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‘A refreshing zest for advocacy, empowerment’

April 15, 2011
Greg Long

Greg Long

Call Greg Long an advocate.

He literally has spent a lifetime advancing the civil rights of people with disabilities. He has spent much of his academic career working to lift barriers around higher education, and has instilled social justice thinking and advocacy skills in students from all majors who enroll in his popular general education course “Disability and Society.”

And, since 2008, he has led the campus-wide effort to enhance the NIU undergraduate experience for all.

The Baccalaureate Review task force he chairs will determine what NIU as an institution wants its students to know, what it want them to be able to do and what kind of citizens it wants them to be.

Considering that NIU’s last baccalaureate review of this scope took place more than 25 years ago, Long and his committee are dedicated to the notion that every institution must periodically review what it believes and make sure its curriculum supports those beliefs.

“This experience has broadened my understanding of what it means to be at teacher,” Long says. “The ultimate goal … is to provide students with an education that allows them to go forward as citizens prepared to make a difference in the world.”

Long earned his bachelor’s degree at Carnegie-Mellon University and his master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Kansas.

His education literally began at birth, however. His brother, David, only 21 months older, is deaf and intellectually disabled.

“My parents organized our family life around helping David participate in the world. By volunteering with organizations that served individuals with disabilities, they could ensure that David had access,” Long says.

“This ‘service learning’ left an imprint and helped me understand issues of privilege and responsibility,” he adds. “Even as an adult, my experience as a sibling continues to influence my work.”

Long, who came to NIU in 1991 as director of research in the Research and Training Center on Traditionally Underserved Persons Who Are Deaf, employs the pulpit of his classroom and the Presidential Commission on Persons with Disabilities to open the minds of students.

His leadership of the commission successfully promoted American Sign Language as a path for students to fulfill foreign language requirements. He has pushed to make NIU more accessible for all by changing attitudes that remove obstacles.

As a teacher, he books guest speakers who tell compelling stories of their failures, hardships, achievements and happiness. He introduces “disability etiquette” and “person-first language” to help students grow more comfortable in their interactions with persons with disabilities.

Students also can earn extra credit through involvement in student organizations such as DeafPride or in creating connections with people with disabilities.

Lola Duran, who took “Disability and Society” course during the fall semester of her freshman year, found Long’s class transformational.

“I grew up in a small town with a hearing disability. I viewed my disability as something to hide because I felt ashamed,” she says. “My perception has changed. Dr. Long teaches his students that disability is not a stigma but a different way to live. Now I have embraced who I am.”

“Professor Long was one of those rare teachers who always seemed to leave me with more questions than answers, with an insatiable desire to know more and do more,” adds former student Lisa Gagliano. “Professor Long continuously challenged me to challenge myself, and in doing so, enabled me to develop deeper trust in my own abilities, courage to use my voice and a refreshing zest for advocacy and empowerment.”