Alumni Spotlight - Lydia Brown '11
Lydia Brown is a 2011 graduate of Lexington Christian Academy and is currently in her junior year at Georgetown University. She is an Autistic and multiply-disabled disability rights activist, scholar, and writer. Lydia regularly speaks and writes on disability rights activism, radical disability justice, and disabled cultural identity at conferences and universities across the country.
What do you do in terms of disability activism?
I work as a project assistant for the non-profit organization, Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, which is the nation’s largest entirely autistically led disability rights organization. At Georgetown, this year I’ve specifically been working in an official capacity as the disability advocacy liaison within the student government. Overall, the majority of the work I do on disability issues is independent of a specific organization. Generally the overarching theme of the work that I do is on issues of violence toward people with disabilities. Specifically two subcategories: violence against people with disabilities committed by family members or those they have had prior relationships with and violence against people by the state or those in authority. I most often work on individual cases and work with individuals to advocate for their specific situation.
You’ve recently been to the White House, what was that for?
I’ve actually been to the White House three times this year. This summer I was one of eight young Americans with disabilities who were being honored as “Champions of Change” for our advocacy work in our own communities or in cross-disability communities. The honor was given to us for “embodying the spirit of the Americans with disabilities act.” We were invited on the anniversary of the signing of the ADA and asked to speak on a panel. I found out later I was nominated by the National Council on Disability which is a U.S. federal agency tasked with advising the President.
What was your experience like at LCA?
I felt when I was here it was okay for me to have my opinion, even if the vast majority of students and faculty that I knew here did not agree with me. I was never made to feel that I was less than other students or that if I didn’t say the exact same thing as the person next to me that I would be given a poor grade or that I would be socially excluded. That was very valuable to me because my entire life I have been singled out because of what has set me apart from whoever I’m in the room with, whether be that I’m a woman, I’m Asian, my disability status or the fact that I’m a Christian. To be in a community where people didn’t use those things as an excuse to make my life miserable was awesome. LCA was the first place that I really had that experience and that was probably the most valuable part of my education at LCA.
How did LCA impact your faith?
The thing I remember most vividly about my time at LCA was the first day of Chemistry in Mr. Hoffman’s class. He opened the bible and read out of Mark and prayed for the class. My first thought was, “we just prayed in science class.” It had never occurred to me that you would pray in a science class. That was the first time that I experienced the lesson that you can’t separate your theory from your practice. The faculty understood that these things don’t happen in isolation—what you study in a classroom cannot be separated from how you live the rest of your life. The assignments and the discussions we had forced me to draw that connection in a more explicit way. And it’s helped me to better draw those connections outside of the classroom, in the work that I do and in the conversations that I have with other people. LCA made it very clear that what we did in the classroom wasn’t just for the classroom.
The thing that I appreciated about LCA that helped me grow a lot academically, intellectually and spiritually was the fact that in all of my classes there was a commitment to rigorous and critical examination of whatever it was we were doing. It was never, “read this book and memorize the key themes” but let’s actually probe the issues that the author is hinting at, what other texts have you read in either fiction or non-fiction can you pull in to help you analyze the text. Those are invaluable skills academically.
What are you planning to do after graduating from Georgetown University?
I plan to go to law school after Georgetown. Immediately after law school I would ideally like to work at a disability rights law office or in a public defender’s office. I worked this summer at the D.C. Public Defender’s office and that was life changing on so many levels. I did work that was very meaningful to me; it made me feel like I was doing something that mattered. In the long-term, I would like to develop a center that does two major types of work: one side would be legal work, focusing on violence against disabled people, specifically direct client representation. The other side would be policy work to develop and improve access to justice for disabled people.