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Student-run inaugural conference showcases the need for disability studies on campus

This past Saturday, a small team of dedicated students hosted the first-ever disability studies conference at Stanford, titled “Mediations: Disability, Technology, and the Arts.” Led entirely by students on the Disability Studies Committee founded last year, our conference covered a diverse array of fields across the humanities and social sciences. We were thrilled to have an incredible turnout of students, professionals and community members from across the country as well as around the world, including graduate students from Japan, India and Canada.

Our conference featured traditional hallmarks of academic conferences — including an amazing keynote presentation by Dr. Elizabeth Ellcessor, a leading disability studies scholar, and a diverse array of panels offering innovative research — but also events that pushed the boundaries of what an academic conference can and should be. We invited the internationally renowned dance group AXIS to perform and held an art show featuring artwork and poetry from local student-artists. The deep and enriching conversations sparked by this conference between artists, performers, academics, students and community members around what an intersectional disability politics looks like reflects how pertinent this topic is both in and outside of the classroom.

Many participants from outside of Stanford were surprised to learn that this was the first time any event on disability studies, let alone one of this size, was held on our campus. When asked where our disability student community center is, we had to respond that we do not have one. What classes are offered in our disability studies department? We have no department, and only a few classes are offered. Do we at least have a disability studies major or a minor? There is none. For the moment.

For the conference’s student planning committee, our event proves that there is not only interest in disability studies and disability issues on campus, there is a need for it. 

Disability studies and disability justice issues affect not those who would identify with disability communities, but students across a wide spectrum of academic fields, national backgrounds, socioeconomic status, and so on. Although Mediations: Disability, Technology, and the Arts may be over, the intellectual and personal connections we made across campus and across a larger network around the world affirm that this is just the beginning of our renewed struggle for disability recognition, equity and justice at Stanford.

Contact Frank Mondelli at frankvm ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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