Taking matters into her own hands, Istou Diallo’s own personal experience as a woman with a physical challenge has inspired her to make society more inclusive for people with disabilities. As a recent winner of a Fulbright Fellowship and graduate of John Jay College of Criminal Justice with a degree in Forensic Psychology and minor in Gender Studies, Diallo is ready to travel to India and study how women with disabilities fight against societal and political marginalization. We chatted with Diallo to learn more about her upcoming research on Indian women with disabilities.
With her Fulbright Fellowship, Diallo is extremely excited about navigating an entirely new space and culture and learning more about herself through this process. Although Diallo is anxious about the experience and the reception of her research topic, Diallo hopes to cultivate a safe and inviting space in which the women will feel comfortable disclosing their stories. To Diallo, everyone deserves to have their voice heard.
Diallo’s interest in how women with disabilities deal with societal and political marginalization grew from her own experiences as a woman with physical challenges and the gender studies courses she took at John Jay. “Growing up with a physical challenge, I did not have any role models I could relate to, and so I always knew I wanted a chance to create representation for other women like myself,” says Diallo. She learned of the different facets of gender—ranging from black femininity to perceptions of sexuality—and the intersectionality of psychology and gender. “I observed that there was a pervasive concern to inclusiveness. However, the concept of ‘ableism’ was seldom mentioned, if at all. There my curiosity bloomed and I knew it was important to get the conversation started on disability,” says Diallo.
In terms of social justice, Diallo believes the biggest challenges people with disabilities face both abroad and in the U.S. is the pervasive invisibility and erasure from conversations concerning social justice. “It is these very conversations that commence awareness to the public and if people with disabilities are not able to voice their unique concerns and add to the fruitfulness that makes a person, then they will continue suffering in silence,” says Diallo.
Diallo was not alone in her journey to success. She felt that her experience at John Jay had prepared her in a variety of ways through the support she received from professors and faculty, the diverse courses she took, and the experiences she gained through internship programs, such as the CUNY Service Corps. Her study abroad experience to Cape Town, South Africa in January 2017 also contributed greatly to her research preparation, as it took her out of her comfort zones. “I learned different methods used towards dismantling of apartheid, and it really made me look at healing in a different light,” says Diallo. She realized that healing happens in different ways, yet the universal first step always lies in active acknowledgement through open conversation—whether it be healing from an injustice such as apartheid, or in the case of her research, healing the community of Indian women with disabilities.
Of course, starting such a project was not easy. “When I first got to John Jay I wasn’t too sure about how my educational career would pan out, but I was determined to seek out everything that interested me. This happened through the courses I took, the events I attended and the internships I applied for,” said Diallo. “I urge all future and current students to not get too committed to a picture perfect college career, but to explore all around you. It is in those moments that you find your passion and I hope you all do.”