Janelle Diaz says two things made her undergraduate experience at UMass Lowell really special: residence life and the club she founded, Disable the Label.
“Being a resident adviser (RA) opens up many leadership opportunities,” says Diaz, who was an RA for two years and an assistant resident director for another two. “As an RA, one becomes a role model and mentor. You influence the experience of other students on campus and you develop a greater connection with various faculty and administration. Hands down, becoming involved in residence life is the best thing I ever did.”
Her other major achievement, establishing Disable the Label, is close to her heart. Diaz has a condition that requires the use of a wheelchair. After some experience being a student on campus with a disability, she decided a group for other students facing obstacles would be helpful.
“Disable the Label is a student organization made up of students with and without disabilities that focuses on awareness and social justice related to disabilities,” says Diaz, who served as the group’s president until graduating and receiving the Chancellor’s Medal for her campus work. “We strove for awareness and I am certain we achieved that. We were able to set up numerous programs in collaboration with different offices on campus and we even won the Student Activities Program of the Year Award.”
Back when she was deciding on a college, Diaz saw a lack of awareness from other schools.
“I chose UMass not only because of its great reputation, but also because they were willing to invest in me,” she says. “They were the only school dedicated to ensuring I had all of the necessary adaptations for my transition to college. They renovated an entire suite, including the installation of a Hoyer lift, so that I was able to stay in a residence hall and eventually become an RA. UMass Lowell truly welcomed me with open arms.”
Since graduating from the Psychology Department, Diaz has worked as a behavioral coach and assistant program director, working closely with adolescents. She is also pursuing her master’s degree in community social psychology and hopes to some day run a group home for at-risk youth. Her time at the University will help her achieve that dream.
“My time at UMass Lowell has allowed me to develop not only academically, but also personally,” Diaz says. “I have been able to become significantly independent as a result of the accommodations provide by the University, and because of this I now know I can be just as self-reliant in the real world.”