the creative process helped deepen his understanding of his disability, which he discovered last year. It also showed him how art can be an important outlet for self-expression.

“In my art piece, each individual element looks weird by itself,” he said. “But I learned through the creative process that when you put it all together, it makes a whole lot more sense. I feel the same way about discovering my disability. Before [I was like] I’m not quite getting me, but after [I discovered it], it all makes sense. Art’s really helpful in that it allows me to express myself.”

Creating a Culture of Access

Amy Kenny, associate director of the Disability Cultural Initiative (DCI), speaks at the DCI's art showcase.
Amy Kenny, associate director of the Disability Cultural Initiative (DCI), introduces the event.

In planning for the event, Kenny and the student leaders prioritized collective access and inclusion. Organizers provided attendees with both digital and large printouts of the programs, stim tools, sensory toys, an intermission and a ramp to the stage. And each performer received a card with words of affirmation to celebrate them. 

“Creating a culture of access isn’t just about the built environment, but also about the way that we gather,” Kenny says.And we really wanted to invite people to care for one another and meet one another’s access needs without critique or condemnation.” 

Marissa Nissley (B’24), a junior in the School of Business who presented, said the event felt different from other public speaking engagements in that “everyone wanted to celebrate you and your disability.”

A student performs at the ACDC: Art Celebrating Disability Culture showcase at Georgetown. She speaks into a microphone and wears a pink sweater and black sunglasses.
Marissa Nissley (B‘24) performs “Dear Future Blind Girl” on stage with her service dog Smalls.

Nissley performed “Dear Future Blind Girl,” a piece inspired by a young girl in her hometown who is becoming blind and filled with insights she wished she had as a 12-year-old.

“It’s the idea that blindness can be an identity, a part of living and a way to find community rather than just a genetic disorder,” she said. “I wanted to step beyond that and share what culture there is in it.”

In her free time, Nissley produces a podcast Legally Blonde and Blind, in which she interviews young people who are blind and talks about her own experiences. She also continues to be involved in the disability community at Georgetown, serving as a board member of the Georgetown Disability Alliance (GDA) and working closely with Kenny to establish the Disability Cultural Center, a new DCI project for which students advocated. 

The Disability Cultural Center will coordinate and integrate the educational, academic, social and support programming for disabled students, faculty, staff, allies and community members interested in learning more about disability.

We want Georgetown to be a leader in celebrating our vibrant and diverse disability community,” says Kenny. “Disabled folks have wisdom to share with the community, and I hope to invite people to share in that wisdom in this role and by organizing events that demonstrate our creativity and joy.”