‘They Call me Q’: one woman’s journey to self-discovery

By Dominique Smack

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The multi-talented Qurrat Ann Kadwani brought her unique one-woman show to the DCCC stage on Oct. 30 in a charismatic performance that kept the audience intrigued, laughing, and craving more.

“They Call Me Q” is an off-Broadway stage play about how one woman seeks balance between her own cultural identity and acceptance in the American culture.

Kadwani, who wrote and produced the play, takes a comical and relatable approach to capturing her personal journey as a Hindu American woman growing up in Brooklyn, NY.

Through a multitude of characters, and sometimes prop changes, Kadwani swiftly transitions from her cultural stricken mother to her countless classmates in a unique way that allows us to get so engulfed in the performance that we tend to overlook the idea that there is only one woman adorning the stage.

The first south Asian female to have a solo play, Kadwani has won several awards, including Best Actress, Best Play, NYS Assemblyman and a plethora of others.

Her performances have occurred in more than 35 states, as well as colleges campuses worldwide.

Kadwani may look familiar to some, as she is not a stranger to television. She has starred in familiar shows, such as “Law and Order,” “The Blacklist,” and “Luke Cage.” Kadwani also teaches private lessons in Brooklyn for aspiring students in many areas of film and production.

The story of her name is the opening dialogue of “They Call me Q,” wherein Q explains as a child the struggles of having a Hindu name in America, while concealing her full name till the very end.

The play begins with Kadwani jumping right into dialogue, her boisterous tone revealing her story from birth and how their family migrated to America, ultimately residing in Bronx, NY, where she learns to call the “ghetto” home.

With her family being Islamic and originating from India, Kadwani incorporates the Islamic and Hindu language into the performance, attaching a detailed glossary for those who weren’t familiar with the terms.

Through the hour-long show, Kadwani touches on issues and experiences that have shaped her, providing new insight for anyone that may be experiencing the cultural pressure to stay true to oneself while adapting to the ways of the world.

Kadwani takes us on an extensively detailed dialogue from her grade school days where she suffered with not being accepted by her peers, to her strongly wanting to be included in the Latin American culture by adorning herself in gaudy gold jewelry, to the high school days where she’s taunted and ridiculed for being the “poor” Indian girl with the “red dot” on her head. All the while, she struggled to fight the desire for social acceptance.

Kadwani’s performance highlights some of the issues a college student could face today, including her first run-in with police while using a fake ID bar hopping, and one of her best friends committing suicide shortly after what seemed to be the time of their lives.

Woven throughout the performance are important life lessons. Most notably is the scene when Q visits her cousin in India in her adult life. Her cousin says to her, “You can start over if you want. People will notice and embrace.”

In this scene, Kadwani is assuring her audience that everyone can start over and transform.

This lesson was particularly valuable to me, being a college student and identifying with the ability to shift into a different life at any moment.

In short, Kadwani finds a way to make us feel her story, live it through her in a sense.

We laugh as she takes us on her highs, and we fall silent with empathy as she shares her lows.

Toward the end of her performance, Kadwani lures the audience back to her name, pronouncing her full name in a confident, proud tone as lights dim, and the audience celebrates this amazing performance.

Contact Dominique Smack at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu

Free ‘expungement clinic’ offers individuals a second chance

By Dean Galiffa 

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Paralegal studies student Brittany Murphy (left) and Staff Attorney at Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania Erica Briant (right) discuss an individual’s case. Photo by Dean Galiffa
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Keeley Mitchell, director of Paralegal Studies, waits to sign in registered individuals. Photo by Dean Galiffa
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Staff Attorney at Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania Guy Marinari (left) and paralegal studies student Nancy Stock (right) discuss an individual’s case. Photo by Dean Galiffa

Paralegal students, under the supervision of attorneys from the Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania, assisted students and community members Sept. 23 to determine if they are eligible to have certain prior arrests or convictions expunged or sealed from their record.

Held on Marple Campus, the free “expungement clinic” was organized by Keeley Mitchell, director of Paralegal Studies. Keeley said that registration for the clinic involved the individual providing key information for viewing their criminal record.

Expungement refers to the removal of certain offenses from a person’s record. For an offense to be sealed, the court records are destroyed that would otherwise be accessible as public record.

“Each individual is assigned a paralegal student,” Keeley said. “After they’re signed in, they meet with the student and go over their record. The students were assigned nine clients each.”

Mary Taylor, a second-year paralegal studies student, said classmates who were previously involved in the clinic recommended she apply.

“They said it had been a good experience,” Taylor said. “[The applicants] were narrowed down to 10 people.”

Brittany Murphy, a paralegal studies student in her last year, said that only seven of the 10 students were selected for the clinic. Murphy said that she applied during the first week of classes.

The application process involved students meeting a certain GPA requirement and submitting an essay.

After registration, the paralegal students were given information on the individuals’ criminal records.

“[The process] is not just today,” said Lisa Laffend, a paralegal studies student in her second semester. “We spent all week working on these cases.”

Keeley said that the paralegal students will inform the individual of what offenses can and cannot be expunged or sealed.

Keeley explained that paralegal students cannot give legal advice on their own, so the attorneys from the Legal Aid approve and make the recommendations for how to proceed.

“They normally take the intake and all information to the attorney and confirm what the next step is,” Keeley said. “Then, the attorney gives their blessing.”

Despite the attorney having the final say, Keeley explained that stuents still benefit from this eperience.

“It’s a win-win,” Keeley said. “They’re getting experience that they can put on their resume. Many of them have actually landed jobs. Legal Aid has pulled some for internships.”

Erica Briant, a staff attorney at Legal Aid, said that she became involved with the clinic through Keeley.

“This is my fourth expungement clinic,” Briant said. “The opportunity to work with students is wonderful because we are reaching up to 70 folks today. There’s no way that I could do that by myself.”

Keeley further explained that if individuals are able to have their record expunged and fit the income requirements, then Legal Aid will take them on as a client. Otherwise, they are told what the next step is.

“If they can’t get expunged, then they’re explained whether they have to do a pardon.” Keeley said. “In some cases, like with a juvenile record, they’ll try to seal them.”

A pardon involves a governor or president using her executive power to remove any remaining penalties or punishments of an individual’s convicted crime. This prevents any new prosecution for the crime.

This is the sixth expungement clinic held on the Marple Campus. There has been one during each fall and spring semester since spring 2015. In addition to the Marple Campus clinic, the first clinic at the Exton Campus will be held next semester.

Contact Dean Galiffa at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu

Shames bids adieu to DCCC after 35 years

By Andrew Henry

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Reading Professor Dianne Shames is a teacher at heart. She used to teach children around the neighborhood for an hour a day before she was an official educator. She charged the same rate that she would to babysit.

Shames has been a member of the DCCC community for nearly 35 years. Deciding to retire after 44 years of teaching was a difficult decision for her, she wrote in a recent letter to faculty. During her tenure at DCCC, Shames received the 2003 Christian Lindback Award for Excellence in Teaching, helped to create the textbook fund, started several scholarships, was a graduation commencement speaker on two occasions, coordinated the Reading Department for many years, and helped to create the Developmental Learning Summit with Professor Dotty Russo, now retired.

“Dianne has been such an inspiration to her students as well as faculty and staff at the College,” said Dr. Grant Snyder, vice provost for Student and Instructional Support Services.

“She has touched the lives of so many individuals. I also remember fondly her efforts, particularly in the early years, with Achieving the Dream initiative.”

Shames also served on the first committees for Student Mentoring and Black Student Retention.

“Dianne was instrumental in helping me to become involved at DCCC,” said Dr. Lisa Barnes, Professor of Reading. “Sharing an office with her in my first years of working at the College helped me to observe how dedicated she has been to her students, her colleagues, and the institution.”

Barnes also recalled when Shames offered a student who

was hitchhiking in terrible weather a ride home. “This demonstrated the generosity that she

routinely offers to others,” Barnes added.

Over the years, Shames hosted faculty in-service workshops at her own home, coordinated the Reading and Writing Department for 12 years, taught in the ACT 101 summer program, volunteered for Senior Week, lectured about DCCC to organizations, such as The Optimist Club,

and served as Graduation Marshall.

“DCCC has been my home since 1984, and I leave with only the best regard for the institution,” faculty, staff and students,” Shames wrote. “I know that my story is not over yet, but I want to say thank you for being a part of my ‘first half.’ I will miss my colleagues, who are also, my friends.”

Autistic students can succeed with support

By Dean Galiffa

Jane Hutchinson, of Springfield, Pa., pursued immediate action for her son Frank’s future education when he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age 3.

After exhibiting delays in speech and occupational development, Hutchinson’s son received early intervention services through the state.

When the Delaware County Intermediate Unit suggested that Hutchinson enroll him in a developmental delay preschool, she did so at the Pennington Education Center, which serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

“At first it was very difficult,” Hutchinson said. “One day at the pool, I remember explaining to another parent where Frank would be attending school. That was the first time I said the word ‘autism.’”

But over the next several years, Hutchinson educated herself on the disorder.

“When Frank was first diagnosed, it was one in every 150 kids,” she explained. “Now, it’s one in every 65. And, it’s more common in boys over girls. I found comfort in that knowledge.”

For Hutchinson, choosing to enroll her child in specialized education rather than mainstream resulted from a combination of suggestions from doctors and educators.

“Typical kids were not Frank’s peers,” she said. “Kids with autism were Frank’s peers.”

Hutchinson’s son is now enrolled at The Vanguard School, a specialized education program of Valley Forge Educational Services.

As she prepares for her son’s future, Hutchinson faces a decision similar to many parents of children with autism spectrum disorder: what postsecondary life for their child will be.

In the journal of Remedial and Special Education, researchers L.E. Smith and Dr. Kristy Anderson noted that families parenting a child with autism spectrum disorder experienced significant stress levels, especially during adolescence. Parents also played critical roles in their child’s post-high school transition.

According to Dr. Jo M. Hendrickson writing for the journal of Education & Treatment of Children, “autism-friendly” school environments positively impacted the mental health of family members and the student.

However, data that indicated a college environment to be autism-friendly, meaning each student received person-centered aid, was scarce. The Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability suggested that traditional college accommodations did not meet the needs of students with disabilities.

Consequently, these students are at high risk for dropping out. Furthermore, experts evidence suggested that the views of parents and students attending postsecondary programs did not align, interfering with the student’s progress.

A study published in the Journal of Developmental & Physical Disabilities suggested similar conclusions.

In interviews conducted between 10 parents and six university personnel, five themes emerged, including the personal needs of students with disabilities and their transition to the university.

Findings suggest that services offered by universities may need to be expanded to meet the unique requirements of students with disabilities.

The journal of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry & Mental Health evaluated the transition from high school to postsecondary options among students with autism.

The students used an online interactive program called the Better Outcomes & Successful Transitions for Autism, or BOOST-A.

The program “empowers adolescents on the autism spectrum to plan their transition from school to further study, training, or employment,” according to the article. “The trial will involve adolescents on the autism spectrum in high school and their parents, who will be alternately assigned to a control group….or an intervention group.”

The goal of BOOST-A is for students with disabilities to successfully transition from high school to postsecondary options, including employment.

The University of Iowa Realizing Educational and Career Hopes Program, or UI REACH, as described in the journal of Education & Treatment of Children, is a “well-integrated two year certificate program.”

The program integrates students with disabilities into the mainstream college atmosphere. Residence halls and classrooms are occupied with typical students and students with disabilities alike.

A student can earn a collegiate, trade, or technical certificate after two to four years of study.

Despite the progress made at some institutions of higher learning, Hutchinson said she still struggles with the decision to allow her son to attend a postsecondary institution.

“When I sent him to specialized education, I looked at it as Frank being in a community of his peers,” said Hutchinson. “He would not have benefited from attending mainstream education. Now, he’s getting to the age of making another big commitment.”

The Vanguard School, where Hutchinson’s son currently attends, allows students to remain enrolled until age 21.

“After that, I really would like to see Frank in a college setting,” said Hutchinson. “But I am very hesitant to make those decisions now. College isn’t specialized education, and Frank would have to learn basic skills in order to live on his own.”

Hutchinson explained that her son may experience difficulty leaving high school.

“Frank does not transition well,” she added. “The idea of college is too open-ended to him, and he views the world in a very precise and logical way.”

For now, Hutchinson hopes that her son will pursue higher education and possibly attend trade school.

“He’s very hands-on,” she explained. “I think a trade would be good for his stronger assets. More than anything, I just want him to be happy. I want the best for him.”

Contact Dean Galiffa at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu

Alumnus speaks of autism at work

By Dean Galiffa

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Speaker Patrick Viesti addresses students and faculty in the DCCC Marple campus lecture hall. Photo by Dean Galiffa

Standing at the podium, looking out into the crowd of students, Patrick Viesti introduces himself to the onlooking pupils. All eyes are on him as he stands in the front of the DCCC Marple campus lecture hall on April 11.

“Good morning, everyone,” Viesti says. “I want to thank you for inviting me to talk about SAP’s ‘Autism at Work’ program and share my journey. To begin this story, I need to provide a background of who I am. [I have been] featured in several major video and written news publications. But, before all of that, at the age of three, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.”

Viesti is one of five who were selected to be a part of the Autism at Work Program at the Newtown Square campus of SAP, one of the world’s largest business software companies, where he currently manages company projects as an order execution manager.

Viesti has spoken at the United Nations in New York for World Autism Awareness Day. He was asked by Jose Velasco, head of SAP’s Autism at Work Program in North America, to be interviewed by news television channels Al-Jazeera America and CBS This Morning.

The ARC of Philadelphia, SAP’s local implementation partner with the Autism at Work Program, asked Viesti to visit Capitol Hill and speak to Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) about how colleges and local businesses can form partnerships to help those on the autism spectrum better integrate into the workforce after graduation.

After receiving DCCC’s 2017 Rising Star award for the 50th anniversary last September, Viesti recently visited the Marple campus to discuss his experiences as a student with Asperger’s.

“It’s hard to believe, but I, too, sat in the very same seats you are now,” Viesti says, looking out into the lecture hall. There was a murmur from the audience as students and teachers chuckled.

“Taking my first steps towards higher education was something I had been preparing for since I graduated from Hill Top Preparatory School,” Viesti says. “My experiences with DCCC were some of the best at challenging me to become a better writer, a better critical thinker, and a better person.”

After attending Coeburn Elementary School in Rosemont, Pa., Viesti’s parents found it best for him to attend specialized education for both middle and high school.

Hill Top Preparatory School is a grade fifth through twelve preparatory day school for students with learning disabilities.

Viesti attended the school for seven years. After graduating in 2005, he attended DCCC where he received an associate degree in communications.

In 2008, Viesti transferred to West Chester University where he graduated Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in communications in 2011.

After graduating, Viesti had difficulty finding a job due to a combination of the recession and his Asperger syndrome. However, in May 2013, a family friend referred Viesti to a CNN news report on SAP’s Autism at Work inAfter applying for the program, Viesti was contacted by ARC of Philadelphia in late February 2014 to be interviewed.

Walking toward the audience, Viesti addresses the students and faculty with nothing between them. Hands crossed over his tie, he stands only feet away from the front row.

“The interview process was nothing like I expected,” Viesti says, abandoning his scripted speech. “They actually really wanted to get to know me on a personal level.”

Audience members smile as they listen to Viesti share why he thinks it is important for colleges to support students with autism.

“I cannot stress enough the importance of colleges such as DCCC forming partnerships with local businesses that will give students on the spectrum a better, stronger chance at being hired after graduation,” Viesti said.

Now, Viesti speaks on behalf of his personal experiences at SAP when other companies interested in Autism at Work visit. He helps inform and equip their administrators to implement the program at their own company.

Viesti hopes that both students on the spectrum and otherwise will continue to persevere and use their available resources.

“When I was looking for work, there were times that I thought ‘what more can I do?’” Viesti said. “There will always be that one person that will say ‘I want to hire you.’ You have to keep going, you have to keep pushing. Even beyond graduation, continue to keep in contact with people who can help you. I would not have graduated without that support.”

Contact Dean Galiffa at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu