This post is based on a Twitter thread 🧵, which has been rolling around in my head all week. I finally got it down on “paper,” but I still can’t let it go. So, I’m turning it into a blog!
My university has a pilot fellowship program where faculty fellows are trained to advise and support tenure-line faculty searches to ensure that they’re evaluating applicants with a DEI lens. I am one of the 1st cohort of fellows. I applied because what I see all the time, at my university and elsewhere, is that “DEI” means “D”; there’s not a lot of equity and inclusion. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to make sure that this program is keeping disability at the forefront of their minds, and not as an afterthought, as it so often is.
As with any new process, there are some kinks to work out in the fellowship. There are logistics with the program itself (i.e., we are overworked; we’re give 3 units of reassigned time when this is easily twice that amount of work).
But the bigger issues are issues of ableism. Several times within one week — one several times within one meeting even after I corrected it once — others on the faculty search called me by the name of the interpreter. That’s not a problem with the program itself, but it speaks to the kinds of issues disabled faculty face in their quest for equity and inclusion.
The thing that really got me thinking this week was our most recent fellowship “check-in” meeting where we met someone new in the DEI office. He presented on some of the language we should be using as we interact with our search committees.
This DEI “expert” was not only specifying the words we should use in certain situations but also the specific tone and inflection we should use. My immediate thought was, “Ok, how am I going to coach the interpreters on this? How much prep time is this going to be (that I do not have)?”
I shared my concerns with the head of this program, she responded with, “Oh we’ll just ask the staff interpreter!” That left me feeling...a way. After I’d slept on it, I found the words to explain that this is not a me/staff interpreter issue. This is an issue of ableism.
I went on to elaborate how fellows (in this cohort or in future cohorts) may speak English as a 2nd, 3rd, 12th or whatever language. We may also have fellows who speak English natively but in a dialect/accent very different from American English. Their word choices and intonation may be different.
So, in the process of doing DEI work, we’re being tone policed? Our word choice is being policed? That’s not equitable. Suppose a future fellow uses AAC. Depending on the type of system, they may have no control over the tone of their device. This is an issue of ableism and linguistiticm.
And, y’all, I’m tired. I’m tired of addressing this.
Going a ways off topic, but bear with me: I recently watched Deep Space 9 season 2, episode 6, “Melora”. It originally aired on Halloween in 1993. Melora is the first Elaysian to join Starfleet. Elaysians are from a planet with what seems like gravity more like our moon. As such, they have a hard time with earth-like gravity, essentially disabling her. Non Elaysian worlds are not designed for her.
She uses adaptive equipment, special braces, a trolly car (wheelchair), and her quarters have an anti-grav option so she can be free of these devices for a time. (It kind of sounds like taking a listening device off at the end of the day.) One of the characters tells her she doesn’t have to come out “attacking” all the time, like assuming people will be unaccommodating or will end up doing something ableist. I feel like this is how I have to be all the time with my DEI fellowship.
I have to be ready to “attack” at a moment’s notice because something ableist is bound to happen.
There are so many quotes out there about how if you’re in DEI and not considering disability you’re doing it wrong. Despite that, I’m prodded to ask the following question:
Does anyone do DEI right?