The Power of Inclusion
Author: Jillian Daley
Posted: September 18, 2019

Linnea Goranson said that one crucial thing she has learned in her 18 years working at Portland State University is that she doesn’t have to try to change who she is to fit in.

“I definitely feel I’m accepted and belong at PSU—‘to infinity and beyond,’” said Goranson, who is an office assistant in the College of Education (COE). “I feel like this is my second home. I believe that because the people I work with are family.”

In Prof. Shaheen Munir-McHill’s Families and Advocacy class earlier this month, Goranson shared her life story of working at PSU for almost two decades and growing up in Portland with her parents and three brothers. Munir-McHill’s class is a graduate-level special education course (SPED 530) for teacher candidates who are building bridges with families and learning how to teach students self-advocacy and self-determination skills, Munir-McHill explained.

As someone with Down syndrome, Goranson has had to remind others that she should be included in school activities and treated with the same respect as others in her daily life. Those who care about her have also advocated for her. Once when Goranson was an ailing infant, her mom had to persuade a doctor to give her care, as he was certain symptoms such as fatigue were related to Goranson’s disability. Turns out, Goranson had pneumonia in both lungs, and could have died without care. Her mother saved her life when she insisted on equal treatment.

But most of the experiences Goranson has had in life—exceling on the swim or basketball teams, working hard to make the honor roll at Lincoln High and West Sylvan Middle schools, or seeing dear co-workers come and go at the office—were powerful because they illustrated how she was, in so many ways, a typical kid growing up, even in the classroom.

“The teachers and students treated me just like any other student,” she said.

The exceptional impact of inclusion on Goranson’s life is an essential lesson in Munir-McHill’s class. The professor noted that her class’s priorities include offering students the chance to hear first-hand experiences that demonstrate how teachers can establish meaningful, collaborative relationships with students and their families to support positive K-12 and post-secondary educational outcomes.

“Linnea provides a wonderful example of the positive impact school-family partnerships can have on developing inclusive learning environments and creating meaningful post-secondary opportunities for individuals with disabilities,” Munir-McHill said.

Goranson’s parents worked hard to prepare her for school, enrolling her in a Montessori preschool. Her mom had been nervous to have her start kindergarten at Skyline Elementary, but the principal welcomed her, saying she should attend her neighborhood school.

Munir-McHill asked Goranson several questions throughout the presentation, including what it was like to begin her K­–12 education at Skyline already knowing how to read when so many of her classmates hadn’t started yet.

“I didn’t know it was a bragging right,” Goranson said.

Several of Munir-McHill’s students—Dani Oates, Rachel Ellis, Jonathan Ellis (no relation to Rachel), Brian Cox, and Katherine Kerr—all said they learned a lot from hearing from someone with a disability.

“Being able to have students with disabilities in the general education population will expand their knowledge and let others see they can do as much as anyone else,” Jonathan Ellis said.

Oates said she also noticed how Goranson’s family supported her educational growth and helped make her successful in life. In fact, one of the major themes of Goranson’s story was the involvement of her family, who spoke up for her when she needed them, including with that stubborn doctor, and let her alone when she needed independence, such as joining whatever sports teams she wished.

“Linnea’s story highlights the important role parents and other family members have in developing instructional priorities for students with individualized education plans and the expertise parents bring to the collaborative process,” Munir-McHill said.

Photo: Linnea Goranson shares her story.

To share stories with the College of Education, contact Jillian Daley at