Bulls-eye graphic with headings Motivation, Social/Emotional, Self-Regulation and Academic Skills quadrants
Equity and Inclusion,  Professional Development

The Struggle for Self-Advocacy

In the second segment of Normal Isn’t Real, Audrey is introduced as a Michigan State sophomore whose primary interest is being accepted into the athletic training program. Audrey’s mom, her dedicated learning specialist Cindy, and Audrey share the narrative of young Audrey and her journey to success. In early elementary school, Audrey was identified as having math, reading, writing, and attention issues.

“Soccer was the ticket to my whole future,” she shared in the film. Audrey’s dedication to athletics reminded me of students I’ve worked with in the past. I have assisted students who thought of themselves as athletes first and invested all their efforts in training. Like Audrey, some faced injuries that resulted in their feeling a loss of identity when they could no longer participate. How do we rise up when our dreams are dashed, especially if we do not realize our other areas of strength? Audrey found that reaching toward a specific goal (to be accepted into the Athletic Training program) helped motivate her to work on her academic skills and to not only accept help but to seek it.

When I get accommodations, it’s like someone gave me glasses.


Landmark’s Four Domains of Learning graphic highlights the importance of goals and personal investment in motivation. The Domains also highlight that the social-emotional domain includes resiliency, which comes from learning from errors. With accommodations, students like Audrey can find success in many of the domains because they are able to use the tools and strategies that offer a pathway to success, a pathway to resiliency when setbacks happen. Audrey likens her accommodations to wearing glasses, which is a fitting comparison but one that not all people acknowledge. We don’t ask folks who need glasses not to wear glasses in class. How can we improve our processes for folks who need accommodations, helping them moving out of the realms of self-doubt and anxiety and into a space of confidence and success?

One empowering way is to teach students to be self advocates. Especially in higher ed, students should have an understanding of the differences in the high school structures that were built into their school programming vs. the university system that treats them as adults. The first step to self-advocacy is knowing the system enough to understand what resources are available. This is especially challenging for students who have relied on others to direct them without building toward independence. Self-advocacy is so important to build into educational programming as much as possible for this reason. As LeDerick Horne points out, this starts with recognizing and naming our own strengths and challenges and relying on our support network to provide mental health support to help us work through challenges and to celebrate our successes. But students must also recognize that accommodations and seeking help are not markers of failure but a means to success. Audrey was fortunate to have that support network, and at the university level, our goal should be to join that network for all students.

Bulls-eye graphic with headings Motivation, Social/Emotional, Self-Regulation and Academic Skills quadrants
Learning Domains from Landmark
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