Ursinus College Honors Disability Day of Mourning
Ursinus is one of nearly 40 organizations to host an annual Disability Day of Mourning Vigil to grieve for over 650 disabled people who have lost their lives to filicide in the past five years, and to call for action.
Filicide is when a person is murdered by a family member or caregiver. It is a type of tragedy that almost always makes the news but is treated differently by pundits when the victim is a disabled person. There is an often-observed trend that when media outlets cover the filicide of disabled people, their sympathies tend to do more work for the murderer than the victim. This is a reality that Ursinus students and Associate Professor of Psychology Jennifer Frymiare want to change for good.
On March 1, Frymiare, students, and alumni hosted a Disability Day of Mourning Vigil in the Olin Plaza. It’s an annual event that has been honored in the U.S. and various anglophone countries for over a decade.
In 2012, Zoe Gross of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network held a vigil for George Hodgkins, a disabled man murdered by his family. The vigil has turned into an annual event, and Ursinus’s was one of 38 that took place this year all over the world.
In 2018, Frymiare was teaching a class about autism and neurodiversity. “I had a great group of students, and we were talking about the rights of people with disabilities,” she said. Filicides of disabled people in the media spurred a frustration in Frymiare and her students, and with that, a desire for real change. “So, my students and I put together a vigil and we’ve had one every year since.”
This year, Sophie Louis ’24 and Ella McCarthy ’24 read, respectively, Remember by Amy Sequenza, and Connecting Dots by Bev Harp. In closing, alumna Nicole Dalasio ’20 read the piece, I Am Not a Burden from the “Turtle is a Verb” blog, as has become tradition for the Ursinus vigil.
“People with disabilities are the largest minority group,” Frymiare said. “They are the only group anyone can become a member of at any time. While some disabilities are lifelong, other disabilities manifest later in life or are acquired due to accident, injury, or illness. In fact, one in four adults in the United States has a disability. And if we live long enough, it is very likely that we will become disabled.”
Disability Day of Mourning invites us to honor people whose lives were stolen from them by recognizing the ways that people with disabilities are too often treated as burdens. The media has a long way to go before pundits see that the ableist problems exist in society, not in disabled people, Frymiare said.
She’s eager to see that change in the world. “Thankfully,” she said, “I see the seeds of change here at Ursinus College.”