COOL CLASSES: “Critical Disability Studies: Theory and Practice”

This health studies course, inspired by interested students, features a semester-long project in partnership with the Center for Creative Works, a studio and teaching space for artists with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Class name: “Critical Disability Studies: Theory and Practice”

Taught by: Visiting Assistant Professor of Writing and Director of the College Writing Center Kristin Lindgren


Here’s what Lindgren had to say about her class:       

In this new course, students engage with recent work in critical disability studies across a range of humanistic disciplines, including literary studies, visual studies, history, and philosophy. Drawing on these varied perspectives, we explore how disability theory and engaged community practice inform and shape one another. Along the way, we discuss the historical and theoretical development of the ideas of normalcy and disability; questions around ethical engagement with vulnerable subjects; the neurodiversity paradigm; the growth of disability arts and culture; and the relationship between disability, access, and exhibition practices. The course includes a semester-long project in partnership with the Center for Creative Works (CCW), a studio and teaching space in Wynnewood, Pa., for artists with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Disability studies is inherently an interdisciplinary field. The diverse disciplinary backgrounds that students bring to the course enable us to ask how a disability studies perspective reframes questions we are asking across the divisions. Disability studies opens up new ways of approaching everything from neuroscience to ethnography to literary criticism. Our partnership with CCW, which involves weekly meetings in the bio labs at Haverford and the art studios at CCW, has been central to our conversations about creativity, neurodiversity, teaching and learning, identity and community. I hope students will bring questions raised in the course to work in their majors and to their careers in science, medicine, arts and humanities, social work, anthropology, and other fields.

This new course developed organically out of conversations with students who wanted to pursue further work in disability studies. Last spring, two biology majors, Lindsey Lopes ’16 and Sarah Waldis ’16, talked to me about doing an independent study that involved a community partnership. The Center for Creative Works was enthusiastic about working with us. Other students also approached me, including Courtney Carter ’17, who will curate our course exhibition, and Natalie DiFrank BMC ’17, who had previously worked with CCW. Eventually we decided to propose a course that would enable more students to join us in pursuing our shared interests in disability studies and community-based learning. Health Studies supported the idea, and we received funding through the Civic Engagement & Social Responsibility Initiative and the Hurford Center for the Arts & Humanities to support our community partnership and a final course exhibition and catalog. Lindsey and Sarah designed and led a fantastic BioArt project with our students and CCW participants. The KINSC and biology faculty offered us laboratory space, exhibition space, and logistical support. There are many moving parts to this course. It would not have come together without a lot of work and creative collaboration involving students, staff, faculty, and our partners at CCW.


The finished BioArt projects of the group. Photo by Caleb Eckert '17.
The finished BioArt projects of the group. Photo by Caleb Eckert ’17.


See what other courses the Health Studies Program is offering this semester.

Photo of Jacob Berger and Lindsey Lopes ’16 working on a BioArt project together by Caleb Eckert ’17.

Cool Classes is a series that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford experience.