On Thursday, Nov. 1, the UMaine Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies, otherwise known as the CCIDS, hosted an afternoon lecture and award ceremony at the Buchanan Alumni House to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the organization.
The CCIDS was founded in 1992 to improve the quality of life for individuals with disabilities through education, research and community outreach. The center works closely with members of the community throughout Maine on issues of diversity, inclusion and social justice.
Lucille A. Zeph, founding director of the CCIDS and dean of the Division of Lifelong Learning, discussed in her welcome address the progress the center has made over the past two decades.
“Despite the fact that we spend each day addressing issues and concerns and feeling as though there’s so much to be done, a bit of reflection to where we were when we began is reassuring in many ways,” Zeph said, “because the history of the center and Maine’s disability history in the past 20 years are invariably intertwined.”
Stephen T. Murphy, Ph.D., delivered a lecture titled “From Segregation to Self-Determination: Looking Back, Looking Ahead,” which focused on eugenics and the history of discrimination against individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities within Maine.
Murphy is the author of “Voices of Pineland: Eugenics, Social Reform, and the Legacy of ‘Feeblemindedness’ in Maine” and a former professor at the University of Southern Maine.
Murphy’s focus was on the history of Pineland Farms, a facility for individuals with mental disabilities in New Gloucester, Maine that opened its doors in the early 1900s.
“The new facility was called a school, but it was actually a colony for a wide variety of people of varied ages who were poor, orphaned, aged, or in some other way troubled and not wanted by their communities,” Murphy said.
He spoke of the devastating decline of the facility throughout its history and of the tragic discrimination faced by those deemed “feeble-minded” by the state.
He also relayed the story of Malaga Island, which housed a small interracial community near Casco Bay until 1912, when the residents were forcibly removed and many were placed in institutions. Maine authorities then exhumed the graves of those buried on the island and reburied them at the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded. A statement of regret for the incident was issued in 2010.
“In describing the residents and defending their actions, state officials used language that by now was synonymous with the menace of ‘feeble-mindedness,’” Murphy said. “All authorities had to do was refer to the islanders as defective and degenerate.”
In 1925, the state of Maine passed a law that allowed the forced eugenic sterilization of individuals with mental disabilities.
Three hundred and twenty-six people were sterilized in Maine between 1925 and 1963. Of those sterilized, 86 percent were women. The state of Maine has never publicly apologized for eugenic sterilization.
According to Murphy, institutional reform began in the 1960s with public revelations of the poor conditions of institutions.
“During that period, national media accounts of institutional life appeared,” Murphy said, “complete with blurred photos of grossly overcrowded and abusive conditions within the decaying, poorly maintained buildings.”
Pineland continued to decline into the late 1970s, when it was put into a federal receivership program after allegations of abuse. Many of the residents were placed in boarding homes and apartments in the early 1990s and it eventually closed in 1996.
In 2000, Pineland was purchased by the Libra Foundation, an institution that aids charities and organizations within Maine, and underwent an intensive transformation. It now hosts various recreational activities, food production facilities and educational workshops.
“Pineland’s story is one of social change and I am very optimistic that we will continue to change in a positive direction,” Murphy said, “but not without intensive effort, considerable time and disappointing setbacks.”
Murphy stressed the need to be aware of the history of discrimination, which is necessary to prevent future discrimination and exclusion of any group of individuals.
Following the lecture, the 2012 Daring to Dream award ceremony was held in honor of individuals who have made a difference in the lives of people with disabilities within the community.
The Public Policy Change Award, given for civil rights advocacy and public policy change, was awarded to David Noble Stockford of the Maine Department of Education. The Social Change Award, given for leadership in advancing social change, was awarded to self-advocate Avery Olmstead. The Advocacy Award, given for support of Maine’s self-advocacy movement, was awarded to Jodi Benvie of the Disability Rights Center. The Scholarship Award, for disability scholarship, was awarded to guest lecturer Murphy.