Workshops / Seminars

Constructions of Autism: Theorizing Voice and Identity “On the Spectrum”

Thursday, 3/22 ~ 9 a.m.

This event will include brief formal presentations of work-in-progress from autism studies scholars Julia Miele Rodas, Chris Foss, Bev Harp, and Melanie Yergeau demonstrating the spectrum of approaches to autism in current academic discourse. Following their talks, the presenters will lead an open discussion on the contested place of autism, both within the academy and in broader social terms. At stake: changing definitions of autism, academic and social inclusion, representing autism, discipline and diagnosis.

Coffee and donuts will be provided at this workshop, and participants are encouraged to register so that we can plan appropriately.  Registrants will also have access to materials before the seminar.  You may register by clicking here:

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Chris Foss is Associate Professor of English at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA.  He has a Ph.D. in Nineteenth-Century British Literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and consequently the primary focus of his research and teaching is on the long nineteenth century.  Over the past five years, however, he has been developing a secondary expertise in disability studies, and autism studies in particular.  During this time he has presented seven disability studies conference papers (all but one of which was focused on autism), with another slated for this summer; he also has published an article on nonfiction autism narratives in Disability Studies Quarterly, and he has three other essays on autism currently under consideration.  Perhaps more significantly, for seven straight semesters now he has taught multiple sections of his first-year seminar on representations of autism, and his upper-level Disability and Literature course (which he will teach for the second time next fall) features a unit on autism as well. 

Bev Harp is an Educational Specialist with the Supported Higher Education Project (SHEP), a project of the University of Kentucky’s Human Development Institute. As an advocate for the rights of all people with developmental disabilities, Bev has presented at national and international conferences and is a regular presenter at the University of San Diego’s Autism Institute. She received her BSW from the University of Kentucky in 2008, and is currently completing her MSW.  From 2007 through 2010, Bev wrote the autism blog, Square 8. Random posts may still appear there from time to time.  She often presents with her animatronic assistant, Squawkers McCaw.

Julia Miele Rodas is an Assistant Professor of English at CUNY’s Bronx Community College. She teaches and writes about literature and disability. Dr. Rodas’ writing has appeared in Victorian Literature & Culture, Dickens Studies Annual, the Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, Disability Studies Quarterly, Victorian Review, and other venues. She has also co-edited a collection of essays with disability scholars David Bolt and Elizabeth Donaldson–The Madwoman and the Blindman: Jane Eyre, Discourse, Disability–which will be published by Ohio State University Press later this year. Dr. Rodas is currently working on a book theorizing autistic voice and aesthetics in familiar texts.

Melanie Yergeau is an assistant professor of English at the University of Michigan. She has published in College English, Disability Studies Quarterly, Computers and Composition Online, and Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. Active in the neurodiversity movement, Melanie is the Board Chair of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, an organization run for and by Autistic people. Additionally, she serves on the board of the Autism National Committee (AutCom), as well as the National Advisory Committee of the Autism NOW Center, an initiative of The Arc and the Administration on Developmental Disabilities. She blogs semi-regularly at

Disability and Pedagogy

Thursday, 3/22 ~ 12 p.m.

This roundtable event will feature faculty members and graduate student teachers sharing their experiences of teaching disability studies and their experiences of disability in the college classroom.  The ensuing discussion will focus on strategies for effectively integrating disability and disability studies into syllabi and into the classroom.  Andrew Lucchesi will serve as moderator.

Mariette Bates (Distinguised Lecturer and Academic Director, CUNY School of Professional Studies Disability Studies program) will discuss issues of mental health in the college classroom.

Katherine DeLorenzo (Adjunct Lecturer in Women’s and Gender Studies, Hunter College) will discuss the challenges of getting students to write about disability.

Chris Foss (Associate Professor of English, University of Mary Washington) will discuss his design of a first-year seminar on representations of autism and disability.

Beth A. Haller (Professor of Journalism/New Media, Towson University) will discuss using mass media and popular culture to introduce students to disability topics.

Mara Mills (Assistant Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, New York University) will discuss electronic accessibility.

Julia Miele Rodas (Assistant Professor of English, Bronx Community College) will discuss using themes of monsters and monstrosity to integrate disability issues into freshman composition curriculum at the community college level.

Emily B. Stanback (Doctoral Candidate in English, CUNY Graduate Center) will talk about her experience of teaching disability studies as at Brooklyn College, and will discuss the positive potential of uncomfortable student responses to disability topics.

Participants are encouraged to register for the seminar; registrants will have access to materials before the seminar.  When registering you may also purchase a packed lunch that will be delivered before the beginning of the seminar:

Accommodating Utopia: Finding a place at the table

Claire P. Curtis, College of Charleston)
Friday, 3/23 ~ 12:00 p.m.

Utopian accounts that both acknowledge and then fully integrate people with disabilities are rare. Even rarer are utopian accounts that acknowledge the fact of human dependency as an issue of justice and not one of compassion. Such a utopia would have three features: (1) it would depict a world with disability that helps us work through what dependency means; (2) it would confront utopia’s tendency to the eugenic; and (3) it would usefully bridge theories of peaceful living together and utopian imaginings. Octavia Butler’s Lillith’s Brood wrestles with the fact of human dependency and the idea of disability. It is also a text wrestling with the utopian impulse and the desire to fix human problems through reproductive engineering. This seminar will read and discuss Butler’s trilogy in light of Martha Nussbaum’s capabilities approach, which sets out a justice based argument concerning disability. Butler offers few definite answers — but she does frame the three novels so as to ask the right set of questions: what does it mean to be human? How does a just society properly understand human capabilities? What range of understandings of who we are and what we want to be can be sustained in a just society?

Seminar participants are strongly encouraged to read Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy, also known as Lilith’s Brood; the trilogy consists of Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago.

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Claire P. Curtis is Associate Professor of Political Science at the College of Charleston. She is the author of Postapocalyptic Fiction and the Social Contract: “We’ll not go Home Again” (Lexington, 2010). She teaches classes in the history of political thought, contemporary liberalism, utopia/dystopia and sexual harassment. Her research interests include the intersections between postapocalyptic, utopian and dystopian thought with political philosophy. She co-edited a special edition of Utopian Studies on Octavia Butler and has also published essays on Octavia Butler, Ursula Le Guin and Marge Piercy. She regularly presents papers at the annual Utopian Studies conferences and recently published an advice piece on the Chronicle of Higher Education.

This event is sponsored by The Center for Humanities Seminar “Possible Worlds, Alternative Futures: Utopianism in Theory and Practice,” and the Utopian Studies Group (a Doctoral Students’ Council Chartered Organization at the CUNY Graduate Center).


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