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.