work expectations that that go beyond my scholarly productivity
October 10, 2021 9:56 AM   Subscribe

Roundtable on Academic Ableism. A discussion from Kayden, Krystal, Cait, Nicole of Disabled in Grad School (Oct 2020). Transcript.
posted by spamandkimchi (13 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thank you for posting this! I've just read the transcript. Some quotes that struck me:

what does an excused absence mean if you have to teach that night?

And so I tried to explain spoon theory and explain that things that are easy or they don't require energy for other people. are requiring huge amounts of energy for me. And I was basically told that, well, if that's the case, then I shouldn't be doing anything else, besides my research that I shouldn't be doing any advocacy work, and I shouldn't be doing really anything fun, I should be if I have 4 good hours every day, then those 4 good hours have to go exclusively to research and no fun things at all.

I think able bodied people don't think that they have accommodation needs, but a lot of the things that we do to make you comfortable about being able bodied are an accommodation, right?

Well, like I think, first and foremost, I want every campus to have a Disability Cultural Center. Every campus you just like, have a home there that you can go to, and you can walk in and just like, like lay on a couch, we'll make sure it's a quiet one, and then like nobody who will bother you and ask you why you're napping on the couch or whatever it is.

asking what people need, but then believing what they tell you even if you don't understand how what they're asking for could possibly connect to what you know about them. You probably don't know all of the details of our lives or how disability affects us or how other things going on our life can sort of interact with those disabilities. So even if, you know, the suggestion we have for how something can be more successful seems confusing or you don't see the connection, trust that there's a reason for it. And don't necessarily try to equate different life experiences for why someone might need something.

Also today I read Ada Palmer's piece about going on medical leave as a professor, including the fact that even when her own research and teaching load is on pause, she still owes letters of recommendation and administrative stuff to other people on deadlines that aren't going to pause for her.
posted by brainwane at 10:45 AM on October 10 [9 favorites]


Related: Academia’s ableist culture laid bare: four group leaders with disabilities share their thoughts on how to make laboratories and fieldwork more accessible and inclusive; published last week.

I'm going to go read the transcript now.
posted by sciatrix at 12:01 PM on October 10 [3 favorites]


Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have a lot of feelings about Kayden's perspective in particular. One of the things I have been thinking about this weekend is the validation of disability--especially if you are the kind of invisibly disabled that means you got missed for a long period of time, or you learned that the only safe thing to do was to mask and hide without asking for accommodation. I'm... trying not to be the kind of person that hides, like Kayden describes, especially as I'm currently working on one of the "autism-associated" mouse mutation models, and, well. It's a strange place to be in, and I wind up wondering how smart I am to be even as open as I am about where I'm coming from: are the rewards of transparency worth the risks?

Another thing I think about, re that kind of validation, is that when you grow up in that context where nothing is acknowledged by anyone around you and you have to just muddle through as best you can... claiming the identity of disabled is fucking terrifying. People are usually not very good at knowing what disability looks like around them, and the long-established "faking" narratives get used to cut a wide swathe across our lives. Publicly claiming disability means accepting that the more support you need, the angrier that certain people around you will be and the more carefully they will scrutinize you before "deciding" whether you are being honest or not about your needs. This happens to publicly disabled people all the time, and it's not any less likely to happen in academia.

Quotes from the transcript, as I read:

And I think that like the performativity that we expect of undergrads, and then that we expect of, you know, grad students, faculty members, postdocs, that there's just such a huge change, but there's no change in the way that we accommodate people, right? We expect the same structure that works for undergrads is going to work in grad school. And that's just, I mean, it doesn't make sense, right? Because normally, we would be going to HR as employees, normally we would be talking about what accommodations look like, but we are neither really employees nor students were caught in this in-between moment. And accommodations haven't really been realized for us, right? So I feel like academic ableism is pervasive and that the only things we are offered are things we can't even take advantage of. Right, because like what does an excused absence mean if you have to teach that night? [...] So I feel like the pressure to just like, push through and perform regardless, is there because there hasn't been anything else imagined.

I've been a postdoc for a whole two months, so I suppose I might be speaking beyond my personal expertise here, but... while there are a lot of weird things where graduate students are treated as employees or students depending on what is most convenient for a university at any given time, I don't think this is a thing where graduate students are suddenly being forgotten by the academic hierarchy when they move up from undergrad, but not picked up by HR-style accommodation discussion that exists at higher levels. This is a grad student panel, but my heart is sort of breaking at their cheery optimism that more support might exist at higher professional levels because I talk to a lot of disabled academics at a variety of levels, and it just ain't so. If anything, the higher you get, the less departments have any idea what to do with you, at least until the point that you become so senior that they start thinking of disability as a function of aging. Maybe. Hard to say; people who become disabled at that point in their lives seem to be less likely to conceptualize disability in terms of itself rather than in terms of aging itself.

I think this is an industry-wide problem with ableism in academia for everyone from graduate student on, and as in many places "highly competitive" becomes a mask for "abled only, please." There is no room to stumble. You have this highly flexible industry where people are difficult to compare to one another and where there is intense pressure to compete, or you drop out. That's not a great recipe for access for people who require support needs, in part because the publish-or-perish mentality--emphasis on the perishing--produces the kind of pressure cooker environment that makes many groups think that disabilities are liabilities. Before you rush to affirm that this state of affairs might be terrible but what else can we fairly do, though, I think it's worth thinking about the systemic ways that driving disabled people--especially people who have been disabled for some time--out of academia shapes the way that our formal pursuits of knowledge develops. Medicine is also a field with very similar systemic ableism problems, and I can think of several places where deep ableism in medical practice creates totally unnecessary blind spots.

So I told a colleague of mine that [...] I hated going to conferences. And I didn't hate them because of [...] the research that's shown there. [...] I hate them because it's like 12 hours, you're expected to walk everywhere you go, everything is standing room only, like there's so many inaccessible points to conferences. And I was like, "Oh, I find them really draining and exhausting. [...] The benefit isn't worth how sick I get from them." And my colleague was like, "Oh, well, I love them." [It's] not helpful to me that you love conferences, and I just told you that it's a really inaccessible place for me, like, I'm never going to love something that is not built for me, right? And you should love it. It was built for you, right?

The other thing that pisses me off about this anecdote is that "oh, but I love conferences" is such an anodyne, ill-considered, thoughtless answer. If you've stopped to think about academic networking, it should be possible to realize that there are actually lots of ways to network even if you need to minimize conferences--and I mean, this was the case even prior to COVID when now conferences are more likely to be online! It would be so much better if Schroeder's colleague was able to think about other models for networking that don't involve so much physical mobility, or more processing time, or whatever--things like the use of academic Twitter, which while very flawed can put people in contact with one another, or emailing first authors on recent papers that seem exciting with basic compliments and questions. It's not as easy, because nothing is as easy when the networks you're existing in aren't built for you, but a little bit of basic creativity turns up other things you can do that will still build and maintain social networks of academics if you pause and think about it. But we don't do that, because this industry makes disclosing disability risky and tends to isolate people who have thought carefully about these questions.

I had to withdraw a poster I was very excited about from a symposium last Friday because I couldn't actually get my shit together to execute the graphics in time. I am still frightened about that decision: I know it happens all the time, but there is so much work to do, and setting boundaries about what I can and can't do feels very risky.

Anyway. I'm reading, and thinking, and making notes.
posted by sciatrix at 12:43 PM on October 10 [20 favorites]


I don't think this is a thing where graduate students are suddenly being forgotten by the academic hierarchy when they move up from undergrad, but not picked up by HR-style accommodation discussion that exists at higher levels.

I left academia rather than "ascend" to the higher levels, but I do think it can both be the case that graduate students are uniquely fucked and that the situation isn't actually meaningfully better for faculty. We had no policy covering maternity leave for grad students until we tried to unionize and, lo and behold, one appeared. That doesn't mean that post-docs and faculty don't have issues with pregnancy discrimination, it just means that the university can't pull the "oh, but they're students" thing when it comes to working conditions and employment law. Same with disability--you might still be fucked career-wise, but you're at least notionally not depending wholly on the kindness of others. When I was a grad student, there were two cases that I knew of where someone became seriously ill and couldn't teach after the semester had started, one a faculty member and one a grad student. The faculty member could be replaced as the instructor of record and the person who took over got "credit" for having taught the class. The person who took over for the grad student was effectively teaching an extra section for weeks at a time with no compensation because "if we cover for them, they won't have to drop out and can pay rent" was the best the director of graduate studies could come up with because, again, the university had zero mechanism for handling the situation, the department could cover for you and not tell the university or could throw you under the bus.
posted by hoyland at 2:39 PM on October 10 [9 favorites]


So we had a houseguest recently, a full tenured professor at a large private American university that you have definitely heard of, and he talked about cancel culture and how it is making him miserable because the students are rejecting the "patriarchal practice" of having to do work in order to get good grades. And there was a post just recently about how grad school might not be a good idea for, like, anyone who isn't an independently wealthy person with 10 years with no responsibilities. And now this post.
From the outside it just sounds like academia is some sort of misery machine, that grinds most people into dust and allows others to occasionally glimpse the dubious joys of the Life of the Mind. Has it always been this bad? Or what has changed?
posted by Vatnesine at 5:13 PM on October 10 [2 favorites]


So we had a houseguest recently, a full tenured professor at a large private American university that you have definitely heard of, and he talked about cancel culture and how it is making him miserable because the students are rejecting the "patriarchal practice" of having to do work in order to get good grades.

I don't mean to insult your guest, but this sounds like a just-so story that would appear on Fox after maybe one or two undergrads batted it around in the school news. I'm going to need more cites.

This post has made me think about a summer twenty years ago when I had a broken bone and how things went south for me in my internships because of what I couldn't do, affecting my career decisions for the worse and making my mind up that I wouldn't be in my chosen field. I didn't think about ableism then. You didn't.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:49 PM on October 10 [5 favorites]


Related: the InclusiveSciComm Symposium is going on from Wednesday to Friday of this week. Inclusive SciComm "is a global movement to shift the traditional paradigm of science communication toward an approach that centers inclusion, equity, and intersectionality." Many or most of the participants are disabled, and many are people of color.

Last week's opening sessions were super inspiring and encouraging. It looks like registrations are still open at the time I'm typing this.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 8:13 PM on October 10 [4 favorites]


The whole thing is just a giant pyramid scheme anyway
posted by moorooka at 10:50 PM on October 10


Vatnesine's houseguest's POV is direct from Socrates, by way of Paul Lynde. If anything has changed, it's that society as a whole has advanced (not so long ago that disability of any sort meant institutionalization), but the academy hasn't. Which is especially ironic given how fundamental the field of disability studies was to some of those real-world pushes for disability rights. Life of the mind, indeed.

My school's Office of Disability and Inclusion, which is charged, among other things, with ensuring that students with disabilities get appropriate accommodations, is located down a corridor behind a heavy door without a handicap paddle. Ditto our faculty lounge. Can't get either of those doors open if you're holding a cup of coffee, let alone in a wheelchair/on crutches/lack upper body strength.
posted by basalganglia at 12:08 AM on October 11 [5 favorites]


The whole thing is just a giant pyramid scheme anyway


In more ways than one. The other analagous scheme built pyramids, with punishment for those who could not meet quota.
posted by lalochezia at 2:51 AM on October 11


(Thank you all for this discussion, which is making me freshly grateful for this place. Thanks for the post, spamandkimchi. And congratulations on the postdoc, sciatrix!)
posted by Songdog at 6:08 AM on October 11 [1 favorite]


That doesn't mean that post-docs and faculty don't have issues with pregnancy discrimination, it just means that the university can't pull the "oh, but they're students" thing when it comes to working conditions and employment law

there is in fact a current movement among a number of university administrations to reclassify postdocs as "postdoctoral students" or "postdoctoral trainees" as cover for reducing benefits. just... in case you weren't aware.

no other disagreements, I am just fucking agog at the chutzpah necessary to look at PhD-holding trained workers and go "well, you're not quite at the senior-most career stage, so we can treat you like undergrads, right?"

it's a weird fucking job position and there is definitely a strange level of precarity, especially because postdocs are often not sure whether they are university employees or federal contractors, and really the whole thing is a stupid fucking mess.

bonus: that precarity can make it real fucking unclear who you go to about any accommodation needs under the ADA and who is (as your employer) required to pay for those accommodations, and as usual the institutions trying to avoid costs are not likely to look after the disabled person seeking help.
posted by sciatrix at 7:17 AM on October 11 [7 favorites]


The Roundtable in the OP is entitled The Couch from an anecdote about how a PI accommodated his autistic graduate student during their one-to-one meetings: my advisor has a couch that is pink and plaid and very visually loud. And when I'm looking at him sitting on that couch talking to me, I can only hear the couch I have no idea what he's saying [laughter]. And I felt ridiculous telling him "I can't hear you over the couch." He took that completely fine, it was fine, and we move somewhere else and now I never have to look at that couch again. The [laughter] was telling, so full of empathy and love.
posted by BobTheScientist at 8:45 AM on October 11 [8 favorites]


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