Washington and Lee University senior Isaac Webb, of Portland, Maine, has received a Fulbright research/study grant to the Ukraine for his project "Disability and Invisibility: Human Rights for the Handicapped in Soviet Ukraine from Brezhnev to Gorbachev."
"I became interested in the disabled through my work at the Magnolia Center with W&L's Campus Kitchen," Webb said. "Through my coursework in Russian Area Studies and history, I learned about the Soviet Union's often inhuman treatment of the disabled. The Fulbright presents an interesting opportunity to investigate the impulses behind this treatment and will hopefully raise questions about society's obligations to its most vulnerable citizens."
Webb will review records in various places, mostly in Kiev, including the Central State Archive of the Highest Organs of Government and Administration of Ukraine to research the agencies of health care, insurance, social welfare and education to understand how the Soviet government handled the problem of disability in Ukraine.
Webb also will study the Central State Archive of Public Organizations of Ukraine's records to determine if and how the Central Committee and various public organizations considered disability. He will also examine other archives, letters and newspaper articles to understand Ukrainian disability better.
"I will investigate whether the provision of social welfare benefits to the disabled in the Ukrainian republic differed from the provision of these benefits the Russian republic," Webb said.
"Isaac has combined his deep interest in, and concern for, the disabled with his fascination of the Slavic world," said Richard Bidlack, W&L professor of history. "He has already studied in three different language programs in Russia and just completed a superb history honors thesis, based on unpublished Russian archival materials, on a dissident group that sought to protect the rights of the disabled in the late Soviet era. Now, as a Fulbright scholar, he will extend his study of grass-roots advocacy for the disabled to Soviet Ukraine in the 1980s."
"The World Bank calculates that the disabled represent 15 percent of the world's population," Webb said. "Yet, although the field of disability studies has been expanding, the disabled remain an understudied segment of the population. This is particularly true of the disabled in former Soviet states."
Webb will study the Soviet state's treatment of the disabled, exploring what this reveals about human rights in an authoritarian state. "I hope that this analysis will both advance our understanding of the history of human rights and contribute to the conversation about human rights in contemporary Eastern Europe," Webb added.
A history and Russian Area Studies double major, Webb has received honors in history and the Elizabeth Garrett Scholarship for Excellence in History. He was awarded a Johnson Opportunity Grant for the summer of 2012 when he worked at the Memorial Society in Moscow, examining the relationship between disabled veterans living in Moscow after World War II. He was a Marshall Undergraduate Scholar and belongs to Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Honor Society and Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity.
He was overall student coordinator for Volunteer Venture Pre-orientation Program, a leader on the Campus Kitchen Leadership Team, manager of Campus Garden Operations for Campus Kitchen, a driver for Traveller Safe Ride Program and a student representative to the International Education Committee. He studied at the Middlebury College C.V. Starr School in Moscow in spring and winter 2013.
"Isaac is an immensely capable and thoughtful student," said Anna Brodsky, W&L associate professor of Russian. "He has a high sense of purpose and profound dedication to his work. He studied in Russia through various study abroad programs and was a recipient of a prestigious Critical Languages Scholarship and Marshall Undergraduate Scholarship from the George C. Marshall Foundation. As a result, Isaac's Russian has reached fluency and his understanding of Russian culture has become truly impressive."
Sponsored by the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Fulbright Program is the U.S. government's flagship international exchange program.