Please tell us about yourself.
Hello! My name is Abigail and some of my interests are theatre, cats, board games, sewing insects, dance, and thrifting.
Why did you choose Concordia?
Not only did Concordia have everything I was looking for (strong biology department, theatre, and music), but when I toured here it just felt like home. Everyone was so kind and willing to make my experience the best that it could be. David Wintersteen, my current faculty advisor, even offered to take me on an in-depth tour of the theatre building and answered a bunch of questions, which really made me feel welcome.
Was there a defining moment in your search process?
Not exactly. I was deciding between three colleges and I remember going with my gut feeling, which turned out to be correct.
What do you value most about your Concordia experience?
I really love the high level of support I feel at Concordia from both faculty and other students. I’ve made some of my best friends in my time here yet I keep continuing to meet new amazing people. My professors have also been really great about connecting with students outside of the classroom, which has made all the difference.
What activities are you involved in?
I’ve been involved in a lot of different activities on campus including theatre, music, Orientation, Sonder, and various other student orgs. I’m currently the co-productions coordinator on the Orientation Committee, president of Sonder, leader of Harmonia, member of Alpha Psi Omega, and involved in theatre productions whether through acting or tech.
How did you decide on your major?
I came in pre-med with a biology and theatre art double major because I absolutely loved learning about the human body and wanted to work in medicine while still being involved in theatre. Eventually, I realized medical school is not where I want to end up, mostly because I love theatre too much. However, biology still intrigues me and I could see myself working in a variety of biological fields.
What is it like balancing two very different majors?
It’s not as difficult as people seem to think it is. I really enjoy that I get to meet a lot of different people. It is kind of strange though because in the theatre department there are not a lot of people who take STEM classes, and in the biology department there are not a lot of people who take theatre art classes.
Tell us about the history of Sonder. What is it and why was it formed?
Sonder was formed after Makenna Mathison and I touched base after a disability office meeting in the spring of 2021. That spring, she took a class on Disability and Philosophy with Dr. Varner and there were students who were wondering why we didn’t have a disability-centered space for students. I wasn’t a part of the class, but around the same time I was looking to start a new club but didn’t know if there was any interest. So Makenna and I came together that summer and found a few people who were interested in participating, and next thing you know we had Sonder! Sonder is a student organization that focuses on disability and mental health advocacy. Our goal is to provide a safe place for all students to join conversations about disability and mental health while educating the larger campus and promoting accessibility and inclusion.
What sets it apart from other on-campus organizations?
Although there are some organizations that do activities surrounding mental health, Sonder is the first with a focus to include disability too. Oftentimes, disability and mental health are so entwined that it’s important to consider both. One in four Americans has a disability yet oftentimes disability is left out of the conversation, so we created a space to elevate and celebrate it.
What has been most rewarding about starting Sonder?
The most rewarding part of Sonder for me is the connections with other people. Being disabled or struggling with mental illness can feel very isolating, but being in a room and hearing other people talk about their experiences makes me feel less alone. It’s very validating to realize that there are other people who care about combating ableism and accessibility barriers. I love seeing people’s faces light up when forming a connection with another person who understands what they're going through or at the very least is enthusiastic about listening.
What are some things you wish other people knew about when it comes to Cobbers with disabilities?
What you say and how you react to disabled people matters. Language matters. There are so many negative stigmas and incorrect stereotypes in media surrounding disability and mental illness, so to combat that it’s important to learn about disabled experiences from disabled people themselves. There is not one “look” to disability. Some people have physical disabilities, some have invisible disabilities, some have chronic illnesses, and many people have a combination. But at the end of the day, you don’t have to know every detail about someone’s life to be a disability ally. Educate yourself on ways you can include accessibility in your life and get rid of harmful terminology. And if you need help on ways to get started with that, reach out to members of Sonder — that’s what we’re here for!
What has your experience with being a deaf student at Concordia been like?
Like in other areas of my life, being deaf at Concordia has been isolating and at times exhausting. Although the disability office has provided helpful accommodations for the classroom, it’s difficult to live in a world that’s not set up for disabled people. My professors have been wonderful about doing everything they can to make their classrooms accessible so I really appreciate their considerations but, still, it feels like there is no one else who really “gets” it. That’s part of why I created Sonder. Most people will never know what it’s like to be deaf, just like I also will never know what it’s like to have other disabilities or mental illnesses. Creating Sonder and talking with people has shown me that even if people will never know, they want to learn more and listen, which is an incredible feeling.
What does advocacy look like to you?
Advocacy can be a variety of different things. Advocacy can be speaking out against discrimination. Advocacy can be supporting and listening to other people. Advocacy can be educating others on areas of personal experience or topics you’re familiar with. For me, advocacy is action. It’s realizing where problems exist and actively working to fix them in areas where your strengths lie.
Why is accessibility on campus important?
Disabled students exist and deserve inclusion. Accessibility creates a more equitable environment for students with disabilities and mental illnesses, but accessibility also benefits everyone. One of my accommodations is a classroom mic, and my professors have told me how even if I’m not in their classrooms they still use it because it helps many students.
You have a substantial number of TikTok followers. Why do you think your content resonates with people?
Being online allows you to connect with other people all over the world. I think my content resonates with people because when you’re a part of a minority group, there are not many opportunities to meet others with similar life experiences. As for the non-disabled people who follow me, I think they’re interested in how they can be a better disability ally and improve overall accessibility by listening to people from the disability community.
How do you feel about being a voice for others in the disability community? Have you become more mindful when creating content?
I love being a public voice for those in the disability community, but something I have to keep in mind is that I’m just one voice. Within disability communities, there is so much diversity. There are black disabled people, queer disabled people, trans disabled people, etc. Even two people with the same disabilities and same socioeconomic backgrounds could have completely different viewpoints. I feel really lucky that I’m able to share my experiences and uplift others. I’m mindful about what I post because the last thing I’d want to do is share information that would harm or invalidate others even if it’s not intentional.
One downfall to having a big following is that you’re putting yourself out into the world for people to hate on. It’s especially difficult to talk about disability publicly because there are an alarming number of people who leave hate comments simply to leave hate comments. I’ve had to use comment filters because, otherwise, people will go as far as to call me and others slurs simply for existing as we are. For safety reasons, many disabled people are unable to disclose their disabilities in real life, so being public about it online feels even more vulnerable at times.
Do you have any advice for new Concordia students?
My advice for new Concordia students is to surround yourself with the people and the activities that make you feel good. Not everyone you meet is going to be your best friend and that’s OK. But once you find the people who accept you for who you are, cling to those relationships because your time at Concordia will fly by fast.
Published July 2022
Listen to Abigail’s full interview: