Olivia Marshall has played an invaluable part as a leader at GCC and beyond, raising awareness about life as a disabled woman navigating college in a wheelchair which, as she stated, “adds another level of difficulty.” It is this leadership and involvement in her community that has earned her a spot amongst the 29 Who Shine.
The 29 Who Shine are a group of students honored by the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education from each of the Commonwealth’s 29 public institutions. This year the honor of representing Greenfield Community College goes to Olivia Marshall, a longtime leader and advocate for disability justice both at the college and in the wider community.
“Olivia is a skilled self-advocate as well as speaking up on behalf of others,” said Dean of Students Anna Berry, who nominated Olivia for this honor along with Kate Walker, Academic Counselor. “She understands her own agency as a learner and community member, and modeled for many students the power of seeking and accepting help when needed.”
While at GCC, Olivia shared her challenges and triumphs with other students through her role as a New Student Orientation leader, and as a speaker on the “In Our Own Voices” panel. Olivia wanted to make it clear that she too had struggled both academically and in her personal life finding her way in college, but that just because something was hard, it wasn’t impossible.
“I wanted to share how it took so long to get my degree because I didn’t want new students to feel like you need to rush, and there’s no shame in asking for help,” Marshall said.
Through the support of the community around her, she found her voice and confidence, becoming a leader on campus. Olivia worked to connect with other disabled people at GCC to let them know that they were not alone, and to be there for them if they needed any help navigating both the physical campus and the difficult journey towards a college degree. Olivia was able to graduate alongside friends this spring and sees it as one of her greatest achievements.
“I didn’t feel like I could do college before,” she said, “but the people here really wanted to help me succeed, and that was a huge help.”
The faculty and staff at GCC were always grateful for Olivia’s input about accessibility on the campus. “She clearly cared about being a helpful member of the GCC community and was willing to go out of her way to help others,” said Colleen Caffery, Coordinator of Disability Services, “I could always count on Olivia to alert me to any accessibility issues on campus.”
In addition to her work on campus, Olivia has long been an advocate for transforming inaccessible places in the wider community into spaces that are available to everyone. This past April Olivia and a fellow disabled disability activist led a rally in their hometown of Northampton both celebrating disabled people and drawing attention to the inaccessibility of the town’s public spaces.
Over a hundred people joined to show support and share their own stories at the event, and Olivia was at the forefront, even emceeing events after. Their efforts have even led to positive changes in the community,as area businesses implemented accessibility improvements to their spaces. They are hoping to hold another rally next year, as there is still plenty of work to be done to bring awareness to those people who do not see the difficulties faced by disabled people in an inaccessible environment.
Olivia’s leadership did not go unnoticed, and she was top of mind to receive this honor for many members of the GCC community. Berry and Walker said in their nomination letter, “Olivia has persisted not only in her academic work, but in her work to forge a better and more equitable world for all people.” Olivia is hoping to continue her advocacy now as a graduate of GCC, and will continue to seek out opportunities to be a powerful voice in her community for those who need it.
Due to COVID restrictions limiting the usual celebrations for the 29 Who Shine honorees, GCC’s president Michelle Schutt as well as the president’s cabinet and those faculty and staff closest to her will be holding a luncheon with Olivia and her family to honor her.