Anya Gruber '16
Smith’s First Annual Five College Disability Studies Conference took place last Friday and Saturday, April 3 and 4. Workshops, lectures and panel discussions were held to increase awareness of the importance of disabilities studies at Smith and the other five colleges.
The conference was hosted by the Smith College student disabilities alliance, an organization on campus that works to “promote awareness, education and support around issues of impairment and disability on campus and in the field for students, faculty and staff,” according to their mission statement.
Alice Wolff ’15 was involved in the planning and organizing of the conference and put together an autistic caucus on Friday afternoon. Of the caucus, Wolff commented, “I loved the sense of community I got — I usually feel pretty disconnected from other autistic students on campus, and getting to interact with other autistic people in person was maybe the highlight of my semester.”
“I think that something I’d like people to have gotten out of the conference is the diversity of disabled experiences that people have,” Wolff added.
On Saturday afternoon, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, a self-described “queer disabled femme writer, performer, healer and teacher,” delivered the conference’s keynote address. She began her address by noting the significance of the fact that this was the first conference of its kind here at Smith.
“It is a really, really big deal, and it’s really important,” she said.
Her talk addressed a wide range of topics, including the fundamental term “disability justice.” She explained how she goes about defining disability justice and the nuances of describing it, saying, “I think words are so important.”
Piepzna-Samarasinha is the cofounder of the group Mango with Chilis, “North America’s touring queer and trans people of color cabaret.” She also works with other activists to promote disability justice. “What we’re doing is trying to create a disability justice community and family where all our identities are there at once,” she said. “I am not here alone. I am here as one part of a collective disabled genius,” she added.
Piepzna-Samarasinha also discussed the bombing of a hospital in Gaza last year and the implications of calling those injured in war “victims.” fighiting against this stereotype and said in her address, “None of us are victims to be held up on a f***ing poster for a political purpose. We are resistors.”