On University Constructions of Shaming Environments

I should come clean and straight off: I regret having been a disabled professor. Regret follows me from room to room and there’s no help for it. I’m considered less capable, less collegial, more of a nuisance than any of my colleagues. There are too few like me in the faculty ranks to be of consequence. I’ve been tenured at three major universities and been accorded more misery than I care to relate for it gets soggy and yet, without a cadre of disabled faculty I can tell only you that talking back to dismissive and ableist faculty and administrators who don’t like your relentless call for accessible websites and buildings earns one the reputation for being a malcontent. What keeps me going?

Sheer stubbornness. I’m of Finnish. descent. My people are granitic and quite stoical. I’m not happy with suffering but I recognize it as one of the effects of gravity. This means despite the fact that I’m a poet I’m also discerning. Why should academics be more tolerant of the disabled than any other group? Higher education is predicated on the unspoken notion that everyone is for herself or himself and they’re in a race against others. Everyone knows the story of the graduate student who finds the important pages razored out of the books on reserve. This is the way of it.

Here’s to the colleagues who haven’t joined me in calling for visual presentations to be fully accessible to the blind as well as the deaf.

Here’s to deans who’ve treated my demands for access both for myself and others are a sign of my problematic identity.

Here’s to the construction of shaming environments where the disabled feel more than marginalized, they are made to feel the full weight of their presence.

Here’s to the merciless stampede toward AI and autonomous systems in lieu of an abiding and conscious understanding of diversity. The latter means recognizing that people of color, queer folks, the disabled have been medicalized, tracked, and demeaned for centuries. And not much welcomed.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

Farewell MLB

My friend Gary Whittington has a devastating take on the state of Major League Baseball over at Medium which is worth reading whether you care about sports or not. In a sense what he’s written is an indictment of neoliberals in sports management whose dreams of ever greater profits gave us steroids and disrepute in the 1990’s and who now are cheating the fans with electronic cheating.

Gary calls MLB’s cheating a form of depravity and it surely is. At issue is the recent discovery and disclosure that the Houston Astros rigged the game by stealing signs from their opponents catchers and signaling to their own hitters what pitch would be coming next. If you wanna say “well hasn’t this always been the case” go ahead but the answer is no. Electronic pitch tipping is a real time action and far more advanced than old fashioned hand signals from base coaches.

Gary writes:

“The careful planning of this form of cheating makes its depravity complete. Pitchers on other teams lost money in free agency because their performance suffered. The effects of a few timely hits rippled through the destinies of the other 29 teams, and the possible outcomes of untainted seasons entered the cloud of unknowing. This is stealing.”

Indeed. MLB should be concerned about the possibility that tens of thousands of fans like Gary are about to walk away. This is not simple rule breaking. By destroying the honest competition between hitters and pitchers (arguably the best thing about the game) MLB has effectively signaled that the foundation of baseball doesn’t matter.

Gary, a lifetime fan of the Astros, has thrown away his souvenirs and the Astros jacket I bought him for his birthday 12 years ago.He writes:

“Of course, this is not the first time that people driven by ego and greed have gone astray. I suppose that if Pope John Paul II can forgive the man who shot him nearly to death and left him drained of all but a few pints of his lifeblood, I can get around to forgiving the players who cheated. If Altuve was involved, who could stay mad at him? But I plan to spend my time doing other things, and my travel dollars on destinations other than baseball stadiums.”

Albert Einstein once said “logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” For me what MLB is proving is that the sport’s biggest power brokers have no imagination left. Money ball is now corruption ball and as the baseball Czars seek to destroy minor league ball and cover up their misdeeds all at the same time they appear not to care who knows it.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

Marigolds

Of blindness I’ve written much
But not of the marigold.
A failing yes.
Astringency—yellow
Happy in birth
As children are not
Or the beautiful foal
Unsteady on her legs
Cannot be.
Your first arrival
Is cream on cream
So bright
The Romans called you
Officinalis
Important in cheer.
Unprompted earth.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

Just an Ordinary Morning with a Crow and David Hume

Without David Hume, no Thomas Jefferson. Without Jefferson, no Lincoln.

Early this morning a crow asked me his untranslatable question.

I think the crow is a fast learner and I’m a slow one.

Of slow learning vs. fast the disabled know much. I still remember with considerable pain the professor who told me that because I’m blind I shouldn’t be in his class. Why? Because I needed extra time to read. What is that?

David Hume:

“When it is asked, whether a quick or a slow apprehension be most valuable? Whether one, that, at first view, penetrates far into a subject, but can perform nothing upon study; or a contrary character, which must work out everything by dint of application? Whether a clear head or a copious invention? Whether a profound genius or a sure judgement? In short, what character, or peculiar turn of understanding, is more excellent than another? It is evident, that we can answer none of these questions, without considering which of those qualities capacitates a man best for the world, and carries him farthest in any undertaking.”

Excerpt From: “An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals.”

And that should be the question: “what will carry us the farthest?”

I know that’s what the crow was talking about.

Don’t you just love natural philosophy?

Stephen Kuusisto and Harley

ABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

Disability Day Every Day

Today is the international day of people with disabilities. It’s one of those symbolic days that often don’t translate into the other 364 days of the year. The principle reasons for this are fairly simple: democracies view disability as belonging to the social contract but it’s also an inconvenience. Totalitarian states see it as a sign of cultural weakness: the disabled are defective. I’m using a sharp paring knife. Certainly no one who’s disabled would dispute these assertions. 

Now having a “day” is really rather fascinating when you get down to it. One imagines it’s a bit like Andy Warhol’s declaration that in the future everyone will get fifteen minutes of fame. Today is your day so don’t waste it. 

Alright. As we’re fighting for a livable future and the salvation of our planet I offer the following thoughts with sufficient hope for sharing. As Barbara Kingsolver writes in her remarkable novel Animal Dreams: “The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.” 

Livable cities are inclusive cities. Accessible was good, but livable is better. Livable is beyond compliance: it means scalable, breathable, recyclable, open, clean of design, all of which mean human usefulness and dignity can be affirmed for all. I chose the word “usefulness” for a reason: when I enter a library and there’s no system for me to get accessible books and materials then the system is saying I lack usefulness. This tacit design flaw with its associated ableism is akin to the idea that taking care of the environment is simply inconvenient. There’s no difference. 

We disable the environment and we disable people. Advanced design and sustainability can change this. Moreover we must stop disabling people as a principle of war and colonialism. We must see disablement as central to human rights and the attainment of peace. 

And on this day let’s remember that even a Nordic country like Iceland is eliminating children with Down syndrome. Let’s remember that the advanced countries embrace of euthanasia has a eugenics twist. Let’s remember that disability rights are human rights. One should say this is simple but look what happens when the disabled have a “day.” Fifteen minutes isn’t enough.

Human Rights Watch puts it this way: “Worldwide one billion individuals have a disability. Many people with disabilities live in conflict settings or in developing countries, where they experience a range of barriers to education, health care and other basic services. In many countries, they are subjected to violence and discrimination. People with disabilities are also often deprived of their right to live independently, as many are locked up in institutions, shackled, or cycled through the criminal justice system. Many of these human rights abuses are a result of entrenched stigma and a lack of community-based services essential to ensuring their rights, including under the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.” 

I’ll add to Kingsolver’s idea of hope: we have to live inside it but carry it into the light of day.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

Kropotkin, Ableism, and University Life

No one who teaches disability studies who isn’t disabled—who doesn’t need accommodations in the workplace can understand the operational cruelty of administrative systems that function according to routinized appropriations of normality. No white faculty member can understand the daily emotional drain of being black in the faculty ranks. Hetero-normatives can’t grasp what queer faculty go through. And the reason this is so has little to do with nascent bigotry but rather a failure of the university to create meaningful pedagogical and social dialogue systems for people who teach. The first university to do this will be a national and even international leader.

One of the first books I truly fell in love with, outside of novels and poetry was Mutual Aid by Kropotkin. I still consider it highly. He opens the book this way:

“Struggle for existence.—Mutual Aid—a law of Nature and chief factor of progressive evolution.—Invertebrates.—Ants and Bees.—Birds: hunting and fishing associations.—Sociability.—Mutual protection among small birds.—Cranes; parrots.”

As opposed to the emergent social Darwinists, Piotr Kropotkin saw that cooperation rather than vanquishment was the key to successful evolution and the establishment of a just social order.

Not so much in the faculty ranks. The reason is simple: the attainment of education must be a race, largely individualistic, sanctioned by the strictures of a conservative past (the trivium) and maintained by a fierce but often unstated ideological belief in narrow normative learning styles.

Academic ableism is, if not the foundation of the other isms, its social Darwinist flag.

Kropotkin again:

“The absorption of all social functions by the State necessarily favoured the development of an unbridled, narrow-minded individualism.”

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

On the Scholar Whose Name I Can’t Remember

I read an opinion piece recently by a scholar whose name I’ve already forgotten. He teaches at one of those underfunded public universities where with just teensy weensy public attention he can become a star. He’s staked his ten minutes of fame on the premise that area studies (African-American Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies; LGBTQ Studies, Disability Studies and the like) are simply “grievance studies” designed to falsify the truth in the service of teaching students unscientific and hence faulty logic. This is the same guy who a couple of years co-wrote a series of ersatz academic articles laden with specialized jargon as a publicity stunt. 

Yes, I’ve already forgotten his name. 

A lack of curiosity and empathy with the histories and struggles of historically marginalized peoples doesn’t make you a great philosopher. It only means you’ve decided who’s paying for your lunch.

I could look up his name but I don’t want to.

HIs lunch? Courtesy of conservative blogs and news outlets. 

**

Did anyone ever tell you you didn’t belong in the room?

It’s happened to me over and over because of my disability.

It’s happened at the university where I currently teach.

Do I have a grievance? 

Nope.

I’ve moral outrage and a commitment to understanding how prejudice works, how its transmitted from generation to generation, and how bigotry can be so easily acculturated as to be considered nearly compulsory. 

That makes me American.

**

BTW the scholar mentioned above is an ardent follower of Richard Dawkins who, in his perfervid desire to put Charles Darwin on everyone’s wall, has done more for social Darwinism with its disdain for the disabled than almost anyone, save Peter Singer.

**

If you don’t like hearing the problems of your neighbors who are you?

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger