Jessica Murray was a Futures Initiative fellow from 2016-2019, and graduated in 2020 with a PhD in Developmental Psychology. Her research focuses on the relationships between self-determination, well-being, and transportation for disabled people. Jessica served as the Designer and Web Developer for the Futures Initiative during her three-year tenure, and says that her time on the team “really changed the way [she] took on collaborative work in a way that focused less on hierarchies and more on intentional inclusion of everyone involved.” In 2021, Jessica’s fight for more accessible transit options in New York City was documented in a feature film, The Biggest Obstacle.
Dr. Murray’s full interview can be read below.
Q: What was your PhD program?
A: Developmental psychology.
Q: Research focus?
A: The relationships between self-determination, well-being, and transportation for disabled people.
Q: Preferred Pronouns?
Q: Year of graduation?
Q: Year(s) affiliated with FI?
A: 3 (2016-2019).
Q: Favorite FI memory?
A: One memory that stuck out was speaking to the FI Peer Leaders about disability history, social models, and obstacles to inclusion in society. They were all so eager to engage with these topics despite not having a lot of background knowledge to work with, even about major events, such as the closure of the Willowbrook State School, which took place in New York City only a few decades ago. We had a very spirited conversation which made an impression and later influenced my decision to work on developing local disability history resources and curriculum.
Q: How would you describe the ways in which FI provides support for graduate students?
A: Besides having supportive colleagues and mentors who taught me most of what I know about higher education, Futures Initiative really changed the way I took on collaborative work in a way that focused less on hierarchies and more on intentional inclusion of everyone involved. FI does so much to support graduate students, including giving them the opportunity to engage in truly interdisciplinary education, become better teachers, and navigate the higher ed landscape.
Q: Current career? What do you want to do in the future?
A: Currently, I’m working part-time with an FI-affiliated program, Transformative Learning in the Humanities, at the CUNY Central Office on communications, with emphasis on making our events and communications accessible. I’m also coordinating a multi-year project to establish an archive of the disability rights movement in New York City at the College of Staten Island (CSI), CUNY (nycdisabilityrightsarchive.org). I’ve also been involved in developing a website with teaching materials about the history of civil rights struggles in New York City (nyccivilrightshistory.org). We’ll be focusing our initial teaching materials on the fight for equal access to education and the history of segregation on the basis of race and disability (and the intersections) and may expand on other topics in the future. I plan to continue my transportation accessibility advocacy as the chair of the Advisory Committee on Transportation to the MTA.
Q: What post-FI accomplishment are you most proud of?
A: I am most proud of my role as an assistant producer of a feature film, The Biggest Obstacle, which debuted in 2021. The film illustrates the many accessibility problems that exist in the public transit system in New York City, the political and legal reasons for current conditions, and the advocates (including myself) who are trying to make change. After five years of protests and a long court-battle, I’m glad to say the MTA finally settled a class-action lawsuit and created a timetable to make as many subway stations accessible as possible.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share about FI?
A: I’m so glad to have been a Futures Initiative Fellow. Everyone involved is so passionate about challenging the long-standing issues with higher education and really put in the work to make change.