Quick Call for Comment – NEH Summer Seminars

UPDATE – 10/07/2014: I am still collecting comments focused on how being abroad in an NEH seminar or institute made a difference to your teaching and scholarship. I am now waiting on FOIA requests to be delivered and am sticking on this story as long as I can. If the comment page doesn’t work for you, email me at lollardfish@gmail.com

COMMENT MODERATION IS ON. I will publish your remarks ASAP.


The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) sponsors summer seminars that bring groups of scholars from all stages of their careers together. They meet in an appropriate setting, engage in discussions, hear lectures, work on their own projects, and engage in what we call “experiential learning” of various sorts. For medievalists and early modernists, the people I know best, there’s also usually plenty of time in the archives.

In the past, they have been hosted around the world. But here’s a surprise in the current call for proposals [my emphasis].

Prospective applicants to direct a Summer Seminar or Institute in the summer of 2016 (application deadline, February 24, 2015) are now encouraged to submit to program staff an optional preliminary sketch of their proposals (deadline, December 15, 2014). You can find the form for the preliminary sketch (in MS Word) under “Program Resources” in the sidebar on the right. NEH staff will also continue to provide feedback on partial or full application drafts (deadline, January 24, 2015). Both opportunities for receiving feedback are optional.

Please note also that projects outside the U.S. and its territories are no longer supported.

I am writing a piece about the consequences of closing off the world. I think it reinforces prestige culture and is based on this criticism from Senator Sessions, a man who is not fond of the humanities in any context.

If you have a comment on why the programs are important to you, please leave it here, on Facebook, on twitter, or via email. Email me at lollardfish@gmail.com if you want anonymity or have trouble with the comment system. Please let me know who you are as I may choose to quote you directly in my piece [Still writing!].

UPDATE – Here’s the letter sent out to some past program directors last week.


The Empty Room – Indifference to Disability is Ordinary

One of my absolutely favorite writers on disability, Lydia Brown, is at Georgetown. She’s an increasingly well-known voice on disability issues and, not surprisingly, was asked to provide a training to student organizations about accessibility. She agreed.

No one showed up.

In a powerful post, Brown explains what the empty room means.

Nothing demonstrates more clearly the utter disregard that disabled people face every day at Georgetown than this. That of literally hundreds of student organizations with hundreds (possibly even creeping into the low thousands) of students involved on their boards or other leadership positions, not even one person deemed it worth their while to learn about access and inclusion.

She then acknowledges that yes, people at Georgetown are busy (aside – also jaded if they turn down free pizza), but it was a huge pool, and not one person decided that disability issues might possibly matter to their groups.

There is hate and scorn for people with disabilities out there, yes, but that’s not the problem. It’s the casual, structural, ableism, in which disability issues vanish, in which when we talk about diversity on campus, we mean race, gender, and class, not ability. Even when we throw ability into the list, we don’t actually act on it. When we act on it, unless it’s mandatory, no one comes. When we make it mandatory, we build resentment, hate, and scorn.

Here’s how Brown finishes:

The empty room means that our fight is less against willful hate and more against the easy ignorance cloaked in the privilege of never having to live a disabled experience — the privilege of never being guilted and shamed into going to an event that you lost the spoons for but had requested an interpreter for beforehand — the privilege of never having to decide days in advance whether you will go to an event or not — the privilege of never having to wonder whether you’ll be able to access the handouts, presentation slides, or speech of the presenter — the privilege of not worrying whether other attendees’ perfumed products will induce an allergic reaction, meltdown, or physical illness — the privilege of not sitting on edge in case something triggers a seizure — the privilege of not thinking about whether something will surprise you by triggering a panic, anxiety, or PTSD attack — the privilege of not having to think about whether you can even get into the fucking building — the privilege of being able to go to any event you like, anywhere, with little difficulty or inconvenience except perhaps finding parking —

The empty room means that this state of affairs, a state of affairs in which our completely avoidable and unnecessary yet routine exclusion from programming on campus is simply ordinary.

I don’t have an answer except to share Brown’s writing and to share her frustration. Right now, I am editing our ADA documents to try and make them more robust. We will end up with stronger rules, clearer guidelines, and more resentment for the “special perks.”

Today, I have no solutions for this.

Transphobia and Miscegenation – Won’t Somebody Think of the (Cis-gendered) Children

My first ever op-ed was published in the Minneapolis/ St. Paul Star Tribune. It was in 2006 and on the use of medieval rhetoric to talk about modern problems in the Middle East, a situation that continues today.

Over the weekend, the Star Tribune published this full-page ad raising the worst kind of fear-mongering about transgendered children. It says:

“A male wants to shower beside your 14-year-old daughter.
Are YOU ok with that?
So, that’s pretty hateful. The context is that the MN high-school sports league is considering passing a transgender inclusion policy, and good for them for doing so. Of course, any attempt to take a step forward like this is immediately met with bigotry.
Here’s a few points. 
1) Nowhere does the full-page say “paid advertisement.” That seems unethical. In fact, it seems like they went out of their way to re-format the sports page to fit the ad, as shown here.
2) More importantly, while I understand that newspapers are broke, the decision to run this kind of bigotry – patriarchal (protect the daughter!) as well as transphobic – speaks poorly of the newspaper. The ad reminds me of this:
Or perhaps this
Or any number of other anti-miscegenation propaganda, as stored here on this excellent archive.
It’s long been observed that the anti-gay-marriage arguments mirror the anti-interracial arguments almost exactly (fun site: Can you tell whether these quotes are anti-gay or anti-interracial marriage?). 
So congrats, Star Tribune, someday you too may be featured in an archive of bigotry so that we can look back and shake our heads and feel vaguely smugly superior to our ancestors. 
Or, perhaps you could decide not to publish transphobic, patriarchal, fear-mongering, hate speech.

Sunday Roundup – Cops, Ableism, Job Market

This week I had one published piece and a blog on the conference interview in academia, a practice that puts financial pressure on those with the fewest resources. It must end. My next step will be to try and understand why it isn’t ending.

I wrote a piece using the language of “presume compliance.” As a police officer who reads my blog commented (and who I learn a lot from), the presumption of compliance would lead law enforcement officers (LEOs) to absorb too much risk; and yet, how do we get to a sensible middle-road position without pushing hard in the other direction. So as a thought experiment, not as a real policy position, I will continue to think about a presumption of compliance as a principle. 
Meanwhile, South Carolina cop presumed non-compliance, shot someone, and was arrested and fired promptly thanks to video-camera evidence. Good work SC.

I shared a set of negative comments from CNN demonstrating Ableist Abuse. Grim, but it’s important to see the evidence.

Finally, Special Olympics Washington sponsored a Run From the Cops event which demonstrated both privilege and ignorance. They eventually changed it and offered a non-apology explanation for the event.

Did you know that white suburban America has “run from the cops” or “cops and robbers” or related events for fundraising all the time? More on this to come.

Presume Compliance – Miller, Hunt, Crawford

In the world of Down syndrome, we talk about “presuming competence” (hey, go buy a shirt!). That instead of “awareness,” we’d like to see a shift to a general presumption of competence first. More on this in pieces to come.

I’ve been working, though, on ways of re-describing the strategic problems with police procedure as it feeds the cult of compliance. Police operate on a presuming non-compliance basis, so as soon as they get any evidence to confirm that presumption, they too often strike.

What would “presume compliance” policing look like? How dangerous would it be? I keep thinking that to roll back the proto-police state, we have to ask police to assume more risk, and that’s going to be a very hard argument to make.

Here are three stories, though, of when presuming non-compliance leads to fatalities.

On Saturday a deaf man was shot and killed by Florida deputies, allegedly because he didn’t comply with commands quickly enough. Here’s the story:

Hernandez, 35, fired his service weapon, killing Miller, because he perceived a threat, a sheriff’s office spokesman said.
The sheriff’s office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement are investigating the shooting, and would not release further details.
Miller’s 25-year-old son witnessed his father’s death. He told the Ledger that his dad, who only had two percent of his hearing, was further impaired because his hearing aid was broken at the time. He denies that his father was a threat.
“I kept telling them that he can’t hear them,” the 25-year-old, who’s also named Edward Miller, told the Ledger. “I kept telling them he can’t understand them.”
The son told the Daytona Beach News-Journal that Hernandez shot his father six times while his dad sat inside a vehicle in the tow yard.

Meanwhile, there’s John Crawford. The surveillance video of his death has gone viral just as the Grand Jury has declined to convict the officers that shot him. Attention has rightly focused on the 911 call in which Ronald Ritchie told police Crawford was waving the gun around, including at children.

Crawford wasn’t. He was on the phone, distracted by the call, and likely didn’t hear the police until just seconds before they shot him to death.

Then there was Darrien Hunt, the man with a sword shot in Utah as he ran away. Most recent reports think he was cosplaying from . The Guardian says [my emphasis]:

Attention was swiftly drawn online to Hunt’s remarkable resemblance as he walked around on the morning of 10 September to Mugen, a swordsman character in the short-lived Japanese anime series Samurai Champloo. The Comic Con convention had also taken place in Salt Lake City, about 35 miles to the north, the weekend before the shooting.

Hunt’s aunt, Cindy Moss, previously told the Guardian that a witness to the confrontation with police had told the family that Hunt “had his earbuds in, and was kind of doing spins and stuff, like pretending he’s a samurai”.

These three stories are obviously very different. Miller was white, Hunt mixed race but appeared black, and Crawford black. Crawford had a fake gun and a lying 911 call (which is probably criminal in Ohio, I’m told). Hunt had a sword and was acting “weird.” Miller had been shouting a lot and that was interpreted as anger, rather than hearing loss.

The differences matter and what I am about to say does not erase them.

These are also the same story. A man with a permanent or temporary hearing impairment – deaf, phone, earbuds – gets the attention of the police, doesn’t respond to verbal commands quickly, and so the presumption of non-compliance leads to death.

Being deaf in front of the cops is dangerous. That’s long been clear. But just as we all move in and sometimes out of different stages of disability, putting on earbuds or listening to a phone call also renders you less likely to process verbal commands, functioning like hearing loss in terms of creating a vulnerability to a trigger-happy law enforcement officer.

The only solution that I can see is to change the strategic approach on a fundamental level to “presume compliance.”

South Carolina Shows How to Handle Police Violence

In South Carolina, a state trooper pulled over a man for a seat belt violation. The man got out of the car, as he was heading to a gas station, when the trooper confronted him. The man ducked his head into his car to get his license and the officer opened fire. The man leapt backwards, shot in the hip, hands up, apologizing.

The victim is black. Fortunately, he’s fine. The trooper is white. This is a story we’ve seen before.

Here’s the twist.

The shooting took place on September 19th. Today, 9/24, the officer was arrested on a charge of “assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature.” He was also fired.

Here’s a report on the initial shooting and the arrest, and here’s a link to dashcam video.

We give police enormous powers, but they can be held accountable. Now, the officer may not be found guilty, but I applaud the Department of Public Safety and the DA for doing the right thing.

The Academic Job Market – Fundamental Premises

Yesterday I had a piece at Vitae on ending the conference interview and last week I had a blog post on the same topic, as a sort of prequel.

Today, I offer a few fundamental premises.

1. The job market today is about adjuncts, not graduate students.

A lot of my friends and colleagues and random internet commentators suggested graduate-training programs offer to fund sending their students to conferences if they get interviews; in fact, many programs do just that, if they are wealthy enough. But not only does it encourage another level of have/have-not, unless the programs are offering to fund grad student trips to conferences for 4-5 years, often long after they’ve finished their PhD, such a proposal doesn’t solve the problem.

In modern academia, fewer and fewer people go straight from graduate school into a tenure-track job. Most adjunct for awhile or, if they are lucky, get post-docs or fixed-term positions. Any system has to protect them from financial exploitation.

Departments should send their graduate students to the annual disciplinary conference, though, in order to take advantage of all the professionalization and networking opportunities (and learning how to pitch books) that one can find there.

2. The conference interview is already dead.

We have a reliable technological fix that is only getting more reliable. My cellphone is better at video conferencing that the highest-tech suites of 10 years ago. Academic interviews will all turn into a round of video (or phone) followed by on-campus. This is not neoliberal. This is not corporatization. It’s just efficient and smart. We don’t need to be in the same meatspace to do a set of screener conversations.

It also has the benefit of being cheaper for the adjuncts and grad students. See point 1 (and pretty much every essay on this topic).

So the choice is this – take command of the funds used to send interviewers to conferences or see them lost to the general budget.  

3.  The video interview protects from certain forms of bias.

I didn’t say this in my essay, but I’ve heard from a number of people – women who were pregnant in particular – that they are more comfortable concealing potentially bias-worthy features about themselves over video interviews (or phones). Pregnancy, in particular, is notorious red flag for departments, raising the specter of the “mommy track.” It’s true that on-campus such things may be visible (or there may be a baby or pumping breaks), but by that point the seachers are more invested in the candidate as a whole person. 

More to come on this topic. I am going to work very hard to get information from people doing conference interviews. I want to hear why. I want to hear what they think I’m missing.




Highlights from CNN comments – #AbleistAbuseIs

Ableism in Action – These are comments from my recent CNN article on Kanye West. These are not trolls. These are people genuinely trying to express their thinking. Italics are me. Many of the issues here relate back to my post on “Hidden Disabilities,” featuring longer comments from readers.

hgflyer lollardfish7 minutes ago

While I can appreciate your article, and while I am mostly sympathetic, I cannot get on board with handicapped parking. I feel that item should be removed from the ADA, thinking that if you’re disabled to the point that you need a special parking spot, then you probably shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a car.

If you need a special spot, you shouldn’t drive

zzlangerhans34 minutes ago

Aaarghhh! These kinds of articles are so irritating. It’s obvious to anyone but the most rigidly humorless that George Takei wasn’t accusing a woman of faking a disability (who would choose a wheelchair over walking?) but rather MAKING A JOKE! Kanye, clumsily, was doing the same. Part of the reason that people recognize those names (along with those like George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld, and hundreds of others) is that they don’t conform to your uptight standards of what is verbally permissible. A real society needs that, not your neverending list of nonos and restrictions.

People give dirty looks to people who walk comfortably from their handicap spots because they support the handicapped, not because they think they are all faking. Many of those people use their relatives’ handicap tags, some of whom have already died. The bureaucracy is lax and we all know it. As the son of a person in a wheelchair, I had to park many times in a regular spot and struggle to get her out because the handicapped spots were full. I didn’t give the young healthy people in the handicap spots dirty looks, but I had a few choice thoughts for them. If you actually know a person with a serious physical handicap, they will tell you being “forced to prove their handicap” is the least of their worries.

Please stop trying to correct everyone’s behavior and stop comedians from making jokes. You’re a bore and an annoyance.

Interestingly, the people with serious hidden disabilities tell me that being forced to prove their disability is one of their most stressful worries. “It was only a joke,” furthermore, is the cry of the abuser or the enabler of abuse.

FactsRBad35 minutes ago

Few months back, I saw some young adult park in a handicap spot at the grocery store, get out of his car and run into the store as he was apparently in a hurry. This is not an isolated incident. Getting a handicap sticker for your car is very easy – and I’ve seen too many folks who get out of there car and move just fine abusing the process. There should be some stricter standards.

Again, parking is the the thing everyone focuses on. It has a semiotic value that’s fascinatingThe wheelchair symbol carries power but limits our understanding of what disability /is/.

Lilly Que44 minutes ago

Stupid! I’ve never seen or heard ANYONE question a person’s disability. You are making a problem where one does not exist. And Kanye is nothing but a pathetic narcissist. Those people paid for their seats not the other way around and if someone wants to sit, lie, or jump up and down on that seat, or not, it’s none of his business.

Kanye is the problem, not society

Howda Yadooan hour ago

It’s a two way street. There are those that claim disability that are not disabled so they can get free money. In turn, this causes many to question the actual disabled because of the stigma associated with it. Claiming disability has been the new form of welfare since the late 90s and many of us that have worked in the field have seen it first hand. It’s unfortunate but it’s also real. I feel bad for those with “invisible” disabilities but I believe you’re pointing the finger at the wrong people. It’s those that abuse the system that have caused the crooked stares.

Come to my Facebook page, read the comments from people with hidden disabilities, and you’ll see that these people above are mistaken.

Update – Special Olympics Washington Apologizes, sort of.

Special Olympics Washington tweeted to me this:

Special Olympics WA@SO_Washington
@Lollardfish Our apologies. The intent was not to glamorize or offend. The name has been changed to “Run with the Cops”. Plz read below:

They then deleted that tweet (hence no link), but later re-confirmed that they are changing the name.

Here’s their statement in full. I offer a few thoughts.

It was started by a police officer. I believe in his good intentions.

Since the first “Run from the Cops” here in Kennewick, other LETR programs in the US have contacted us soliciting the specifics of the run in order to create their own “Run from the Cops” SO fundraiser. I personally have been contacted by three other US state programs who have started their own events.

The Run was not intended to be a negative reflection of law enforcement, nor was it intended to glamorize the act of “running from the police.” It is solely designed to be a fun, family‐oriented event, ultimately benefitting Special Olympics. In the three years we have hosted the “Run from the Cops”, we have raised gross funds of approximately $28,000, and touched at least 1000 people, just counting the actual participants.

On a personal note, had it not been for the “Run from the Cops” here in Kennewick, I would not have had the opportunity to meet Joshua. The attached photo shows Joshua competing again this year at our Run. He has competed every year, and absolutely loves the opportunity to be involved. His mother has expressed to me her personal gratitude as Joshua looks forward to our event all year long.       

I believe that he and Joshua have a good relationship.I believe that they have raised money. I am sure that other privileged communities think, “oh, that’s fun and funny!” That’s wrong.

I want you to imagine a group dedicated to relieving poverty in minority communities held a “run from the cops” event.

So, with protests of having meant well, Special Olympics is changing its events. It’s a small start. I hope they think long and hard about what it means that so many communities don’t see running from the cops as something that’s funny.

Special Olympics – Run From The Cops; Fund-Raising Based on Privilege

In Washington State, the Special Olympics organized a number of “Run From the Cops” events, with the final one taking place next week. I’ll let them explain.

Grab a “partner in crime” and support the more than 10,000 Special Olympics Athletes across the state in this unique nighttime 5K. Walkers, runners, kids and costumes are welcome. All participants will receive an event t-shirt!

Special Olympics Slammer!

Law enforcement will be staged throughout the course “encouraging” participants to finish in under 45-minutes to avoid being corralled and placed in the Special Olympics Slammer! Those not finishing in under 45-minutes will be ticketed for not out running the cops.

I know this is meant to be in good fun, but it reflects a lack of understanding of the fraught relationship between police and people with disabilities in this country. Moreover, it embodies a kind of privilege that needs to be called out. More on that at the end.

Most of all, it offends me on behalf of all the dead bodies of people with disablities, bodies of men and women who ran from the cops, or didn’t obey the cops, and were killed by them. This is not a joke. It’s life and death for the people we are and the people we love.

First, as readers of this blog know, running from the cops is among the most dangerous actions a person with disabilities can take. Running from the cops violates compliance, violating compliance leads to tasing, beating, and shooting. At least once a week, I find a new story about someone with a disability failing to comply properly in the eyes of the police, and gets hurt. So this event is lampooing a behavior that results in death for far too many. There is, for example, speculation that Darren Hunt in fact had special needs (though this as not been confirmed). He was shot repeatedly in the back while running from police. Linking disability to running from the cops is not, in fact, fun or funny.

Second, the whole “slammer” language also bothers me. Prisons are intensely dangerous places for people with disabilities, while also becoming the default place to put an “unruly” person with psychiatric disability.  The Rikers Island cases, reported by the New York Times, focus heavily on the such abuse. Linking disability to being thrown in the slammer is not, in fact, fun or funny.

EDIT: Third, as Walkersvillemom says below, all the false confessions from people with intellectual disability, resulting in unjust convictions, jail terms, and even death sentences. Some have died. Others, like in North Carolina, were released after 31 years.

I have asked Special Olympics Washington for comment and will publish it if they respond. I’d like to know who came up with this event.

To me, the whole thing emerges from privilege, and it’s a privilege I share. Today I was walking with my kids towards a playground. A police officer left her car and came walking quickly towards me. I never panicked. I never got defensive. I never ran. She gave us free “slurpee” coupons, then, as my son (a 7-year-old boy with Down syndrome) approached the police cruiser, she asked me if he would like it if she turned on the lights. He did. He made his “lu-lu-lu” siren sound and was difficult to pry away from the car so the police officer could go back to looking for motorists using their cellphones. Only a passing train took his attention away.

This is normal in the white middle class suburban world in which we live, and I am grateful for that. I am grateful to the police and would rely on them to help if my son ever got lost. I am so very privileged in my relationship to law enforcement. I know this, and the goal is to extend that privilege to every community, of all races, classes, genders, and levels of ability.

But I would never make the mistake of thinking everyone shares that privilege, or that being thrown in jail or running from the cops was funny.

Because it’s not funny. On the other hand, if Special Olympics Washington wanted to get attention for their event, they got it! We’re all paying attention and the next move is yours.