November 15, 1999
Volume 52, No. 12
McCord brings diverse experience to Disability Services
After living in California for nearly 18 years, Gloria Weaver McCord has grown accustomed to seeing people of all shapes and sizes, all colors, nationalities and religions. In fact, that's one of the things that attracted her to Emory to become the University's new director of Disability Services.
"The diversity is real here," she said. "I knew the flavor here would be multicultural, and there would be a sense that my eyes would be compatible with my current experiences of looking at differences and approaching differences and relating to vast diversity--not just one group of people."
It wasn't always so in McCord's hometown. Having grown up in northwest Atlanta, she remembers a city of simply black and white, and when she moved out to California to begin working in the Riverside Community College District, it was an immersion in varied cultures. "When you live on the West Coast, you get a greater sense of multiculturalism; you've got pockets of people," she said. "Now in Atlanta, I see communities of people evolving."
Diversity and human evolution--primarily psychological evolution--are areas in which McCord has worked extensively. Much of her professional life has been spent teaching people about differences, both their own and others'. She's served as a faculty member in reading education, then as an administrator for learning resources, affirmative action, labor issues, sexual harassment and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Now she takes the reins at Emory of a program that has been without a director for more than a year. The Disability Services office has been running along smoothly in the interim, she insists, but what she can provide is some direction.
"I'm a very structured person," she said. "I'm just comfortable with planning. So what I wanted to see attacked first was the organizational structure, and I addressed that by having one-on-one meetings with everybody, talking about what they did, and then finding where there were gaps and overlaps."
McCord oversees an office of two counselors, two graduate assistants, an administrative assistant and an accommodation specialist, all of whom address the needs of students, faculty and staff both at Emory and Oxford. Once she figured out who should take care of what duties, McCord set her mind to planning programs that will educate the Emory community about disabilities and what can be done about them.
For example, she hopes to have a handbook for faculty ready by the start of the 2000-01 year that will help Emory professors know the differences between the broad range of conditions covered under the umbrella term "learning disability." A student with dyslexia, McCord explained, has different needs from one with attention deficit disorder, and so on.
"What we want to do is break it down into categories and give definitions that are workable," she said. "We think that would make the faculty community much more comfortable with the students so that their learning experience can be maximized, not minimized because the professors think they're taking on something they don't have enough information about."
She also hopes to meet personally with different departments or faculty groups to explain what her office does and answer any questions they may have. But McCord said she doesn't see battling stereotypes as a major part of her job. "For the most part, faculty here appear to be sensitive," she said. "Prior to my coming, there seems to have been an orientation [to disability issues] that was done fairly well."
Not that it would be a problem for McCord to fight prejudices about something she believes in. In Riverside she was instrumental in helping settle several lawsuits against the college district, one of which basically challenged the right of the school to give a failing grade. A student filed a discrimination complaint and sued the district on the grounds that a particular grade was both sexually and racially motivated.
The suit was settled after the college district agreed to a number of conditions, such as clearly posting the compliance process so people didn't have to search through various books or manuals. "The whole purpose of [her office] being there was to serve the people who believe they have been discriminated against, so we agreed to make the guidelines easily accessible," she said. But on the issue of changing a grade, she said the college won out.
"That was a stand on principle," McCord said. "There was no corroboration that the faculty member had given the grade unfairly. It was based on academic performance. And it was clinical-it wasn't even theory, so there was no room for subjectivity. The bottom line is that they wanted us to direct the faculty into changing the grade, and we just can't have that in academia. That would break down the whole system."
McCord said she took no small amount of heat for that case since the complainant happened to be African American. "I got cold shoulders in church and everywhere" from people who thought she was fighting for the wrong side, she said. "But it was principle."
Now McCord can stand on principle at Emory, and in Atlanta. Her husband and two sons don't have much experience with "this Deep South stuff" and all that it means in 1999. "As a Southern woman, I brought all my traditional Baptist ideas to the table" in her family, she said. "But that's not the same as growing up here."