A new chapter of Delta Alpha Pi Honor Society was recently launched at UAA. Delta Alpha Pi, founded in 2004 at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania, celebrates and supports leadership, academic achievement and advocacy for post-secondary students experiencing disabilities.
The three Greek letters of Delta Alpha Pi stand for disability, achievement and pride in accomplishments not just as students with handicaps, but as members of the university community. More than 120 institutions of higher education all over the nation have established a chapter of the society so far.
On Oct. 10, 15 students of the university received honors for their academic accomplishments in a ceremony in the Consortium Library. This marked a milestone in the work of the most recent chapter at UAA. Interim Chancellor Sam Gingerich and Dean of Students Ben Morton gave speeches to honor the inductees. Katherine Irwin, a journalism and public communications major with a minor in art, was among the students acknowledged in the first honor ceremony of Delta Alpha Pi in Alaska.
“I think the impact of being an inductee of the ceremony didn’t hit me until a few days later when I realized that this is Alaska’s first Delta Alpha Pi chapter and that I am part of the first group to be inducted,” Irwin said.
Karen Andrews, the director of Disability Support Services at UAA, helped establish the chapter in Alaska. She received a lot of positive feedback about the ceremony.
“We’ve had students say that they had no idea what an honor it was until they actually went through the induction,” Andrews said. “I’ve had other students who have asked, ‘What do I have to do to be in Delta Alpha Pi?’ – and that’s a good thing.”
She highlighted the “beauty of the ceremony” and “how moving” it was to see students of great diversity being honored. “And isn’t that what UAA is about?”
Andrews is in her third year of working for the university. Before she came to UAA, she launched and supported DAPi chapters at the other colleges she worked at. To her, Delta Alpha Pi was an opportunity to create something positive in order to overcome the negative stigmata often associated with disability.
“So many times working with those who experience disabilities or those who serve them, there is always this picture of negativity. And that’s not the case at all. People who experience disabilities achieve great things,” Andrews said. “They have great GPAs and go on to incredible careers.”
This is why she began looking for ways to counter this negativity. Eventually, she ran across Delta Alpha Pi Honor Society and was the driving force behind the chapter at the first university she worked at.
“When I came here, I felt like this was the same story. So I said ‘OK, this is what we’re going to do here,’” Andrews said.
Shawnalee Whitney, associate professor in the Department of Journalism and Communication and Anne Lazenby, ASL interpreter and coordinator at DSS agreed to be the sponsors of the local group.
After the initial induction ceremony, the students are now going to elect their officers and have regular meetings. The focus of the student-driven agenda is going to be on advocacy for people experiencing disabilities in the university community.
Irwin believes that Delta Alpha Pi enriches the student body, emphasizing that diversity is not solely an issue of culture and ethnicity.
“Having DAPi as part of the university shows everyone that all kinds of people matter and it’s a unique trait for the university to have diversity which goes beyond the colors of the skin and cultures,” Irwin said.
As the director of DSS, Andrews is supporting about 450 students at the moment. However, this number does not include the total amount of students with disabilities at UAA.
“Statistics show that 10-11 percent of any given student body experience a disability,” Andrews said.
With about 15,000 students enrolled at UAA, the number of students served by DSS should be significantly higher. To her, this is another reason making DAPi’s work so important. Spreading the word about the group could help people in need of support services to view it as something positive.
Even beyond their time at the university, the students have the chance to stay active members of the group. Irwin expressed the wish to do that depending on her plans after her graduation.
“It has always been my purpose as a deaf person to represent the deaf community in the best way and remove the stigma that surrounds it,” Irwin said. “Being part of DAPi is a bonus to my endeavor to change things for the deaf community.”
With the launch of the local chapter of Delta Alpha Pi Honor Society, new opportunities to create a more open learning environment at UAA have emerged.