Woman in wheelchair in black dress

Leadership, Advocacy and Resilience: A Her Campus Profile on Lexi Tokhi

Meet Lexi Tokhi, an activist and student leader who has the desire and dexterity to work toward lasting impact in the lives of others in social, political and academic settings. Her humility, optimism and genuine nature are not only the reasons why she’s inspiring to so many, but they’re the reasons why I’m so grateful to be her friend.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Lexi and ask her about her experiences as someone with a disability, an advocate for marginalized communities, and a student at York University. Here’s what she said!

Life Motto: “The circumstances of one's birth are irrelevant; it is what you do with the gift of life that determines who you are.” - Mewtwo

Tell us your story!

My name is Lexi Tokhi and I’m a second-year cognitive science student here at York University. I’m 20-years-old and I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder. This causes me a lot of chronic pain and fatigue and has created some barriers in my education. When I was younger, I didn’t use any mobility aids. As my condition progressed, I began using a wheelchair. When I’m at home or traveling shorter distances, I use a walker.

If you could describe yourself in one word, what would it be?

Ambitious! A lot of people have these preconceived notions of what I’m capable of and what I want out of life but I find myself proving them wrong. I always try to stay true to myself and although I may face some barriers when working toward my goals, I try my best to overcome them. I never liked staying in a static position and [I] value personal growth.

Woman in traditional clothing Photo by Lexi Tokhi

As someone who’s immunocompromised, what’s your message to everyone who’s getting back to their normal routine and breaking social distancing/mandatory mask mandates?

Although self-quarantining and social distancing may seem like an inconvenience to you and something that’s unnecessary, for people like me, this is reality. Being immunocompromised means that I’m easily susceptible to injuries and illnesses. Staying home and being cautious is something that I’ve been doing from a young age — I made a lot of sacrifices. It may seem like too much to wear a mask and not go to that party, but in the long run, it would really be helping people like me who won’t be able to easily fight off COVID-19.

You’ve been extremely active on social media and present at several protests surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement. What does advocacy mean to you?

As we all know, the Black Lives Matter movement has been gaining a lot of momentum over the past few months. At first, this was discouraging for me because I was scared that I would put myself at risk by taking part in in-person demonstrations. But one thing that I’d like to emphasize is that the time is now! Even though it’s recommended that we don’t gather in large groups, there are other ways to show your support including taking advantage of your social media platform, signing petitions, and donating. 

For me, that’s what advocacy is all about. It’s about recognizing that we all have a responsibility toward each other. I’m not a POC, but I do have a disability. I have experience being part of a marginalized community. It’s important that we don’t just speak on the issues that we are affected by personally, but that we also speak up for others as well. It’s all of us or none of us!

Two women at Black Lives Matter protest. Photo by Lexi Tokhi

What’s something that you would like others to know about having a disability? What are your thoughts on terms like “different ability” or “special” and why don’t you like them/use them when referring to yourself? 

Something I’d like people to know is that not all disabled people are the same. We each have different capabilities and no matter how much we “contribute” to society, we all deserve to be valued and respected. Personally, I have noticed a difference in how people treated me before when I didn’t use a wheelchair versus now. People used to talk directly to me. Now, I feel like they talk to my mobility aid. What’s most restrictive to me are not the physical barriers that I face, but the attitudes that other people display toward me. 

It depends on what the individual prefers, but I don’t like being referred to as “special” or “differently-abled.” Those words are meant to make the able-bodied person more comfortable rather than having the disabled person’s best interests at heart. I am disabled and you can’t ignore that, but it doesn’t encompass my entire identity. Some people only saw me as a disabled person and used this to make themselves look better. Others have completely ignored the fact that I’m in a wheelchair. This may seem good on the surface but sometimes it would be challenging for me because I often felt like I had to fit into this mold of someone that I really wasn’t.

What are some of the challenges that you faced on campus and what can we all do to make our school environment more inclusive? How would you define inclusivity?

On campus, the greatest challenge for me was that a majority of the automated doors weren’t working. This was because some students would kick the push-buttons. Also, I was late for an exam one time because an elevator wasn’t working and they took a very long time to find someone to fix it. Accessibility is a huge factor. That’s not to say that there aren’t any people who help. When people see me struggling, they do help me by opening a door and I greatly appreciate that. I know people feel hesitant because they are unsure if they should help me, but sometimes, I do need help. Everyone needs help at some point in their life. 

For me, inclusivity means everyone’s accommodated for, included and respected. Everyone should feel welcome and comfortable and should have the same opportunities, regardless of ability.

As an orientation leader this year, you had the opportunity to interact with incoming students through a virtual frosh week. What advice would you give to students who are beginning this new chapter in their life?

I would tell students to not be afraid to ask for help! I remember in my first year I was struggling quite a bit. I felt that since I was an adult I had to figure things out on my own. They tell us to be independent. But being independent doesn’t mean that you can’t ask people for help. Being independent involves knowing when to ask for help. I encourage you to reach out because there is a community at York that’s here to help you, whether it be academically or socially. 

What’s your favorite memory being a part of the York University community so far?

Frosh week during my first year was great because that's when I met a lot of my friends, like you! It really helped me become more comfortable in a new environment. I felt like this was a really fun and enlightening experience that paved the way for my success for the next few years at York. I can’t wait to see what the future has in store!

Woman in wheelchair at university sporting event. Photo by Lexi Tokhi

 

Lexi exemplifies how having a disability isn’t the all-encompassing factor of one’s identity and that we all have a responsibility to support each other and speak up when we witness or experience injustice. There are more things that bring us together than there are that pull us apart. 

As you get back to your “normal” routine, I encourage you to be considerate of others and recognize how your words and actions can either negatively impact those around you or be catalysts for social change. Remember, little things make a big difference!