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Diane Wiener, Director of the Disability Cultural Center, Addresses Offensive Fraternity Video
In 2005, disabled activists of color, many of whom were queer women of color, and others, a large number of whom are now affiliated with the collective known as Sins Invalid, developed “10 Principles of Disability Justice.” When intergenerational activists and others today use the term “disability justice,” many, but not all, are therefore referencing (whether or not credit is given, as it should be) this foundational work in the ongoing, decades-long struggle of disability rights.
The progenitors and legacy-bearers of these 10 principles acknowledge assertively, along with numerous other life-and-death matters, the fact that racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, toxic masculinity, homophobia, transphobia and numerous other insidious structures that shore up, sustain and forward ableism, are often expressed via individual and group ideas, behaviors and language, both explicit and implicit.
Prof. Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw has emphasized that a practical and abiding understanding of intersectionality—how and why identities are simultaneous, and inform each other, rather than being additive—is essential to the pursuit of justice. One might hold marginalized and oppressed identities in one moment, or in one lifetime; moreover, identities might shift situationally, or transform across one’s life trajectory. Despite this teaching and awareness, attention to ableism remains, oftentimes, the very last of the insidious structures addressed, discussed and refuted—if disability is even mentioned in the first place—when diversity, equity and inclusion are discussed and understood, both on college campuses and in society.
Rather than underscoring the systemic violence that creates ableism, and of which ableism is a reflection, even the most open of advocates working to change the world for the better imagines with unfortunate frequency that disabled people are to be feared and pitied; activist spaces and endeavors are themselves often inaccessible; and, the understanding of disability as an experience of identity, culture and pride are perceived as novel, if not inconceivable.
At Syracuse University, and in the City of Syracuse, we have a proud and long history of disability rights being at the heart of political work. In what is an anathema to all that disability activists have striven for at Syracuse and elsewhere, Theta Tau’s video is not only a representation that demeans, dehumanizes and objectifies disabled people, it does so by utilizing toxic masculinity, homophobia, racism and other forms of systemic oppression and violence to accomplish its strategy, hiding behind the false narrative of “humor,” and “boys will be boys.”
Disabled people are not to be pitied; disability is not a devastation that needs to be cured and about which triumph and shame are the necessary or desired aims and outcomes. Yes, some individuals are ashamed of their disabilities, and others would just rather live differently. Some people do not want to be known as disabled, or might prefer only to be called Joe, who happens to have a disability, but disability is not the entirety, let alone the center of Joe’s life. There is no monolithic disability perspective or experience. Some would assert that shame and stigma around disability reflect internalized oppression, highly understandable in a world that was and remains often not built or shaped for us, the same world that has often feared, ignored, dismissed and even, in some cases, killed us.
Disability identity is comprised of a nuanced and variegated set of realities, existing always within and enhancing the workplace, interpersonal relationships, scientific discovery, arts and culture and, of course, the university, among other spaces and landscapes, geographic, political, social, virtual.
Rape culture and locker room talk will never be tolerated at Syracuse University. Ableism and other forms of interlaced oppressions must be denounced and undermined.
We have a lot of collaborative work to do. And, we will continue the labor.
Diane R. Wiener
Director, Disability Cultural Center