Women's History Month: Pamella Shaw

An advocate and mentor for students with disabilities

Dr. Pamella Shaw, the IU School of Dentistry’s associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion, is passionate when an issue revolves around students, particularly students with disabilities. One of the three recipients of IUPUI’s Advocates for Equity in Ability award, since she became the dental school’s chief diversity officer in 2013, Shaw has made it a priority to ensure that accommodations are provided to students who need them.

“In the past, not only did students have a fear of doing it, but if a faculty member had a student that identified that they needed more time or a special circumstance, like a quiet place, the faculty had the responsibility of finding out how to deal with that,” said Shaw, who has a child with a disability and has a disability herself.

“Sometimes the students felt that the faculty thought it was an imposition, and there’s still a fear that their peers and others in the profession may look down on them because they can’t do this or that, because of this disability that’s documented. We kind of changed that.”

Shaw has implemented a process where after identifying a need, students are directed to her office, then to IUPUI’s Office of Adaptive Education Services (AES). AES provides Shaw’s office with the necessary information, including the student’s accommodations, and a member of Shaw’s staff communicates with the faculty that instructs the student. When the student has to take an academic assessment, the faculty gives Shaw’s office a password and the student can take their exam in a computer lab established by Shaw without having to be in the classroom.

“We handle it all, so the student doesn’t have to worry about going into the classroom and making the faculty feel like they have more to do, staying longer so everybody can see—they just don’t go,” explained Shaw, who is on the Down Syndrome Indiana board.

“Being that advocate for those students is so important because our curriculums are challenging and students don’t always know how to advocate for themselves. During the process of doing that, I start off by talking to them about how to advocate for themselves and understanding that, ‘This is legal, you have the right to receive these accommodations.’

“It has nothing to do with their intelligence and if we can make it easier for them to get through a program, and to be able to practice dentistry, then why not?” she continued. “I’ve got my work to do, though. But certainly as long as I’m here, I’m going to do as much as I can.”