Scholarship in Action: Disability Pride 2024

Part of graduate studies involves contemplating the impact of your research and writing on the world. In doing so, complicated discussions arise about the juxtaposition of the academic desire to conform to certain practices to gain credibility and the fact that utilizing academic practices can kill some aspects of what certain movements are trying to achieve. In a recent conversation with some professors during a Literary Criticism class, I asked them if they had any advice to help with the struggle between seeking legitimacy and effecting real change in the world and their advice was very grounding.

Dr. Mondello shared that her work in ecocriticism has made her come to certain realizations about what academic scholarship can and cannot do. She stated “academic scholarship that deals with ecocrit literature by itself is not going to change the world. Literature has a place but recognizing that you are an ally in a much broader community and acknowledging interdisciplinarity is so important” stressing how critical it is that you “don’t become siloed in your own version of the space.”

Dr. Pfannenstiel stressed the importance of building scholarly community but also being “intentional in where you go” with the recognition that some spaces are going to be more open to meaningful conversations than others. She very honestly shared that part of finding these spaces is through “trial and error” but that you should seek mentors and advisors and “try to borrow other people’s experiences so you don’t walk into a minefield.”

Dr. Baldys relayed an anecdotal story of students looking for and not finding academic sources on known phenomenon to support their papers, demonstrating that it is “important to take conversations that happen in activist circles into academia to make them more accessible” because it does have some impact in what she called “trickle-down activism.”

Their advice was in the back of my mind the next day as I participated in the seventh annual Disability Pride Event (made possible in no small way by Dr. Baldys). As someone writing about Critical Disabilities Studies, this event is an opportunity to actively engage with disability rights activists and wider disability community, broadening my understanding of CDS and in some small way, to contribute to the larger movement. Disability Pride features tabling, art making, an advocacy panel, and a march around campus lead by the student president of Millersville’s chapter of American Disabled for Attendant Programs (ADAPT). The event was fantastic with many students, faculty, and community members gathering to celebrate disabled lives, share resources, and raise awareness about disability rights.

One of the central issues addressed by the march around campus was to point out all of the inaccessible buildings and ADA violations on campus including the entrance to the Health Services Building. This building is critical for students seeking medical support but has a steep set of stairs leading up to the main entrance with the only accessible entrance being around back on the far side of the building from the reserved parking spot. During the march, a fellow protestor and disability rights advocate Tony Brooks paused outside this building to remind those present that last year, demonstrators protested these same steep steps and a year later, nothing has changed. Leaders of the march called out to the administrators of the building to come outside and meet with us and sent emissaries inside the building to communicate with staff the purpose of the protest and establish a line of diplomacy.

Frankly, I was surprised and disappointed by the response of the Millersville administration which I would politely categorize as less than acceptable. The first response from the university was to threaten to call the police, the second was to lock the doors of the health services building, and the third was to finally seek diplomacy. They later clarified that they typically lock the health services building when staff goes to lunch, but with their lack of communication, many present were left to assume that this action was a response to our presence. While the march did result in a meeting with the VP of Student Affairs, this interaction was a stark reminder of the effort required to enable change. While reading and writing about activism and the Disability Rights Movement is useful, participating in Disability Pride adds a new depth to the perspectives I study and gives me the added benefit of sharing a meaningful experience with my local community.

In conclusion, it’s simple and a little snarky but “go touch grass” can be really good advice if you are finding yourself contemplating the value of the work you do. Going outside your typical avenues of research and engaging with your community can be a great aid in situating the power of the work you do inside the larger movements that inform and react to the academic scholarship we produce.


TL;DR – As a grad student, it is critical to recognize that ENWL research is part of a larger conversation; getting in touch with the wider interdisciplinary community can help; and always remember that Disability Rights are Human Rights.

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