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Graduate Studies

Cripping Graduate School: A Disability and Mad Studies Reading Group (Renewal)

The project has three main goals:

  1. Further support – socially, intellectually, practically – disabled graduate students at McMaster and people with disabilities who are considering applying to graduate school.
  2. Enhance access to a Disability Studies scholarly community on campus for McMaster graduate students, and others in the McMaster and wider Hamilton communities who are already engaged in disability struggles and are looking for encouragement, inspiration, and companionship to continue this work.
  3. Generate greater awareness of Disability Studies scholarship amongst the general McMaster community – in order to support people in thinking about disability and dis/ableism in more complex ways (beyond medical approaches).

Expandable List

The feedback from our 2018-2019 reading group series has been very positive. We’ve had 25 different participants at our monthly meetings and have a membership list of 44. We’ve been able to partner with several groups on campus to develop programming to support disabled undergraduate students in considering graduate school.

  1. There are limited opportunities for students to take or participate in Disability Studies courses at McMaster. There is 1 graduate course, and only 3 undergraduate courses. Students with disabilities have been advocating for further access to Disability Studies courses for several years. This project is one way of addressing this identified need. (see MSU Accessibility Forum reports, President’s Advisory Committee on Building an Inclusive Community’s Accessibility Working Group’s mapping report)
  2. Aside from our Reading Group, there are no social groups on campus for disabled graduate students with disabilities. While the Maccess service exists for disabled undergraduates, not very many graduate students access this space. We want to further connect graduate students to Maccess, and offer social/learning/community opportunities specific to graduate students with disabilities.
  3. In addition to the above, the opportunities that do currently exist for disabled students tend to “out” students with disabilities; events are closed to disabled students only. By creating a Disability Studies reading group, people can attend without having to disclose a personal connection to disability, and it is not assumed by your participation that you identify as disabled. We anticipate this is especially important to many grad students who are hesitant to disclose disability due to legitimate fear of discrimination – especially if they want to stay in academia. (This is also learning from Alise’s prior SPICES grant from 2014-2015.)
  4. There are few/no opportunities for disabled graduate students and/or graduate students engaged in Disability Studies scholarship at McMaster to develop scholarly/professional skills. There are few/no disability-related courses for us to TA, limited support for us as teachers with disabilities, limited faculty with expertise and interest in Disability Studies (some really lovely supports – but few and far between across campus), few “out” faculty with disabilities, few scholarly talks about Disability Studies (with invited guests) or being disabled in academia. Many of the books about graduate school or being an academic in our library catalogue (and in general) fail to account for disabled grad students/academics. We need to create our own professional /social development opportunities.
  5. Aligned with the above, there are few opportunities to learn how to create accessible spaces in academia, or how to engage in one’s scholarly pursuits with a focus on plain language. Instead, we often learn “exclusionary” modes of writing and presentation. Through efforts to make these reading groups accessible to all – especially disabled undergrad students and community members – we will all gain a better understanding / develop skills and approaches to conducting ourselves as more accessible/inclusive academics/scholars.
  6. Given that many of us feel like the sole/one of few Disability Studies and/or disabled graduate student scholars in our own discipline/department on campus – we are quite isolated. In order to reduce this isolation we need a cross-department/campus response, rather than something “disciplinary”.
  7. Additionally, in some of our departments, Master’s students and PhD students rarely connect with each other. Our project will aim to create networks across Master’s and PhD students engaged in Disability Studies thinking — for mutual intellectual and social support, as well as to support Master’s students who may be considering pursuing a PhD (and for PhD students who may be considering academic careers where mentorship of graduate students would become part of their role).
  8. There are no opportunities for disabled people thinking of applying to graduate school to “test out” what graduate school might be like (e.g. what seminar-style graduate classes are like, what research for a thesis might entail, what “professionalism” in the academy looks like, how to present one’s ideas to a scholarly audience). This is important for helping us see ourselves as future grad students, and in identifying accessibility issues that might arise for us within grad studies. By attending “Reading Groups”, students will be exposed to graduate school activities and practices. (similar to McMaster’s Indigenous Undergraduate Summer Research Institute) Many of us doubt our ability to be accepted / continue in / finish graduate studies, as a result of experiences in undergrad (or in our Master’s). The reading group will provide support / encouragement / mentorship to show students with disabilities that it is possible to be successful in graduate studies, but can also warn of potential barriers, provide advice, peer feedback, etc.
  9. There are few forums for disabled alumni (and students on medical leave) to stay connected to McMaster after graduation (and during leave). Many of us take a break between undergrad and Master’s programs and between Master’s and PhD. Many of us experience delays /barriers in transitioning out of university into employment/other activities due to discrimination, inaccessibility, and health-related impacts of the transition. By providing a forum where alumni can stay connected to the school, we can offer ongoing community/learning/support during this time.
  10. There are few opportunities for disabled people in the community to connect to Disability Studies or to McMaster. People get “services” related to disability, not “education”. This project would provide a link between McMaster and the broader community.
  11. There is no established mechanism for disabled graduate students (and applicants) to provide collective feedback about our experiences and needs to the School of Graduate Studies. While not a primary part of the project, with attendee consent, any arising recommendations/ideas/concerns related to graduate studies for students with disabilities will be compiled so that we can share them with the School of Graduate Studies/other relevant groups.

We will host monthly Disability and Mad Studies reading groups for graduate students with disabilities, disabled people considering applying to graduate school, graduate students with scholarly interests in Disability Studies, and other campus and community members interested in Disability Studies.

Members of the project team will select a “text” to review and discuss each month, and will identify a facilitator for the monthly meeting. (As an example: Disabled and non-disabled graduate students working in Disability Studies might select an article that is important to their work, provide some introductory remarks related to their research focus and the article, and then facilitate a conversation based on some discussion questions.)

  • We will identify themes/topics we would like to cover over the course of the year, and then locate hosts for each month who can select a “text” and help facilitate each meeting.
  • The goal will be to cover different disciplinary approaches to disability studies (e.g. history, literature, philosophy, social services, sociology, geography, gender/sexuality studies, critical race studies, Indigenous studies, research methods), and different sub-areas within disability studies (e.g. Mad studies, Deaf studies, children/seniors) — and to meet in the relevant discipline’s space on campus when hosting that month’s reading group in order to create an inter-campus community and expose participants to different grad programs on campus.
  • Our team will draft an event notice for each term worth of activities and circulate this widely to disabled students, graduate students, campus community members, and members of the Hamilton community.
  • Each Reading Group will involve: a text, an intro/check-in round, introductory remarks on the topic (in accessible language – highlighting main points; examples from host’s own scholarly work), pre-circulated discussion questions, lunch, and time afterwards for socializing/support. (Groups will be scheduled for 1.5 hours, but we anticipate 30-60 minutes happening afterwards as support space/lingering.)
  • We will endeavour to choose open access material and/or items available in the library (Hamilton Public and campus) to ensure members can access them. To enhance accessibility, we will provide a “synopsis”/page of key points/breakdown of keywords and their definitions and discussion questions to registrants in advance of each monthly meeting.
  • We will experiment with /stretch our imaginations of other forms of access as well: removing financial barriers, allowing for greater flexibility/time (than most academic talks that are short, fast, and have minimal time for discussion; welcome people to join late if they need to), encouraging experiential knowledge sharing about the topic/reading (as opposed to suggesting this is “unacademic”), prioritizing texts written by disabled scholars, as well as examples of academics working to be allies to the disability community/studies, choosing topics that are timely and relate to current issues on campus/in Hamilton (to enhance absorption of information/relevance to attendees’ lives).

Graduate Student Co-Coordinators

  • Adan Jerreat-Poole, PhD Candidate, english & cultural studies
  • Aisha Wilks, MA student, english & cultural studies

Alumni Support (outreach, logistics, meeting facilitation)

  • Alise de Bie (will be) former McMaster PhD student and coordinator of the initial SPICES grant for this project
  • Kate Brown, McMaster alumnus 2017, linguistics and Indigenous studies, interested in potentially pursuing graduate studies

The other 40 members of our current mailing list will help with outreach and attend meetings.

  • We expect to develop an active network of attendees/those interested in Disability Studies on campus/in Hamilton – to help us further advance these ideas and create more permanent/ongoing support for Disability Studies scholars.
  • We hope that disabled graduate students will feel less isolated, and have access to further peer support to sustain themselves during graduate studies.
  • We hope to encourage undergrads/people with disabilities in exploring the possibility of graduate school and believing themselves capable of advanced study.
  • We hope more people on campus will be exposed to Disability Studies approaches/knowledge.

June to July

Summer reading groups


Identify themes/topics for specific reading group sessions for the fall, recruit hosts (for fall especially), set dates, book locations, engage in outreach

September 2019 to April 2020

Run monthly reading groups