South is home to various clubs advocating for social justice. Ranging from student unions to environmental protection clubs, many of these groups are made up of people advocating for their own demographic. While Look Me in the Eye Club certainly fights for equality, many members of the club fight as allies rather than as constituents.
“What you see with a lot of other activist movements is that the people who are the most vocal about it are the people who are themselves affected by it. With the disabled community, it’s usually more difficult to get the word out,” junior Connor McVay, a member of the club, said.
Look Me in the Eye Club is closely tied with the Life Skills class at South, which aims to promote awareness, equality, and communication skills for people with physical and developmental disabilities. South graduate Phacelia Cramer, class of 2015, started the club four years ago. Her sister faced challenges interacting with others due to her developmental disability, and Cramer felt compelled to assist other students going through the same thing. The club’s name comes from a community organization of the same name, which chose the title because many disabled people have a hard time looking other people in the eye and vice-versa.
The Look Me in the Eye campaign endeavors to break down barriers between all people, making the community safer for everyone through creating inclusive programs. The organization’s website says that they “are ultimately seeking to develop relationships among people with developmental and intellectual disabilities and others. When people with disabilities are known and recognizable in their communities, they are less likely to be abused and neglected. And looking someone in the eye is a great start!”
Club members at South attempt to alleviate this issue by opening up communication between the Life Skills class and other students. The club actually collaborates with the community organization for some activities, like going to basketball games with the students, but their main part in improving communication is within the South community. Currently, the club meets Tuesday at lunch near the Amazon Room for group games and conversation.
“When I joined, I didn’t know exactly what I would get out of the club, but I ended up with a day of the week with easy conversation and fun,” senior Sophia Newman said. Newman is the student representative of the club.
The club has recently been looking to expand its membership, as all of the current members are upperclassmen; however, the effect on the students in the Life Skills class has been immense.
“Growing up in elementary school, I had absolutely no interaction with the kids with disabilities because they would just lock them up in their own room and keep them away from everyone else,” McVay said.
Many schools still completely isolate their Life Skills classroom from the rest of the school, even during lunchtime. But South’s accepting culture, as well as Look Me in the Eye Club, have created a better environment for these students.
In collaboration with Look Me in the Eye club, the Peer Tutor program (not to be confused with the after-school Peer Tutoring program) allows students at South to gain valuable teaching experience and communication skills. Peer tutors assist in the Life Skills class for a period each day, helping with teaching and setting up projects. Students can register for the program as an elective class and will be allowed to become a peer tutor, provided that the Life Skills teachers see that they are a good fit for the program.
In fact, the expansion of the Peer Tutor program is one of the most evident impacts of the Look Me in the Eye club.
“What I have noticed since the beginning of this club is a lot less resistance getting kids into regular and elective classes,” Niels Pasternak, club adviser and Life Skills teacher, said.
The improvement of the Life Skills program does not only benefit of the club and the program itself. Club members also learn valuable skills for themselves, including communication, organization, and teaching.
“I’ve noticed with myself and others who have gone through the club how much easier it is to communicate with not just the kids in the Life Skills class, but everyone,” Newman said.
The large impact of the club has driven members to work toward more growth, but members emphasize that the thought that goes into being in the club is the most important contribution, rather than attending it every Tuesday.
“Taking action is not as hard as people think it is. It doesn’t have to be die-hard, super incredible obligation. With Look Me in the Eye Club, it’s just going and interacting with other people,” Newman said. “The biggest thing is that there are very few responsibilities in the club. It’s very easygoing.”
At the end of the day, Look Me in the Eye Club, like many other clubs within South, works toward helping people recognize that everyone should be treated with respect and valued for their own individual talents, no matter how much we try to find dissimilarities.
“People with disabilities have more in common with others than they do different,” Pasternak said. “They have a lot of strengths that people don’t realize before they get to know them.”
South values individuality and equality for everyone, and Look Me in the Eye Club is just one of the organizations working toward this common principle.