‘I Live My Life and Fight if I Have To’
Senior with triple major in political science, English and religion plans a career in advocacy for the disabled
Senior Amy Litzinger is often seen buzzing to classes and meetings on campus in her power wheelchair, usually accompanied by her service dog, Karma. During her four years at Southwestern, she has not only pushed her own limitations, she excelled beyond the limitations of most of her classmates. She plans to graduate this coming May with a triple major in political science, English and religion.
“Growing up with physical limitations, people assumed that I had cognitive limitations as well and I always wanted to show people that I am mentally capable,” Litzinger said. “Because it was sort of programmed into me that I would have to prove myself, once I had two majors I thought I might as well get a third − especially since I didn’t want to leave early!”
Litzinger has used a wheelchair since she was 5 due to cerebral palsy, a quadriplegic condition she acquired at birth. She is passionate about the rights of people with disabilities and has pursued degrees that will help her become involved in political advocacy in the future. She also used her time at Southwestern to develop herself as a person, and says that her religion and English classes aided in this process significantly.
“My parents taught me that my disability is a part of something bigger than I am, but it isn’t all that I am,” she said. “They told me to introduce myself by who I am, not by my disability. Advocacy is important, but that’s not what makes me who I am. I’ve decided that I’m going to live my life and if I have to fight it out, I will.”
This past semester, Litzinger received the Charles Merrill Peace and Justice Scholarship. She was one of several students chosen by the Religious Life office to apply for this scholarship, which was created for Methodist juniors and seniors who are interested in working for peace and justice.
The scholarship was created in memory of Rev. Charles Merrill, a 1959 Southwestern graduate who became a Methodist minister and was known for raising issues related to injustice until his death in 2006.
During Homecoming last fall, Litzinger met Merrill’s widow, daughters and grandchildren, including a grandson who is a first-year student at Southwestern. They officially recognized her in the Homecoming Chapel Service and enjoyed a lunch with her afterward.
“They were a really sweet family that really supported me and my goals about incorporating change in Christian churches concerning people with disabilities that will hopefully bring larger societal change,” Litzinger said. “They actually brought up some ideas that I hadn’t thought about. It was nice to get my vision affirmed by someone who knows a lot more about change than I do.”
Her application was reviewed by the Office of Religious Life as well as Merrill’s family. In her application, she discussed her previous work in the disability community and her involvement in her school activities. Litzinger has served on the National Council on Disability’s Youth Advisory Committee. The National Council on Disability is appointed by the President, and Litzinger was the youngest vice chair on the agency’s Youth Advisory Committee when she was 15. Her job consisted of writing position papers to the NCD that discussed issues that are important to youth and suggested ways to improve in these areas. The topics she wrote about were public transportation, independent living and attendant services.
Litzinger is currently on the National Youth Leadership Network (NYLN), which focuses on youth outreach for students with disabilities. She is a former chair of their Membership Committee. In that position, she provided information about local services for students with disabilities. Currently, she is on the Advocacy Committee, which runs teleconferences for members.
She also has served on the ACCESS Advisory Committee for Capital Metro, a public transportation authority in Austin.
In a religion capstone class that Litzinger took last fall, she wrote extensively on the inaccessibility of taking communion in most churches. Her goal was to approach the issue inclusively. Instead of presenting her case as “The church is being discriminatory to me and others with disabilities,” her argument suggested that, “This could be easier and more inclusive for everyone if we make a few changes.” She suggests that advocates who are focuses on disability take a similarly positive, inclusive approach because it would invite communities that are not organizes around disability to understand and work with advocates.
“I’ve noticed that a lot of the things that needed to be addressed in disability policy aren’t addressed because the political advocacy side was too fractured,” Litzinger said. “It turned into some disabilities demanding more attention than the others. I disagree with this and realized that if I was to make a change, I would need to find a way for people to coalesce across disability movements instead of pitting against each other. Currently, the non-disabled community sees us in-fighting instead of having a common goal.”
According to Litzinger, the common goal should be to present themselves as people who are willing to contribute to society as a whole, instead of focusing on the label of the disability.
“Comparative religion classes have showed me that there are multiple ways of approaching an issue,” she said. “This has helped me to understand that you need to approach a political issue through someone else’s standpoint before they can understand your argument. Focusing on isolated disabilities neglects the intricacies of the whole picture. A lot of people may not understand my needs and it’s important for me to see why and how I can inform them in the most positive, inclusive way.”
Litzinger chose Southwestern because it accommodated her needs. She said being at Southwestern has trained her to always be prepared to present herself and her case very clearly and concisely. It’s taught her to apply any skill to any different task that she may face. She has participated in a variety of campus activities, including Theatre for Social Justice, SU Native, the Student Peace Alliance and Sigma Phi Lambda.
Activities outside of Southwestern include her work with Texas Hearing and Service Dogs. She and Karma have been invited by Professor Laura Hobgood-Oster to visit a First-Year Seminar class about dogs to demonstrate how they work together, as well as answer questions about the role and impact of a service dog.
Litzinger plans to go to seminary after graduating and hopes to work in a way that will help faith-based organizations work together on political issues, specifically disability advocacy.
− Mikaela Santini ’10