Category Archives: Mad Pride

Introducing Lauren Munro

Image description: Lauren, a fat white woman with long wavy brown hair is smiling with her eyes closed and head tilted slightly upward. She is wearing a leopard print sleeveless jumpsuit and a crescent moon necklace. She has on neon blue eyeliner and a ray of sun is hitting the top of her head. Various leafy green fronds crisscross the fence in the background.

Lauren Munro has been selected as the newest Limited Term Faculty (LTF) in the School of Disability Studies at X University. She recently sat down with Tiffany-Anne Stones to chat about her trajectory to Disability Studies and what she is looking forward to this year. 

While Lauren Munro may be unfamiliar to the core students within the School of Disability Studies, she has been an instructor in the department for the past two years, team teaching DST 500: A History of Madness. Lauren describes herself as “a mad scholar, an artist, an aunt, a daughter, a partner, and a friend,” prioritizing her relationships in the way she moves through the world. 

When asked about how she came to the field of disability studies, Lauren shares a bell hooks quote from Teaching to Transgress:

“I came to theory, when I was hurting, when the pain within me was so intense that I could not go on living. I came to theory desperate, wanting to comprehend what was happening around and within me… I saw in theory then a location for healing.”

(p. 59)

Explaining how the quote “profoundly resonates with me in a kind of retrospective way,” Lauren confides that her discovery of mad studies in the early stages of her academic career – through the Mad Students Society – was a balm for the isolation and alienation she experienced related to her madness and her interactions with the psychiatric system. At the time, she was working on her undergraduate thesis in the psychology department at Laurier and decided to focus on mad students’ experiences with stigma and discrimination. She quickly realized that she “…wasn’t going to be theorizing or thinking this [topic] through in the way that psychology typically would.” This began her formal engagement with writing and theorizing in disability studies and mad studies – a passion that would continue to grow and inform her work moving forward. For graduate studies, she made her academic home in community psychology, which is an interdisciplinary field that takes a social justice-based approach to issues of community health and well-being. In addition to its social justice orientation, she was drawn to the field due to its emphasis on community-based research, compatible with the “nothing about us without us” ethos of disability activism.

Lauren has since been involved in a wide variety of projects focused on the health and well-being of 2SLGBTQ+ communities, body diversity and weight stigma, disability justice in arts-based research, transformative approaches to mental health, sexual health service access for women with psychiatric disabilities, centering service user epistemology in medical education, and issues related to sexual health and HIV vulnerability. Talking about the threads that connect her scholarship, she says her work “…interrogates the idea of there being an ideal body or mind.”

On the teaching side of things, Lauren has extensive experience in a variety of classrooms. Beyond teaching DST 500 at X University, she has taught courses on research methods and community partnerships, and how critical theories can be used to inform the development of social interventions at Laurier. She has also designed, developed, and taught a mad studies course to psychiatry residents at the University of Toronto for the past five years, alongside Lucy Costa of the Empowerment Council. She does this educational work with the goal of contributing to transformative change that tangibly benefits mad community.

I am passionate about teaching and learning and am really excited to get to know the students in the program, and to learn and work alongside them.

Reflecting on her life outside of academia, Lauren shares that part of what keeps her grounded is maintaining some sort of arts practice, whether its zine-making, mixed-media collage, gifts for her nibblings, or simply adorning her planner. Just as important has been staying connected to community, activism, and peer support outside of the confines of traditional medical and social service models. During the pandemic, her primary company has been her partner and a badly behaved cat named Stan. 

In her new position, Lauren is keen to connect with the exceptional scholars within the program. Looking ahead to the 2021/2022 academic year, Lauren will be teaching DST88 and DST99, in addition to DST500. When asked about her approach to teaching, she highlights the importance of “…making space for people who have been harmed by academia, who have been traditionally left out, or who have been taught that it is not a place where they can think, learn, and theorize.” She is looking forward to getting to know students in the program and finding ways to support them to do the kind of work they’re passionate about. While she doesn’t have a physical office at the moment, Lauren encourages students to drop by online, reach out to say hello or to share their curiosities. Acknowledging that academia can reinforce hierarchies that make it hard to send that first email, she shares her hopes around making connections, saying, “…whether it’s sending a late-night email, or really just pressing send on one you composed hours ago,” she can’t wait to hear from you!

Welcome Dr. Idil Abdillahi, Assistant Professor at the School of Disability Studies

Image Description: A photograph of Idil taken outside in front of a building wall of cement blocks painted purple with street art of a racoon reclining on top of a car holding a bat. Idil, a Black woman, leans against this wall, one leg bent against it. She is wearing a wide brimmed black hat, large black sunglasses, dark red lipstick, gold earrings, a black dress with a ‘V’ neckline, and black shiny leggings. She has on tan heels that match a rich tan coat with her hands in the pockets.
Image Description: A photograph of Idil taken outside in front of a building wall of cement blocks painted purple with street art of a racoon reclining on top of a car holding a bat. Idil, a Black woman, leans against this wall, one leg bent against it. She is wearing a wide brimmed black hat, large black sunglasses, dark red lipstick, gold earrings, a black dress with a ‘V’ neckline, and black shiny leggings. She has on tan heels that match a rich tan coat with her hands in the pockets.

The following conversation took place in September 2020 between Amanda Lin, Student Engagement Facilitator, and Idil Abdillahi, new School of Disability Studies faculty member. It has been edited for clarity and length.

Amanda: Idil, welcome to the School of Disability Studies! Congratulations on your success and becoming the Advisor to the Dean on Anti-Black Racism in the Faculty of Community Services. I’m super excited to get the opportunity to interview you and introduce your work to our students, alumni, and readers. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your life.

Idil: Thank you, I used to work in the School of Social work and now work at the School of Disability Studies. I am cross-appointed in Social Work but my ‘home’ is here in Disability Studies.

To introduce my work to students, I would like to say that I have always been part of a care community and that this community is very important to me. I have been a practitioner and a person who works and supports people for almost two decades. This work has been in a wide range of services and supports, including hospitals and larger carceral institutions around ‘care’. Furthermore, my work is and has always been located in grassroots activism.

Over the years I’ve worked extensively with mad identified people, primarily in the carceral system. I come to Disability Studies with a particular kind of expertise around understanding the Ontario Review board, issues around the title of Not Criminally Responsible, and discourses in both criminality and madness. In particular, I’m interested in the ways in which these systems are deployed against Black people, either by overuse or abusive-use.

Amanda: I think you’ve touched a little bit on this, what led you to your academic work? And can you tell us a little bit about your academic journey or background that led you to disability studies?

Idil: While I continue to develop a background in socio-legal knowledge, I am interested in legal issues for mad identified people as they pertain to sentencing, the securitization, and the ‘management’ of mad identified people within institutions. I want to pay particular attention to the way these issues affect the people who we do not see, the people that are left behind and locked away, who activism and activists cannot readily access unless you are within those systems.

My journey to disability studies does not begin in the context of the academy. For many of us who are on the peripheries of formal education, we do not come to these places by just learning about them. We actually come to them by virtue of something else, that has been lived through, known. Oftentimes, we are already doing the work but just need that piece of paper to be really clear. I come to the university by virtue of the realities of BlackLife, one word, not two, [laughs] my BlackLife and that of others, who I’ve had the privilege of living and being alongside.

Editor’s note: In their book BlackLife: Post-BLM and the Struggle for Freedom, Idil and Rinaldo Walcott define the term BlackLife as words necessarily joined, saying “living Black makes BlackLife inextricable from the mark of its flesh, both historically and in our current time.”

Disability studies cannot be separated from BlackLife in my work. I’m a Black Canadian studies scholar and being a Black Canadian scholar ultimately is a direct challenge to ideas of discipline rigidity. My writing and research is not just within social work or disability studies because BlackLife cannot be contained within any one discipline. BlackLife happens everywhere and all the time and part of my work is challenging discipline rigidity in these fields [while some white mad scholars want to debate this].

Therefore, I do the broad work of Black Canadian studies and within that work there are multiple prongs including disability studies, policy, and issues around the sociopolitical legal system, women, systems, and institutions. Even some of my writing work, where I am starting to write about art, television, and music, is within Black studies. This is to say that as a Black scholar, I entered disability studies by understanding the ways in which disability has been mapped onto Black people and ‘bodies’, regardless of formalized ideas of being disabled.

Ultimately, I come to disability studies with a commitment to the freedom of all of us. I also came to disability studies by way of interacting with my colleagues in the School of Disability Studies working at Ryerson (DST). I have been observing the scholarship of Eliza [Chandler] and Esther [Ignagni], and the work of several of our staff and postdocs, for some time. I felt an alignment in seeing and interacting with the School. Over the last few years, through interacting and getting to know the people working in DST, I felt a real value for the scholarship and activism I was creating within my previous School of Social Work. More so, DST does not just visibilize the importance and worthiness of my scholarship but provides tangible support by examining its meaning in their own work. From my perspective, the people at DST are interested in doing this work alongside me.

Amanda: My understanding is that you are one of the founders of the Black Legal Action Centre, can you tell us about your work there? And can you tell us a bit about your podcast work?

Idil: Yes. I am one of the founding members of the Black Legal Action Centre, the only legal clinic in Canada that works and focuses on the issues of Black people, specifically issues of anti-Black racism in the context of larger policy related cases.

As for podcasts, a colleague, Prof. El Jones, and I developed a series during Covid called No Life Left Behind. This podcast, like anything else I do, was born out of a gap. In my ‘work’ with lifers in prison, many of us across the country were doing advocacy at the provincial level around releasing incarcerated people during Covid. The podcast is attempting to complicate questions around abolition and defunding. All of the podcasts were co-hosted by lifers who participated along with academics, activists, scholars, and researchers across Canada.

Amanda: How are you going to bring all this work to your new role as the Advisor to the Dean on Anti-Black Racism?

Idil: [laughs] It’s not lost on me that institutions often have neoliberal responses to sociopolitical circumstances and/or often to critique. I need to be able to name that while also being excited and looking forward to this new role. However, people have to understand the limitations of it, as a one-year contract position. Given the mechanics of the way the academy, or any institution, works, we all have to be realistic about what can be expected and accomplished in a one-year period of time. In terms of what it means to be an ‘advisor,’ I am not changing anything about what I was doing prior to this role. I will continue to be the person I was before and have the same investments towards BlackLife and freedom. This role doesn’t change my commitments, the person that I am, my comportment, or the way in which I challenge the institution. Perhaps, all it does is acknowledge my time for doing this work and all the suffering that I endured and continue to endure as a result of this role.

Part of my role within the next year is to support and challenge FCS in their anti-Black racism work. I’m not and have never been known to be a quiet person or a person who is afraid. I believe that some of our most meaningful changes and relationship building can come out of conflict.

I think that part of what this new role offers are possibilities for particular kinds of access for students, faculty (who decide to participate), and for FCS to make relationships with community members. Now that Dean Barnoff has announced she will no longer be dean moving forward, my hope is that this work continues regardless of who is in that role. As such, a part of this work is to register my concern around the lack of sustainability for this advisor role. I implore FCS and the institution to think about what this lack of sustainability means for completing the current FCS action plan, and how that work should not end with the tenure of Dean Barnoff.

Another important aspect of being Advisor to the Dean on Anti-Black Racism is to be clear that Black studies is not specific to a discipline. Issues of Blackness and race cut across disciplines, and we need this scholarship to be able to do this work. In Black studies, we are creating the ways in which having an analysis around Blackness, anti-Blackness, capitalism, colonialism, imperialism, and every other form of interruption can create possibilities. These learnings enrich our classrooms and the social world through our graduating students. They have not only had an excellent experience within the institution but have learned the critical content that is required to make shifts within their respective fields of the nine schools in FCS.

Amanda: Can you tell us about some of your interests and inspiration?

Idil: I am hugely into TV and pop culture. I watch horrible stuff and I love it. I am interested in writing about ideas of ‘reality’ in reality television and the ways in which we engage ‘reality’ in the context of surveillance. In particular, I want to examine how surveillance and its interactions with lust, desire, relationships, Blackness, and queerness are all taken up in these contexts.

I am a big music fan, and I love old school R&B and hip hop. I am also inspired by many Black Canadian artists who are doing amazing work.

A colleague of ours at Ryerson, Prof. Abdi Osman, creates work that is phenomenally reflective of my own kind of living, personhood, and aesthetic around Black Queer Muslims.

Abdi Osman’s website and twitter.

[In September 2020], a song just came out by Toronto-based artist, Mustafa, called Air Force.  Mustafa is an artist and public intellectual who creates radical music of love that centers a Black critical Muslim perspective.

Mustafa’s twitter and instagram, and his new song, Ali.

I also want to draw attention to another young Black woman, Farxiyo Jama. She uses her radical artist practice and work around mental health to center Black women. I continually learn from her courage and creativity.

Farxiyo Jama’s twitter and instagram.

A black and white photo of a fist with the words "Black Lives Matter" written on the fingers.

School of Disability Studies is in solidarity with Black Lives Matter Toronto Protesters

The School of Disability Studies is in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Toronto protesters and their actions on Saturday, July 18th. Through artistic intervention, they drew public attention, once again, to the colonialist, racist and ableist values celebrated by the statue of Egerton Ryerson and similar monuments in the City of Toronto. We share their critique and we defend their right to engage in peaceful protest always.

As a School, we represent students and disabled constituents who have asked us to work to decolonize the university and dismantle its anti-Black racism. Our efforts are supported by the Faculty of Community Services and its strong commitment to action against anti-Black racism. They are supported by Ryerson University as evidenced by the recommendations of the Anti-Black Racism Campus Climate Report, and the gains made by student and political action to reverse the presence of on-campus security. The protesters have given us an opportunity to powerfully acknowledge the university’s readiness to implement recommendations which were made on behalf of students, staff and faculty. Safety cannot be realized through containment and the dampening of creative and peaceful protest.

The statue of Egerton Ryerson symbolizes an approach to education that promotes obedience, compliance and control. His legacy includes contributions to the residential school system, to racially segregated schooling, and to the systemic institutionalization of disabled people. A constant reminder of the shameful history of eugenics in Canada, the statue’s ‘watchful presence’ at the centre of campus tells Black, Indigenous and disabled students that they do not belong at the university. 

Black disabled detainees are particularly vulnerable at a time of high public health risk from the double pandemics of COVID and systemic racism. The deaths of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Ejaz Choudry, Christopher Reid, Ian Pryce, Andrew Loku, Clive Mensah and many others have taught us that racism, ableism and sanism conspire with deadly consequences when disabled people interact with police. Our communities need systems of safety, well-being and investments that do not further harm Black, Indigenous, disabled and mad people. In this regard, and in the spirit of collegiality, we are particularly concerned by reports that one of the protesters did not receive their medication for much of the 15 hours they were detained.

As an important hub of disability scholarship, the School of Disability Studies is committed to identifying and resisting systemic ableism and sanism wherever it occurs. We support the call by Black Lives Matter to remove the Egerton Ryerson statue immediately as a step in beginning to tear down all that it symbolizes and upholds. We support the request from lawyer Saron Gebresellassi for the Crown Attorney’s office to drop the charges against the three protesters. We call upon our legal, political, community and academic leaders to do the same. We urge all who are able to donate to Black-led organizations and communities that are doing the necessary hard work in the fight against anti-Black racism.

Black Lives Matter Canada:

Colour silhouette of person holding a mason jar in front of stars

A Response to Deaths at Participation House

The following is a contribution from a new instructor in the School of Disability Studies, Dr. Maria Karmiris. Please join Dr. Karmiris in DST 501 – Rethinking Disability this summer!

“I am naked and the waters are rising” (Frazee, 2009, p. 119). Here Frazee is foregrounding both the tangible everyday encounters with precarity and vulnerability for disabled embodiments as well as grappling with the fundamental question of what it means to be human. During the current pandemic, human interdependencies are inescapable. However, we can also come to recognize that some humans more than others disproportionally encounter the everyday precarity of rising waters. Frazee’s work (2009) reminds us of the ways the current crisis faced by the residents in Participation House is sadly not new. It is part of a long legacy of sustaining the conditions of unjust relations of power that continuously show that some lives count as worth saving while other lives count as expected losses. Frazee (2009) also reminds us of the complicated quagmire we find ourselves in when we call on care as the solution. When the precarious position of countless Personal Support Workers is juxtaposed with the precarious position of disabled residents depending on others for direct support with physical needs, the tangibility of that rising water is ever more dangerous. Frazee (2009, p. 199) poignantly writes: “The waters have risen. We are intimates in dangerous times.” It is this intimacy of the present state of precarity that necessitates a refusal to blame individuals for the tragic loss that is reverberating within this community of disabled peoples. Rather, we must call upon each other, to reconsider our current immersion in the toxic soup of the neoliberal normative order. The lives that have been lost and will be lost as the water rises, deserve to have their legacies honoured through an invitation to think and embody disability and disabled embodiments differently. Instead of turning away from these intimate encounters with disability, we need to turn toward disability and disabled embodiments. Let each of us be touched by intimate encounters with disabled lives in the hope that through this touch we can find our way out of the toxic rising waters. 

– Maria Karmiris

Frazee, C. (2009). Media Review: Disability in Dangerous Times. Journal on Developmental Disabilities, 15(3), 118- 124.

Introducing Jenna Reid: DST’s new limited term faculty

photograph of Jenna Reid
Photograph of Jenna Reid. Photo credit: Cat O’Neil

More often than not when I introduce myself, I reference the late psychiatric survivor Diana Capponi in saying: “I am a woman who wears many hats.” This feels like a fitting place to start as I introduce myself as the current Limited Term Faculty member in the School of Disability Studies. Why? Because it was through activists like David Reville – who filmed Diana saying those words not too long ago – and others within the psychiatric survivor community who introduced me to this school. 


You see, while it might be new that I am a faculty member in the school, I have been traveling these halls well before I even thought it was possible for me to teach a course. As the story goes: I was in my first year of undergraduate studies and had moved a couple of provinces away from where I was born and raised. It was then that I was first implicated within the psychiatric system. I was going through significant experiences of crisis and distress and for two years had minimal supports, causing me to move back to Toronto. Still crazy, I re-started my academic career in Ryerson’s school of Social Work program. Still in need of support, I met up with David Reville, who promptly introduced me to other folks in the mad community as a way to get me active at multiple levels of community organizing. Feel free to come by and chat with me in my office in SHE 575 – I’ve got some great books and zines, always a cup of tea, and even a bit of mental patient art that we could chat about. My visits to David’s office got me through my entire academic career and through that I learned that relationships deeply matter in these institutions that seem to put too much focus on everything else. 


My experiences in community organizing taught me that the idea of ‘making things better’ always has to be intersectional and outward looking – a praxis I learned from psychiatric survivor knowledges. What does this mean? As an artist, a scholar, and an activist I have come to learn that no matter what space you are in, the world wants to address issues of madness by looking inward and fixing/changing the individual person. However, without seeing madness as a social justice issue – one which requires we look outward and change the injustices in the world – the ‘problem’ of madness is continually addressed in ways that lack meaningful change and continue to reinforce white supremacy and heteropatriarchal norms. Interested to learn more about this? Check out the courses offered by the school: DST 500 History of Madness and DST 504 Mad People’s History. 


But madness and Mad Studies is not all there is to me…not even close! As a fibre based artist I work primarily with the practices of quilting and natural dyes as a way to engage with activist based aesthetics. My studio based Phd project “Materializing a Mad Aesthetic Through the Making of Politicized Fibre Art” explored the role of artistic production within social movement organizing. As a practicing artist I’m interested in what art does in this world. How does art move us, provoke us, and incite change in the world around us? How might we use art not to answer questions but to render things problematic and why might this be an important place to dream up future change? If you’re ever interested in a studio visit, you can always come over to the 401 Richmond Building and hang-out with me at the Contemporary Textile Studio Co-op. I’m excited to be planning a Natural Dye Symposium this coming year, doing more advocacy work with Deaf Disability Mad Arts Alliance Canada, and just making more art. I’ve been fortunate enough this past year to be working with a bunch of QTBIPOC youth labelled with intellectual disabilities on some rad projects – like a new banner for marches – and I’m always interested in dreaming up other creative collaborations. Art is a meaningful way to create knowledge and to organize ourselves to work towards social change.  


I’m excited to continue to get to know the community in the DS program at Ryerson. I am just about two months into this semester and I adore how supportive and connected all of my students are whether in-person or online. This year I’m teaching a number of fun courses: DST 500 History of Madness, DST 501 Rethinking Disability, DST 502 Disability and the State, DST 725 The Politics and Practices of Interventions, and DST 613 Strategies for Community Building. So, if you want to get into some meaningful dialogue around why and how disability matters in this world, join me in one of these classes. If you’re interested in things I’ve written in the past, feel free to check out places such as: Curriculum Inquiry, The Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies, Canadian Art, Intersectionalities: A Global Journal of Social Work Analysis, Research, Policy, and Practice, Journal of Progressive Human Services, Studies in Social Justice, and the Journal of Progressive Human Services. Just a couple months in and it seems as if time is both flying by and going ever-so-slowly. One thing that I do know for sure though, is that my time in this school is full of possibilities!



Living a good life with a disability

This post was written by current student Paul Benson.

neon lights read "good life" against a brick wall
Image from the Hamilton Spectator

The title of this blog might surprise you. You may think to yourself “disabled people have a much more limited life than the non-disabled.” You might think that I mean “Living the best life possible despite having a disability.” Not at all!

I am going to suggest that life with a disability can be BETTER than a non-disabled life. If you have trouble believing that, just read on.

My reflections on this topic are inspired by my current work in DST 507 – Disability Justice and the Good Human Life – with my professor Dr. Cameron Crawford, and a lively and engaged group of classmates.

To set the context, I have late stage Multiple Sclerosis and live as a long-term patient in my local hospital. And my life is abundantly rich and fulfilling. For example, even though I use  wheelchair and am reliant on a ventilator, I am joining friends this Friday to see the ballet “Sleeping Beauty” at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre. I will be taking a support person with me – a Registered Practical Nurse trained in ventilator care – and meeting up with three close friends who I enjoy spending time with.

With appropriate supports, I can travel out to activities with friends and family. I am cared for by an experienced and capable team of professionals – nurses, my doctor, a physiotherapist, a team of respiratory therapists, a speech therapist, a social worker, and many others. I have a “staff” almost as big as Martha Stewart’s!

And I have time – time to socialize, time to do schoolwork, time to value just being with people. I don’t have to clean house, I don’t have to go out to work (my work is here at my computer). Are you beginning to envy me? Even just a little?

My disability allows me to have the life that I choose. I am autonomous – I make all my own decisions, set myself life goals, and work towards them. The only difference is that I lead a totally interdependent life. Others act as my “arms and legs.” With their help, there is very little that I can‘t do.

But, am I unusual? An anomaly within the disabled community? As I discovered through my readings in DST 507, my experience of life with a disability may be quite common.  Disabled people s often say that they could not imagine a life without their condition. It just would not be as good, it would not be them.

Stephen Hawking celebrated the fact that having a disability gave him the life that he loved. Michel Petrucciani – arguably one of the finest jazz pianists in the world – had Osteogenesis Imperfecta (the “brittle bone” disease). He said that his disease “saved him from being ordinary.” For an example of his playing and composition skills, watch him perform “Cantabile”.  He is obviously delighted to be doing something he loved.

There is an influential bioethicist and intellectual thinker – Dr. Peter Singer – at Princeton University, who insists that a year in the life of a quadriplegic is only worth six months of “normal” life. According to most disabled persons  (including me), this is baloney. Yet he continues to push this philosophy as the basis for restricting healthcare to disabled persons and advocating infanticide for certain disabled babies. In September 2015, in an article in the Toronto Star, Peter Kavanagh wrote “If you are an animal, Peter Singer might be the closest thing you have to Moses. If you are a severely disabled human baby — or a disability activist — he’s more akin to the Angel of Death.”

In 2001, Dr. Singer met and debated with Harriet McBryde Johnson – a Disability Rights lawyer who herself had a disability. Although he talked to her as a valued colleague, he could not believe her when she said that she led a very good life. I would characterize his reaction as “denial.” Her ideas conflicted with his, so he could not accept them.

As part of DST 507, I read a wonderful article by Tom Koch “The Difference that Difference Makes.” This article is available through the Ryerson University library. It points out that many people facing increasing levels of disability find that life actually becomes better. Their increasing disability means that they engage more with their caregivers, their family, and their community. This is the power of interdependence. It happened for me – and I love it!

So, next time you encounter someone with a visible or invisible disability, rather than thinking “Oh that poor person. How they must be suffering,” take time to connect with them. Find out how they view the life they are leading You may discover that they are enjoying a fulfilling life that you would be happy to share. Food for thought!

Y/our Vision, Passion, Action

This post was written by alumnus Kevin Jackson.

photograph of sidewalk on which read

At a point in one’s life…

One tends to make a few general realizations, especially when considering higher education. First, life always takes you on a journey. Second, having direction within your life journey is not only a unique gift, but is the difference between having the time of your life verses just ‘getting by.’ The perfect motif for this idea is that of this blog’s title, Vision, Passion, Action. That is to say, if you possess, and can allow yourself to appreciate, your own unquenchable thirst to learn from life, in all of its numerous forms (Vision), and your educational opportunities and situations allow you to match and realize your goals (Passion), then conceivably your life while completing these goals (Action) may offer you a more meaningful and enjoyable experience. So yes, you can do it, and yes you can have the time of your life (while getting paid! …very little).

However, there are a few conditions—what works for one may not work for the other, and if what is stated here does not resonate with you, then this information may not be as useful to you. For example, we all have different interests, goals, and means’ to accomplish those goals. Essentially, if you can easily work out the logistics of doing graduate work (MA or PhD), then for you it may simply be a choice of either going or not going. However, this post was written specifically for those potential graduate students in Disability Studies or Mad Studies who find themselves face-to-face with challenging obstacles (perhaps facing resistance from family, friends, culture, socio-economic situation, etc.). For people living in precarious environments, graduate school may seem out of reach, even though it may not be that far out of reach. When considering graduate school, I have found the following three overlapping considerations (and series of questions, comments) to be helpful, based on the DST’s blogs maxim, Vision, Passion, Action!


Is there an issue or topic that is thematic within your life that you would love to research full-time for the rest of your life? Do you possess a burning desire to explore a set of thoughts, assumptions and/or phenomenon?  Do you think, somewhat obsessively, about how you would carry out your own unique style and type of research projects(s)? If so, please proceed to the next section….


What is that you have always wanted to research with almost full autonomy? Do you find yourself thinking that a Disability or Mad studies framework could provide you with a set of (almost) perfect models upon which to help you realize your research goals (…with a little tweaking)? Do you find the thought of doing an MA or PhD alluring, yet also a tad stress-inducing? If so, please proceed to the next section….


The above questions are important to keep in mind, but are, for the most part, not really much more than a thought experiment. Unless one actually throws their hat into the ring, so to speak, one will never realize their own Vision and Passion. Action is the doing part; but Action may also include not doing. In this case, I mean that it is perfectly acceptable to simply apply to an MA or PhD program (that resonates with you), which you may actually end up turning down. I said and I did just that. In my case, I just wanted to see if I would get accepted (NB: each program application can cost upwards of $200 CAD). However, I found that, after the shock of being accepted into York University’s Critical Disability Studies PhD program (the only one I applied to), I might actually be able to do my own PhD! Why not? I was accepted, was I not? So, while I continue to feel like an imposter within ‘the academy,’ I have come to realize that I may just simply be where I am supposed to be in life. It was under these sets of assumptions (as informed by reflection, information gathering, and careful assessment of resources and family connections) that I finally made my decision to follow the path before me.

Final Words:

Aside from your exploration of all other practical considerations, the above questions and ponderings may help you to make an informed decision about whether or not to do your graduate work. So, if you have a burning desire to learn about social issues that focus on inequality, social justice, or anything in between, then doing focused graduate/post-graduate work may be the vocation for you.

I wish you all the best, and urge you not to limit yourself. If you are careful, and have the desire to learn (to live in your head a bit more than you did yesterday) then you may be ready to (gradually and gently) commit to graduate school. If the above information resonates with you, perhaps it is time to speak with one or two of your favorite faculty members, friends and family about the process (for me it was Kathryn, Rachel, Tobin, and my friend Russell from York U’s, PhD program). These teachers have supported me, and I am very fond of them. Such teachers will mentor you through your academic career, if you can open yourself to their wisdom and guidance. The last piece of advice I can offer you is about people: Pay-it-forward is always a good motto to follow in graduate school. As professional teachers, you will both teach and be taught. Final words of advice: be informed within y/our own VPA (whatever that means to you), and simply be there, open to the experience and your potential.

I wish you the best of luck on your next great life adventure!


Ok, let’s talk: A response to the Bell Let’s Talk campaign

This piece is re-posted from 2017. This was written by Danielle Landry. She teaches Mad People’s History as part-time instructor with the School of Disability Studies.

A drawing of a road side stand with the words "psychiatric help 5 cents" on top. Inside the stand there is a person with a blue text box. The bottom of the stand reads "The corporation is in"

Ok, let’s talk.

Let’s talk about how those two new workplace scenario commercials only reinforce the idea that it’s unsafe to talk about mental health to your boss or co-workers, instead of establishing that employers in Ontario actually have a duty to accommodate disabled workers, including those with psychiatric disabilities.

Let’s stop positioning disabled people as charity cases through a-nickel-for-every-text campaigns.

Let’s talk about the erosion of our social systems through corporate greed.

Let’s ask why Bell hasn’t instituted any programs to support its low-income customers, such as if they need a reprieve from paying their bills during a hospital stay.

Let’s talk about why it’s not okay that we have to rely on corporate sponsorship to sustain our mental health system. Let’s ask if corporate influence serves to deter (or co-opt) the kinds of radical approaches and critical thinking that are essential for challenging the mental health system to improve and innovate.

Let’s talk about how we’re constantly establishing and maintaining divisions between people (labels, diagnoses, categories of who is ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’) and how these divisions keep us from working together for change.

Let’s question the false dichotomy that’s been created and is being perpetuated in the media between those ‘productive citizens’ with mental health problems and those ‘others’ diagnosed with serious mental illnesses, and how this is a tactic to divide our community and squash social movement.

Let’s talk about how we shouldn’t shame ourselves for not achieving all of the things the white upper-middle celebrities who’ve ‘come out’ to lead these campaigns have managed to achieve in their ‘overcoming’ narratives.

Let’s acknowledge that our experiences differ based on our various social locations, but let’s come together to recognize how we all have a role to play in dismantling all forms of oppression.

Let’s talk about the importance of community.

Let’s talk about universal access as a standard of living.

Let’s talk about our rights.

Let’s talk about our collective history and where we need to go from here.

Re-thinking Student Distress on University Campuses

This post was written by Tobin LeBlanc Haley, ELA postdoctoral fellow, Ryerson University in response to an article in University Affairs titled: Our role is to support students when they are ready to be students.

I would like to thank Dr. Costopoulos for raising the important topic of student distress and attendant university responses in his August article for University Affairs. Regrettably, the piece does not factor in the social conditions that contribute to or create student distress, such as student debt, gendered violence, racism, ableism/saneism, and homo/transphobia on campus and the hostile post-crisis political climate and labour market.

Instead, the piece collapses distress and mental illness. To put this another way, in the original article all distress is equated with mental illness and any person with a mental illness label is perceived as distressed. In this context the ‘problem’ is mind/body of the student in distress, in particular, those who Costopoulos identifies as the “severely mentally ill and sometimes actively suicidal” who take up a “very significant portion of [university] resources” (a claim which is not cited). The ‘solution’, the fix, is to have these students take time off and access mental health care systems until/if they can “function as students” (something which is not defined) and be less of a burden on the university.

In addition to ignoring the social nature of distress, the significant problems with mental health care systems in Canada are also sidelined. Yet, these are problems that have been well documented. A very few examples include long-wait times (Canadian Institute for Health Information 2012), services that do not make space for Indigenous knowledges and expertise related to mental health (Clark et al 2017) and involuntary treatment practices which have been identified as a violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to which Canada is a signatory (Minkowitz 2014). Is medicalizing distress and simply passing students off to mental health care systems (although certainly, they should be able to access public mental health services if they desire) while de-enrolling them from the university a solution?

The collapsing of distress and psychiatric diagnosis, the silence on broader systemic issues that can lead to or exacerbate student distress and the misrepresentation of mental health care systems belies an unawareness of Disability Studies or an unwillingness to engage with this scholarship. For more than forty years, Disability Studies scholars and activists, many of us who have been students in distress and/or students with psychiatric diagnoses, have argued against the individual/medical approach (see for e.g. Oliver 1983), most recently its mobilization under neoliberalism (Morrow and Halinka Malcoe 2017), developing instead a rich body of work about the social production of disability and mental illness (see Meekosha & Shuttleworth 2009, LeFrancois et al 2013). Briefly, in challenging the individual/medical model, Disability Scholars caution against a myopic focus on the individual body drawing attention to the social relations that define and often limit bodies. The focus on bodies obfuscates external factors (e.g., oppression) while simultaneously explaining the implications (e.g., distress) through the mobilization of solely pathological explanations. Certainly, we, as scholars, can understand that distress is not produced in a vacuum but rather emerges from the location of bodies in the current conjuncture discussed above and the devaluing of bodily/mind difference. The very notion of “functioning as a student” must be understood within this broader context, especially as university educators rank people thereby opening up or foreclosing future opportunities. How can we not take into account the world in which we are situated and the challenges it brings for our students when mobilizing this power?

Which brings me to the issue of accommodation. Typically, universities provide accommodation for those barriers to education that can be quantified (e.g., more time on exams to create an equitable testing experience). Should we not also be thinking about how issues like poverty, unaffordable childcare, systemic racism and colonialism, gendered violence and pathologized difference create material inequalities that can make living in the world more “distressing” for some people than others (whether they have a psychiatric diagnosis or not)? Simply telling students who experience distress to leave until they get better (even if financial and academic penalties are eliminated) means we are asking students in distress to individually cope with unequal social relations of power, the very social relations of power which are present on university campuses. Moreover, such an exclusionary practice is discriminatory and would likely be a violation of students’ Human Rights.

We must not treat students in distress as if they have nothing to contribute and/or as people who must be protected from their ‘poor decisions’ (e.g. remaining enrolled). Instead, we must ask them what they want and need and cultivate this support to ensure that they are not unfairly excluded from universities (permanently or temporarily). The following recommendations are potential first steps:

1. That the language used to describe students in distress recognizes that distress is related to oppression within and outside of the university including poverty, ableism/saneism, racism, homo/transphobia, and patriarchy.

2. That it be recognized that student distress will always exist so long as oppression persists, and all efforts to deal with distress must be connected to decolonizing, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-poverty, pro-LGBTQ work on campus.

3. That in lieu of “the mentally ill”, language about mental health be fully representative of the diverse identities of people living with mental illness labels; for example, consumers/survivors/ex-patients/Mad people (or c/s/x/m) or some agreed upon alternative developed by impacted students. This grouping of terms, which comes from a robust social movement, represents the multiplicity of understandings of mental illness categories developed by the c/s/x/m communities.

4. That students experiencing or who have experienced in distress, especially including c/s/x/m students, BIPOC students, and LGBTQ students, lead all consultations and changes related to mental health and associated support services on campus (including accommodation) and be paid for this labour.

5. That all administrators, faculty members and services providers involved in mental health care and associated services on universities campus take a course on the history of mental health care in Canada.

6. That this course be offered by scholars and/or community members who belong to the c/s/x/m community, especially including BIPOC and LGBTQ peoples, and that all involved be paid for this labour.

This is not an exhaustive list, but a starting point to shift the recent attention to mental health and distress on campuses away from a conversation about pathologization and exclusion.

Works cited

Canadian Institute for Health Information. (2012). Chapter 4: Waits for Specialized Care. Health Care in Canada 2012: A Focus on Wait Times. Available at:

Clark, N., Walton, P., Drolet, J., Tribute, T., Jules, G., Main, T., & Arnouse, M. (2017). Melq’ilwiye: Coming Together: Intersections of Identity, Sovereignty and Mental Health for Urban Indigenous Youth. In M. Morrow & L. Halinka Malcoe (Eds.) Critical Inquiries For Social Justice in Mental Health (pp. 165-193). Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

LeFrancois, B., Menzies, R., & Reaume, G. (eds). (2013). Mad Matters: A Critical Reader in Canadian Mad Studies. Toronto, ON: Canadian Scholars Inc.

Meekosha, H., and R. Shuttleworth. 2009. What’s So ‘critical’ about Critical Disability Studies? Australian Journal of Human Rights 15 (1), 47–75.

Minkowitz, T. (2013). Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Liberation from Psychiatric Oppression. In B. Burstow, B. LeFrançois and S. Diamond (Eds.) Psychiatry Disrupted (pp. 129-144). London: McGill-Queens University Press.

Morrow, M. & Halinka Malcoe, L. (eds.). (2017). Critical Inquiries For Social Justice in Mental Health. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

Oliver, M. (1983). Social Work with Disabled People. Basingstoke: Macmillan.