Jesse Neader sits at his desk in the Student Senate offices on the third floor of Baker Center. He puts in almost thirty hours of Student Senate work each week.
Photographer: Aaron Krumheuer
Jesse Neader looks on as Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis signs a proclamation of recommitment to the full implementation of the American Disabilities Act in May.
Photographer: Sean Work
Oct 19, 2010
By Aaron Krumheuer
Jesse Neader has a way with words. As student senate president, he is an eloquent, animated speaker and quick to express himself. In the classroom, the communications major doesn't take notes; he needs only listen to put a lecture to memory.
Yet as a child, after doing poorly on the 5th grade Proficiency Test in reading and math calculation, Neader was diagnosed with a learning disability.
“My mother teaches students with severe behavior and learning disabilities, so very early on (she noticed that) I was exhibiting signs that I could do science but I couldn't do multiplication tables,” said Neader, 22. “For some reason my brain was not made for numbers.”
According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, more than 2.6 million students have a disorder that affects the brain's ability to receive, process, store and respond to information. Students with a learning disability possess all ranges of intelligence, but the way they learn is different from their peers.
Neader, who won the seat of Student Senate president on the SOUND ticket last May, is confident in himself. He speaks candidly to the press and his constituents about being gay, multiracial and having a learning disability. He said the university, for the most part, is sensitive to his needs.
“Some students, on the other hand . . . still to this day don't know what it means to have a learning disability, so they think I'm stupid,” he said, referencing a comment on The Post's website questioning his ability to lead. “But we're going through an education process. I hope that students learn that's what I'm here for.”
From Marietta to Athens
Neader grew up in the small, conservative community of Marietta with his younger sister, his mother, who works at Marietta Middle School, and his father, who is an engineer at DuPont in Parkersburg, W. Va.
After struggling through standardized testing in school, he was given the Woodcock-Johnson test, which is a standard in testing the achievements, learning style, strengths and weaknesses of students. It showed he had problems with reading and math computation, despite having an above-average IQ and college-level reading comprehension in middle school.
He had a tutor and took classes in a special classroom throughout high school, and students teased him for it.
“Society, being insensitive like it is, always jokes about the short bus and about people with disabilities, so it was really hard,” he said. “I just had to keep reminding myself that – and I guess it may have resulted in an overconfidence on my part – people with learning disabilities are not stupid.”
Despite the teasing, he went on to become the student body president of his high school. When the time came to find a college, Neader said he felt apprehensive about leaving. Touring Athens, however, with its brick streets like those in Marietta, struck a resonant chord.
“I didn't want to stray too far from home; what if I don't like it? So Athens provided that beautiful scenery. It reminded me of Marietta, but it was more liberal. It was familiar to me in many ways; it was comfortable,” he said.
Neader was initially rejected from the Scripps College of Communication because of low standardized test scores. But after making phone calls and arranging an interview, he proved that despite his disability, he could do the work.
Climbing the ladder
Once at OHIO, Neader became involved in hall council, the National Communication Association student club and Student Senate as a senator and commissioner for Academic Affairs. He is now a senior communication studies major with emphases in public advocacy and organizational communication.
Neader puts in close to thirty hours of Student Senate work each week, along with twenty hours of coursework and shifts at his jobs at Baker Center and Bath and Body Works, and “that doesn't include time for studying,” he said.
“I think that the student body president is one of those roles that you really don't know about until you get in it,” Neader said. “I never expected to be the face of so much student opinion that I am, but I think it's a good thing, because there's a lot of room for students to voice their opinion.”
In his role as Student Senate president, Neader is obligated to speak up for the LGBT and African-American communities, as well as lend his input on being learning disabled, he said. Last May, before assuming the senate presidency, Neader sat on a panel next to Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis during his signing of the University’s recommitment to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
It was the act's 20th anniversary, and OHIO's recommitment meant it would uphold the rights of disabled persons, including protection from discrimination and accommodations for access to facilities.
“I was very honored to sit on the panel. Creating an atmosphere where we don't have to be ashamed of who we are, whether that's having a learning disability or being an international student from a country that the U.S. doesn't really like, whether it’s being multiracial or LGBT, we have to create that environment,” Neader said. “It's what I stand for and what I ran for.”
• “Remember that you're not stupid. Even though people will tell you in society that you can't do it, you just learn a different way. That was a saving grace for me.”
• “Get hooked up with the Office of Disability Services very early because they can help you. It's a very intimidating place; actually until my junior year, I didn't walk into the Office of Disability Services because I was afraid of the social stigma.”
• “A wise professor once told me, 'You are the guardian of your own education.' At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what other people say, you have to be accountable for yourself and the degree you walk away with.”