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The Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies Department is offering a Disability Studies course which strives to have an interdisciplinary approach.

Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Penn’s Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Department will offer a new introductory course in disability studies this fall. 

The class, which will be taught by GSWS Graduate Associate Mae Eskenazi, takes an interdisciplinary approach to the subject in order to fuse disability studies, queer theory, Black feminist theory, visuality studies, and film theory. Students in the course will also learn about ways to approach disabilities through the arts. 

Eskenazi told The Daily Pennsylvanian that the questions explored through the course remain extremely relevant to the contemporary world, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic, current financial precarity, and “ongoing racialized and gendered logics of colonialism and imperialism.”

“Disability, debilitation, and illness are facets of everydayness, so I hope that this course removes disability from the visual spectacle that it causes and instead posits lived experiences of disability and debilitation into everyday life for the students who are studying,” Eskenazi said.

The course was inspired by a lack of focused disability studies courses offered at Penn. 

Rising College senior Ellie McKeown, who is studying Biology and GSWS with a health and disability concentration, told the DP that limited course options result in many students working toward the concentration taking courses that don’t discuss disability.

“It’s hard to find courses that look at disability as a sociological phenomenon,” McKeown said. “A lot of STEM courses have a medicalizing view of disability. STEM and biology courses don’t treat [people with disabilities] as human but as patients in that sense.”

Rising College junior and Disabled Coalition President Lex Gilbert emphasized the important role that the course will play in helping disabled students learn about their history and civil rights. She said the conversations about disability that went on in the public schools she attended prior to Penn often offered extremely limited perspectives.

“I am looking forward to having a professor who cares about accessibility and provides me with a perspective other than the cis, white, abled thoughts I’ve gotten used to hearing in academic spaces,” Gilbert said.