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Glowacki refuses to inspire audience
Waving his muscular arms repeatedly above his head, Matt Glowacki begged nearly 100 people not to consider him inspirational Saturday in Alumni Hall.
A 33-year-old native of Janesville, Wis., who was born without legs, Glowacki weaved a bevy of personal anecdotes with an analysis of the television shows “Family Guy” and “South Park” to spark conversation about the myriad ways in which people discriminate against each other.
“I cannot even begin to tell you how many times in my life someone has come up to me, stared and then declared to me: ‘You have no legs.’ Not wanting to disappoint these people, I look down at where my legs should be and scream ‘Oh, my gosh! You’re right!'” Glowacki said, eliciting a chorus of laughter from the mostly student crowd attending the university’s second annual Diversity Conference.
Glowacki used this kind of highly idiosyncratic humor, along with a liberal sprinkling of cheekiness, to facilitate discussion with students about racism, sexism, ageism and ableism. Glowacki described ableism as an assumption that a person living with a physical disability is automatically incapable of performing a particular task.
“Such thinking establishes a pattern of prejudice. A child learns prejudice if its parents are prejudiced,” Glowacki said. “By the time a child is seven years old, he or she will have developed his or her sense of morality.”
At one point during the conference, Glowacki asked audience members to shout out the names some people use to describe people who, like him, use wheelchairs to get around. Among the terms audience members
yelled were “crippled,” “disabled,”
“handicapped” and “gimp.”
“Those are the kinds of terms I am used to hearing,” he said. “But when people ask me what I prefer to be called, I tell them ‘Matt,’ or ‘Matt Glowacki,’ to be specific.”
Quickly adopting a serious air, Glowacki also acknowledged that people who have physical disabilities are not fundamentally different from anyone else. In this vein of thinking, he advised that people exhibiting such characteristics want to be treated like everyone else.
“If you run into an angry disabled person, know that the person has additional problems beyond the physical. The problem lies in them, not you,” he said.
Jenna Anderson, a senior occupational therapy major, said that Glowacki’s frankness and dialogue with students throughout his talk made the conference particularly meaningful for her. “I think interaction is the best way of learning,” Anderson said. “And, I think it’s good to see other students on campus are concerned about diversity and care to make a change.”
Rudy Ayala, a senior journalism major, expressed a similar sentiment regarding his hope for change among the student body. “It’d be nice to be going to class with a more diverse community, and not just in terms of skin color. But I would also like to have more people involved in student groups and students of varying religions and ways of understanding the world,” Ayala said.
Alyssa Beauregard, a junior nursing major, lamented the relatively small size of the audience as an unequivocal indication that Quinnipiac students as a whole are unreceptive to the opportunities of meeting and engaging people who come from different walks of life.
“I think a big problem on this campus is that students experience only whatever they want to experience,” she said. “They are not open-minded.”
Beauregard said she appreciated the candor and humor with which Glowacki shared deeply personal stories, especially one about how he accidentally broke a toilet he was using at a Chicago middle school where he was scheduled to speak a few months ago.
“He had such a good vibe about him and he was so open to all our questions. I really respect his ability to do that kind of speaking,” she said.
Such an attitude may be the highest compliment Glowacki would hope to receive, based upon what he told the audience his reasons for becoming a motivational speaker were.
“You really can’t judge the quality of life of another person just by meeting and seeing them,” Glowacki said. “. I have a great life, but it has nothing to do with my not having legs. It has to do with living the life I want and traveling the country and sharing my story with people.”