1 in 5. This is the proportion of Americans that have a disability according to the US Census. Disability is one of the largest marginalized groups in the United States. Yet, instead of investing in the study and understanding of this crucial part of human diversity, Stanford stands poised to lose its only introductory class on Disability Studies.
Disability Studies as a field began in the 1980s. Following in the intellectual footsteps of Women’s Studies (which became Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies), Disability Studies was pioneered by university faculty around the country. The field argues for a broad, inclusive view of disability as a valuable part of the diversity of human experience, as opposed to the dominant perception of disability as a medical problem. It most notably flourished across the Bay at Berkeley, the birthplace of the modern Disability Rights Movement in the 1960s and 70s, which to this day has a Disability Studies program and an undergraduate minor.
Yet, until last year, Stanford University never offered an introductory class on Disability Studies. The course, Introduction to Disability Studies and Disability Rights taught by Doron Dorfman in Fall 2017 (HUMRTS 104), delved into the issues about the models of disability identity; the history of ableism and eugenics; international and domestic disability rights; and much more. For the first time, students were provided with the opportunity to learn about the diversity of their friends, faculty members, and, perhaps most importantly, themselves. In its first year, there was strong support for the class evidenced by the fact that it was overenrolled from the first day.
This fall, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education (VPUE) Harry Elam and his office generously funded the class. But despite its popularity, there is currently no guarantee that the course will be offered in the future. VPUE has offered to fund half of the course for next year but without the other half of the funding the course will be lost. Therefore, a year after it was first offered, Stanford could lose its first and only introductory Disability Studies Course. For this reason, the Stanford Disability Initiative is launching a petition requesting that Stanford continue to offer an introductory course in Disability Studies and has drafted this letter.
To underscore the importance of this effort, we have asked students who enrolled in the course and students who wish to take it in the future to tell their stories of why Disability Studies is important to them.
Six months ago, in response to stressful life events, I finally fell off the cliff. I attempted suicide – to the shock and confusion of everyone around me – but was luckily preempted… I realized that had I known what I know now a decade ago, I could have spared myself a world of pain. Disabilities, visible or not, are everywhere and wildly misunderstood. We owe it to ourselves to do better.
- Anonymous PhD candidate
After taking nine months off of school for disability-related reasons, I was so excited to hear that there was a disability studies course being offered on campus… Intro to Disability Studies was an invaluable experience that let me befriend other disabled students, become a part of the disability community on campus, and begin my journey as a disability rights activist. This course is the only one of its kind at Stanford. Just as we have Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Stanford needs Disability Studies.
- Colette Brannan, Junior
Disability Studies is one of the courses that genuinely changed how I view the world for the better. The lens that Disability Studies offers is massively important across academic disciplines, as well as in day-to-day life. Accessibility and how our society addresses disability are urgent issues for everyone in our community.
- David Ryan, Junior
An Abilities United representative once told me a disability is the only minority group that any one of us can join at any point in our lives…The community of people with disabilities is consistently left out of the conversation, and we want Stanford students to be inclusive. Please give us students the opportunity to take this class and to engage with disability studies during our time in college.
- Janet Coleman-Belin, Junior
If we lose this class, Stanford is responsible for perpetuating an ableist trend, pushing Disability issues and people with disabilities to the margins, leaving them voiceless and ignored. Right now, we are not asking for all that the disability community deserves — a full commitment to the field of Disability Studies on par with what Stanford commits to the study of other historically underrepresented groups. Right now, we are asking for one class. We are asking for a permanent commitment to one class which would mean a tremendous amount to so many students.
Bryce Tuttle ’20
Academic Scholarship Committee Chair, Stanford Disability Initiative
Justice Tention-Palmer ’18
President, Associated Students of Stanford University
Vicki Niu ’18
Vice President, Associated Students of Stanford University
Julia Wang ’19
President, Kids With Dreams
Josh Wagner ’20
President, Sense Connect