This paper tracks a series of conversations between a women's and gender studies professor and two of her undergraduate students, all of whom are interested in disability studies. We explore the links between disability and feminism, and to think through the possibilities of having disability studies become part of the academy. Our primarily positive interactions with the academic institution and our interest in disability studies has led to our argument that disability is in fact a feminist issue. Disability studies has allowed each of us to re-conceptualize our own relationships to feminist theory, and shaped our ability to envision a better academic environment for all students.

The Disability Studies Quarterly call for papers investigating connections between disability studies and the academy gave us the opportunity to have a conversation to examine what to us felt like an "intuitively obvious" connection: the connection between disability studies and women's and gender studies. Alison Piepmeier is the Director of Women's and Gender Studies at the College of Charleston. Ashley Maggio is a senior undergraduate student majoring in Women's and Gender Studies and English at the College. Amber Cantrell is also a senior undergraduate student majoring in Women's and Gender Studies at the College of Charleston.

As feminist disability studies scholars we want to socially locate ourselves before launching into our conversation. Alison, Ashley, and Amber all identify as white, cis-gendered women pursuing projects that focus on disability. During the course of trying to socially locate ourselves, how to do this became a question. Alison is mother to Maybelle, a child with Down syndrome. Amber and Ashley have both had a great deal of interaction with Maybelle. They have both also worked with the College of Charleston's REACH Program, an inclusive, academically rigorous college program for students with intellectual disabilities, and Alison has taught inclusive classes with REACH students and typical College of Charleston students. 1 All these relationships and structures have influenced our thinking about disability studies and women's and gender studies and their connections. Furthermore, each of us identifies with a kind of invisible disability. From brain tumors, seizures, anxiety, and depression to fatness — these are labels for our bodies and minds.

However, we find these labels more challenging to discuss. Categorizing these traits as disabilities feels complicated. Even as we recognize the role these characteristics play in our lived experiences, we are hesitant to acknowledge certain traits as disabilities for several reasons. First, we feel like disability outsiders. We are not the paradigmatic people in wheelchairs who face that particular form of ableism every day. Is it appropriate for us to identify as people with disabilities? Perhaps more importantly, and more problematically, we can often "pass" in various ways as people without disabilities. Are we willing to "out" ourselves in ways that make us feel vulnerable? This line of questioning in particular reveals the kind of grappling that we each do as scholars.

What we're sharing here is a condensed version of several real conversations. We three met and recorded our discussions, then we worked together to identify themes that emerged and to edit the transcripts. This series of real-time conversations produced an intellectual richness that might not have emerged otherwise: our conversations about the conversations shaped what we discussed subsequently, and we each did reading along the way to help us clarify the points we found ourselves making and the questions that emerged. This piece is truly collaborative; while we had ideas we knew we wanted to express, we often found ourselves thinking about feminism, women's and gender studies, and disability studies in new ways, grappling with ideas that we hadn't tried to articulate before. No one was "directing" this conversation. We three shared the roles of teaching and learning.

In the condensed and clarified version of the conversations presented here, we seek to explore the links between disability and feminism, and to think through the possibilities of having disability studies become part of the academy. Our primarily positive interactions with the academic institution and our interest in disability studies has led to our argument that disability is in fact a feminist issue. Disability studies has allowed each of us to re-conceptualize our own relationships to feminist theory, and shaped our ability to envision a better academic environment for all students.

Alison: When we three first discussed the call for papers for this issue of Disability Studies Quarterly, we all said that feminist scholarship and disability studies scholarship are natural partners. We talked about that quote we love from Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, "Disability studies can benefit from feminist theory and feminist theory can benefit from disability studies. Both feminism and disability studies are comparative and concurrent academic enterprises….A feminist disability theory builds on the strengths of both." 2 Amber, I think it was you who was talking about feminist work and said, "Once people with disabilities are part of the picture, it's intuitively obvious."

Ashley: We talked, too, about women's and gender studies and disability studies being natural partners. They're both academic fields with links to activist culture. They both look at power and privileges. Not all women's and gender studies programs have a disability studies component, but once it's included, it's hard to see how it was ever left out.

Amber: What kinds of questions does feminist disability studies make possible? Feminist disability studies allows us as scholars to really thoroughly examine how our world is physically and socially constructed in incredibly tangible ways. The many ways we understand the social construction of our world feels abstract and theoretical, particularly to new students. So, I wondered, what if we started teaching about social construction from a point of investigating feminist disability studies? Disability as socially constructed can be so tangible: able-bodied people can walk around this campus and immediately recognize how the sidewalks and stairs make the whole campus inaccessible for a person in a wheelchair. It becomes very clear that disability is socially constructed: here's something outrageous. I can't believe we haven't fixed this. But we can, so let's do. Starting there instead of starting with gender and then later saying, "Okay, now let's think about disability."

Alison: Right, and one of the reasons that women's and gender studies and disability studies do fit together so well is because, for me, a central component of women's and gender studies is this notion of the social construction of identity. Disability studies fits perfectly within that perception, although, of course, disability (as well as other identity categories) is always a mixture of what our bodies and minds are and do, and how we understand, shape, and deal with our bodies and minds. And then there's the issue of feminism. I know that the connection of feminism to women's and gender studies is debatable, 3 but for me it is pretty central. My understanding of feminism is as a social and theoretical movement that works to eradicate all forms of oppression that keep people from achieving their full humanity. That's always been my working definition of feminism, and that also fits beautifully with disability studies.

Ashley: I also think disability studies fits right in with women's and gender studies because women's and gender studies is very focused on intersectionality. Nancy Hirschmann says that she feels like intersectionality is more prominent when we do disability studies—that it forces us to go beyond token appreciation of intersectionality. 4

Alison: I'm not sure that I agree, because I think we could also say the same thing about trans-identities. Bobby Noble, for instance, argues that as a trans person, he has the identity of having been a butch lesbian for many years and now being a guy—and that both those realities are simultaneously in tension. 5 He defines his identity as radically intersectional, so I think there are a lot of ways we could say X, Y, or Z thing is always intersectional because intersectionality is that pervasive. My main point is that disability fits right in.

Inclusive Postsecondary Education

Amber: I need to articulate how I came to an understanding of what feminist disability studies was and incorporating that perspective into my world. I think that I didn't struggle at all with physical disabilities. That was, like, check, check, check—yes. I understand. And yet when I came to thinking about intellectual disabilities, I was really coming from a place of understanding myself and the world that I wanted to live in as one of academic scholarship, and I saw that world of academia as one specifically created for and by neurotypical individuals. So I didn't understand how to incorporate intellectual disability in my world in ways that felt—I don't want to use the word natural

Alison: Unless you put scare quotes around it.

Amber: Unless I put scare quotes. I didn't know how to think about people with intellectual disabilities, other than your daughter Maybelle being, like, darling.

Alison: And darling is easy, right?

Ashley: Yeah.

Amber: It's so easy. I loved Maybelle from afar for a really long time. But now that I know her and play with her regularly, I feel so much more comfortable in my understanding of Maybelle as a human being with Down syndrome. It's like, she's going to be fabulous because she has Down syndrome and because she has great parents and because she's really funny. This is no big deal. She can fit into academia if she wants to, and she can do all these other really cool things if she wants to. The world isn't closed to her, and it took me a long time to get there, and having a class with the REACH students was really a critical part. It's really important that our university has a fully-inclusive college program for students with intellectual disabilities. Not a segregated program where students with disabilities are learning about how to cook dinner—a program where they're in college seminars with traditional students, and they're living in inclusive dorms on campus, and they're staying out late and being real college students. Actually interacting in the classroom with people with intellectual disabilities completely changed how I understand intellectual disability. These programs are critical.

Alison: It was pretty transformative for me that when I had Maybelle was also when the REACH program was starting. As a new parent of a child with Down syndrome, instead of being told, "Your child will never speak. Your child has to be institutionalized," I was told, "Your child can come to the College of Charleston!" Immediately my imagining about Maybelle's future was shifted because of this institutional change, and I'd argue that this institutional change was feminist—even though it wasn't necessarily identified that way by the folks who got it started. It was feminist because it was about getting rid of one particular example of oppression that keeps people from achieving their full humanity. It was about expanding the notion of personhood, and that's central to both disability studies and to women's and gender studies.

Amber: Yes—expanding our understanding of humanity is central to feminism for me, too. Being around and with students with intellectual disabilities was a critical part of me being able to come to viewing them as human beings. This is important. This is why we need the inclusion of students with intellectual disabilities at the structural level. Not as people that I act in this really awful, patronizing manner towards. Not that I'm like, "Do you need a pencil?" No. They read the article, the same one I did, and they have interesting thoughts to offer, just like I do. Now, they may be very different. They may have gotten something totally, radically different out of the article, but that's what makes it really interesting. And that's great about the work I do now, pre-teaching students with intellectual disabilities. 6 I never know what I'm getting into, you know?

Alison: Inclusive programs like REACH are important because they're offering social justice to people with intellectual disabilities, and they're also giving neurotypical people the lived experience so that they can imagine intellectual disability differently, to move beyond the easy stereotypes. You know, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson talks about that: "Because empathy depends upon the experiences and imagination of the empathizer in regarding another person, prejudices, limited understandings, and narrow experience can lead one person to project oversimplified or inaccurate assessments of life quality or suffering onto another person." 7 Inclusive college programs are important from an activist and an scholarly perspective, and women's and gender studies programs should absolutely support them.

Amber: So many people dream about their kids going to college. That is a level of success that most parents imagine. If the three of us as activists and scholars want parents of kids with disabilities to imagine a future like any other parent, we need to make sure the doors of academia are open and responsive to intellectual difference.

Academic Institutionalization

Ashley: Taking the women's and gender studies Disability, Power, and Privilege class was a moment for me when women's and gender studies came off the pedestal. That was a time period where I was like, "All right, there are problems here." In classes I started realizing I was looking at feminists who are using this ableist language in their scholarship and not including people with disabilities in this conversation, and other people as well. That was the time period I was kind of disenchanted a little bit. It really made my understanding of feminism and women's and gender studies more complex and empowering, I think, after that. But that was difficult.

Alison: It is the moment where you start seeing, like, "Oh, right, this is a field that's in motion." Or then you have the moments, too, of recognizing, "These scholars whose work I've admired so much aren't actually asking questions that I think are important."

Ashley: Yeah.

Alison: I'm having that right now thinking about prenatal testing. When feminist scholars are talking about reproduction and reproductive justice, why aren't they talking about prenatal testing?

Ashley: I read feminist works and I'm in feminist classes, and now I'm thinking, how can you not include this?

Alison: Women's and gender studies is a field that hasn't fully answered all the questions, and it's often in a mode of self-critique and potential for change. This makes me think about making disability studies part of the academy. In the call for papers for this collection, the editors quote Sharon Snyder and David Mitchell who argue that institutionalizing disability studies is challenging because "the field situates itself as a force of destabilization" (192). This is true of women's and gender studies, too. The sort of origin story for the field is that it emerged from feminist activism. And because of this, a lot of women's and gender studies practitioners have been reluctant to see women's and gender studies as a discipline, as a legitimate institutional player in the academic scene. I think that's troubling.

Do we want to talk for a few minutes about academic institutionalization? What has women's and gender studies gained in becoming comfortably housed in universities nationwide? It's provided me the space to do research and teaching which are very closely linked for me, that I'm able to have conversations about nuanced, complicated issues that matter to me, and those conversations in and out of the classroom are able to help me create a fuller understanding of the issues, whatever they may be. And that's part of what institutionalization has made possible for me: I have the space and the support to do really complicated thinking, which helps me to challenge stereotypes, which helps me to challenge easy reductive approaches to various ideas.

Amber: As a student, I have sort of a similar perspective. It's really important for me to be in a college atmosphere where I feel like I belong and where I feel like I have the validation and encouragement and resources to pursue work that has been really interesting to me. And often to be part of a student voice or student body calling for improvements or envisioning a way in which women's and gender studies can be grown, can be better. Having this role to play not only has cemented my feeling of belonging but makes me feel more able to have a space that responds to other students' needs of belonging that are different than mine. This is another reason that I felt like disability was so obvious—that of course students with disabilities on this campus need a space to belong, and if they're interested in women's and gender studies, then the women's and gender studies program is really happy to be one of the spaces in which they feel welcome and appreciated and, you know, made comfortable if they have physical disabilities or safe if they have intellectual disabilities.

Alison: Where they're recognized as full human beings.

Amber: Yeah, as really valid students whose work is appreciated and important. But even more than that, women's and gender studies is helping to change the campus climate and what this institution is—how it operates—to be more fully inclusive.

Ashley: Something that has been really important to me about being involved with women's and gender studies is that I feel like students' voices matter, and I feel like we students are a part of constructing women's and gender studies at the school. I feel like women's and gender studies is something that is well established institutionally, but at the same time, I feel like it still acknowledges that it will change and it's always changing, and, at least in my experience, that students are part of that change.

Alison: What I hear you two saying—you're voicing counter-arguments to what I think might be some people's resistance to becoming part of the institution. There were arguments made against women's and gender studies becoming institutionalized because becoming part of an institution means that you're less radical. It means that you're no longer fighting the system if you're part of the system. You know, in women's and gender studies classes we talked about the campus as a plantation, and it is a plantation, and here we are, playing a role in the plantation, so are we really trying to undermine the system? 8 Audre Lorde says, "The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." 9 So here we are, as professors and students, in the master's house with the master's tools, and yet what you both are articulating is that that's too simplistic an argument to make. Here we are, fully institutionalized, right? My paycheck comes from the academy. But you're voicing that women's and gender studies, and disability studies, can part of the system and yet still have room for a lot of voices to take part, still have space that is validating of people's identities. That's very hopeful.

Ashley: It's not perfect. I think it's really valid to have those arguments against institutionalization, but at the same time, I think it's necessary to look for the sites of resistance. Looking for the possibilities and hope in those.

Amber: I think that women's and gender studies programs in the institution are spaces where we're ready to acknowledge that we might be wrong—we ran this program or we brought this speaker or we have this class, we have this professor, we might have said something wrong, we might have said something offensive. You know, some event happened and it shouldn't have happened that way and acknowledging the way in which you could have invalidated someone's identity or made a space particularly harmful or unsafe is really important, and I think that is what women's and gender studies brings to the academy.

Alison: We can be institutionalized, recognize ourselves and be recognized as a discipline, and still be agents of social change. And part of what we're calling for is multiple levels of institutionalization—not just in the disciplines, which is crucial, but also inclusion like with the REACH Program.

Amber: Right, so this points to the ways that social change remains part of our institutionalization. I think that after learning about disability studies, women's and gender studies students and faculty now assess the campus differently. We see classrooms differently: "Whose body can be here?" Like, students from our Disability, Power, and Privilege class who directed The Vagina Monologues started including American Sign Language interpreters (who are fantastic). We think about accommodation and inclusion, and we examine what changes we can make with the power we have as students.

Alison: How does that relate to women's and gender studies?

Amber: Because that's what women's and gender studies scholars and students do. We're really focused on making social change happen.

Ashley: Women's and gender studies often allows us to think more broadly about what work we're supposed to do. Our final projects are often allowed to be activist projects, or efforts at social change. Even if students do really unsuccessful bake sales to donate to local charities or service organizations, they have to actively do something as part of their class grade.

Amber: Community change is what we do, and that's not necessarily a component of other academic programs. Women's and gender studies is at least willing to give lip service to social change, and this lip service is useful. I think that we as a discipline are slightly more willing to do actual change because we are so dedicated to the ideas of social change and justice. Having disability studies be a regular part of women's and gender studies intro courses and classes, particularly in combination with the REACH program could lead to better classrooms. Classrooms that teach differently, and also classrooms that make possible a welcoming space for all bodies. Fat people, and people who would rather stand up to learn than sit down for 50 minutes, and people who need technology to communicate with the class. All the people!

Ashley: Well, yeah, and then all the people go out into the world recognizing ways to make better spaces in offices and waiting rooms and on public transportation. All of us can then go out and look for ways to make our spaces not suck.

Alison: There's an implicit question that we're skirting around here, and it's whether disability studies should be part of women's and gender studies or should be its own entity that works in collaboration with women's and gender studies—crosslisted courses, cosponsored events, things like that. We all seem to be in agreement that being an official part of the academy has enough benefits—and leaves enough space for resistance—that disability studies should be here. But should it be here as part of women's and gender studies or as its own department or program?

Amber: I don't know. That's a question I don't think we can answer. The answer won't be the same on every campus, so maybe it has to be an individualized question for different institutions.

Alison: Talking about this is making me inclined to say yes, it should be its own field. Women's and gender studies has more status and power, and more opportunities to be a recognized part of academic conversations, because we're a stand-alone entity. So I think disability studies should be, too.

Interdisciplinary Bodies

Amber: For a long time it wasn't clear to me if fat bodies could be part of disability studies. The broad understanding I have of women's and gender studies helps validate that for me. Even though I don't have a visible disability in the most commonly recognized understanding, I can still claim fatness as a disability because it does fit within the definitions of disability offered by certain scholars. I've felt the same way about mental illness. There is a hesitancy to acknowledge and recognize certain bodily differences as disability because of the fear of overstepping the boundaries of a community that you have not been a part of. It's like Robert McRuer and Anna Mollow talk about in Sex and Disability: "Why not identify as disabled? We've begun answering this question here: trepidation about laying false claim to histories of oppression, as well as a reluctance to simplify complex ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. To this we would add another danger, which begins to point us back toward the authoritative discourses and institutions and the legislative and judicial double binds with which we opened this section: the risk of reifying identity categories that might better be contested." 10

Ashley: Yeah, I feel an uneasiness with that in disability studies, especially because I feel like mainstream images of disability are still very much someone in a wheelchair, or maybe someone with Down syndrome. What about the fact that disability covers so much?

Amber: Exactly. Disabled bodies are socially constructed, stigmatized bodies. That's a lot of bodies. Women's and gender studies does have tools to engage with embodiment, but disability studies offers a different perspective. Often women's and gender studies stops just short of finding bodily differences explicitly valuable—even erotic—in favor of supporting choices. So, there is this narrative about clothes, having or not having body hair, and other types of choices that people might make as a form of self-expression supported by women's and gender studies. However, it becomes all too easy to validate choices without really finding the erotic in bodily difference. In disability studies, there's a commitment to finding what's awesome about this body, and the erotic is a great example of that. For instance, disability studies scholars like Garland-Thomson help us to find the erotic potential of tongue dancing. She has this excellent article where she describes a dance at a disability studies conference where everyone uses their tongues because this one member who is a quadriplegic dances with his tongue. It's a really erotic visual image — a roomful of dancing tongues. 11 Together, the narratives within disability studies and women's and gender studies augment and support each other. Disability studies validates our bodies, and women's and gender studies supports our choices and self-expression.

Ashley: And maybe there's a way in which feminist scholarship on sex and sexuality, and queer theory, can interact with disability studies scholarship to help us rethink the erotic.

Amber: Women's and gender studies students can get caught in this framework of interpreting everything erotic as being objectifying. When we bring disability studies into the conversation, it demands more nuance.

Ashley: Right! What does it mean when Anna Mollow describes her experience of being looked up and down in the parking garage, and finding that experience empowering and validating?

Amber: The erotic is part of being human. It's important for us to recognize that in our feminist studies—we have to move beyond a simplistic understanding of sex and sexual pleasure.

Alison: It's interesting, too, when we see scholars making those connections. I remember being sort of wonderfully shocked by Merri Lisa Johnson's book Jane Sexes It Up when it came out in 2002—it's a book that's all about sexual transgressions and pleasures and the erotic. And now she's a feminist disability studies scholar. These aren't fields that need to be separate.

Ashley: Here's this great quote from Sex and Disability: "Disability…has the potential to transform sex, creating confusions about what and who is sexy and sexualizable, what counts as sex, what desire 'is.'" 12

Alison: So let me change direction a bit. Do you think that because women's and gender studies is so broad, women's and gender studies can help disability studies scholars think through the implications of having a different body that causes a great deal of pain, like chronic pain or some mental illnesses?

Ashley: Maybe. I think that women's and gender studies forces you to think about all the implications of certain positions. So, if someone suggested a policy to help people, as women's and gender studies students, we try to think about how that would affect people from all different kinds of backgrounds across gender, race, class, sexuality, and other social locations. We at least try to make room for a lot of different outcomes.

Amber: Women's and gender studies students who do disability studies ask hard questions. Ashley and I have spent a lot of time talking about mental illness and how to understand it. When you know someone who has a mental illness that is so incredibly destructive to their personal life and happiness, it's not something that I want to celebrate and reclaim. At that point, I love people in spite of their mental illness, rather than embrace that as a part of their person. I know not all disability studies scholars or people with mental illnesses agree with what I'm saying. But at this point mental illness is not something I want to celebrate. With Down syndrome or a physical disability, I'm not advocating taking that away from that person. That disability helps to form and shape who they are. That's the kind of difference that I can celebrate.

Ashley: Yeah. Eli Clare talks about the distinction between witness and pride. He writes that, "Witness pairs grief and rage with remembrance. Pride pairs joy with a determination to be visible." 13 Sometimes, you just have to witness someone's chronic pain or struggles with mental illness and feel so angry about it.

Alison: I feel like disability studies is so new that there is some recognition of that, but that reclaiming disability is such critical work, there is more focus on reclaiming and celebrating right now. You know, Michael Bérubé talked about this on his blog: disability studies isn't saying bring back the polio! 14

Amber: Right, disability studies isn't arguing in favor of people getting polio or cancer. But, at the same time, I think that disability studies can at times seem to overlook the bodily reality of different disabilities. Yes, disability is socially constructed, but for some people with disabilities, their bodily difference is a reality that they cannot leave behind. No matter how liberated you feel, if you have chronic pain or fatigue, you can't liberate yourself from feeling poorly in your body.

Ashley: Nancy Hirschman says that, "The social model of disability has certain shortcomings, of course. Some bodily impairments are sources of suffering and frustration, disabling no matter what social context." 15 I think that when we first learned about disability studies, this kind of reality isn't something that we thought a lot about. We were so eager to reclaim disability and a social construction, and different bodies as great bodies. It was only later when we began to think about mental illness as a disability that things suddenly got more confusing and more personal. Finding that moment of tension within disability studies was really important for me. As a women's and gender studies student, that moment felt like a point where I could suddenly have something significant to say here.

Alison: As I'm listening to you both, I'm struggling with the "us" vs. "them" that I feel emerging in our conversations. Mental illness is a place where all three of us do seem to be struggling with the "us" vs. "them." What does it mean if one or more of the three of us has experienced mental illness, like anxiety or depression? Amber, you're saying you're not willing to celebrate it, but there are of course people who do claim "mad pride." I'm not sure I'm willing to celebrate my anxiety—but it is one of my characteristics. Or what about seizures? I have them, but I'm certainly not celebrating them. And yet both of these experiences or characteristics are part of what makes me who I am in the world. Denying them, or seeing them as shameful, is harmful to me, to other people who experience mental illness or neurological disorders, and to my efforts at celebrating human diversity.

Amber: And yet now I'm thinking about Susan Wendell's argument, and it's making me question my own claim. Yes, pain impacts how I live my life, but she argues that a feminist disability studies framework has to allow for space for people whose bodies aren't "comfortable" to transcend our bodies and make friends with our pain. She says, "I have found that when focused upon and accepted without resistance, it is often transformed into something I would not describe as pain or even discomfort….I know this because anytime I turn my attention to those parts of my body I experience pain; I think of this pain as similar to a radio that is always playing but whose volume varies a great deal." 16

Ashley: This is exactly the process, and the tension we were talking about. This isn't a moment where we're going to "answer" this question, but we're identifying how complex the issue of embodiment is, and how useful it is to bring feminism and disability studies together.

Amber: When Eli Clare writes about the need to envision politics that think about disability he writes that, "All the answers depend upon naming disability and committing to a multi-layered analysis of how white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy, imperialism, and ableism work in concert." 17 This work is the same work at the heart of women's and gender studies. By working together, women's and gender studies and disability studies scholarship will enrich and build each other. Institutionalizing disability studies and encouraging collaborative effort with already established women's and gender studies programs holds so much exciting potential.

As we reflect on our conversations, we recognize that we have many points of agreement, ideas that emerged that we were all three emphatically in favor of. For instance, we all see disability studies as something that should be central to the work that women's and gender studies does. Just as women's and gender studies recognizes white privilege and cis-gender privilege and has begun to incorporate race and gender identity into its core categories of analysis, the field should do the same with ability. We also agree on the idea that feminist scholarship and theory offer a number of useful tools for delving into disability studies. The connection of these two fields will strengthen both.

We also had a number of points which remain live questions in our minds. We're fans of both academic legitimacy and resistance, so we don't have a clear sense of what would be "best" for disability studies. We want to see it in the university, but as its own program? Spread throughout other departments and courses? Or both? What's the model that will lead to the most robust and authentic growth of disability studies?

Ultimately we all recognize the potential richness of bridging the personal and the academic. This bridging happens in both women's and gender studies and disability studies, and we've experienced it as necessary, allowing us to delve into components of our own lives and understand them better, differently, and/or as shaped by the cultural moment in which we're operating. We three have studied prenatal testing, mental illness, and fatness, issues with which we have lived and struggled. We've recognized that we're better scholars and better activists when we understand the work being done in both disability studies and women's and gender studies—and when we push each body of scholarship to recognize the other. Both fields have enabled us to be better scholars. Both fields provide stories and theoretical frameworks that allow our work to be appropriately complex and personally satisfying. Perhaps most importantly, bridging the fields allows our work to be potentially transformative.


  1. The REACH (Realizing Educational and Career Hopes) Program at the College of Charleston is a four-year, fully inclusive certificate program for individuals with intellectual disabilities. As their statement of purpose says, "The program provides students with a complete college experience, allowing them to explore and realize both their intellectual and personal potential." The REACH Program is one of more than 250 college programs nationwide for individuals with intellectual disabilities (www.thinkcollege.net).
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  2. "Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory," NWSA Journal 14.3 (2002), 2-3.
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  3. See, for instance, "Why Rethink Women's and Gender Studies" and "Feminism" in Rethinking Women's and Gender Studies.
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  4. Hirschmann notes, and accurately, that "we are sometimes better at calling for intersectionality and proclaiming its importance than we are at actually doing it" (401). She goes on to argue, "Disability studies enacts intersectionality in a way that feminists have not even begun to: in a deep, profound way that understands that intersections mark not just our differences but our connections as well. In feminism, we use intersectionality to distinguish ourselves: Intersectionality theory tells me that as a professional, straight, white woman, for instance, I am different from black, working class, lesbian women. Too often there seems to be no recognition of what we also share" (403). Nancy J. Hirschmann, "Disability as a New Frontier for Feminist Intersectionality Research," Politics and Gender 8.3 (2012), 396-405.
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  5. "Trans-," Bobby Noble. Rethinking Women's and Gender Studies. New York: Routledge, 2012, 277-292. Print.
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  6. The REACH Program hires and trains typical college students to lead pre-teaching seminars, a seminar for each class a particular REACH student is taking. The pre-teaching students work closely with the professors teaching the classes. They read the same texts that the REACH students are reading, and they have a seminar with the REACH students who are enrolled in a given class, helping the students to understand the material and to be prepared for each class session.
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  7. Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, "The Case for Conserving Disability," Bioethical Inquiry 9 (2012), 350.
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  8. Patricia Hill Collins "Toward a New Vision: Race, Class, and Gender as Categories of Analysis and Connection," Race, Sex, and Class 1 (1993).
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  9. "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House," Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Berkeley, CA: Crossing Press, 1984, 110-113.
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  10. McRuer, Robert and Mollow, Anna, "Introduction," Sex and Disability. Durham: Duke University Press, 2012, 10. Print.
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  11. Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie."Shape Structures Story: Fresh and Feisty Stories about Disability." Narrative 15, 1 (2007): 113-123. Web.
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  12. McRuer, Robert and Mollow, Anna. Sex and Disability. Durham: Duke University Press, 2012, 32. Print.
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  13. Clare, Eli. Exile & Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation. 1999. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2009. 115. Print.
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  14. "What's wrong with curing a disease, or remediating a syndrome, or alleviating an injury? Isn't it a general species good that smallpox and polio and tuberculosis no longer sweep through the population? There's no such thing as a Tay-Sachs Preservation Society, right? Well, right, but when you start talking too aggressively about 'curing' or 'eradicating' certain disabilities, some of us get kinda antsy. Like those of us who are deaf, for example, or those of us who know people with Down syndrome. We don't see the 'curing' or 'eradicating' of these things as a general, unqualified species good; we tend to see them as perfectly acceptable forms of intraspecies diversity." (http://www.michaelberube.com/index.php/weblog/comments/877/)
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  15. Hirschmann, 398.
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  16. Wendell, Susan. The Rejected Body: Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability. New York: Routledge, 1996. 171-2. Print.
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  17. Clare, Eli. Exile & Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation. 1999. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2009. xiii. Print.
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