Abstract

In the Fall of 2013 we team-taught a disability studies course for a small group of first-year students. The course, Minding the Body, integrated scholarship from disability studies, feminist/queer studies, psychology, and Russian Studies. Originally envisioned and taught independently in the Fall of 2012 by Joan Ostrove and focused entirely on the U.S., Anastasia Kayiatos's arrival in the Department of German and Russian Studies at Macalester College afforded us an opportunity for collaboration and co-instruction that we found invigorating, compelling, and transformative. Grounded from the outset in disability studies, the course asked students to interrogate such questions as: What is a "normal" body? A "beautiful" body? Why do we feel the way we do about our bodies? How are bodies objectified, exploited, and regulated? How and why do we discriminate against people with non-normative bodies? How do people represent the experience of having a disabled body? How can we think critically about the various ways in which people change, regulate, and enhance their bodies? How do sexism, racism, classism, colonialism, homophobia, transphobia and other forms of oppression influence how different bodies are viewed, treated, educated, and experienced? The integration of Russian Studies importantly allowed us to ask how these questions and ideas change when we travel across time and geographical space. In our paper we will reflect on our experience of co-authoring the syllabus (we will include both the solo-taught and co-taught versions of the syllabus in an appendix); outline some of our techniques for team-teaching; and analyze an exemplary assignment and class meeting. We will conclude with a final word about the unique forms of teaching and learning that happened in our class as a consequence of its collaborative and interdisciplinary approach, which opened up new perspectives in disability studies not only for our students but also for us.


In the Fall of 2013, we team-taught a disability studies course for a small group of first-year students at Macalester College. The course, called Minding the Body, integrated scholarship from disability studies, feminist/queer studies, psychology, and Russian Studies. Originally envisioned and taught independently in the Fall of 2012 by Joan Ostrove and focused entirely on the U.S., Anastasia Kayiatos's arrival in the Russian and German Studies Department at Macalester College afforded us an opportunity for collaboration and co-instruction that we found invigorating, compelling, and transformative. Below we describe the development of the solo-taught course and its transformation into a team-taught course, review some of our techniques for team-teaching, analyze an exemplary assignment and class meeting, and offer a final word about the unique forms of teaching and learning that happened in our class as a consequence of its collaborative and interdisciplinary approach, which opened up new perspectives in disability studies not only for our students but also for us.

So that we might throw the rewards of working together into greater relief for the reader, we have opted to recount our tale of two "singletons" merging into an inseparable co-instructor pair in (mostly) chronological order, even given our various misgivings about linear development narratives.1 To mark this formal disidentification, we strive to frustrate the normative time/line described in our argument by routinely circling back to a set of concerns that subtend both the structure of the essay and the course; these include conjoinment and interdependence (over self-sufficiency and independence); diversity and multiplicity (over identity); process, practice and becoming (over telos and perfected product); and other, more interesting ways of curving away from the straight and able ideal.

I. This "Two-Body Problem" is A Good Problem to Have

I (Ostrove) organized the first iteration of Minding the Body to introduce students to critical thinking and multidisciplinary inquiry about the body. Grounded from the outset in disability studies, the course asked students to interrogate such questions as: What is a "normal" body? A "beautiful" body? Why do we feel the way we do about our bodies? How are bodies objectified, exploited, and regulated? How and why do we discriminate against people with non-normative bodies? How do people represent the experience of having a disabled body? How can we think critically about the various ways in which people change, regulate, and enhance their bodies? How do sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression influence how different bodies are viewed, treated, educated, and experienced?

The following primary course goals were described to the students: 1) develop your capacities as a reader and a writer; 2) think about and re-think what you know—and think you know— about the concepts of "normal," "beautiful," and "independent" (among others); 3) see bodies— your own and others'—in a different way (or ways) than you did before; 4) develop your capacity to apply a variety of theoretical and empirical perspectives to your own and others' bodily experiences; 5) develop an understanding of —and an ability to engage with and critique —the ways that the fields of psychology, disability studies, and feminist studies examine the body. In imagining ways to achieve these goals, I wanted to ground the course in a disability studies perspective on the body as site of expectations of "normality" and functionality, while at the same time providing an introduction to feminist and critical race scholarship on the body as a site of gendered and racialized exploitation. Divided into five subsections with titles that played on "Minding the Body," the first section ("Would you mind that body? Physical difference and the pressure toward 'normal'") was explicitly "disability studies," including key texts that acquainted students with social, cultural, and historical analyses of disability and the body.

Among the first texts I assigned was Alice Dreger's One of Us: Conjoined twins and the future of normal.2 This is a conceptually complicated and provocative, yet highly accessible, examination of the social construction of "normality" and the premium placed on "independence" and "individuality" in contemporary Western/U.S. culture. With Dreger's guidance, students questioned their previously held assumptions not only about bodies and how they function in the world, but also about how bodies are culturally mediated and deemed valuable (or not) in wider matrices of social power. Paired with Susan Wendell's The Rejected Body,3 the text animated questions for the students that framed the course as a whole. More immediately, it helped them recognize the ways in which our lived environments are designed with particular kinds of bodies in mind, effectively marginalizing—indeed disabling—other kinds of bodies, while privileging and enabling others.

The course expanded from these primarily disability studies analyses to include feminist, critical race, and psychological perspectives (with an emphasis on the commodification, objectification, exploitation, and transformation of bodies), all the while retaining a clear focus on disability. The basic structure of the original "singleton" course—moving, as one student keenly observed, "from individual bodies to bodies as a group"—served as the starting point for a collaborative effort between two instructors. Ostrove identified readings from her previous version that 1) could easily be omitted, 2) she was willing to let go, and 3) she thought it was critical to keep. Kayiatos offered complementary readings from Russian Studies for all of the original themes, and recommended that we expand the nascent queer and trans studies perspective that was (barely) present in the original syllabus. Through email and phone meetings before Kayiatos's arrival in Saint Paul, and then in several intensive in-person meetings, we transformed Ostrove's solo Minding the Body production into a thrillingly open-ended process of experimentation and interdependence, for which our very different disciplinary backgrounds proved mutually beneficial, productive, and instructive.

While the students extracted some invaluable lessons from Dreger and Wendell, equipping them with critical tools to interrogate cultural constructions of the body in the rest of the readings, we instructors also benefitted from beginning the semester with this pair of primary texts. Between the two of them, we found two of the foundational tenets of disability studies were contoured: a critique of Western liberalism's fully sufficient, self-determined subject, and, against this, an impassioned advocacy of interdependency as a mode of being basic to human experience. In the United States, Dreger contends, "conjoinment might be especially challenging because American culture equates individualism with independence, and interdependence with weakness." She continues, "Being an individual in the United States does not mean being an integrated member of a community, as it does in some cultures—cultures where conjoinment might be easier to live with for precisely this reason" (Dreger 31-32, her emphasis).4 Although One of Us takes anatomical conjoinment as its literal theme, we heeded Dreger's call to think of conjoinment more expansively, as she encourages her readers to do, and applied this alternative philosophy to our partnered pedagogy. Our interdependence as instructors took the form of divvying up responsibility for planning and leading lessons, sharing grading—often sitting side-by-side using a coauthored grading rubric (see Appendix 4). With a single move, we made the double gesture of giving constructive feedback to the students on their papers, and giving each other new strategies for assisting students to become more effective writers. We also relied on one another to cover material that the other had not mastered individually. Indeed, our practical experience proved to us why conjoinment is good not only to think with, but to teach with.

II. Working the Hyphen: from Singleton Syllabus to Conjoined Course

Fueled by our overlapping passions for disability and feminist studies, we quickly discovered common ethical and intellectual grounds on which to converge and create a new Minding the Body course based on our combined knowledges that, we concurred, should preserve the themes and goals of the singleton original but push them to do more in the conjoined sequel. As a consequence, we found it surprisingly easy—and even enjoyable!—not only to transition to team-teaching but also to integrate yet another (inter) disciplinary perspective into the course. As we were rebuilding the reading list together, with Kayiatos infusing special insights from Russian and (post) socialist studies, we remained mindful of the ways we incorporated new forms of bodily diversity into old course content, and strove to make structural adjustments or "retrofit"5 the syllabus, rather than adding a "ramp" to pluralism with an "additive" approach.6 Taking up Cathy Kudlick's invitation to do disability history intersectionally as we added another disciplinary position to the course's already complex composition, we asked ourselves and then the class "why we need another other," and, piggy-backing on her provocation, we wondered why that other other should take the form of Russia in our course.7 By isolating a specific field of inquiry, we sought to expand the scope of Kudlick's argument about disability's emergence as an other within Western modernity to ask at once about the alterities interior to Western identity, as well as the role of Western identity in othering the rest of the world and its alternative modernities.

The course's cross-listing with Russian Studies provided students an international and comparative context for this kind of thinking about how the body is built in relation to sociocultural, political, historical, and economic structures—particularly in the former Soviet Union, where the end of its Cold War with the West, and the relatively recent conversion of formerly socialist countries to global capitalism, has had and continues to exert a significant influence on the body as a lived or biological fact and a cultural construction—not only for the people who reside in postsocialist spaces but also transnationally, and especially in the U.S. For this reason, it was important to us not to set up the former second world for our class as something radically separate (especially for being "former" or "post") or totally inassimilable to our experience in the here and now; instead we strove to frame socialism and postsocialism as the dynamic products of interactions with the first and third worlds, imperial powers and post-colonies, developed and developing nations. For the first reading assignment of the second Minding the Body, "Bodies of Literature," we introduced the class to these terms alongside the other critical methodologies from our different disciplines by assigning them very short excerpts from two texts that define socialism and postsocialism in meaningful relationship to the other "posts," i.e., postcolonialism, postmodernism and poststructuralism.8 The combination of these readings gave students a good inkling why (post) socialism is interesting, and why it's good for thinking with these other theories about how different experiences of modernity give rise to different ideas about the body.

…and the mind. To wit, when making a case for the ways "a disability studies consciousness can alter the way we see" all of literature and cultural representation writ large, Leonard Davis plucks a chance example from Under Western Eyes in which Joseph Conrad embodies mental "abnormality" in a Russian character, whose surname Razumov, incidentally, has etymological roots in Russian "reason."9 As Davis notes, the novel foregrounds "the issue of normalcy" as early as the introduction, wherein the author "apologizes for Razumov's being 'slightly abnormal' and explains away this deviation by citing a kind of personal sensitivity as well as a Russian temperament" (14). This Russian difference, per Davis, is not specific to Russianness, but rather serves as a synecdoche for "the abnormal, non-European, nonnormal Other" more broadly, whose oddness under Western eyes shores up the Western "I" as normal. In this, Conrad's book is of a piece with the discipline of Russian Studies—not to mention the entire postwar enterprise of Area Studies—insofar as it derives from a deeply politicized desire to apprehend the strange or abnormal mind of the Other, against whose enigmatic image the American self appears as the invisible, institutional standard bearer.10 Rather than reproducing knowledge "in this self-referential manner," which "ultimately consolidates the omnipotence and omnipresence of the sovereign 'self'/'eye'—the 'I'—that is the United States,"11 we believed that splitting our perspective between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R./Russia would make the American gaze seem just as strange as any other.

By using "disability" as a consistent category of analysis in multiple sites over the semester, we aimed to deprovincialize the class encounter with disability studies and unseat the U.S./West as the unspoken center of knowledge-production. Additionally, we continued to inflect its meaning internally in a Western context, while also fleshing out its specificity beyond and between "the West and the rest." The students, in turn, were better able to comprehend how the central concepts of the course changed as they traveled across time and space, denoting as much as defining ideological and cultural difference. This was aided further by the fact that about a third of the students in the class were not from the United States and could thus productively articulate embodied experiences from non-U.S.—and, in the case of four of the international students—non-Western, and sometimes non-native English, cultural locations. The multiple and diverse bodies—and minds—in the classroom made us especially reluctant to reify the mind-body split (at the heart of Cartesian thought and Eurocentric Enlightenment), and instead to pay close attention to the ways in which our minds are embodied, and our embodied experiences inform and co-constitute our cognitive and attitudinal ones. Indeed, although we emphasized bodies in the course content, we found ourselves constantly confronted by the impossibility of meaningfully separating out body from mind, and were alternately moved to a more productive engagement with psychological and cognitive "difference" through an integrated disability studies lens (see, for example, the section entitled "Minding the Student Body" in the Fall 2013 syllabus).12

In all, our triply cross-listed course "worked the hyphen" in a more-than-ornamental way; by refusing to "[reproduce] a colonizing discourse of the Other" on multicultural and multinational fronts, our course aimed to "unravel, critically, the blurred boundaries in our relations, and in our texts; to understand the political work of narratives; to decipher how the traditions of social science"—and we add, the humanities—"serve to inscribe; and to imagine how our practice can be transformed to resist such acts of othering."13

III. Minding Our Bodies, Ourselves

Beyond its manifest interdisciplinarity, Minding the Body in its singleton and conjoined forms was a First Year Course (FYC), a unique semester-long learning experience required of all incoming [Macalester] freshmen. FYCs are capped at a cozy sixteen students each, and some of them (like Minding the Body) involve a residential component that extends the classroom community into the dormitory, as members of a class live together in the same residence hall to "[facilitate] discussion and group work outside of the classroom."14 The First Year Course has multiple missions, including assisting the students' transition from high school and the parental home to independent adult life, while integrating the incoming cohort into the social culture of the college; providing "immediate access to [an] advisor"—the FYC instructor—who will come to "know them" and be able to answer whatever "academic and other questions" come up; and finally, perhaps most importantly, cultivating college-level writing, research, and critical reading skills "to ensure that all students are introduced to [the college's] high academic expectations" on these counts. The aims of the FYC are thus designed with a mind to standardizing15 student expectations, elevating performance, and normalizing experience across campus (and arguably beyond), and in this are continuous with those of the composition course as a category in the academy—which is in itself already "a primary enforcer of cultural norms"—promoting individual student achievement over interdependent modes of learning (Dolmage 2008; Knoll 2009).16

At the same time as the stated goals place implicitly ableist and individualist assumptions on the students and their instructors, they also speak in a tantalizing language of access and alliance, which we capitalized on in our class to crip the norms of college comportment and composition in conversation with our readings in feminist, disability and socialist studies. As the authors of Disability and the Teaching of Writing exhort us all to do, we "[used] the concept of disability to challenge the traditional writing process."17 One way we did this was by working the hyphen again, that is, reading our own bodies and selves alongside the others whose bodies were the objects of our analysis across multiple bodies of disciplinary literature; another was by writing compositions about our bodies ourselves, while "[bringing… our] composing bodies"—in all their messy processualness, partiality, and imperfection—back into the classroom.18 To happily relax into the common fact of composing imperfectly, we kicked off the first in a series of writing workshops by reading aloud the first chapter of Anne Lamott's writing memoir and manual, Bird by Bird. In this opening gambit, called "Shitty First Drafts," Lamott speaks unashamedly about the "ugly feelings" that dog her everyday process as a professional writer—and does so with such disarming humor, the class could not but let out a laugh in sympathy, and let go of whatever expectations they may have had about performing perfectly from the get-go, since even the "pros" cannot pull this off.19 Setting this emotional tone with Lamott at the start of the meeting made it easier for students to give and receive constructive criticism in the peer review process that followed.

For this exercise, we had the class break up into pairs, swap papers with their partners, and offer thoughtful commentary on each others' essays with the help of a worksheet we authored together, which required the reader-partner to summarize or restate the author's main points, and note any instances in which they felt further explication, clarification, or copy-editing would assist their comprehension of the argument. We then asked one person in each pair to spend five to seven minutes going over their worksheet notes with the writing partner, whom we asked to remain silent. At the end of the oral review, the "silent partner" was allotted three to five minutes to speak to the reader-reviewer about the feedback they had just received, before the pair switched roles and began the exercise again. As the oral reviews were underway, we walked around the room with the writing instructor and "eavesdropped" on each conversation, in order to ensure the timeframes and silent/speaking guidelines were respected.

Beside the immediate benefits the students derived from an additional round of constructive criticism built into the draft stage, we viewed the peer review as essential to diversifying the kinds of qualitative feedback and with it modes of authorship that were modeled for the class over the semester. For our part, we supplied them copious commentary on the work they submitted (using the "Track Changes" function in Word), as in-line edits and in two-three paragraph "letters from the editors" at the end their essays, in which we applauded the compelling technical, stylistic and substantive aspects of their papers, and pointed out places for potential revision or deeper exploration, so that the quantitative scores we assigned at the conclusion of our comments—unavoidable for the calculation of final course grades—appeared less arbitrary as a result. We determined these numbers with a categorical rubric we designed together with the writing assistant to ensure the students could expect continuity and coherence in our combined grading across the class and the course.

Forming an eclectic, collective body of writing and criticism, we aimed to demonstrate the absence of a singular, invisible ideal against which we measured their writing. Coupled with our personal profiles as instructors with different disciplinary backgrounds at different stages of academic "development," we stressed that our assessments were similarly not attempts to compel them to compose in our individual or disciplinary images. Rather, we hoped to help them hone their own voices and more fully realize their writing styles so as to invite another reader into their arguments, even as we strove to impart an awareness of the various—and varied— generic conventions of academic authorship. In full, by conjoining ourselves into a careful and caring collaborative assemblage of learners and teachers, we were able to explore a broad range of interdependent practices at each step of the writing process, from the first analyses of our primary texts to the completed composition and presentation of independent papers to the class, and at the final moment of reception.

The "body story" was thus a key feature of our syllabus, figuring in both reading and writing assignments. One of the first set of readings concerned "body narratives," and we assigned a collection of first-person essays in which the author's bodily experience was a focal point of the work (see syllabi for specific readings). On the day we discussed these formally published "body stories," we asked students to reflect on a number of questions: How did you read the title of this section, "narrating the body"? How does one narrate the body? What is "narrative"? What different styles of narration do the authors use to tell their personal body stories? To tell the stories of bodies like theirs? The students were quite taken with these short essays and the complicated and honest ways in which the different authors narrated stories of embodied experience. As the students were also writing their own body stories, discussed below, the whole class read Ruben Gallego's compelling memoir of a childhood spent in a Soviet state institution for the disabled, White on Black. Gallego's lucid prose, his "no pity" and no-nonsense approach to life and writing, and his intimate and detailed accounts of (incarcerated) life with cerebral palsy offered an outstanding example of the memoir genre in disability studies and an accessible introduction to Soviet life.

Students wrote two "body stories," one during the second week of the semester, the other during the last week. This assignment, described more fully in both syllabi (see Appendices), was intended to encourage students to think self-consciously—and ultimately/ideally critically—about their own embodiment. Both semesters, and across both assignments, students wrote honestly, eloquently, and often poignantly about their own or others' bodies. They wrote about adjusting themselves to fit in with their peers (or not), about skin tone and hair and body size, about sexual assault and cutting and anorexia, about being or becoming athletes, about pain and injury and severe acne, about transgressing gender binaries or struggling to conform to them, about losing their voices or finding themselves. Some of them revisited the same theme at the beginning and end of the semester, others chose different topics; sometimes the influence of the course content was very apparent, sometimes much less so. On occasion, a student would offer a self-conscious reflection on the themes of the course in their second body story, e.g.,

After going through [this class] and readings that illuminate the importance of issues such as being comfortable in your own body, accepting and integrating … and respecting every body type, I have become aware of the unfair manner in which such issues are being portrayed in the media and how the outliers of … society's norm are unfairly excluded from the society. I am now aware of and agitated at the demeaning sexual objectification of women displayed in the media, especially magazine spreads and music videos. I have also become more consciously aware of how society has been structured to exclude the needs of the disabled in society. These were issues that I had given very little thought to in the past, but after going through the afore-mentioned thought-stimulating classes and readings, I realize the importance of these issues and the part I [have] to play in making the communities in which I live a more fair place to live, which accommodates and includes everyone.

I realized that if I had to contribute to making the communities in which I live accommodating and accepting of everyone, I had to start by working on myself first. I had to learn to appreciate myself, instead of continuously looking down on myself. But I learnt quickly that changing my impression of myself and my body was not an easy task.

Or students would make reference to a particular reading, as in the following excerpt in which a student details her grandmother's decline and death from pancreatic cancer:

A statement from one of the articles that we read during this semester from Too Late to Die Young has really stuck with me. Harriet McBride Johnson says, "what bodies can do for bodies can be very very good." I realized that I was one body taking care of her body because her body couldn't take care of itself. Unlike Johnson in the article, my grandmother was not used to or accustomed to having other people have to take care of her. I think that this was one of the hardest parts for her, other than knowing that she was leaving all of the people she loved behind. Going from being a woman who was completely independent and able to take care of herself with no help for the past 30 years, she now had to rely on the six children that she had raised to help her perform what many would see as simple, easy tasks. Those who are born with a disability or illness only know that one way of life. But when you live a full life without the 'impediment' of such struggles, having that lifestyle be taken away leaves you knowing what you used to have, but don't any longer. Being the stubborn and full of life individual that she was, Nana really struggled with her static way of life.

More than the actual content of the body stories, what mattered most was the intention behind their writing and the new significance the students attached to the body as a site of thinking. Insofar as the knowledge produced by people who are socially over-identified with their bodies is discredited and distanced from disembodied, scientific Truth as its other, the first-person stories on our syllabus along with the ones produced in class made claims to non-normative bodies as bodies that matter and make knowledge in their own right. By reading biographies and autobiographies of other (and "othered") bodies, and writing their own, the students gained an appreciation of the body as a dense site of symbolic power in and across cultures, and, more immediately, came to value the diverse powers of their own bodies. One student conveyed this to us in her very moving narrative about learning she had a significant illness from which she in turn learned about her world: "I have learned how to appreciate the body, especially the body that governs you throughout the life [sic] and gives you an opportunity to express [yourself], either by speech, pantomime, or whatever other action you [can] think of [among the] many that your body does every day."

Assigning "body stories" for our students to read, and to write, proved profoundly useful as a pedagogical strategy not only to enforce key theoretical concepts from disability studies and beyond, but also to engage the students directly in the analysis and construction of personal narrative as a genre worthy of serious consideration in the academy. In their final course evaluations many students wished there were, and we quote, "more body stories!" We turn now to our own, and our students', assessment of the success of the course.

IV. Minding the Student Body: Final Evaluations and Final Thoughts

Throughout the semesters of both versions of the course, we had the impression that students found the topics — and the attendant texts — compelling and provocative. End-of-semester student evaluations in both courses confirmed this sense, including that the specific disability studies content was particularly valuable. For example, student comments drawn from both semesters include: "I liked the challenge the course presented to re-think what 'normal' really is;" "It exposed me to topics that I had never given much thought to, such as disability … This class challenged and changed my notions of what is 'normal' in our normative society;" "New exposure to Russian studies and disability studies was transformative;" "I felt that most of the material and perspectives presented in this class were new to me, and this made it highly engaging;" and "I like how Russian studies, disability studies, gender studies, etc. are combined together and how this class gives a different perspective on everything I knew or believed before."

Students in the team-taught version of the course responded favorably to our teaching in an interdependent duo in its own right—for not forcing them to be "right" according to a singular, "objective" Truth presented from a single disciplinary point of view. As one student wrote in a mid-semester evaluation, "being taught by a team is especially helpful in a class that questions social constructs and offers opinions on 'right' and 'wrong.' Multiple instructors results in even more viewpoints." At the end of the semester, feedback from the students reaffirmed their positive experiences with our interdependent, complementary approach, which they found at once more edifying than singleton presentations of material, and freeing for them to think with, as the following quotations attest: "I really enjoyed the team teaching, it felt as though we were gaining access to more perspectives and opinions;" "Both of you have very different experiences but similar view points. This helps to teach us effectively the course material, but with different applications;" and "I like the different perspectives that dual teaching brings. Sometimes hearing the same thing in different ways brings clarity, too."

Moreover, they reported how our modeling a multiplicity of rigorous and compelling perspectives opened up room for them to share their own bits of situated knowledge with one another, and reconceive learning as a shared process that takes place in a space we make safe for each other, transforming a cold conference room into "a warm class community" where complex discussions about sensitive material can happen.

  • "The discussions we have expand upon what we have read and speak well to topics that are often difficult to discuss. Everyone usually participates which is great! I love hearing about what other people gained from our readings"
  • "It is a safe environment to discuss matters relating to material studied."
  • "I think that it is great to always have two educated perspectives on whatever we are discussing in class. I definitely enjoy it because it really helps to encourage the discussion of the content in class."

Both versions of the course included a writing assistant, further emphasizing the interdependent nature of teaching and learning. This aspect of the class was quite valuable to (at least some) students in both courses: "[The writing assistant] gave me really helpful feedback;" "The writing assistant was so helpful!" "It was very easy to receive helpful assistance at every step if desired." Emphasizing the ways in which writing is an iterative process that includes workshopping ideas, writing drafts, getting feedback, and re-writing was in itself a powerful way to disrupt notions of independence. As learners, students recognize ways in which they might need assistance with writing or other aspects of school life in order to become more proficient. As teachers, we emphasized that becoming a good writer is a life-long process that requires not only practice, but membership in a community of colleagues who will provide honest feedback. Making apparent the ways in which interdependence is valuable in arenas already familiar to them offered, we hope, an opportunity to expand the domains in which they felt relying on others was perfectly acceptable and even helpful.

Although both courses were quite successful overall, they were not without their challenges. For example, the recursive approach of the syllabus for both versions of the course worked well for some of the students, while others found the multidisciplinary return to certain topics repetitive. Most students in the team-taught class reported satisfaction with the Russian dimension, but some made the valuable recommendation that we expand our view of the world to touch on other cultural constructions of the body outside of the West. Both times, in our effort to provide deep and diverse perspectives on a given theme, we gave them too much reading material—whether too many texts or too many pages from a single source—and in this made arguably ableist presumptions about the student bodies in our classroom. Because they communicated this issue to us in the midterm evaluations of the team-taught course, we attempted to redress their needs in the second half of the semester by scaling back the size of assigned readings so that we could analyze them more deeply and connect the most recent material to the topics we had already covered, synthesizing, revising, and nuancing our increasingly denaturalized notions about the course's operative terms.

We also paused more often between readings to hold research and writing workshops as they prepared their final projects, a literature review of six-eight pages with an annotated bibliography on a topic selected in consultation with the professors and writing assistant, on which they delivered short presentations at the last class meetings. By encouraging them to bring their new areas of independent specialty to our communal table and share them with colleagues (not just instructors) who had come "to know them" with respect and care, they were able to transcend the individualist objectives of the first-year composition course by the end of the semester: gaining "access" not only to their advisers but to each other; supplying open-ended, open-hearted answers to whatever "academic and other questions" they posed individually or as a group; and elevating themselves and each other through a sustained and dialectical collaboration that raised everyone up to meet "the college's high academic expectations" together—while simultaneously setting standards as such into suspicion.

Perhaps the most pressing problem for a disability studies course that purports to push against the academic priority of mind over body, we were both bothered by the way we mostly minded the mind in our presentation of the body-conscious curriculum.20 Reflecting on our collaboration a year later at an informal talk organized by students—only a few of whom were Minding the Body alumni—we discussed this issue with the group, and turned the following, already dialogic questions over to everyone in the room to work through with us: How can we mind the body practically in our classroom? How can we "learn to 'compose' without words—visually, graphically, orally, using new strategies that perhaps seriously challenge all our traditional pedagogical practices and our strongly held beliefs about literacy and writing as empowerment"?21 Pursuant to this, we wondered then and now, what kinds of activities we might introduce into our teaching to foster new, nonnormative forms of learning, that support ways of knowing otherwise missed and dismissed by standardized methods and grading metrics? Though they, as we, had no definitive solutions, we all remain wholly committed to moving toward whatever horizons of potentiality open up by the very posing of such questions in an ongoing dialogue between students and educators.

Ultimately, transforming Minding the Body into a conjoined, team-taught project taught us a great deal about disability studies, pedagogy, and ourselves. Pushing ourselves to connect the foundational disability studies themes across multiple disciplines and a variety of body-related topics demonstrated more possibilities offered by a disability studies perspective than either of us independently had previously imagined. The opportunity for real-time collaboration not only in constructing a syllabus but in deciding, week-by-week and class-by-class, what and how we would teach and who would be primarily responsible for what required each of us to articulate our teaching philosophies and strategies in ways that strengthened — and challenged — our capacities as singleton instructors. Discovering the value in texts and disciplinary perspectives that were previously unknown to us individually, and witnessing that value accrue through collaboration, expanded our minds and encouraged deeper appreciation for the differently knowing bodies and different bodies of knowledge that interdisciplinary disability studies in an international idiom is uniquely capable of bringing together.

Endnotes

  1. For a taste of the first author's hesitations about the force of straightness—borne by stories, societies, and bodies—see Anastasia Kayiatos, "Shock and Alla: Capitalist Cures for Socialist Perversities at the End of the Twentieth Century," Lambda Nordica 4 (2012): 33-64; and "Silent Plasticity: Reenchanting Soviet Stagnation," WSQ: Women's Studies Quarterly 40, no. 3 (2013): 105-125.
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  2. Alice Dreger, One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal (Harvard University Press, 2005).
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  3. Susan Wendell, The Rejected Body: Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability (Psychology Press, 1996).
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  4. While the question of more conjoinment-friendly cultures outside the U.S. lies outside the scope of this article, we were able to incorporate it in the second Minding the Body through the Russia's socialist past. Readers curious about monist versus collectivist societies are encouraged to check out Svetlana Boym's article, "From the Russian Soul to Post-Communist Nostalgia," Representations (1995): 133-166.
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  5. We borrow this application of architectural principles to accessible pedagogy in the composition classroom here and in later sections of the article from Jay Dolmage, "Mapping Composition: Inviting Disability in the Front Door," in Disability and the Teaching of Writing: A Critical Sourcebook, eds. Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson and Brenda Jo Brueggemann (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2008), 14-27.
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  6. Patricia Hills Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990).
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  7. Catherine J. Kudlick, "Disability History: Why We Need Another 'Other'," American Historical Review 108 (June 2003): 763-93. While this decade-old article focuses on doing disability history research on the West, Kudlick teaches disability studies in a rigorously international and interdisciplinary way. I (Kayiatos) am supremely grateful to have experienced this first-hand in the special seminar she convened for graduate students and faculty at UC Berkeley in 2009, through which I simultaneously received a systematic introduction to the field in its geopolitical fullness, as well as a model of disability studies pedagogy to emulate in the Minding the Body classroom.
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  8. Sharad Chari and Katherine Verdery, "Thinking between the Posts: Postcolonialism, Postsocialism, and Ethnography after the Cold War," Comparative Studies in Society and History, 51 (2009): 6-34; William Outhwaite and Larry Ray, "Introduction: Being Taken by Surprise," in Social theory and Postcommunism (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2008), 1-2.
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  9. Lennard J. Davis, "Constructing Normalcy: The Bell Curve, the Novel, and the Invention of the Disabled Body in the Nineteenth Century," in Davis, ed., The Disability Studies Reader (New York: Routledge, 1997), 12; We sampled a longer excerpt of the monograph by Davis in which this passage appears for the second section of the second Minding the Body syllabus, in which the class asks one of its central questions, "What is 'normal?'"; Lennard J. Davis, Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body. (Brooklyn, NY: Verso, 1995), 23-49 (see Appendix 2).
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  10. As Vincent L. Rafael and others have observed, the interdiscipline of Area Studies arose in the U.S. during the doubly anxious moment after World War II, when national security was threatened by the "red" and "rainbow menace," that is, Soviet socialism and the emergent civil rights movement. Vicente L. Rafael, "The Cultures of Area Studies in the United States," Social Text (1994): 91-92. For a rich list of Area Studies critical histories, we encourage readers to consult Rafael's bibliography.
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  11. Rey Chow, The Age of the World Target: Self-Referentiality in War, Theory, and Comparative Work (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), 41.
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  12. For another "conjoined" gesture toward minding the body and embodying the mind while "working the hyphen"—or hyphens—in light of a point we make later on, see Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Margaret M. Lock, "The mindful body: A prolegomenon to future work in medical anthropology," Medical Anthropology Quarterly 1.1 (1987): 6-41. In (somewhat ableist) words, the collaborative duo describe how, "As both medical anthropologists and clinicians struggle to view humans and the experience of illness and suffering from an integrated perspective, they often find themselves trapped by the Cartesian legacy. We lack a precise vocabulary to deal with mind-body-society interactions and so are left suspended in hyphens, testifying to the disconnectedness of our thoughts. We are forced to resort to such fragmented concepts as the bio-social, the psycho-somatic, the somato-social as altogether feeble ways of expressing the myriad ways in which the mind speaks through the body, and the ways in which society is inscribed on the expectant canvas of human flesh" (10).
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  13. Eve Tuck and Marcia McKenzie, Place in Research: Theory, Methodologies, and Methods: Theory, Methodology, and Methods (Routledge, 2014), 162-163.
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  14. "The First-Year Course, Fall 2014," Macalester College, accessed January 1, 2015, http://www.macalester.edu/admissions/admittedstudents/firstyearcourse/.
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  15. For an insightfully multidimensional reading of the historical background of access and the contemporary meaning of standards consult the following book, the opening of which we included on our syllabus (see Appendix 2): Tom Fox, Defending Access: A Critique of Standards in Higher Education (Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1999). According to Fox, "when access threatens change, standards are always the tools used to resist that change. Composition courses themselves were a response to a pluralizing student body, standards an attempt to impart coherence on this heterogeneous population" (ibid., 8).
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  16. Kristina R. Knoll, "Feminist Disability Studies Pedagogy," Feminist Teacher 19.2 (2009): 122-133.
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  17. Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson, Brenda Jo Brueggemann and Jay Dolmage, eds. "Introduction: Rethinking Practices and Pedagogy: Disability and the Teaching of Writing," in Disability and the Teaching of Writing: A Critical Sourcebook (Boston: Bedford's/St. Martin's, 2008), 7.
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  18. Here we express our solidarity with Robert McRuer's righteous claim for attending to decomposition and disorder involved in college composition in "Composing Bodies; or, De-Composition: Queer Theory, Disability Studies, and Alternative Corporealities," in Disability and the Teaching of Writing, 243-250; and Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability (New York: New York University Press, 2006).
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  19. Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings: Literature, Affect, and Ideology (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 2005).
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  20. We are grateful to the students at Macalester College's Gender & Sexuality Resource Center for inviting us to present together a year after the course's conclusion at an evening of Tea & Topics we titled, "Unruly Bodies/Undisciplined Minds: Reflections on co-teaching at the intersection of disability studies, women's/feminist/queer studies, Russian studies, and psychology." In the scope of a subtle and interesting open discussion after our presentation, the students offered their own experiences and suggestions for more fully embodying our bodily curriculum in the classroom, and we thank them for prompting us to continue to reflect on this central issue of feminist-disability studies pedagogy.
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  21. Brenda Brueggemann, Linda Feldmeier White, Patricia A. Dunn, Barbara A. Heifferon, and Johnson Cheu, "Becoming Visible: Lessons in Disability," College Composition and Communication 52.3 (2001), 392.
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Appendices (syllabi)

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Copyright (c) 2015 Anastasia Ioanna Kayiatos, Joan Ostrove



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