Inclusion in Higher Education

CW: Ableism

A former Hocking College football player with Down syndrome is suing his alma mater, its president, and numerous current and former college workers. He alleges disability discrimination, retaliation, and assault.

Down syndrome is caused by chromosome 21 trisomy; it is one of the most well-known chromosomal disorders in humans. It affects most body systems, resulting in various clinical symptoms such as intellectual disability, small stature, flat face, flat nasal bridge, pronounced epicanthic folds, up slanting palpebral fissures, and a protruding tongue.

Down syndrome is also linked to a higher chance of developing other medical issues. Common comorbidities in individuals with Down syndrome include heart defects, sleep apnea, and leukemia. Individuals with Down syndrome have varying degrees of intellectual disability ranging from mild to severe.

Caden Cox made national headlines in 2021. He was the first person with Down syndrome to play and score a point in an NCAA or NJCAA college football game. Cox filed a federal complaint Thursday in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

Cox is suing the Hocking College Board of Trustees, President Betty Young, Matthew Kmosko, former Hocking soccer coach and coordinator of the Student Center and Campus Recreation, and five unnamed college employees.

The harassment culminated in May 2022, according to the lawsuit, with Kmosko threatening Cox with a knife in the bathroom of the Student Center. As a result of the incident, Kmosko left Hocking College and was later found guilty of menacing charges in the Athens County Municipal Court.

Cox and his parents submitted a written complaint with Young on December 2, 2022, stating that the college failed to do a background check on Kmosko before employing him, and that the college had failed to protect Cox from harassment and discrimination despite concerns from Cox and other students.

The lawsuit claims that as a result of the complaint, Young retaliated against Cox by eliminating him from consideration for two graduation awards. Cox’s name appears in the digital edition of the graduation program but not in the print version. According to the lawsuit, he never received the awards.

Cox updated his harassment and discrimination lawsuit on January 10 with details on the revoked graduation awards. The same day, The Coxes were reminded of Policy 2.08 on “Children on Campus.” According to the lawsuit, the policy should not have applied to Caden, who was an adult graduate of Hocking College at the time.

Unfortunately Cox’s experience is not unusual. AnnCatherine Heigl was thrilled when she was accepted to college. Heigl also has Down syndrome.

She was the first person in Indiana to be accepted into George Mason University’s competitive LIFE program in Fairfax, Virginia. The LIFE program is one of a few full-time college programs for people with intellectual disabilities. Heigl wanted to join a sorority on campus during her sophomore year. Sadly, she was rejected from all eight of them.

In the U.S., just 15.2 percent of disabled adults between the ages of 21 and 64 have a bachelor’s degree. But don’t think for a second that it’s because they aren’t intelligent, talented, or willing. Ableism is so deeply ingrained in our society that disabled individuals must fight for the education to which they should be entitled.


Carroll, Jamie M., et al. ‘Barriers to Bachelor’s Degree Completion among College Students with a Disability’. Sociological Perspectives, vol. 63, no. 5, SAGE Publications Inc, Oct. 2020, pp. 809–832, https://doi.org10.1177/0731121420908896.

Fittes, Emma Kate. “Sororities Rejected This Zionsville Grad with down Syndrome. Now They Promise to Do Better.” The Indianapolis Star, Gannett Satellite Information Network , 21 Sept. 2018,

Hendrix, Sheridan. “Former Hocking College Football Player with down Syndrome Sues College and Its President.” The Columbus Dispatch, Gannett Satellite Information Network , 12 May 2023,

MacLennan, Sarah. ‘Down’s Syndrome’. InnovAiT, vol. 13, no. 1, SAGE Publications, Jan. 2020, pp. 47–52, https://doi.org10.1177/1755738019886612.

Startin, Carla M., et al. ‘Health Comorbidities and Cognitive Abilities across the Lifespan in Down Syndrome’. Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders, vol. 12, no. 1, Jan. 2020, p. 4, https://doi.org10.1186/s11689-019-9306-9.

Leave a Reply