ALIVE and kicking

A support group for students with disabilities gets a rebrand and looks for new members.


Tim Schnell

First-year Emily Brown is trying to revive the ALIVE group.

Lydia Hansen, Reporter

Sometimes student orgs fade out. And sometimes they come back.

That is what is happening to Advocating for Life, Illness Visibility and Education (ALIVE), a support and advocacy group for people who live with disabilities and chronic illnesses.

The group was originally founded in the fall of 2015 by Shelby St. Pierre, a 2017 graduate. ALIVE (formerly the Chronic Illness Awareness and Support group) was the driving force behind the creation of a disability representative in the Student Congress. That eventually led to the installation of automatic doors in the restrooms in Anderson and other buildings across campus.

“It was an important group that helped me meet a lot of my friends,” St. Pierre said of her past involvement. “It was nice to go somewhere to meet other people who knew what you were going through.”

After ALIVE’s presence fizzled out last fall, St. Pierre approached first-year Emily Brown and Oracle reporter about reviving the group. Brown, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 13 months, is passionate about advocating for people with disabilities and familiar with the kinds of struggles they deal with.

“I’m the only person in a wheelchair on campus, and sometimes that’s a bit isolating,” Brown said.

Although she is the only wheelchair-user, Brown said she recognizes that she is not the only person on campus living with a disability or chronic illness and hopes ALIVE will help provide support for other students like her.

“We both cope with disabilities, and we both want to bring awareness and support people like us,” Brown said of herself and St. Pierre. Brown also serves as HUSC’s Disability Rep.

This semester, ALIVE’s focus will be mainly on building interest and a presence on campus, but they also plan to host public events about the visibility of illness and students living with disabilities.

Brown and St. Pierre also hope to get ALIVE chartered by HUSC this semester, which would provide a source of funding for events. To do that, the group needs 10 signatures from students interested in being members.

Maintaining membership is a challenge most student orgs face, but Deanne Thompson, religion professor and ALIVE adviser, said this can be particularly difficult for ALIVE.

“This is relying on students who face a number of really challenging health issues to be the ones to organize,” Thompson said. “It’s courageous for students who are facing these really serious issues to say, ‘I’m going to organize, I’m going to be part of a group like this, and I’m going to work toward educating people and getting the word out more.’”

Thompson, who lives with incurable cancer, said that in the past, ALIVE’s events have “helped faculty and staff and some other students be more aware of the kind of issues that some portion of our community lives with.” She said she looks forward to seeing that influence continue.

Brown said her goal for ALIVE is to build a community where students living with disabilities can support and be supported by each other.

“I want this to be a place that people step into and breathe for the first time and say ‘hey, I can be myself here,’” Brown said.

ALIVE has weekly support meetings on Wednesdays from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in Anderson 305. They welcome students living with any kind of disability as well as anyone interested in learning more about the group and how to become an advocate.