The Johnson & Johnson Credo outlines the values that the company believes are important for itself and its employees. While each of the values appear different, they all focus on community. The company encourages student groups to show how vital they are to their communities through the “Be Vital Video Challenge.”
Open to all universities in the country, it attracted over 59 entries, and the University’s LeVel organization was chosen as one of the four final winners. LeVel is a student group on campus dedicated to raising ableism awareness. “Rachel Lee, our current president, got an email about it from someone saying that LeVel would be a good fit to try out,” says Gregory Hannah, adviser to students with disabilities.
“Because we feel like we have a pretty good mission, to really try and create an atmosphere that’s socially acceptable for people of all abilities to enjoy college and to be a part of the campus climate, we just felt that if we could find a way to tell our story in two minutes and put it together and send it out, that we would have a chance,” he said.
Hannah says he initially got the idea while driving home on the highway, then he got in touch with Lee about writing a script that showed some of the challenges that students with lesser-known disabilities face.
“When people think about the disability office here or they think about LeVel, sometimes it’s tied to the things that more people know about, such as ‘Coming off the DL’ with Frankie and Nick,” he said, referring to a 2010 documentary about two Villanovans with cerebral palsy. “They just see certain things about LeVel, and we’re much bigger than that.”
The video initially shows various members of LeVel who have disabilities walking around campus and talking about how others in the community have misconceptions about who they truly are.
Then, senior Ariana Meltzer-Bruhn explains how LeVel came to be and what LeVel has done and continues to do for the Villanova community and the global community.
“LeVel was created to expand the idea of community being all-inclusive,” she says in the video. “We raise awareness and change attitudes about ableism. Ability is no longer a question of can or cannot, but a question of ‘How do we make it happen?’ Misconceptions were challenged, and friendships blossomed. We shape perspectives and level the playing field.”
The initial competition for the Be Vital award was a round of online voting in November 2013. As one of the smaller schools in the competition, members of LeVel were just hoping that they could get enough votes to be one of the semifinalists, from which a group of Johnson & Johnson judges would pick four top winners.
“We really wanted to get to the top ten because we knew that if we got to where the judges would select, the quality of our video was great, we had a great story, and we felt like they would give us a chance,” Hannah adds.
After over 130,000 views on the Be Vital home page, LeVel was selected as one of the top ten videos in the competition.
From there, they were selected as a second-place winner and were granted $5,000 to help further their role both on campus and around the world.
“So how are you making a difference? That was really the biggest thing we were looking for in these videos,” says Allison Davis of Johnson and Johnson university relations. “LeVel obviously exemplifies how they give back to the Villanova community. They make a huge impact on campus, which is really important to us.”
At the very end of the video, Ariana Meltzer-Bruhn, the student who started it all, sums up why LeVel is so important to the community, and subsequently sums up what the Be Vital prize means to LeVel.
“We are vital not just to the Villanova community, but to the world around us as we build awareness, acceptance and understanding for people of all abilities,” she says.
Thus far, that is exactly what LeVel has done on the University campus. What winning this award shows is that they truly can expand the change they make to a national scale.
Winning this award gives LeVel the opportunity to truly branch out from the campus and try to make a change in the world.
This is particularly unique seeing that while many of the various colleges here at the University have relationships with corporations, not many student groups on campus do. Be it with the new partnership or the $5,000 award, LeVel can now achieve a greater goal.
“When you sum up the group, you’re really changing the way people see ability,” Hannah says. “Then you hope when they leave Villanova they take that same spirit and energy that they put into the group, and they put it at home, at work, or wherever else they may go in their endeavors. So I feel that we are truly shaping global students that really can understand perspectives that can help them for a long time.”
The video talks about the pressures and misunderstandings that many students with disabilities felt before they got involved with LeVel.
As it showed, however, LeVel is vital to the community because of the way it has helped disabled students. LeVel has grown into a group where all students, both able-bodied and those with disabilities, can build friendships and help defy the common misconceptions that disabled students experience every day.