Scholars focus on the rights of people with disabilities

Sackstein and Zeilicovich inaugural Ruderman Social Justice Scholars in Disability

Danielle Sackenstein

Ruth Zeilicovich

The Ruderman Family Foundation has made a significant grant to Brandeis University to establish the Ruderman Social Justice Scholars in Disability, an innovative program to prepare undergraduates to become leaders in disability-related fields, including research, advocacy and service provision, and effectively advocate for the full community participation of people with disabilities.

The four-year, $450,000 grant will allow Brandeis to engage more students in its longstanding social justice mission by providing scholarship support; developing new courses focused on disability and inclusion; creating internships at organizations that support people with disabilities and their families; and funding student research projects under the direction of Brandeis faculty.

“The promotion of inclusion of people with disabilities takes leadership, and we feel this program will create the leaders necessary to achieve impact on this important issue for our society,” says Jay Ruderman ’88, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “Brandeis has long been a leader in the area of social justice, and we believe that this partnership brings together the goals of our foundation and the goals of the university: to protect and ensure the civil rights of people with disabilities.”

Principal investigators Susan L. Parish, the Nancy Lurie Marks Professor of Disability Policy and director of Lurie Institute for Disability Policy, and Sara Shostak, associate professor of sociology and chair of the Health: Science, Society and Policy program, will oversee the implementation of the program, which will include 15 undergraduates over the four-year grant period.

A committee review of applicants led to the selection of Danielle Sackstein ’14 and Ruth Zeilicovich ’14 as the inaugural scholars.

“Although there have been great strides in the civil rights of people with disabilities, our society sadly has a long way to go before most people with disabilities are fully included and valued members of their communities, with meaningful work and relationships,” says Parish. “This program is vital in training undergraduates to be leaders in the human rights fight for people with disabilities.”

“The Ruderman Social Justice Scholars in Disability program is a critically important step in developing future leaders in disability studies, policy and services,” says Shostak. “We are delighted to have this opportunity to support young scholars and civic leaders so that they will have the skills to create effective change and establish a more equitable society for all.”

“We are grateful for the vision and generosity of the Ruderman Family Foundation to establish the Ruderman Social Justice Scholars in Disability,” says Brandeis Provost Steven A.N. Goldstein ’78, MA’78. “This program is built on a shared commitment to healing the world and will allow undergraduates to link classroom learning to real-life practice under the guidance of top experts. Our common goal is to train a new generation of leaders in the field.”

Sackstein is a member of Brandeis Buddies, a Waltham program in which Brandeis students cultivate relationships with adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities through weekly social activities. During her first year at Brandeis, Sackstein learned about the disability rights movement, and began investigating the intersection between disability and social justice. She has worked at Massachusetts General Hospital and Partners HealthCare, assisting with projects that champion patient-centered care and patient empowerment. It was through her work in a hospital setting — where she witnessed the ways in which individuals with disabilities struggle to gain access to critical healthcare knowledge and resources — that she realized health policies often exclude, or fail to accommodate, the needs of those living with disabilities. Sackstein applied to the Ruderman Scholars Program with the goal of developing a deeper understanding of the challenges that people with disabilities face in their access to healthcare information and services. Furthermore, she hopes to identify the ways in which policies and procedures are being implemented to positively address these challenges. She will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in Health: Science, Society and Policy and a minor in women’s and gender studies.

Zeilicovich was born in Medellin, Colombia, to Argentinian parents and currently resides in Fair Lawn, N.J. When she enrolled at Brandeis, she knew she wanted her studies to provide her with a better understanding of people as individuals and as part of a society. She was intrigued by the study of mental illness and the support systems that have been created for people suffering from these illnesses. While at Brandeis, she also has developed an interest in disparities that exist in the health care system in the United States and worldwide. This past summer, she interned at Hasharon Hospital in Israel, where she had direct contact with people with disabilities and worked to make sure that they would not be neglected by the health system. She applied to the Ruderman Social Justice in Disability Scholars Program to continue to learn about health inequalities and disability with the goal of improving healthcare programs for the disabled. She will graduate with a bachelor’s in psychology and Health: Science, Society and Policy and a minor in international and global studies in May.

All Ruderman scholars will be selected from the Health: Science, Society and Policy (HSSP), an interdisciplinary and interdepartmental program that draws on knowledge and expertise in the College of Arts and Sciences and The Heller School for Social Policy and Management. In the HSSP program, students learn about the biological underpinnings of health, illness and disability, as well as their social, political, legal and economic dimensions.

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences, Student Life

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