Senior Political Science Major Advocates for Dyslexia Awareness on Local and National Levels

by Chris Fastiggi '18

Will Marsh standing outside on campus

Will Marsh '18

At first, learning was as an uphill battle for Will Marsh ’18. The Saint Joseph’s  political science major and educational studies minor from Rahway, New Jersey, was diagnosed with dyslexia, which means “word blindness” in Greek, and dysgraphia, which is a disability in written expression, in the third grade.

“I had delayed speech problems, along with a hard time reading and spelling,” says Marsh. “The signs pointed clearly to dyslexia.”

Since then, learning interventions and hard work have helped Marsh to be successful in his academic career. Understanding that advocacy can make a difference, he has sought to help others affected by dyslexia. He now has the opportunity to take his advocacy to a national stage. The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) invited Marsh to join a panel that will be held at South By Southwest’s educational conference (SXSW EDU) on March 7 at 5 p.m. in the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas.

Titled “Why I Won’t Ask For Help: Self Advocacy For All,” the panel addresses how students with disabilities must understand their own needs and strengths and develop the ability to advocate for themselves so they can thrive in a K-12 environment and beyond.

“I was honored and grateful to be asked by the NCLD to join their panel,” says Marsh. “When only five percent of the participants in such events are students, it’s imperative that educators hear the voice of the person with whom they hope to engage.”

The SXSW EDU conference, held March 5-8, includes hundreds of speakers, as well as workshops, discussions and film screenings that focus on diverse education topics, including special needs, leadership, early learning and employability.

Marsh began his advocacy as a high school student in 2013 by founding the virtual conference, Spotlight on Dyslexia in his hometown, which went national the next year, and ran annually until 2016. The event brought together in the virtual space students, teachers and anyone affected by dyslexia, providing information about diagnosis, applying to college, and other topics.

“The conference was recorded and made available online,” says Marsh. “Parents and educators could go back and re-watch all of the sessions as a virtual resource. The conference gathered over 6,000 viewers during its four-year span.”

Marsh chose to attend Saint Joseph’s because of its comprehensive dyslexia program. The University was recognized in 2012 by the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) for having one of the first programs that met the standards and qualifications for accommodating students with dyslexia.

“All of my decisions tie together in that working with my dyslexia has always been the common factor and my main drive,” says Marsh.

In 2015, he was awarded the Remy Johnson Certificate of Merit by the IDA. Each year, the organization honors a youth affected by dyslexia who is a role model for others. Marsh was chosen for his commitment to dyslexia advocacy and because he has refused to let the condition limit him.

As an SJU student, Marsh was a University student senator. He also organized a campus-wide World Dyslexia Awareness Day on Oct. 15, 2016, and as a member of Student Senate and of SJU Pride, led the initiative for all-gender restrooms on campus. Marsh also discovered an affinity for web development while working on the online presence of several SJU organizations, including Student Leadership and Activities, the Office of Inclusion and Diversity and the Office of Marketing and Communications.

Upon graduating from the University in May, he plans to continue working as a web developer, which he hopes leads eventually to a position in the Washington, D.C., area as an advocate for special education at the federal level.

Marsh credits SJU for enabling him to pursue his dreams.

“My experience at SJU has taught me that it’s important to have an end goal, but to also understand that the plan is always changing,” he says.