Valerie Schoolcraft receives the Dr. Jim McConnel Values Award

The award recognizes individuals who exemplify the values of student affairs in their work and daily lives.


Valerie Schoolcraft, director of the Office of Disability Services, has exemplified Student Affairs values across her more than 15 years at her current position. Her commitment to disability, diversity, equity and inclusion runs deep. She has developed an intimate knowledge of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the social model of disability. Her focus on students can be seen through an example 13 years ago in which a student expressed the desire for her friends at JMU to understand their disability better. This conversation and a tremendous amount of effort led to the creation of ODS’s annual “Disability Awareness week” or DAW, which is now called Disability Advocacy Week, testifying the impact this annual program has had on the JMU campus culture.  

In 2019, looking for ways to improve ODS’s educational impact of Universal Design, Schoolcraft reached out to peers at Virginia Tech. After inviting experts from their campus to JMU, we were given permission to mirror VT’s “Keep CALM” program format, an educational campaign designed to provide individuals with small but impactful methods of implementing universal design in their daily lives. When the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic struck, these tools proved instrumental in helping the campus community acclimate to a very new way of teaching. We saw inspiration from our resources, from both within the institution and peer universities. 

There is a difference between telling someone what they must do and helping someone to a place they must be. Whenever it is in her power, Schoolcraft exhausts her efforts in the latter rather than the former. She has always desired a place where students can come in and “see folks like themselves” in the office, echoing the famous rallying cry of the Disability Rights Movement “Nothing About Us Without Us.” Her goals to promote her vision in this venue can be seen not only in the staff’s composition, but also her creation of the “Peer Access Advocates” role — one where student staff with disabilities are available to talk to others navigating life at college with a disability in a way that only another student with a disability can.  

Throughout all the transitions the department has faced, Schoolcraft advocated for her staff to prioritize their physical and mental health and maintain a healthy work-life balance. It was during this time that she began to use the term “extend grace,” a message to use to extend grace to those we work with who may be handling the pandemic in a different way, and to each other as we work in this new environment. Her staff have thrived under her leadership. She has grown each staff member toward better versions of themselves and better leaders on campus. Her legacy will be long-lasting, and her shoes will be hard to fill. 

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Published: Thursday, June 6, 2024

Last Updated: Monday, June 10, 2024

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