Amid campus-wide conversations of diversity and intersectionality last November, Mikayla Martin was inspired with the vision of creating a platform to share the stories of disabled students at Gordon College.
After conversations with Gordon’s Academic Success Center (ASC), what started as an Instagram account has since grown into one of Gordon College’s newest official clubs, CAIM. According to the club’s Instagram, CAIM is “for students with physical and mental disabilities, learning disabilities, chronic illness, and allies of the disabled community at Gordon College.” It seeks to be “a place of advocacy and empowerment, a way to inform both persons with disabilities and the able-bodied community about the disabled experience.”
Mikayla, CAIM’s Executive President and Co-President Jackson Haskell discussed their vision for the organization in a meeting with a Tartan editor. The CAIM leadership team also includes Media and Outreach Manager Sophia Rowe and Secretary Emily Butterworth.
The name CAIM holds great significance for its leaders. First, it is an acronym: Community, Accessibility, Inclusivity, Meaning. The first three words represent foundational values of the club, as well as goals of the wider disability rights movement: to be a safe place for disabled students at Gordon and build bridges with allies of the disabled community. The club also advocates for accessibility and inclusion on campus. “Meaning,” as Mikayla explained, refers to the leaders’ belief that “we decide what our disability means.”
In addition to being an acronym, the title CAIM is a Gaelic word defined on the club’s Instagram to mean “Sanctuary; an invisible circle of protection drawn around the body to remind one of being safe and loved, even in the darkest times.”
All are welcome at CAIM, whether they have any type of disability or want to learn how to be a better ally. There is no pressure for students to disclose a disability if they are not comfortable doing so. The decision not to include the word “disability” in the club’s name was made with regard to the word’s history of stigmatization. While some individuals hold a sense of pride in the word, it may remind others of difficult experiences.
A particular issue which CAIM plans to address is the unique challenges which emerge for disabled people living in a Christian community. Mikayla discussed the fact that most depictions of disability in the New Testament are occurrences of miraculous healing. Some Christians understand disability as a problem which results from sin or the fall. Without objecting to anyone’s personal beliefs, Mikayla shared her experience of how this narrative has been harmful to her. She explained how she has “been approached several times, including at Gordon, asking to be healed” and that people had “put their hands on me even though I didn’t want it.” She went on to share that many Christians feel a need to “heal pray over the disabled as opposed to recognizing the unique contributions of the disabled in both the church and society as a whole.”
Instances like this are not isolated and can leave disabled people defenseless, ashamed of their bodies, or feeling as though it is their own fault they are not healed. Mikayla cited Psalm 139:13, which reads “you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (NIV) as a point of tension. She said there is not “a clause that says except for the disabled, except for people that pop out differently shaped, with different minds, or the people that become disabled … through life circumstances. There is no clause that says you were an accident.”
Although such challenges exist, Gordon College also provides resources and support for disabled students. Jackson praised ASC counselors for their ability to provide accommodation to help reduce academic stress for students with developmental or learning disabilities. Even so, the needs of the disabled community are remarkably diverse, as disability is not a monolith. CAIM is committed to helping to direct students to available on-campus resources and provide a community regardless of whether students choose to declare their disability. They also hope that Gordon will continue conversations about adapting the Shalom Statement to better include disabled students, as well as how to strive toward accessibility.
CAIM has some exciting goals for this year. First, CAIM will be hosting biweekly meetings for disabled students to share their stories alongside able-bodied peers, and for everyone to learn more about the disabled experience. These will take place the first and third Tuesday of each month. In addition, CAIM will be hosting monthly outreach events which are open to the whole campus and seek to build further community. Looking ahead to the spring semester, CAIM will be partnering with ASC to lead a week-long disability conference, which will feature several events, including guest speakers and alumni panels.
If you are interested in getting involved with CAIM or learning more, the primary point of contact is Instagram @disability_gordon. Alternatively, you can reach the leaders through their email, CAIM@gordon.edu. The first campus wide outreach event will be a game night held in the KOSC Lobby on September 17th. The next discussion of the semester will take place Tuesday, September 21st. Be sure to check CAIM’s Instagram for locations and times. Additionally, CAIM has a Discord welcome to those who want to build community and get to know one another, the link to which is available on Instagram.