Last summer, four students began a new organization: Disabled, Neurodivergent Students of Oglethorpe. A relatively new organization, the student leaders are already making waves across campus through special programming and advocacy.
DNSO was founded by Oglethorpe students Elle Newbern ’24, Ambrose Blanchard ’24, Sam McCalla ’24 and Lacey Frye ’24. The four founders wanted to create a group that would advocate for disabled, chronically-ill, and neurodivergent students attending Oglethorpe; educate the community; and foster a strong sense of connection and support for students.
“I knew that there was a need for a club like this because I know many others within the community who identified as disabled, neurodivergent or both,” says DNSO president Elle Newbern. “I also heard and experienced many struggles on campus as a disabled person and wanted to create a place where those struggles were heard, and something could be done about them!”
The group’s instinct was correct. In the short time since their charter, the organization has seen membership flourish — DNSO now has 50 registered students who can now find community in their peers. The group also maintains a thriving Discord server for members to discuss special interests, exchange advice and learn how to make use of the university’s disability resources.
The organization has a direct line to Oglethorpe’s office of Disability Services through staff advisor Gabriel Mendez, the university’s accessibility coordinator. The department helps students request accommodations, learn to self-advocate and promote awareness of disability issues.
Last October, DNSO partnered with the Oglethorpe University Museum of Art to produce a celebration of Deaf & Disabled artists. Taking place in the museum’s Skylight Gallery, the event featured performances from several local artists, including dancers, poets, performance artists and local Atlanta rapper and producer Question.
Now, the organization is once again partnering with the museum to help develop two new sensory areas in the Rubin Gallery. Designed specifically for neurodivergent community members to relax and rejuvenate, the spaces will be equipped with acoustic door coverings, textured rugs and panels, fidgets, weighted blankets and lap pads and noise-reducing headphones. DNSO’s work with the museum is part of OUMA’s Art for All initiative, which seeks to create an equitable and inclusive museum experience for everyone.
In celebration of the organization’s notable activities, Oglethorpe University’s Student Government Association recently honored DNSO with two awards: Outstanding Student Organization and Outstanding Community. The group is currently planning for a community event next month in celebration of Autism Acceptance and Awareness Month.
“We hope to continue to host more impactful events, raise awareness about the experiences of disabled and neurodivergent students on campus, build resources, and educate the Oglethorpe community!” says Frye.