Although few colleges and universities offer undergraduate disability studies curricula, our own experiences suggest that higher education settings provide opportunities for students to engage with and act upon disability studies theories and concepts. To learn more about the interactions between undergraduate student groups and disability studies, we interviewed students and faculty on three campuses. We found that students not only access disability studies theory through both formal and informal means, but that they also actively engage with it to develop their understandings of disability and interpret their experiences. Additionally, student groups educate their campus communities by advocating for the inclusion of disability studies in curricula, sharing their perspectives in the classroom, and hosting events related to disability studies. Through these activities, often in collaboration with faculty and staff, students forge reciprocal relationships between their activism and the field of disability studies.


"We can't just grant special benefits to one student group. It wouldn't be fair," a well-meaning administrator told members of Wesleyan Students for Disability Rights (WSDR) as we petitioned for a quiet eating space in the campus center. Although everyone present agreed that the proposal would help students with sensory sensitivities, anxiety, and other disabilities, its practicality and fairness were up for discussion. After all, no other student group could reserve a room for multiple days each week for the entire semester.

"This isn't a special benefit. This is about making sure that all students have equal access to the cafeteria. We're not asking on behalf of WSDR; we're asking on behalf of all students with disabilities—a minority group currently marginalized on our campus." With this response, we pointed out the ableist trope that accommodations are special benefits and we drew attention to the exclusion of disabled students as an identity group. Four years of campus disability rights activism and immersion in disability studies (DS) had prepared us, disabled 2 (Allegra) and non-disabled (Ariel) leaders of WSDR, to reframe this discussion. Our insistence on disability as an identity and our fundamental understanding of disabled people as an oppressed minority group had been heavily influenced by writers such as Eli Clare, who explains, "To arrive as a self-defined people, disabled people, like other marginalized people, need a strong sense of identity" (90). Over the years, reading, writing, and discussing DS have transformed the lens through which we perceive both disability and the rhetoric about disability, and as for so many others in a wide array of fields, theory has given us tools to understand and change our realities.

Cory, White, and Stuckey model how students can use theories from DS to change their campuses, much as we did when advocating for a quiet eating space at Wesleyan. When working toward a more accessible bookstore and better disability services, Syracuse students' engagement with DS led them to focus on universal design, creating an environment that enables "full and meaningful participation" for all (30), rather than on individual deficits and needs. As Funckes notes, Cory, White, and Stuckey demonstrate "the empowering, transformational potential of disability theory for both students and the service profession" (37). Like them, we aim to provide "lessons in applying Disability studies theory across any campus" (35).

For the purposes of this article, we define DS broadly. As Linton writes, it is a "well-developed, interdisciplinary field of inquiry, grounded in the liberal arts…designed to study disability as a social, political and cultural phenomenon" ("Disability Studies" 527). We build on Cory, White, and Stuckey's analysis by exploring ways in which students actively transform DS and increase its availability on their campuses. Relatively few colleges and universities offer DS coursework to their undergraduates, but student groups focused on disability awareness and advocacy have a unique and valuable relationship with this emerging field. Students often are influenced by DS concepts and, because of their position within academia, can access and act upon these ideas more readily than many others can. Through examples and analysis of the relationships between disability student groups and DS faculty and ideas, we hope to inspire others to explore the unique possibilities of these connections.


This article draws on our experiences as leaders of WSDR, an undergraduate group, from 2008 to 2012, and interviews with nine students and faculty members from three campuses during the fall of 2012. Each campus has at least one group of undergraduates focused on disability advocacy or activism, as defined by the students themselves. We chose one site, Wesleyan University, on the basis of our experiences there, and identified participants based on our knowledge of their involvement with DS and disability rights activism. We identified one of the other sites when a student replied to a request we sent to the DREAM 3 listserv. We found the third site's student group on the DREAM website's list of disability student groups, and then made contact with a student group member through the group's Facebook page. We selected faculty from each campus to interview based on the students' recommendations.

We took a semi-structured approach (see the Appendix for an interview guide), asking follow-up questions based on responses. When talking with students, we focused on the structures and activities of their student groups; their knowledge of DS and its influence, if any, on their groups; and their perspectives on and connections with DS activities, institutionalized and otherwise, on their campuses. Our interviews with professors addressed the presence of DS on their campuses, such as what kinds of degree programs, courses, or other activities exist, and their perceptions of student groups and those groups' relationships with DS and with faculty members interested in the field.

All interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed as soon as possible. Following the completion of all interviews, we independently reviewed the transcripts and highlighted and noted common content across institutions and topic areas. Based on these notes, we identified themes and noted ways in which both common content and ideas and activities only mentioned in one interview fit within them. In order to include each participant's thoughts on these themes, we asked follow-up questions of several who had not fully addressed them in the initial interviews. 4

Some interviewees requested anonymity. Accordingly, Rose University and Marigold University are pseudonyms. At Wesleyan, all participants agreed to be identified. Brief descriptions of Rose, Marigold, and Wesleyan are below. We emailed each participant a draft of the article with a list of pages where he or she was quoted or his or her campus was described. All participants responded that they felt the article adequately represented them and their campuses and respected their anonymity to the degree that they had requested.

Rose University (Pseudonym)

Rose is a large 5 public university with a DS graduate program. Student activities include a mental health awareness group and an advocacy group composed mostly of undergraduates, devoted to planning an annual symposium on disability issues and universal design. Two interviewees also mentioned a universally designed physical education class. At Rose University, we interviewed the undergraduate founder of the symposium-planning student group and its current and former faculty advisors, one of whom teaches in the DS program.

Marigold University (Pseudonym)

Marigold is a large private university. Several professors include DS readings and concepts in their classes, but there is no degree program or centralized location for DS. Undergraduate groups include a group of volunteers who work with adults with developmental disabilities, a mental health awareness group, and a disability advocacy and awareness group. At Marigold, we interviewed two professors and the undergraduate president of Marigold's disability awareness group.

Wesleyan University (Real name)

Wesleyan University is a medium, undergraduate-focused private liberal arts university. Undergraduate groups include a group of volunteers who work with adults with developmental disabilities, a mental health awareness group, a group dedicated to disability awareness education for local children, and WSDR, which focuses on disability rights and accessibility. Allegra founded WSDR in 2008, and we led the group together throughout our time at Wesleyan (2008-2012). Like Marigold, Wesleyan has no organized DS curriculum, but several professors include DS topics in their courses. At Wesleyan, we interviewed both coordinators of the DS course cluster (discussed below), in addition to an undergraduate leader of WSDR. When discussing WSDR and Wesleyan, we draw on our experiences as well as these three interviews.

Part I: Accessing and Acting on Theory

DS has frequently been critiqued for its inaccessibility to the people whose lives its theorists seek to improve (see, for example, Ne'eman and Grace). In Kitchin's exploration of this critique, one of his interviewees explains that disability research is sometimes "totally academic—it is way, way away from the practical …If it is done in social science departments and academic institutions we [disabled people] won't know about it" (30-31). Kitchin notes that in addition to its containment within academic settings, the jargon-laden writing style of much disability research and the places in which it is published keep it out of the reach of many disabled people seeking to create change.

Students working to create social change with regard to disability are well-positioned to help bridge this gap between academics and activism, both while in college and as they carry their theoretical understandings forward into future work. In particular, students have access to several key elements that are often unavailable to scholars and activists working outside the academy, including relevant literature through library and journal access and discussion with others who can respond to and build on their ideas (Price 222). Additionally, other fields in which students take classes can provide useful frameworks for understanding DS theories. This relatively high level of access to theory and the tools to understand it gives students unique opportunities to apply DS concepts to their advocacy work, as we did when using the concept of students with disabilities as an oppressed minority group in our campaign for a quiet eating space.

Defining Disability

For members of the Rose and Wesleyan student groups, DS concepts provide a framework for activism. When asked how his group defines "disability," the leader of the Rose group stated, "we don't like locating disability within people…What we're trying to do is design the world and our thinking and our programming in a universal way." When the interviewer suggested that this idea is similar to the social model of disability (Oliver), the student responded that he had heard of the concept and that "we are big proponents of the social model of disability." As evidenced by activities described below, the group's "initial agreement on universal design principles" and affinity for the social model of disability provide crucial framing for their work. Similarly, a leader of WSDR explained:

We tend toward belief in and exercise of the social model in that we tend to view the inability of students to participate in certain aspects of university life…to not be a function of anything inherent to those individuals, but rather the way the university is set up. We're not trying to change the people; we're trying to change the university.

The student added that, in addition to using DS to shape internal discussions and goals, her group introduces students and faculty to DS ideas by explaining the social, medical, and charity models of disability 6 in workshops.

Both of these students highlight how DS theories can guide student groups' philosophies and how they teach other students to approach disability. However, they take different approaches in describing the impact of engaging with these theories, as the Rose student implies the social model in his definition of disability, whereas the Wesleyan student explicitly references the theory.

Exploring Theory

Notably, neither of these student leaders has taken DS courses. The WSDR leader stated that most of her knowledge of the field comes from participation in WSDR, and that the founders of the group (including Allegra) had discovered these ideas through independent research. The Rose student explained that he had arrived at his university with some awareness of universal design and the social model of disability. He learned more through independent research and from his group's first faculty advisor, who informally shared DS articles and concepts with the students. A DS professor felt that lectures and conferences sponsored by the university's DS program helped group members "gain a more sophisticated understanding of diversity in the disabled community and of the current political situation for disabled folks in the U.S."

In both of these cases, although the students did not encounter DS in classrooms, their status as students facilitated their exploration of the field through journal and library access, extracurricular DS events, and academic training and support. Students then applied what they learned to their own work, such as WSDR's workshops. As the former faculty advisor of the group at Rose notes, the unique opportunities to learn about research and theory in academic environments impact students' activism: "Educating people about the broader conceptual basis empowers them to think through a broader lens and to articulate their mission and their goals through that broader lens."

The students in the Marigold University disability awareness group have a different relationship with DS. According to the student leader we interviewed, members of the group are aware of the field and frequently speak in DS-related classes, but DS has not had an explicit impact on the group. One student leader, when asked how the group has utilized DS, stated that despite having relationships with faculty interested in DS, group leaders have not "been well versed enough in things like theory" to incorporate them into the group's work: "not as far as having events, having discussions, having programs, those sort of things." However, she sees great value in learning more about DS and incorporating it into her group:

[Understanding theories could help] in how we operate, how we approach problems, how we approach our events, and discussions we are facilitating—how to approach the questions that we're asking and how to really probe people about the issues more critically…Maybe we're not getting to the deeper root or getting people to think about it.

This student suggests that learning about DS can lead to deeper understandings of disability and different types of activism. Gutierrez's research with Latino undergraduates supports this idea. She demonstrates that when students learn sociopolitical explanations of group marginalization, their interpretations of problems (such as ethnic slurs being written on posters advertising Latino speakers on campus) shift towards structural explanations. In addition, students' strategies for addressing these problems shift towards collective identity-based activism. DS theory can have a similar consciousness-raising effect. As Gutierrez's work suggests, learning DS can help student activists move towards collective action based on disability consciousness, and students' efforts to share DS insights can raise consciousness of disability issues throughout their campus communities.

Part II: Melding Activism and Academia

When students use DS concepts to further their activism, they educate others and, in turn, create opportunities for future generations of students to be influenced by DS. These future students may continue to develop DS concepts as they incorporate them into their academic and activist work, potentially contributing to the field. Students meld activism and academia in at least three ways: advocating for expanded DS-related course offerings, integrating their experiences into DS courses and theories, and organizing events and workshops to share DS with the wider campus community. 7

Expanding Curricula

Arthur argues that student-faculty collaboration is essential for pushing college and university administrators to include identity-based fields of study, such as Asian-American Studies and Queer/LGBT Studies, in their curricula (22). On the six campuses where Arthur studied the development of these programs, "[s]tudents played a role in all ten of the cases in which curricular change did occur" (133). However, students only became effective through collaboration with faculty members (62). These findings also apply to student agitation for the expansion of DS within their universities' curricula. Of the sites where we conducted interviews, this is most evident at Wesleyan, where one professor feels that the development of DS-related activities and study has been "mostly driven by students who have allied with supportive faculty" to advance projects such as a student-led course and a "course cluster."

Of the three groups whose members we interviewed, only WDSR explicitly focuses on the development of DS course offerings as a goal (see "Statement of Needs and Goals"). Because WSDR members see curricular change as integral to creating a better environment for students with disabilities, the group's workshops and publications often discuss models of disability and relate DS projects, such as analyses of media representations of disability, to those of other fields with which students may be more familiar (such as race and gender studies). A WSDR leader spoke about the need to include DS in the college curriculum:

A lot of what students learn, especially at a liberal arts institution, is how to think critically about the institutions we've grown up with, and also the oppression that can be inherent in these institutions, and what we can do to affect things…I think offering disability studies classes to students is critical, so disability is a part of what they're learning about when they're studying the institutions that surround us, and different forms of oppression.

This insight echoes Guitierrez's work and points to the underlying political commitment of DS, the idea that society disables people and that this injustice should be challenged (Linton, "Disability Studies/Not Disability Studies").

In 2010, we supplemented Wesleyan's existing curriculum by teaching a for-credit "Introduction to Disability Studies" course (discussed in more detail below). Another WSDR member taught the course in 2012, and the group hopes to offer it regularly. In the first year of the course, most students had personal and family experience with disabilities but were not involved in WSDR and had little previous experience with identity-based studies and the concept of social construction. Classroom discussions and written work showed that they began to reframe their thinking about disability in everyday life, and perhaps in their academic pursuits. Here, student activists, within the context of the classroom, were able to discuss DS ideas with students who might otherwise have graduated without encountering non-dominant ideas about disability. Thus, blurring the boundary between activist and academic pursuits allows students to reach a larger population.

As previously mentioned, another of WSDR's major projects was the establishment of a DS "course cluster." In Wesleyan's course catalog, course clusters are lists of classes addressing particular topics. We advocated for the creation of this cluster in order to help students identify courses with DS content and because we hoped it would pave the way for more institutional support of the field, such as hiring professors who research and teach DS and creating a major. After initial discussions, a faculty member followed through with the administrative work necessary to bring the cluster to fruition. One of the professors who coordinates it noted that although the cluster does not offer any type of degree or certificate, it "may be our most visible presence on campus. It's a gateway for students to enter into the courses offered under that rubric, but also maybe get involved in WSDR." Thus, the cluster not only demonstrates the reciprocity of activism and academia, as activism led to the creation of this academic structure, but may also strengthen the connection between the two by drawing new students to both.

As with the campaigns for curricular change Arthur studied, collaboration between students and faculty has been crucial to these initiatives, particularly for their sustainability. One of the cluster coordinators noted:

The ongoing relationships between the cluster and WSDR are an open question in some ways, because while you [Ariel and Allegra] were on campus, there was the connection. But as the years go by, different students have different sets of interests, and student leadership changes…The lifecycle of student activism is an interesting problem because students are usually only on campus for four years, compared to the longer life of institutional initiatives, like clusters or programs.

Although student-faculty partnerships play an important role in maintaining institutionalized DS activities on campuses, faculty members from all three sites spoke of the need to allow student groups to develop autonomously from their advisors. This autonomy allows students to push ideas and advocacy in new directions, rather than simply acting on their professors' views. At Rose University, a professor explained that while serving as the student group's advisor, she gave its members an essay by Lennard Davis addressing the tensions between disability and diversity on college campuses. She reflected:

I think that the students interpreted it differently than I did…I tried to get them to reread it and analyze it, but they started to get really busy doing, so that never really happened…But the most important thing is they used it as a point of departure. It's not like they have to agree with me on what it says.

The students' interpretation of this article strongly influenced the symposium they planned. Thus, the ideas they shared about disability issues were based on their own unique reading of an existing DS work, which might not have surfaced if their advisor had been more prescriptive.

Professors at Marigold and Wesleyan also expressed support for giving student groups room to forge their own paths. A professor who teaches DS content at Marigold explained, "I want student activist groups to do what emerges from them as their own agenda." A Wesleyan professor who coordinates the course cluster and informally advises WSDR stated:

I think there will definitely be opportunities for collaboration and mutual support, but I also feel like they're an autonomous student organization, and they might have an agenda that doesn't match my own…I don't think the field and its assumptions, or my understanding of the field and its assumptions, should dictate student priorities or activism on campus.

To the extent that student group members seek guidance from faculty members or need faculty support for their activities, this respect for groups' autonomous and unpredictable paths may be a vital factor in allowing them to challenge and build upon DS ideas.

This independence is not necessarily restricted to extracurricular activities, but can also lead to innovation in coursework. For example, the student-led course at Wesleyan is largely controlled by individual students. Student leaders must find faculty advisors, but these advisors often are not actively involved and primarily serve as pedagogical and administrative resources for the student leaders. Therefore, both faculty- and student-driven spaces and initiatives play important roles in the achievement of students' goals for change. Faculty and institutional support and structures can ensure longevity for initiatives such as the course cluster, as they do not depend on a continuing flow of student leaders, but projects such as the student-led course may be more responsive to students' changing ideas and needs.

Building on Students' Perspectives

At Rose and Marigold, student activists and their work were incorporated into classroom activities. At Rose, faculty members described showing a video about the student-organized disability symposium in a course in the DS Master's program. The former student group advisor explained that she had shared the video "to show how students can advocate, as an example of the disability activist saying, 'nothing about us without us.'" She further stated the significance of showing a video about student advocacy at the graduate students' own campus: "I think the resonance is louder [because] it's the school that they're sitting in." Here, undergraduate student group activities impacted what graduate students learned about student advocacy and may have deepened their understanding of this lesson.

Marigold has no formal DS program, but one professor invited two students whom she had met in the disability student group to speak in a medical anthropology class. By sharing their experiences, these disabled students prompted their peers to reevaluate their beliefs about disability. For example, a pre-med student interested in researching autism learned from an autistic student speaker that "research to prevent autism sounds like a eugenic threat to the very existence of autistics." In cases like this, as with the film screening in the DS class at Rose, student group activities shape DS-related courses. The content shared in these classes helps bridge the divide between academic theory and lived experience, perhaps especially because it emerges from individuals and activism on students' own campuses.

Although some, such as one of Price's interviewees (219), distance autobiographical and fictional work from scholarship, students' personal narratives have an important role in DS. Smith and Sparkes argue that narratives and individual experiences are entrenched in, and can therefore reveal, cultural contexts and oppressive structures, and that narrative is "a way of telling about our lives and a means of knowing" (18). Neville-Jan notes that autoethnography provides:

A means to construct stories that connect the personal…with the social…Autoethnography can inform and develop an embodied disability theory that would benefit disability studies by drawing attention to every day [sic] life experiences within a disabling society. (124)

When students use their experiences to shape their peers' understandings of disability, as in the Marigold medical anthropology class described above, they actively engage in the type of scholarship described by Smith and Sparkes and Neville-Jan.

Student group activities create valuable spaces for students to use personal experiences to engage with disability theory outside of classroom and workshop settings. WSDR members' discussions of the social and medical models of disability exemplify this. As previously described, these students have found foundational DS concepts such as the social model to be empowering tools for activism. Some group members, however, have challenged some of these theories on the basis of their own experiences. In doing so, they can be understood as using their own narratives as points of departure for analysis and as analysis in and of themselves (Smith and Sparkes). For example, several members of WSDR who actively seek cures and treatments for their chronic illnesses question the wisdom of rejecting medical models of disability. This conflicts with the social model as understood by other members of the group, while also placing the students in conversation with contemporary developments in DS, such as Siebers's theory of complex embodiment, which "emphasizes … that some factors affecting disability, such as chronic pain, secondary health effects, and aging, derive from the body" (25). Thus, student activists' discussions of theory in coursework and student-led activities create opportunities for them and other students to interpret their lived experiences through DS concepts and vice versa.

Spreading DS through Campus Events

Whether or not they explicitly advocate for more inclusion of DS in their curricula, student groups can play crucial roles in bringing the field to the attention of other students and faculty. Doing so creates opportunities for members of the campus community to incorporate DS concepts into their understandings of social justice and their advocacy, as demonstrated in Part I, and for both faculty members and students to explore and incorporate DS perspectives in their academic work.

In 2010, in response to students' political and academic work, faculty members in Wesleyan's Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (FGSS) program chose to explore DS's relevance to their field by choosing Feminist Disability Studies as the topic of their annual symposium. The department chair invited Allegra, who was an FGSS major, to help select potential speakers. Allegra included Ariel in the project, and we recommended writers who had been influential in framing our own academic and activist work. One of us had learned of Eli Clare, one of the writers whom we suggested, through an American Studies course, demonstrating how coursework in non-DS classes can facilitate students' inquiry into DS and, subsequently, the ideas they introduce to their campus communities. Clare suggested that we invite Nirmala Erevelles, a scholar whose areas of study include the intersections of feminism and DS. The resulting symposium included presentations and a pedagogy workshop with both of these scholars about including DS perspectives across the curriculum. In addition to the official departmental activities, we arranged for Clare to lead a workshop on disability as a social justice issue.

This symposium inspired some of the faculty attendees to include DS perspectives in their own research and teaching, and to consult with us about other DS resources. For example, at the pedagogy workshop, an English professor announced that she would revise her upcoming lecture about a Shakespearean play to highlight the representations of characters with disabilities. Another professor asked Allegra for suggestions of DS materials to enrich the syllabus for a feminist theories course. The event reached students as well, as student attendees from the broader campus activism community increasingly considered disability issues within their own activism and consulted with WSDR, thereby broadening the discussion about disability on campus.

Although we did not have the same power to shape future teaching as did our professors, this example illustrates how student activists' interactions with academia and their power to shape it extend beyond classroom settings. Our positioning as students enabled interactions such as professors asking us for DS resources, and led to the infusion of DS writing and perspectives into non-DS courses. Consequently, future Wesleyan students may encounter DS perspectives more frequently within their coursework, spurring them to further activism and academic inquiry. These are just a few of the ways in which DS scholars, faculty in a variety of departments, and student groups can influence and strengthen one another's work.

A recent symposium at Rose University involved a different dynamic of faculty and student efforts. Unlike the Wesleyan symposium, which professors organized with student input, at Rose, the student group leader sought staff support to organize a group of students to plan "a full-day symposium around accessibility issues." These students met regularly to plan the event. This group now hosts disability-related events throughout the year and collaborates with other disability-related organizations and the DS center. Although the Rose students did not advertise their symposium as a DS event, it focused on universal design and included other prominent themes in DS, such as the concept of people with disabilities as a cultural minority group.

Like Wesleyan's symposium, this event provided vocabulary for and spurred new conversations about disability. The Rose student leader explained, "I think the impact of it on campus was…beginning the conversation about disability…I don't think prior to this there was any centralized way of talking about these issues." In addition to informal discussions, the symposium is leading to new collaborations focusing on disability issues. For example, at the time of our interview, an audience member had recently asked the Rose disability student group to give a presentation about disability and employment for members of the campus and local communities, which will allow student group members to share their ideas in a new context. The student at Rose also hopes that there have been academic impacts from the symposium: "It gets students talking even in some of their classes, like maybe in sociology…or anthropology classes."

The events at Rose and Wesleyan were invigorating for faculty already aware of DS, and potentially eye-opening for those who were new to the field. A Wesleyan professor explained:

An academic forum gives…intellectual legitimacy to a particular project. If your introduction to a field is in that way, it's more exciting. There are all these people doing all this great work that totally connects to the thing you're doing and you didn't even know it.

These responses to the symposia demonstrate that student groups can play a powerful role in bringing DS to the attention of their communities, thus increasing the field's potential to provide "foundational knowledge for promoting positive social change on campus and beyond" (Cory, White, and Stuckey 29).


A semester after our request for a quiet eating area, students began to use this new space during lunchtime. This success would have been unlikely during our first year at Wesleyan, when there were few conversations about disability on campus. Increased understanding of disability as a social justice issue, enabled in part by the spreading of DS ideas such as the social and minority models of disability, had prepared us to frame our request as an issue of equal access and minority rights, and had prepared administrators and student government members to be receptive to such a request.

In this article, we have explored just a few of the countless ways that disability advocacy student groups and the field of DS enrich one another. We hope that this work spurs further research and conversations both within student groups and scholarly circles, and across the boundary between the two.

Several promising threads for these conversations, beyond the scope of this article, emerged through reflection upon our experiences and our conversations with students and faculty members. In our advocacy for a quiet eating space, what relationships and structures aided our group's eventual success? Would our argument have been as effective on a campus with a different set of student group activities and institutionalized DS structures? We hope future research will explore how the type and extent of institutionalization of this emerging field on campuses influences the activities of student groups. For example, are strong DS programs associated with decreased student group autonomy and innovation or vice versa? What types of institutional structures help strengthen and maintain the relationship between activism and academia? Can faculty-initiated activities propel student activism where it does not yet exist? Explorations of questions such as these will help create the conditions for student activism to flourish and contribute even more to advancing DS and disability rights on campuses.

Works Cited

  • Arthur, Mikaila Mariel Lemonik. Student Activism and Curricular Change in Higher Education. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2011. Print.
  • "Institution Lookup." Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Web. 26 Jan. 2013. <http://classifications.carnegiefoundation.org/lookup_listings/institution.php>.
  • Clare, Eli. Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1999. Print.
  • Cory, Rebecca C., Julia M. White, and Zosha Stuckey. "Using Disability Studies Theory to Change Disability Services: A Case Study in Student Activism." Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability 23.1 (2010): 28-36. Print.
  • "Course Cluster in Disability Studies." WesMaps — Wesleyan University Catalog. Wesleyan University, 2013-2014. Web. 30 Aug. 2013. <http://www.wesleyan.edu/registrar/catalog/xdstt.htm>.
  • Davis, Lennard J. "Why is Disability Missing from the Discourse on Diversity?" The Chronicle of Higher Education. 25 Sept. 2011. Web. 30 Aug. 2013. <http://chronicle.com/article/Why-Is-Disability-Missing-From/129088/>.
  • Funckes, Carol. "Professional Perspective." Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability 23.1 (2010): 37. Print.
  • Grace, Elizabeth J. "Cognitively Accessible Language (Why We Should Care)." The Feminist Wire. 22 Nov. 2013. Web. 10 Dec. 2013. <http://thefeministwire.com/2013/11/cognitively-accessible-language-why-we-should-care/>.
  • Gutierrez, Lorraine M. "Understanding the Empowerment Process: Does Consciousness Make a Difference?" Social Work Research 19.4 (1995): 229-237. Print.
  • Kitchin, Rob. "The Researched Opinions on Research: Disabled People and Disability Research." Disability & Society 15.1 (2000): 25-47. Print.
  • Linton, Simi. "Disability Studies/Not Disability Studies." Disability & Society 13.4 (1998): 525-39. Print.
  • Linton, Simi. "What Is Disability Studies?" PMLA 120.2 (2005): 518-522. Print.
  • Ne'eman, Ari. "Making Disability Studies Accessible." Autistic Self Advocacy Network. 14 May 2012. Web. 29 Aug. 2013. <http://autisticadvocacy.org/2012/05/making-disability-studies-accessible/>.
  • Neville-Jan, Ann. "Selling Your Soul to the Devil: An Autoethnography of Pain, Pleasure and the Quest for a Child." Disability & Society 19.2 (2004): 113-127. Print.
  • Oliver, Michael. The Politics of Disablement: A Sociological Approach. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990. Print.
  • O'Toole, Corbett. "Disclosing Our Relationships to Disabilities: An Invitation for Disability Studies Scholars." Disability Studies Quarterly 33.2 (2013). Web. 25 Aug. 2013. <http://dsq-sds.org/article/view/3708/3226>.
  • Price, Margaret. Mad at School: Rhetorics of Mental Disability and Academic Life. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011. Print.
  • Siebers, Tobin. Disability Theory. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008. Print.
  • Shakespeare, Tom. "The Social Model of Disability." The Disability Studies Reader. Ed. Lennard J. Davis. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 1997. 267-73. Print.
  • Smith, Brett, and Andrew Sparkes. "Narrative and Its Potential Contribution to Disability Studies." Disability & Society 23.1 (2008): 17-28. Print.
  • "Statement of Needs and Goals." Wesleyan Students for Disability Rights. Wesleyan University, 8 Feb. 2010. Web. 26 Jan. 2013. <https://sites.google.com/a/wesleyan.edu/wesleyan-students-for-disability-rights/statement-of-needs-and-goals>.


  1. This quote is from one of the students we interviewed.
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  2. While these simple descriptors cannot fully account for the complexities of our identities and experiences, we hope that they help contextualize our experiences and writings. We are grateful to Corbett O'Toole for her essay, "Disclosing Our Relationships to Disabilities: An Invitation for Disability Studies Scholars," which encourages public disclosure of relationships with disability in DS writing.
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  3. DREAM (Disability Rights, Education, and Mentoring) is a national organization for students with disabilities in higher education. It is based at Syracuse University, but works to connect student activists across the country.
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  4. We acknowledge that this analysis lacked the rigor of some qualitative methodologies, such as grounded theory and content analysis. We conducted this research just after our undergraduate education, without deep methodological training. We hope that future researchers will pursue our themes with varied and rigorous methods.
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  5. University size is reported as classified by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
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  6. See Shakespeare for definitions of each of these models.
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  7. Our thinking about students blurring lines between activism and academia is influenced by Price's discussion of Ty, an independent scholar whose community organizing involves tasks similar to those of a "conventional academic job: teaching, research, and service" (225).
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Participants were asked the questions listed below. We focused on addressing the themes contained with these questions, rather than asking each question verbatim. Some questions include parenthetical notes about potential prompts for the types of information we were seeking. This list is not exhaustive, as we asked other questions based on the answers to these.


  • What is extracurricular student life like at your school? What types of groups are popular? How big are they?
  • What disability-related groups exist on your campus? Please tell me about them, especially the one(s) in which you 're involved.
  • How and when did your group start?
  • How many members does the group have (by several measures if necessary, e.g. how many come to meetings and how many are on official rosters)?
  • How is the group structured? (e.g. what kinds of organizational structures and meetings do you use?)
  • What is the degree of leadership and membership of students with disabilities?
  • What does the group do?
  • What kinds of speakers or events does the group host?
  • What is the group 's purpose, as you see it?
  • What does "disability " mean for your group? How does your group define disability?
    • How do you define disability?
    • What kinds of ideas have shaped your group 's definition or understanding of disability?
  • How familiar do you feel with disability studies?  
    • Do you think members of your group are familiar with disability studies?
    • How would you define disability studies?
  • Does your student group have a relationship with disability studies?
  • Would you say disability studies exists at all on your campus, and if so, how? (e.g. courses in other departments, disability studies department, self-designed majors, inclusion in other courses)
    • How do you feel about disability studies on your campus?
    • What is your group's relationship with any of these structures? (e.g. is there overlap in students who are involved in disability studies and in the student group, do you get funding from them, do you co-host events, do you explicitly use ideas from the courses)
      • (If appropriate) Why, if at all, does that connection matter?
    • How do you feel about the interaction between your student group and disability studies (formal and/or informal)?
  • Regardless of disability studies structures on campus: What kind of relationship would you like to see between disability student groups (or yours in particular) and disability studies?
  • Are there groups with which you regularly collaborate? If so, what does this collaboration look like?
    • How is this collaboration grounded in theory (e.g. queer theory, disability theory, other ideas about normalcy)? Grounded in issues?
  • Is there anything else you think I should know or look into, or anyone else with whom I should talk?



  • Why are you interested in disability studies?
  • What is the status of disability studies on your campus?
  • Is there collaboration between disability studies and other departments on your campus?
  • What is the attitude of the campus/other departments/administrators, etc. towards disability studies? Now? As it was evolving?
  • What is the history of how disability studies got to your campus?
  • (If it hasn 't come up) Do you think disability studies is currently expanding, contracting, or remaining stable on your campus?
  • What kinds of students are interested in disability studies classes/ideas? (e.g. disabled or not, disciplinary interests, pre-professional or not, activist or not)
  • Please tell me about disability student groups on your campus, as you see them. (Prompt with group names if necessary.)
    • What is your relationship with student(s) in this/these group(s)?
    • Do you think those students and/or the groups have impacted disability studies on your campus? How?
    • How, if at all, has disability studies impacted the group(s)?
    • How do you feel about this interaction?
      • (If appropriate) Why, if at all, does that connection matter?
    • What kind of relationship would you like to see between disability student groups and disability studies, on your campus or in general?
  • How do you believe that disability studies is perceived as compared to other fields in academia?
  • How does your college/university support or not support disability studies as an academic field/its presence on campus?
  • Is there anything else you think I should know or look into, or anyone else with whom I should talk?
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