Yale Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Volume 7, Issue 1
fall 2016
Editor, Geetanjali Singh Chanda
Managing Editors, Linda Hase & Moe Gardner
Layout Design, Nick Appleby

Critical Disability Studies (WGSS 383)

by Ho Kyeong Jang '17

Yale has always offered limited options for classes centered on disability. As of 2016, Professor James Berger's critically acclaimed ENGL/AMST seminars "Language, Disability, Fiction" and "The Spectacle of Disability" are the only courses consistently offered. In my final year, I have had the immense pleasure of taking part in Yale’s inaugural “Critical Disability Studies” seminar under the guidance of Professor T. L. Cowan. Professor Cowan is the Presidential Visiting Professor for this academic year, and I hope she graces us with her presence for many more years to come. She is an esteemed performance artist and scholar, and you can find her work as her alter-ego “Trixie Cane” online, my personal favorite being “A Full Head of STEAMM.”

“Critical Disability Studies” is as much a course on disability studies as it is a course on the ways we understand ourselves and the world we inhabit. I like to take the word “critical” as a constant reminder of the assumptions we carry, and the assumptions of others that we are blind to. Unfortunately, disability and ableism remain ideas that even the most informed students often overlook. This class helps students identify and challenge these assumptions and the lattices of power that create them. Professor Cowan offers a curriculum generative of a safe learning environment: safe from both undue pain and judgment. One principle of the class is to acknowledge and encourage different types and methods of learning, and professor Cowan is always accommodating to the different learning needs of each student. I feel a real sense of community as we tackle questions like “what is disability, where does it come from, and how does disability interact with other factors to affect a life?” As the semester draws to an end, I grow increasingly grateful to professor Cowan for providing a space in which students get to evaluate life itself. 

Find us on