“Disability forces us into the places we don’t want to go,” said Mia Mingus, an organizer and educator who spoke about disability justice and transformative justice at Pitzer College on Feb. 7. Mingus’ observation was directed not only to those with disabilities, but also to everyone who comes in contact with disabilities. Mingus discussed the principles of ableism and the rise of disability justice, which pushes beyond the fight for access for disabled people.
Mingus, who identifies as a queer, physically disabled, transracial, and transnational Korean woman, began her career as an activist fighting against sexual violence. Now she focuses on education about disability justice. Her presentation “Beyond Access” discussed the medical and social models surrounding disability and different approaches to aiding disabled people.
At her talk, Mingus called for an intersectional movement focused on justice.
“I never really knew I would be talking about disability justice so much,” she said. “It just came up because I would always ask questions at all the events I would go to because they never mentioned disabled people. I would say, ‘what about disabled people?’ and they would say, ‘I don’t know.’ And I thought, well that’s a problem.”
Mingus’s presentation was organized by Zoey Martin-Lockhart PZ ’14, who coordinated a grant through the Pitzer Campus Life Committee to bring three speakers to Pitzer’s campus over the next year. Martin-Lockhart said she decided to bring Mingus because she discusses disability awareness while providing an intersectional look at minority justice.
“I wanted to bring people who would integrate these experiences better and also talk about healing rather than just being upset, and moving to places where people feel better in their lives,” Martin-Lockhart said. “Mia Mingus fit that in an incredible way.”
Bringing Mingus to the campuses represents a step in increasing awareness about disabled people as a minority group.
“I was taking these classes and learning about systems of oppression for a bunch of different marginalized groups,” said Maddy Ruvolo SC ’14, who self-identifies as a disabled student. “I started thinking, well, maybe disabilities should be part of this discussion, but it never came up in classes and discussions were not on campus.”
Ruvolo said she was also displeased with the lack of a community for those with disabilities.
“By the time I got here there wasn’t anything. It was pretty isolating because the school tended to, and to a certain extent still tends to, treat it as a services issue,” she said. “Like, disabled students might need academic accommodations or housing accommodations, but they didn’t think about it like you need a community or this is an identity to be explored.”
In response, Ruvolo and a few other students created the Disability, Illness, and Difference Alliance (DIDA). DIDA hosts weekly discussions in which members with mental and physical disabilities discuss the issues of accommodation, dealing with family pressure, and responding to students who lack awareness of disability issues.
The ground has reached out to the 5Cs through speakers, movie screenings, and discussions, and by providing ally training to peer mentors and Resident Advisers at Scripps College. Members are also fostering a community for new students with disabilities through development of a mentoring program.
Since the creation of DIDA, members have noted an increase in awareness of disability issues across the campuses.
“I don’t know if it has changed at all the 5Cs yet, Ruvolo said. “It has mostly been Scripps, Pitzer, and Pomona where we have had the most members, so that’s where we’ve started to see the most change.”
She added, “Now there is a first year Core class at Scripps on disability, so with that we are also starting to see more awareness that disability is something people should know about.”
The administration at the 5Cs is also working to smooth out their responses to academic accommodations. Next year, a Student Disability Resource Center (SDRC) will be established as part of the consortium to centralize student services.
“Right now, say a Scripps student is taking a class at CMC and they have extended time,” Ruvolo said. “It is unclear whether they take the exam at CMC or they take the exam at Scripps—which disability services office do they go through? The center is supposed to centralize and streamline the process.”
In her talk, Mingus expressed optimism about the future center. She said that though disability justice is not yet a movement, the development of a resource center, an increase in disability focused speakers, and a student body that is slowly learning about ableism give hope to those concerned with disability awareness at the 5Cs.
Ruvolo expressed similar enthusiasm for the future of disability awareness at the colleges.
“It makes me excited about the future of disability advocacy at the Claremont Colleges,” she said. “We have had allies and we welcome allies. I didn’t start thinking about disability identity or disability politics until halfway through my sophomore year, so it’s really awesome to see first year students start to engage with these issues.”