Class of 2025: Psychology major wants disabled to embrace their uniqueness

Class of 2025: Psychology major wants disabled to embrace their uniqueness

A'leah Monk, new psychology major.
A'leah Monk, new psychology major.
I n high school, A’leah Monk of Warner Robins stayed in the background. She made good grades but had a hard time finding ways to get involved. Her illness made each day a struggle.

At Georgia College, however, she’s hitting the ground running. School hasn’t even started. Yet, Monk’s already taken the initiative to start a new student organization for the disabled.

“In high school as a teenager, you just have a lot of identity issues, trying to figure out where you fit in. There wasn’t really any place that I felt called to me. I was trying to figure out what I wanted and figure out my illness. But, in college,” she said, “I feel like I can carve out a real niche for myself. I don’t have to look for a role. I can just be myself.”

Monk has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which is characterized by soft joints and fatigue. Because of a gene mutation, her body doesn’t produce collagen properly and this affects her organs, causing problems with mobility. Just walking to class can be painful.

Sometimes Monk thinks she’s “not disabled enough.” It can be difficult having an illness no one sees. Her arm’s not in a sling. She’s not in a wheelchair. So, friends don’t always understand when she misses activities or tires easily.

... in college, I feel like I can carve out a real niche for myself. I don’t have to look for a role. I can just be myself.
– A'leah Monk
Monk was attracted to Georgia College, because “it’s one of the more accessible campuses” she’d seen. But she was disappointed to learn there weren’t any organizations for students with mental and physical impediments. Finding support is important for all new students but especially for the disabled, who can become lonely and isolated. So, Monk took it upon herself to create a welcoming club for the disabled and abled alike.

She talked to Kendyl Lewis, an alumna who started Swipe Out Hunger at Georgia College. Lewis helped Monk through the process of starting a new group on campus. The organization’s called “The Disability Unity & Awareness Club” (DUAC). It’s for students to come together, learn about one another, support each other and celebrate differences. Monk also wants the club to be a venue for advocacy and education in the Milledgeville area.

“It’s an opportunity to address any inaccessible or unequal opportunities and to make disabled voices heard,” she said. “I think I can bring strong-willed optimism and an insistence for change to campus. I hope my perspective on our collective ability to make changes together will inspire others.”

Another aspect about Georgia College that stood out to Monk was its “emphasis on community and leadership.” She wants to develop her skills and push herself to take risks.

“I’m not exactly a multitasker,” Monk said, “but I think college will help me with leadership skills and, since I’m not used to that kind of thing, I think I just need to dive in to get hands-on experience and just learn it as I go. I think that’ll really help me to get out of my shell. I’m a person who always stayed in the comfort zone. So, college is a good time to burst out a bit.”

A'leah with her mother at a recent orientation day at Georgia College.
A'leah with her mother at a recent orientation day at Georgia College.

Monk is a recipient of the Dean’s Merit Scholarship from the university’s President’s Scholarship Competition. Winning this honor has encouraged Monk “to keep trying for bigger and better.” She’s majoring in psychology with a minor in anthropology, because she wants to know what makes people act the way they do.

She wants to study how groups work together, and she’d like to take part in building better communities. Monk envisions a future where diverse groups live in mutual understanding and respect.

She plans to start by building DUAC into an organization where all students are celebrated for who they are—disabled or not—and recognized for their abilities.  

I’ve never considered myself much of a leader, until I looked into Georgia College. It has helped me see how much potential I have to really do some good in the world, or at least in whatever immediate community I’m in. And the community here feels so warm and friendly. It feels like I belong.
– Monk