By Curt Yeomans
Matt Glowacki likes to have fun with the reactions of people who notice he doesn't have any legs.
Glowacki, who was born without legs, told students at Clayton State University on Monday about the various ways he plays with the minds of "able-bodied people."
He tells children his legs vanished in a poof of smoke, because he stared at a wheelchair-bound person for too long. Other times, he tries to dream up the kind of spectacular accident usually found in big-budget action movies.
Glowacki makes up reasons for his lack of legs because, he says, it sounds more interesting than telling people doctors can't explain his condition.
The Sun Prairie, Wisc, native visits college campuses across the country to speak about how the television cartoon shows "Family Guy" and "South Park" can offer a unique perspective on diversity issues.
"Parody and satire are often used to point out the absurdities of the world," Glowacki said. "They are a bit adult in their humor, but that's because these shows aren't meant for young children."
Glowacki visited Clayton State to kick off the university's inaugural Culture Shock Week. The celebration is designed to honor the cultural diversity at the school, which has been named one of the most diverse colleges in the Southeast by U.S. News and World Report, for five consecutive years.
Glowacki owns a DeeJay-ing company, as well as a company which makes wheelchairs. He was a member of the United States' Paralympic Team, as a sit-volleyball player, during the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney, Australia. He also participated in the 2002 World Championships, for the same sport, in Cairo, Egypt.
Glowacki's presentation features four clips, which demonstrate forms of prejudice. Two clips from "Family Guy" deal with discrimination against someone because of how they look, and against people with disabilities. One clip involves the father on the show, Peter, getting cosmetic surgery, which resulted in his overweight son, Chris, becoming self-conscious.
The other clip features a spoof of the Special Olympics.
CSU students and faculty members also got to see a recent "Dove" soap commercial which illustrated how a model's picture is altered for distribution.
A clip from "South Park" deals with racism. A character on the show was competing on Wheel of Fortune and thought a word for the final round was a derogatory word for African Americans. The situation was a satire of cases involving comedian Michael Richards and radio talk-show host Don Imus.
Glowacki told his audience comments meant to compliment a person with a disability for successfully performing an everyday task can actually insult the person.
One statement by the guest speaker shocked his mostly African-American audience. It also prompted the students and faculty members to turn to each other and begin a dialogue on what they heard.
"When you go up to a person in a wheelchair and say, 'Wow, it's amazing you can drive a car because you're confined to a wheelchair,' it's no different than going up to an African American and saying 'Wow, it's amazing you're in college because you're black,'" Glowacki said. "You've been told it's not OK to say one of those things, but we're still trying to teach people it's not OK to say the other thing."
Glowacki concluded his presentation by doing push-ups on a table in the lecture hall, just to show his audience people with disabilities can do many of the same things their able-bodied counterparts can do.
Culture Shock Week will continue today at Clayton State's James M. Baker Center when students can have their pictures taken in front of several famous locales from around the world. The university will host a group discussion entitled "What Diversity Means to You," on Wednesday at 12:30 p.m., in room 272 of the Baker Center.
The week will culminate on Thursday with CulturalFest, which will begin at 6:30 p.m., in the commons area of the Baker Center. The event will feature several students and faculty members performing customs from their native countries, including an African drum corps, and an Irish dancer.
"The whole theme for this year's Culture Shock Week is introducing students to diversity, because this is the first year we've done it," said Lakiesa Cantey, assistant director of campus life, and the coordinator for Culture Shock Week. "In the future, we'll speak specific diversity themes for each year."