For many of us who belong to marginalized communities, the treatment and inclusion of our identities within the classroom can make or break our educational experience. Over 25% of Americans have a disability, with many more joining the community due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of us are or will be closely impacted by disability at some point during our lives. Disability intersects with all aspects of life, and that translates into all academic fields: architecture, technology, engineering, economics, art, social work, public health, intersections with race, gender, nation, language, and many others.
As students at San Francisco State University, we write to express our disappointment at the lack of disability studies on our campus and urge you to support and increase curriculum and courses on this topic. Especially given our location in the Bay Area, a place with a rich disability history, we are a prime candidate for inclusion of disability within our coursework. As students of SF State, we pride ourselves in our relationship to our community within and beyond the university’s borders. We offer many majors committed to serving disabled people (Special Education; Speech Language & Hearing Services; Social Work; Counseling & Psychological Services), but without disability studies, we are failing to adequately prepare students to be the best supporters of disabled communities. More broadly, including disability studies into our course options and material provides us the opportunity to better serve our own communities during our education and after, regardless of field of study.
SFSU’s Disability Programs and Resource Center currently serves over 2,500 students by providing classroom accommodations and support to disabled students, staff, and faculty. Disability is more prevalent on SFSU’s campus than this; this number excludes disabled students who are not registered because they do not need accomodations, are undiagnosed or unable to access adequate healthcare, or have yet to understand themselves as disabled. Students of color are more likely to have disabilities and yet less likely to access accommodations, so with a campus as diverse as SFSU, we know this number is larger.
Studies across the nation and world have shown that disabled students have lower rates of graduation than non-disabled students. And then when students graduate, they face higher rates of unemployment and discrimination in the workplace compared to their non-disabled peers. In February 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 27.7% of disabled college graduates were employed, compared to 73.2% of their non-disabled peers. By increasing the prevalence of disability studies on SFSU’s campus, we can work to bridge these equity gaps facing disabled students.
Having access to disability studies and a rich disability community on campus can improve retention rates by fostering pride and helping students see their disabilities as an asset, support skill and network building for graduates, and further support SFSU’s mission of social justice for marginalized groups.
Below are two testimonials from current students and alumni on their relationship to disability studies:
“Implementing more disability studies curriculum at SF State will allow the community to more accurately identify and resist ableism - which is co-constitutive with other systems of domination that the ‘68 student strikers had named as major issues and sought to take down. Disability studies curriculum can grow a bigger cohort of mindful lifelong learners that can increase accessibility for everyone, disabled and non, while also uprooting the institutions and ideologies that aim to eradicate disabled people (and simultaneously, all other marginalized populations).”
“I’m grateful to have been introduced to the broad and incredible field of disability studies in spaces outside the classroom; as a disabled person, a disability studies lens has been critical to my understanding of our society. Disability studies allows me to fight for social justice with an understanding of how ableism is entrenched within American society, while at the same time celebrating disabled joy and community. Unfortunately, I have had to work to incorporate this critical perspective. Since disability-focused course content across campus is limited, I have created projects that insert disability into classroom conversations. The relationship of disability studies to my SFSU coursework has been a key reason I’ve chosen to continue my education in a graduate program. I can only think of the number of students who would be positively impacted if these opportunities were available on a campus level.”
- Current Student
We encourage fellow students, staff, and faculty to share this statement with your peers, departments, and colleagues across campus.
DREAM (Disability Rights, Education, Activism, and Mentorship) at SFSU