Vassar Today

Seventh Annual Disability Awareness Lecture

By Mally Anderson ’10

“For many kids, going to school each day is an act of courage because it’s so difficult for them,” said Dr. Robert Brooks in his lecture titled “The Power of Mindsets: Nurturing Resilient Children and Young Adults with Learning Disabilities at Home and in School.” Brooks visited campus on April 3 to deliver the seventh annual Steven Hirsch ’71 and Susan Hirsch Disability Awareness Lecture.

The lecture series, made possible by a gift from the Hirsches, aims to encourage a greater understanding of students with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, and psychological disorders among faculty and other members of the Vassar community. The Hirsches were inspired to set up the Fund for Students with Disabilities by their experiences with their son, who has learning disabilities.

“Getting him through that process, I was learning about something I knew nothing about,” says Steven Hirsch. He wanted to help educate other people and decided, with his wife, to set up the fund to support students with learning differences at Vassar and promote an inclusive and responsive educational environment for them.

2008 Speaker Dr. Robert Brooks
2008 Speaker Dr. Robert Brooks
Associate Dean of the College and Director of Equal Opportunity Belinda Guthrie came up with the idea for the lecture series as a way to include the entire college in a dialogue about learning disabilities in education. “We try to find speakers who can speak to scientific and social issues but also bring an inspiring message to students,” says Guthrie. Past speakers have included Jonathan Mooney, an honors graduate of Brown University who wrote a book about his experiences with dyslexia and attention deficit disorder, and Martha Manning, a psychologist who published a book about her personal and professional experience with clinical depression. The fund also helps support the Vassar chapter of Project Eye to Eye, a mentoring program that pairs Vassar students with middle-school students from Oakwood Friends School who have learning disabilities.

Brooks is on the faculty at Harvard Medical School and has written multiple books about resilience, self-esteem, motivation, and family relationships. In addition to his teaching duties, he has a part-time private practice, working with children, adults, and families with a variety of psychological and learning issues. For the past 30 years he has lectured nationally about a range of subjects including self-discipline in children and classroom behavior.

Brooks’s visit to Vassar, like every Hirsch Lecture, also included workshops with faculty and a dinner where students, parents, and administrators could engage in personal dialogue with him. Steven and Susan Hirsch attended the lecture and dinner, as they do every year. At the lecture, Brooks spoke about strategies for nurturing motivation and self-esteem in young people with learning disabilities by encouraging positive dialogue and eliminating the negative scripts commonly used with those students. “Too often we punish suffering children instead of finding a way for them to be dignified,” says Brooks. “We have to believe in their capacity to become resilient.”