Ren’s Class Summary for Tuesday October 26th

Class began with an excited “Happy Birthday” to no one in particular and a five-question quiz on the readings for today. We went back and forth between large and small groups about the Weise poem we didn’t get to the day before, the Hershey poem, the theory piece on the intersection of capitalism and disability, The Wedding of Tom to Tom, and Good Kings Bad Kings.

Our large group discussion started with a recap about the major paper/project proposal and then about the poem from last time The Old Questions by Weise. It was read aloud and the poetic speaker seems to be in another place with someone and they were potentially going to be intimate before there are many questions. Leading into our discussion today about sex and disability. How is this poem asking us to think about sex and what’s healthy? The comparison of peep shows with a sign saying “hands off our girls” and how the speaker wants to not be touched. The constant questions feel like prerequisites and barriers to making love that the speaker has gone through many times before. One student is actually having their birthday in class. “Can I touch it coming right off of hands off our girls” as the last thought on the poem.

Onto Working Together by Hershey and the two ways that people read the poem as an apathetic caretaker or two people working together and being used to their roles. Is the title indicative of the dynamic or a little bit ironic? Questions of who the caretaker is and how the two are related. The ending not being clear cut and the last stanza is ambiguous and unanswered by the poem. “Emotional support” for the caretaker from the one they’re taking care of. Loaded relationship when it comes to ‘what no one thinks of doing/except for self or child’ the speaker is saying it as something grateful. “We take ableism and autonomy for granted…so much that we don’t even consider those with mobility impairments and how much of a struggle that everyday tasks would be.” Use of the word heft rather than something gentler making it feel a little more impersonal. “Tell her that she can” and giving her permission to take care of the speaker who is vulnerable to read that line as a more intimate connection. “Across the spectrum of these relationships they can be abusive or neutral…there are people in institutions who genuinely care.” This is connected to the Banner short story and Good Kings Bad Kings.

We were sent to small groups to talk about the theory piece. Look at the anecdotes as a jumping off point and go over the intersection of sex and disability with the headings of access, histories, and spaces. “Compulsory able-bodiedness and compulsory heterosexuality” are what most people are operating. Questions of intellectual disabilities and consent on a tangent about The Wedding of Tom to Tom. In specific queer or women studies disability isn’t considered and it isn’t acknowledged and how disabled people are thought of as an enigma where they don’t think about gender or sexuality when it’s not true.

He called our attention back to large group to talk about The Wedding of Tom to Tom and the conflicting receptions of it. Is the wedding some sort of acknowledgement of their personhood or is it seen as a joke or in pitying infantilization? The potential contrast of healthy versus unhealthy relationships with Tom A and Tom B compared to Anita and Archie. The use of the R word in the story and how unprogressive that is and if the presence of that word is to view a character negatively. The conflicting view on the word and if it is important in a conversation about caretaker attitudes, but it is upsetting and potentially triggering. Surprise over the narrator being a woman with the way that she responded to things. The disturbing implications are with the wedding. Is it progressive to think about Tom A and Tom B as sexual beings are? It is also coming from Anita’s perspective and if it really is happening all the time. Is them holding hands really that big of a deal or will it really lead to something more? Raquel and Anita treating Tom and Tom as a side show and if we are invited to critique them for thinking that. “The big thing that makes her realize she loves Archie is that he just acknowledges Tom and Tom and didn’t think it was weird” space for humor in the piece. “General feeling of a lack of consent” because Tom A isn’t verbal and the parallels of relationships with one person in more power of the other. “There was just something wrong with it…not the disability or their kind of relationship” was the final remark.

Back into small groups to finish out on Good Kings Bad Kings. Quite liked the book a little worried about the Teddy and Mia. Teddy wanting his own agency and fear over what’ll happen. We dislike Michelle because she is only in it for the money while pretending she isn’t. She also chooses people who have a disability of some sort and she is presumably able-bodied who prays on young disabled people in a rough environment and judges them the entire time. Not having powered wheelchairs could be not having the funding or they don’t want them to have autonomy and independence.

“I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work.” Ren Hadeishi

Tabitha Robinson’s Class Summary for October 21, 2021

We started class today with the welcome announcement that there was no reading quiz. This excitement was quickly overshadowed by our first conversation about our final paper/project, which is worth 30% of our course grade. Professor Foss read through the assignment sheet with us and explained that we can either write a thesis driven paper or come up with a creative project for our final grade. In addition to this major paper/project, which is due November 16, we will have a take-home exam on our final unit about autism. Although November 16 seems far away, Professor Foss encouraged us to be thinking about our topic, since our topic proposals are due in two weeks.

To get our creative juices flowing (and to “make [him] a little misty”), Professor Foss guided us around past dis/lit websites going back to 2012, where we looked at previous major paper/projects. Some of these were very creative, ranging from literary analysis to photography to music to Tumblr versions of To Kill a Mockingbird. We also looked at various other websites linked on our dis/lit site, which might prove helpful for our research.

Once questions were exhausted, we moved into small group discussion of Flannery O’Conner’s “Good Country People.” My small group was somewhat disgusted by the story as a whole. We expected a sexual assault scene and were almost relieved when Manley merely stole Hulga’s wooden leg—still a terrible violation of her body. We toyed with the idea of Manley being a kleptomaniac. At the very least, we said, his obsession with stealing things from disabled people is an attempt to gain power over his own life by making others feel helpless. We also noted that just because Hulga has two disabilities, an artificial leg and a heart condition, she is treated as if she has a mental disability too. She is treated like a child, when in reality she is a very intelligent woman. Back in large group, we asked the big question: Is this text progressive or not? We appreciated that Hulga has a strong sense of self. She isn’t “edgy and broody,” according to Melissa, because of her disabilities, but because those around her do not accept her. In this sense, the representation is progressive. Besides, at least she doesn’t end up dead or cured—or does she? Zeb pointed out that Hulga said the leg is her soul and it was stolen from her. From there, we considered that the text may not be as progressive as we thought. We could see some victim blaming at the end where Hulga is written as sheltered and naïve. (Note: Melissa also invented a new word, edgy-cated. Definition: when you get too educated and it makes you edgy.)

While in large group, we discussed The Secret Garden, which had the exact conclusion we expected. Healthy equals lovable for Colin and his father; disagreeable equals disabled for Colin and Mary. The garden cured all disability in the story, from Mary’s “contrariness” to Mr. Craven’s trauma to Colin’s illness and anxiety. Although we were inclined to write off the story as NOT progressive in the least bit, one idea came up that gave us pause. Is this story an early form of showing the importance of mental health? We know that mental illness does often translate to physical symptoms. Mr. Craven’s grief and Colin’s conviction that he will die could certainly be causes of physical illness. Perhaps their physical issues were in part brought on by their mental states. And while fresh air and exercise are not a cure, they can be helpful for people with physical or mental illness.

Back to small group, we discussed Baynton’s “Defectives in the Land.” We saw strains of white supremacy here as disability and race mingled and almost became one. Foreign race equals defect in this logic. Brie told us about her field trip to Ellis Island and seeing the cards of people turned away due to “defect.” Back in large group, we elaborated further on that idea by realizing that we tend to only teach those things through a historical lens. After taking this class, Brie said, she had a whole new perspective on the discrimination in our nation’s past. The old discrimination was justified with new scientific data from the theory of evolution and genetics (eugenics).

Word count: 720

I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work. –Tabitha Robinson

Kelly Brown’s Class Summary for October 14th, 2021

Even before the class period began, many students were anticipating a quiz while sitting outside Room 322. Their prediction proved true, because in the words of Dr. Foss, “What better way [is there] to welcome us back from Fall Break?” He followed up the quiz with some announcements: the first was to remind us of the upcoming events for Disability Awareness Month, including a presentation from Kenny Fries, one of the authors we read for the day. The other announcement was that Dr. Foss had updated our grades for both class participation and reading quizzes, and we could now view them on Canvas. Since we had reached the midpoint of the semester, it was helpful to know where we stood academically, in case we wanted to step up our game.

Our first large group discussion was on “Disabled Lilacs,” a poem by Petra Kuppers, as well as the experimental video that accompanied it. Dr. Foss, who had never been corrected until his previous section, pronounced lilac as “lIE-lAHk”, while the rest of us pronounced it as “lIE-lAK”. Although the meaning of the poem was not initially obvious, it is arguably looking at disability from a broader and more general perspective. The speaker leaves their disability ambiguous so that the text is more inclusive and can relate to anyone, regardless of if you know someone disabled or are disabled yourself. The descriptive imagery suggests that this poem takes place within a dream world, perhaps one where ableism does not exist. If that were the case, though, the main symbolic motif would have been lavenders instead of lilacs. After all, some parents use lavender to calm down their kids. What is the significance of lilacs, if any? Could it possibly have more to do with their juxtaposition to simplicity, nature, and beauty? We were left with even more questions after watching the experimental video, and I joked that “experimental” was a fitting word to describe it. Whereas I was expecting to hear the poem articulately read out loud, the video instead alternated between Neil Marcus seemingly reciting the words as they appeared on screen, and Lakshmi Fjord describing black and white photos of a nude couple. Another one of my classmates argued that due to its presentation, someone who is unable to see would entirely miss the text. Additionally, the meaning behind the photographs shown is unclear. How do they relate to the poem? It was tougher to draw substantial conclusions from the video, so we decided not to dwell on it further.

We transitioned to the second poem of the day: “Excavation” by Kenny Fries. Seeing as Fries would be our keynote speaker for Disability Awareness Month, it felt reasonable to analyze some of his writing. The title alone is very impressionistic, and on its own, it could be interpreted in a number of ways. For the speaker, the excavation represents a foot surgery, which resulted in “the bones at birth [they weren’t] given” that they now appear to be stuck with. By examining their new foot shape, the speaker also peels back all of the hurtful nicknames they internalized, such as ‘freak’ and ‘midget’. The poem’s lament, therefore, is a struggle to find a proper home in a body that has been greatly altered, similar to Shelia Black’s “What You Mourn.”

We moved into small groups to talk about “Cathedral,” a short story by Raymond Carver. My group in particular talked about the hostility, and perhaps jealousy, of the narrator throughout the text. None of us were sympathetic towards the narrator, and one of my group mates even said he felt insecure. He has no interest in connecting with anyone, including his wife, and never calls Robert by his name, instead referring to him as “the blind man”. Another one of my group mates compared the tension between the two men to male turkeys puffing up their feathers to intimidate one another. In the end, when the narrator finally attempts to both figuratively and literally see things from Robert’s perspective, it does not feel like a gesture of good will. In fact, it feels more like a form of saviorism, since drawing with your eyes closed is nowhere near equivalent to actually being blind. Still, is it a step in the right direction for the narrator? Maybe from that point, he can continue growing and improving as a person.

We ended the class discussing Jay Dolmage’s “Academic Ableism” in small groups. Dr. Foss prompted us to also consider UMW’s campus, and whether or not it is accessible. My group pointed out the image of a stairway on page 3 of the online text, and how it relates to the ongoing conflict of accessibility versus aesthetics in colleges across the country. Is there a way to achieve balance between the two? Many schools, UMW included, seem to care more about improving their image than accommodating for people with disabilities. My small group agreed that how a campus looks does not matter if it is not accessible. Another instance of academic ableism that the piece hints at, but does not cover in great detail, is academic papers. Students are often taught to prioritize formatting and big words, in order to sound smart and get better grades from teachers. Consequently, the process of writing essays becomes less fun and more time consuming, as we are forced to overlook any real substance. To make academic papers more accessible and easier to finish, teachers would need to be less critical of simplistic language and contractions in favor of getting the point across.

Word Count: 927

“I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work.” – Kelly Brown

Rachel Grace’s Class Summary for 10/14/2021

To begin class, Dr. Foss started with his favorite surprise for his students: a quiz. Our professor then announced the exciting news that the person who wrote the poem present on each computer screen in our small room in Combs was going to deliver an address specifically to Mary Washington students. We then moved into the content. This class period focused on the dangers of our unrecognized standard biases and how unrecognizable normalized ableism can be, whether in how we read out loud, how we designate sexualized bodies, how we tokenize blindness, or how we interact with our physical college campus.

Following the miniature quiz, the discussion progressed to poetry, specifically Petra Kuppers’ “Lilacs” (pronounced “Lie-lacks”). The class observed the text in two different contexts. First, a student read it out loud, and then Dr. Foss showed an artistic video interpretation of the text that featured a disabled body reading the poem and audio descriptions of pictures of naked disabled/inter-abled couples that appear on the screen during the video. The two formats created a discussion around how the format of a poem can change the meaning of the content. The conclusion is that the artistic interpretation of the poem revealed standard biases present in our expectations of standard speech and how our implicant expectations affect the way we consume art and poetry. Dr. Foss noted that the poem while exposing our standard biases, is ultimately deconstructing the natural and unnatural binary that exists in disability and the human experience, which then leads to textual examples such as “aching gears”.

The discussion shifts into Kenny Fries’ “Excavation”, which we concluded serves less as real and more as a utopic version of the imagination. With images suggesting illusionary escapism, our discussion focuses more so on what it is the speaker wants to excavate about himself and how the violent images suggest their desire to uncover what they are looking for. We end the discussion on a question from Dr. Foss, who wonders if this poem comes at the feet of an ableist world or if it is reassigning meaning. We come to no unanimous conclusion but instead are left to ponder the ideas.

Carver’s “Cathedral” sparks a conversation in a small group about whether Carver is asking us to critique the piece or if they are simply rehabilitating the narrator. In the end, we see the piece as a way to critique how society treats disability because it is only once the husband gets to know Robert that he can change his perspective on disability, specifically blindness. The husband thinks of Robert’s wife as leading “a pitiful life” because she could never “see herself in the eyes of her loved one” (213), which is unbearable for the husband to imagine. Our group also spoke greatly about the ending serving as a sort of tokenization of the disabled character. It is up to the man who is blind to show people a new perspective and he has to have a great and exciting attitude when doing it. The overall consensus draws upon the story serving as a critique.

The conclusion the small group comes to concerning Dolmage’s theory piece is that Mary Washington is no exception to ableism plaguing campuses of higher education in the United States. Jacob uses the examples of eugenics and the histories of profiting off the testing of disabled subjects, as written in the text, to illustrate our conclusion. We discuss exclusion based on accommodations, which serve to offload the responsibility of the institution. In the end, we agree that the piece describes perfectly well how we put able bodies ahead of disabled bodies every day and in every context. 

Jamie’s Class Summary for October Fifth

Word count: 1437 words

On October fifth, the class started off with a quiz. The class joked lightly about each question being repeated. There were two questions on “To kill a mockingbird” chapters twenty two through twenty seven, two on the “Beasts of Burden” and the final question was on the “Symptoms” poem. After the quiz, Professor Foss went into several extra credit opportunities that were coming up. Some of these events have already passed but one event that is happening in a few days is on October thirteenth. It is a coco movie night that starts at 6:30 p.m. in the channeler ballroom.

The first reading we discussed was a small portion of the ‘Beasts of Burden’. The chapters that we read were chapters nine and ten with a small portion of chapter eleven. In the story, it comments on how people with disabilities often get dehumanized. My small group discussed the fact that even though humans are technically animals, we don’t usually think of ourselves as animals. There is often a negative connotation being associated with an animal. For example, being associated with a snake or cat means you are sly and untrustworthy. I overheard one of the other small groups, while discussing this, joked that it doesn’t matter because “we are all animals anyways.” One of the first people that is brought up in chapter nine is a woman named Pastrana. She and her son died several days after she gave birth. Pastrana was only twenty six at the time. Her body was heavily covered in fur like an ‘ape’ or a ‘bear’ as the story describes it. Once she died, she was embalmed and went around on tour. The tour lasted for 112 years and no one even thought about properly putting her to rest. As my group said, it goes to show that Pastrana was seen as an object rather than a person or a human being. Another thing that we mentioned was that those that are disabled often aren’t seen as the same as those without disabilities. An additional thing I overheard was in relation to Pastrana, “taking out internal organs, the body will last a long time because there’s nothing progressing the aging process.” I don’t know if this is actually true, but it was something interesting I heard. The final thing I overheard in relation to chapter nine was that chapter nine was all about being objectified by others. Continuing on what they were saying, chapter ten is about people taking control of the names others call them for themselves. On a similar note to what I overheard about those two sentences, it is about other people’s labels versus people’s own labels or no power versus their own power. As I already started to write, chapter ten is about people embracing who they are, especially the money girl and the alligator skinned man as some others commented on. They ended up getting married. Since they actually embraced their conditions, they were able to somewhat control what other people called them. The beginning of chapter ten it was brought up that Percilla Bejano was similar to Pastane in terms of her condition, but instead of being exploited while being dead, she was exploited while being alive. Both of the Bejanos took control of their circus life which meant that they had more control of their disability rather than having a negative affect on it. Besides the Benjano couple as I just mentioned, one of the other main people that is discussed in chapter ten was Otis Jordan who had arthrogryposis. Because of his arthrogryposis Jordan was unable to find a job so he ended up going to join the circus. Our group commented on the fact that when a disabled woman who was a disability rights activist saw his show, she went to court to try and get the court banned. We were surprised that not everyone had the same view on it, especially with the difficulty of trying to get a job. Not everyone sees the good out of a bad situation based on their personal experiences. Our small group also took note in the final chapter in “Beast of Burden” that there are cases where people with disabilities don’t always get a choice when they get ‘fixed’. Sometimes they feel better because they could’ve been in a worse position then they are now, but they could also wonder what it would’ve been like if they weren’t fixed. There is also the fact they could feel like their body is no longer theirs.

When in the big group, nearly everyone had different thoughts on what was read. One of the things that the large group mentioned which was similar to the small group was that the human brain is developed differently from other animals. Many people who are not disabled consider people who are disabled as “suffering” or as animals. For example, is there a ‘natural’ body when drawing a line between animals and humanity? Where does the line get drawn? After all, what is wrong with society if the only option left for those who are disabled, is to join the circus. Oftentimes in dystopian societies and other stories, the homeless, disabled, and African Americans have comparisons to animals. It is assumed that tourists don’t want to see the homeless or disabled in the world, as shown in utopian societies. The shift in discussion happened when people started talking about how people can’t know what those with disabilities are going through. Those that have the same disability can have entirely different experiences as everyone grew up differently. There are times when people don’t want to say how they feel because they always hear that there’s someone worse off than them, such as ‘kids starving in africa’. They forget that what they feel is valid.

The next thing we discussed as a large group was the Symptoms poem. It is about a woman who is going through sclerosis. She describes it like she is wearing a corset as if she’s trapped in what she can do and she hates it. Corsets were to fit the fashion in the past, but it was a very dangerous fashion trend. Lambeth isn’t defeated by it though. She struggles with trying to find the right words to explain how it feels and the lines may be intentionally disjointed to show the struggle. As she puts it, the disability tends to remain hidden but occasionally she has to show it when her clothing ‘drops’. Even if it doesn’t seem that hopeful it offers a perspective in a way that others couldn’t imagine before.

The final thing we discussed was “To Kill a Mockingbird” chapters twenty two through chapters twenty seven. It was very weird when people were trying to make Scout a lady even though she was only eight at the time. For reference, in modern times, when a kid is eight, they are usually in second grade which most people don’t try to make kids try and act more mature. Granted, her personality might have been slightly influenced as there was no mom in Scout’s life, but most people don’t try to abruptly change it. It usually isn’t until middle school when kids start figuring themselves out and in highschool when a kid’s behavior starts setting in stone. Though, we did have a chuckle on how Scout noticed Jem was becoming more of a man. We eventually shifted to Tom Robinson and the trial. Until he was introduced, we just knew him as an African American. When it was revealed he was disabled it was a mild surprise because the disability wasn’t really talked about. The issue that the townsfolk had with him was that he was an African American rather than disabled. If he was white, we were sure that there would be more of an issue with it. People commented on the fact that just because he was disabled, he was innocent. It would be a sin to kill him, just like it was a sin to kill a mockingbird. There was also an offhand comment that there didn’t seem like there were many African Americans, or at the very least, those that played a major part in the story. There was also the fact that it seemed like mixed kids seemed to be ostracized. That was the end of most of the conversations as it pattered off. Professor Foss was kind enough to let us out of class early as it was the week before break. People were happy about that. I hope you enjoyed this rambling of the class period.

Alex Huber’s Class Summary for September 28

Class on September 28 started with a quiz, in which we answered questions relating to the readings, particularly To Kill a Mockingbird. After the quiz, we transitioned into a large group discussion regarding the novel. Specifically, we talked about the characters of Arthur Radley, who is referred to as “Boo” throughout the novel; Tom Robinson; and Mrs. Debose, focusing on the various ways these characters can be interpreted as disability-aligned. A theme throughout this class period was how different models of disability give us different perceptions on disability and disability-aligned characters, as well as how these different models affect how disabled people are viewed and treated.

When discussing disability-aligned characters in To Kill a Mockingbird, the most obvious one to come to mind is Arthur “Boo” Radley himself. As we discussed in class, throughout the novel, he is built up as a boogeyman figure, practically mythologized in the minds of Scout, Jem, and Dill. A comparison was drawn to the Creation from Frankenstein, though it was also noted that Arthur is given far less physical description than the Creation. The exact reason why Arthur is isolated from the rest of Maycomb is never revealed, but he is treated as a disability-aligned character nonetheless. One symbol repeated throughout the novel is that of the mockingbird, a creature that, according to Atticus, it’s wrong to hurt, because it never did anything wrong. However, another symbol brought up in the large group discussion is Old Tim Johnson, the mad dog that has to be shot and killed for the good of the community. Is Arthur “Boo” Radley the mockingbird or is he the mad dog? This is the question we discussed in large groups, and when we transitioned into small groups afterward, this is one question that question my group tackled.

Another disability-aligned character that comes to mind in To Kill a Mockingbird is Tom Robinson, a disabled black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. His story is central to the plot of the novel, and the mockingbird symbol refers to him as well. While in small group discussion, my group discussed Tom Robinson’s unjust and unfair death, once again harkening back to Old Tim Johnson. Though Tom is not portrayed as “mad” like Arthur or the dog, he is ultimately “put down” like the dog for the “good of the community” once he is falsely convicted of rape. The tragedy of Tom’s death echoes throughout the story, and it brings to light the intersectionality of race, class, and disability, which was also discussed in large and small group discussions.

Finally, the third character that may come to mind in To Kill a Mockingbird as being disability-aligned is Mrs. Dubose, an old woman suffering from morphine addiction. Whereas Arthur Radley and Tom Robinson are made to be likable characters the readers can feel sympathy for, Mrs. Dubose is a bitter, cruel old woman. However, Atticus refers to her as a figure of courage at one point, even comparing her to Tom, saying she was possibly the bravest person he ever knew. In both large and small group discussion, we discussed this line from Atticus, and it was pointed out that this line reads like inspiration porn, in which a disabled person is viewed as inspirational solely because of their disability. Atticus claims that Mrs. Dubose is an inspiration because she never gave up. In large group discussion, Dr. Foss pointed out how, as the character in the novel who most acts as the voice of Harper Lee and delivers the story’s moral lessons, this moment can easily be read as Lee suggesting that a disabled person like Mrs. Dubose may have no future, but they are still brave for continuing to exist despite that.

After our discussions of To Kill a Mockingbird, we moved back into large group discussion to discuss the other major reading for the day, the introduction to Alison Kafer’s Feminist, Queer, Crip, then back to small group discussion to discuss them further. In the final small group discussions of the day, my group discussed Kafer’s introduction and her criticisms of the medical and social models of disability. Ultimately, while Kafer acknowledges that the models are important to some, her criticisms point out that these models are not effective for everyone, and that room must be made for other perspectives. This ties back to the discussion of To Kill a Mockingbird by bringing to light the fact that disabled people are often seen as having unhappy lives purely by virtue of their disability. A person who is not disabled cannot know what it is like to be disabled, and yet able-bodied people continue to make judgments on what kind of lives disabled people can lead.

Class concluded on that note, that disabled people each have their own desires and cannot be boiled down to one model or perspective. Every person is unique, and every experience with disability is as well.

“I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work.” Alex Huber.