MAGGIE CHEN FOR THE HOYA Author Eli Clare (left) suggested a new model for the special education system that better integrates students with disabilities into the classroom at an event Thursday.

The special education system contributes to the marginalization of people with disabilities, author Eli Clare said at an event Thursday hosted by the LGBTQ Center in the HFSC Social Room.

The event, held in honor of the center’s upcoming 10th anniversary, addressed the intersection of disability, race and transness in society today. Clare, the author of two books and a collection of poetry, identifies as genderqueer and has cerebral palsy.

The current model for special education contributes to the marginalization of people with disabilities, especially for students of color, according to Clare.

“Right now, special education is such a way to segregate, such a pipeline from education to prison, particularly for black and brown kids,” Clare said. “There’s no coincidence to that.”

Clare offered a vision of a reformed education system that integrates students with disabilities into the classroom so all students’ needs are met.

“I’d get rid of special ed, and in its place, I’d create education that has many doorways, that meets everyone where they are, that gives everyone challenge, so everyone is met with challenge and access at the same time,” Clare said. “For most of us, that would probably mean integrated classrooms. We would have to change and become more flexible by creating access that’s built into the curriculum, not added on as accommodation.”

Mainstream ideas about physical and mental abilities incorrectly differentiate between capabilities of the body and of the mind, according to Clare.

“In white Western dominant culture, we’re taught that minds are one entity and bodies are a second entity, not connected at all,” Clare said. “But in my experience, bodies and minds are really connected in a variety of ways. I use the phrase body-mind to remind us of those connections.”

Instead of searching for a cure to disability, activists should start framing addressing disability as restoration, Clare said.

“First, cure requires the existence of damage, deficiency or defectiveness, locating this harm entirely within the individual human body-minds, operating as if each person were her own ecosystem. Second, it grounds itself in an original state of being, relying upon a belief that what existed before is superior to what exists currently. And finally it seeks to return what is damages to that former state of being,” Clare said.

The language of cure and disability extends to transness and gender dysphoria, according to Clare.

“Gender transition as an open door, transness as a defect to fix, gender dysphoria as disability, transgender identities as non-pathologized body-mind differences — all these relationships to defectiveness and cure exist at the same time.”

Clare encouraged allies of historically marginalized groups to listen to those individuals, in order to advocate for them more effectively and to focus more on the effects of their behavior than on their identities.

“We choose to do allied work. It’s the difference between identity and behavior. In this case, behavior is far more important than identity,” Clare said. “The key to doing allied work is to listen hard, listen more than we speak.”

Allies must advocate for those with disabilities by carrying out what activists ask them to do rather than what allies assume is correct, Clare said.

“When we hear the things we are being asked to do, we follow those directions, we show up, and we keep showing up,” Clare said.

Advocating for marginalized people requires years of commitment, according to Clare.

“You will make mistakes and you will be called out and you will need to be accountable,” Clare said. “Doing allied work means learning from mistakes, not making those mistakes over and over again. It takes time; it’s not work measured in days, weeks, months or semesters. It’s measured in decades. Part of doing allied work is figuring out how to do it sustainably.”

Advocates should continue to protest and fight for equal treatment, Clare said, noting there is hope for a future of equality.

“The body-minds of marginalized peoples are more than the ways we’ve been sorted as normal and abnormal, whole and defective, more than histories of violence, more than the objects of pity and bullying, more than signs of pathology, more than targets of police brutality,” Clare said. “I insist upon the body-mind as protest, resistance, everyday truth.”

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