Kenna Chic — A law fellow with the Coelho Center for Disability Law, Policy and Innovation

Kenna ChicKenna Chic is currently a paralegal at a health law firm. She graduated from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, where she studied Foreign Service with a minor in Disability Studies. Her greatest passion is disability policy and advocacy, especially as it relates to psychiatric disabilities.

At Georgetown, Kenna had served as both the Vice President of her student government, Georgetown University Student Association (GUSA), and the Chair of the GUSA Mental Health Policy Coalition, where she worked on many projects that focus on destigmatizing, educating and eliminating barriers around mental health resources. One notable project was the Student Mental Health Fund, which subsidized mental health care for Hoyas referred to mental health services off-campus. The Fund addressed mental health disparities since psychotherapy in the DC area is notoriously expensive and Georgetown University’s services are short-term. Kenna additionally served as the President of Project Lighthouse, an anonymous peer to peer chat-line that provides peer support and information about campus resources.

Outside of Georgetown, Kenna had served in multiple advisory boards, internships, and fellowships. She was previously a law fellow with the Coelho Center for Disability Law, Policy, and Innovation. She was a member of Mental Health America’s first Collegiate Mental Health Innovation Council, where she was featured in their college program report, Beyond Awareness: Student-led Innovation in Campus Mental Health. Finally, as a member of the Jed Foundation’s Student Advisory Council, Kenna worked with Facebook on technology and suicide prevention resources.

Kenna’s mission is to defend the rights of people with mental illness through policy, with her passion heightened by her work at the US Senate HELP Committee, the US House of Representatives Education and Labor Committee, and the National Institutes of Health. Eventually, Kenna aims to pursue a law degree to further her advocacy in mental health and disability rights.

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Hi, my name is Kenna Chic. I am a recent graduate from Georgetown University with a minor in disability studies. I’m also a youth mental health advocate. One experience that really highlighted to me, the lack of societal inclusion for disabled people was the lack of access to college mental health services. At my university, I have encountered a lot of students who were only able to access mental health services for one to two semesters before ultimately being referred off campus. Off campus, the difficulty is really lying transportation, but also the cost of going off campus to services in the DC area, which range from a hundred to $300 for many students. I knew so many students who ended up stopping their services, essentially because they were no longer able to afford them. It is extremely disruptive toward their education and towards their life goals.

When students are pushed off campus for the main purpose of having a psychiatric disability and not being able to address that while they’re on campus, because the university themselves does not have the resources to do so. If I could pick one aspect to change, it really would be to ensure that students have access to mental health services. As we know, a lot of people go to universities in order to break out of cycles of poverty. And when we talk about poverty, especially in the disability community, oftentimes a lot of people are forced to be impoverished in order to say access services that they need specifically as it relates to Medicaid. At the same time, when students are referred off campus, when students are pushed out, when students are forced to drop out and not receive the education that they need and that they want, they’re unable to then carry on to future goals. They’re unable to have the dream job that they’ve always wanted, or to have some of the opportunities that they might have had otherwise. As such, it is so important for education and educational institutions to ensure that students who are disabled are able to be successful on their campus, and that starts by offering them the resources they need and meeting them where they are instead of expecting them to fit into a box.

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My call to action. And I really do think that if there’s one thing that as a disabled community we can do now is really ensure that educators and administrators are aware that psychiatric disabilities fall into disability. Anyone who works with the ADA obviously knows that psychiatric disabled people are under the ADA and do qualify for accommodations. However, there is so much misinformation when it comes to what students can access and what they can’t, especially as the students with psychiatric disabilities, adding to the stigma, compartments, a lot of students then feel uncomfortable even asking these questions in the first place and many are left without the support that they need. In short, I hope that students with psychiatric disabilities and people with psychiatric disabilities in general are able to eventually live a life where they can reach their goals, where they won’t be judged by their disability and where they don’t feel like they have to hide who they are and their experiences in order to reach their goals in life.

In partnership with Diana Pastora Carson, M.Ed.
Author: Beyond Awareness: Bringing Disability into Diversity Work in K-12 Schools & Communities, and children’s book Ed Roberts: Champion of Disability Rights, ADA 30th Anniversary Edition

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