The Heller School for Social Policy and Management

Nikita Trafimovich, MA COEX’20 (Belarus)

Nikita Trafimovich
Nikita Trafimovich, MA COEX’20 (Belarus)

Civil Society Leadership Awards Scholarship Recipient

As a longtime disability rights advocate in his home country of Belarus, Nikita Trafimovich was drawn to the Heller School in search of skills and knowledge to support a big idea: what if he could radically change the way the world thinks about disability? 

“In the world today, we only have three models for understanding disability: a medical model, a social model, and a legal model,” he says. “When we think of disability as a disease, that’s a medical model. Disability as a social construct is the social model, and disability discrimination is a legal model. I think that instead of these models, we can apply conflict analysis to understand disability as a phenomenon. I want to investigate the point of view that disability is a social conflict.”

To accomplish this, Trafimovich intends to apply disability to the conflict analysis framework. “In this metaphor, people with disabilities and abled people are the first party, the main actors. Family members, caregivers and friends are the second party. The third party, the mediators, are activists and support organizations,” he says. “I want to develop this idea, explore this idea. I’m sure that disability as a specific, peculiar type of relationship between people, environment and instructions is a very promising field for conflict research.”

Prior to enrolling in Heller’s Conflict Resolution and Coexistence (COEX) program, Trafimovich worked for more than 12 years as a disability rights activist and well-known public speaker. After many years in the field, he found himself in search of new skills and tools. “I want to become an international researcher, a world-class expert, an influential advocacy specialist,” he says. “I want to become a true professional, and to contribute a new, productive, intersectional policy-oriented research framework and narrative to the field. So I applied for the Civil Society Leadership Awards and found the Heller School.”

His main goal as a Heller COEX student? “I want to become a professional,” he says. “I believe that it is possible to analyze many social issues via disability. Gun violence at schools is the way to contain anxiety, fear, stress, depression, dissatisfaction. Anxiety management is a considerable part of ADHD or autism spectrum disorder studies and treatment.  We can learn from this experience and prevent shooting. As an identity conflict with a relatively low level of physical violence, disability could be very helpful for migration crisis resolution, racial and gender problems. Do you know what is the most suitable footwear for me? I have a cerebral palsy and wear… basketball shoes. Disability is like basketball shoes in my case. It is not the obvious choice for peace studies, but ideal for jump and win.”

After just a few weeks of classes, Trafimovich notes that he’s excited to have access to mentors and teachers in the COEX program and more broadly at the Heller School. “Here, I can get experience from the stars of our field,” he says. “That’s really exciting. It’s like a great football club—like I’ve been invited to play with Barcelona, one of the best clubs in the world—that’s what it means to me to study at Heller.”