Disabilities Studies Minor Petition Launched

GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY Professor Julia Watts Belser has helped lead the creation of a disability studies course cluster.

GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY
Professor Julia Watts Belser has helped lead the creation of a disability studies course cluster.

About 320 members of the Georgetown community have signed a petition calling for the university to launch a disabilities studies minor as of Oct. 27.

The petition, which was created by the Georgetown University Student Association, is looking to push the university to establish an interdisciplinary disability studies minor as a potential six-course academic discipline that will examine issues of identity, body and community through a foundational course, a capstone and electives.

The disability studies program currently exists as a course cluster, with over 200 students enrolled in its seven classes this semester. The course cluster, which is housed in the college, first launched last fall with three classes that engaged students in monthly lectures and interactive workshops with scholars in the field.

GUSA Accessibility Policy Chair Danielle Zamalin (NHS ’18) said although the course cluster already has the funding and number of classes required to constitute a minor, the petition’s goal is to demonstrate to the Office of the Provost that there is enough student interest to formally transition the course cluster to a minor.

“We’ve had a lot of faculty in the course cluster who support the petition for a minor, as well as just other faculty that work on the disabilities working group, and they share that with their students,” Zamalin wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Even other than that, we’ve had just other faculty members sign the petition.”

Zamalin said she was heartened to see the petition gain traction among undergraduates prior to the launch of an official campaign for the minor, which is slated to begin today with tabling in Lauinger Library and Sellinger Lounge.

Currently, 75.5 percent of the 324 signatures come from current undergraduates, 3.4 percent from current graduate students, 12.7 percent from alumni, 10.2 percent from faculty and staff and 1 percent from administrators.

“We haven’t done our dorm-storming or tabling campaign, so we expect those numbers to go up really quickly,” Zamalin wrote. “These numbers are purely from people sharing it through Facebook. So, our actual petitioning and lobbying and tabling haven’t even started yet, but our numbers are already really high.”

The African American studies minor was approved by the Main Campus Executive Faculty, a body consisting of 57 faculty members and two students, in 2005 after a multi-year effort.

A group must bring a proposal before the College Deans’ Office to create a minor, according to Senior Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Strategic Planning Maria Donoghue. Subsequently, three or four members of the College Academic Council are asked to review the proposal, followed by a vote on approval or disapproval by the entire executive committee.

Professor of English Libbie Rifkin, who is involved in the Disability Studies Minor Working Group, said challenges remain in attaining the minor. The working group worked with three academic departments to establish the course cluster last fall.

“Some of the issues and challenges we have faced have to do with a broad awareness that disability is an important issue on our campus and that’s an awareness we want to keep generating for the sake of developing a minor and for the sake of creating a more just environment for people with disabilities on campus,” Rifkin said.

Rifkin said a disabilities studies minor would offer an academic discipline similar to other forms of identity studies.

“People with disabilities who have a culture, experiences and a history that is as worthy of study as many of the other interdisciplinary programs that we have like women’s and gender studies and African American studies and U.S. Latino studies,” Rifkin said.

Zamalin said the minor would enhance the diversity of courses available at Georgetown. The MCEF voted in April 2015 to introduce a diversity requirement for the Class of 2020, which requires students to take two courses related to the topic of diversity.

“There’s been a shift in higher education toward diversification, especially at Georgetown with our diversity class requirement. And we’ve embraced that in so many ways,” Zamalin said. “And I think that a marginalized group of Americans and their history and culture often gets ignored.”

Rifkin said disabilities studies helps teach a broader awareness of an issue that can affect everyone.

“Much of what disabilities studies teaches is, first of all, that people with disabilities are part of our human family, and that their claims to rights and justice are important for us to embrace, but also that we are all only temporarily able-bodied, that we will all experience disability if we are lucky to live long enough,” Rifkin said.

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