Tag Archives: Mad Studies

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!

A Black person with short, thick hair and prescription glasses sits at an organized workstation, using a magnification app to navigate a webpage. Their posture is proper and relaxed. On the desk: a computer, a mouse, a large desk lamp and a small notebook.

Mental Health ‘Talk’ on Campus

By Jeanette Korosi

The following research was conducted as part of my Final Independent Study and is the culmination of my learning from Disability Studies, but is also the launching point of a deeper interest in the construction of mental illness, specifically on post-secondary institutions.  

Mental Health and Wellness at Ryerson, the data

My data collection largely started before even solidifying a research topic.  Since being named a global pandemic in March 2020, I started to notice an endless stream of messages regarding mental health and wellness across many venues of my life.  Specifically,  I collected an overwhelming amount of communication in the form of emails, articles and workshops centered on mental health “talk” put forth by Ryerson University.  Themes began to emerge around resilience, self-care, and personal wellness.

I want to share a few poignant details from my data collection before I dive into a deeper analysis and discussion.


The first workshop I attended was called How to Help Online Learning Students Manage their Vulnerabilities and Grow their Resilience for educators.  During the workshop, the presenter said, “some students are more vulnerable, at particular points, in their journey than others, whether temporary or recurrent.”  While some may argue that it is positive that teachers recognize that vulnerabilities, including mental illness, exist within the classroom, it is important that we question how employees of post-secondary institutions are taught to respond to such vulnerabilities.  From this workshop and clearly stated within the title, the goal is to teach students to “grow their resilience.”  This narrative is woven throughout all student service provisions at post-secondary institutions.  

Risk in Vulnerability

On deeper examination, I discovered a specific policy that allows student service providers at universities to remove students from the system should they pose a potential risk.  ’Risk’ is highly interpretable and ultimately gives service providers the authority to decide what is risk, who is at risk and therefore, how to respond, whether with a psychiatric referral or more likely with removal from campus.  It also puts students in jeopardy of losing student housing, government grants, and threats of deportation if a student is removed from their studies.  

Additionally, this policy does not encourage students to seek out support when needed because there is an ever-present threat of removal from campus following a counselling appointment.  Therefore, this policy labels mental illness as problematic to the university. From this policy, it is clear that students must perform in normative ways or we will experience referrals, psychiatric intervention, and removal.  


I attended another workshop with similar messaging.  It was called Building Resilience and was part of a larger series called surviving and thriving.  One of the opening lines of the workshop can be summarized as follows: your organization wants to harness our current pressures and turn them into performance.

The presenter also said that one of the ways we can harness this pressure and turn it into performance is by building resiliency.  He offered up several ways to build resilience including eating healthy, sleeping, building relationships and building our inner skills, such as focus and awareness.  These may seem like simple, attainable suggestions, but are terribly presumptive.  During a global pandemic where many have lost their jobs, healthy foods, consistent sleep patterns and relationships are something few can access.  They are also individualistic in nature. They are framed as things we do for ourselves at no responsibility of institutions or government to support us in accessing.

These are individual solutions to community problems.

Individual Responsibility

These workshops are just two examples of the countless workshops offered over the last 8 months, many of which contain buzz words rooted in psychiatric practice such as self-care, managing stress effectively, mindfulness, achievement, goal setting, therapy, and thriving within a pandemic.  

Additionally, they all involve individual responsibility to maintain wellness and are rooted in notions of productivity.  Each workshop is offered from the standpoint that in order to produce, which is how folks are rendered valuable in our neoliberal society, one must individually overcome their personal obstacles.

This discourse is perpetuated within academia and reinforced through workshops that are embedded in both student life and curriculum.

The idea of self-care surfaces over and over again throughout these workshops and tips from weekly FCS newsletters.  The following is not exhaustive but here are a few examples: “practice self-care by going for a 10-minute walk,” “avoid burnout by ‘keeping gas in your tank’ by eating three balanced meals a day plus snacks,” “practice self-care by taking a water break after every fifty minutes of studying or classes.”

These tips may offer relief to some symptoms of distress for those who can access the tips; however, they do not address the stressors faced by students who are navigating enormous student loans in a time when students are expected to continually do and engage in more, including online workshops centred around building resilience. 

Key Takeaways

I could share much more regarding the data collection; however, I feel it important to detail some of my takeaways.

  1. The cultural behaviour of post-secondary institutions is to “treat” mental illness and distress with messages of personal care and responsibility.  In cases where individuals need support, the only options are to seek psychiatric treatment on campus.
  2. Psy-discourses maintain power within universities.  The institution remains in control of the students when service providers have the ultimate authority regarding who remains on campus and who is removed.
  3. Because students are required to register for the workshops and services listed above, an element of surveillance is at play.  When a student attends a counselling appointment, they must complete extensive paperwork, leaving a paper trail that can be used for continued surveillance of the student.
  4. Any behaviour or action that is in line with thriving, productivity, wellness, and normalcy are permitted.  Any behaviour that falls outside the perception of these words is labeled as abnormal and problematic to the structure of the university.  Therefore, when some behaviours are favoured, others are rendered problematic and therefore, made more difficult.

Moving Forward with Radical Love

Inspired by both Jenna Reid’s short documentary entitled Mad Love and a workshop hosted by Rachel Waddingham, I began looking into the concept of mutual aid as a response to mental illness and distress during the pandemic (and beyond).

I first started exploring this concept more deeply after listening to Rachel Waddingham’s workshop.  She shared an image of two hands holding onto one another with text that read “we need each other.”

It was simple yet profound.  This is because it serves as a reminder that we need each other, during the Covid-19 pandemic but also before and after.  We are interdependent on one another and our lives are made richer by community and the natural diversity of community.  This sense of community is something that is not only missing from post-secondary institutions but feels far removed from the discourses present.  

We need alternatives that reject psychiatry as the only solution for distress and look to the Mad community for examples of alternatives that are rooted in collective action and community; ones that are based on humanitarian, holistic perspectives where people are understood within the social and economic context of the society in which they live.  We need the radical love described by Jenna Reid.  We need radical love that urges us to look bigger, think bigger and abolish systems of violence, in this case, against those of us labelled with mental illness.

Rather than self-love, self-care, and personal resilience, I propose that radical love is the alternate response to Covid-19 that I have been looking for and craving.  In the current global context, radical love manifests as mutual aid and collective liberation.

My hope is that by discussing the problematic nature of mental health talk on campus, I will be more aware and well equipped to challenge and resist it myself and encourage others to do the same. 

Curriculum Town Hall for BIPOC DST students

ID: A dark skinned wheelchair user with long hair and a beanie sits at a small table, using their laptop to participate in a video meeting. The laptop screen is shown to their right, with the call being live captioned. The main speaker is a dark skinned person wearing a hijab and glasses, and 3 other participants are at the bottom of the screen, in smaller windows. In the bottom right corner, a yellow service dog bounds towards the wheelchair user.
Credit: Dana Chan for Disabled And Here. Link: Disabled And Here project page

Dear Black, Indigenous, and racialized DST students and alumni,

In an effort to be more inclusive in the curriculum we teach in the School of Disability Studies, we invite Black, Indigenous and students/alumni of colour to take part in an upcoming curriculum town hall. This town hall will take place on May 25th, from 6-8pm via Zoom. The town hall will be facilitated by a Black student, alumni, or instructor (TBA).

This town hall will facilitate a discussion of how we can better support you and your studies. 

It will be a place for you to discuss your experience as a Black, Indigenous, and racialized DST student and give us feedback on how our curriculum can better reflect Black disability, mad, and Deaf studies. We will introduce you to a new initiative led by DST’s Anti-Black Racism Committee, Black Disability and Mad Perspectives Speaker Series: An Open Educational Resource Project. Perspectives is a series of three online accessible discussions that will feature Black disabled, mad, and Deaf scholars, artists, and community activists throughout the summer. We will record these discussions and turn them into webcasts that will be used in DST classes. This project is part of an ongoing effort to strengthen and more predominantly emphasize Black disability, mad, and Deaf studies across DST curriculum.The town hall facilitator will describe this project more fully and contextualize it in the recent history of addressing racism and anti-Black racism in the School. There will be lots of time for questions. In the meantime, you can find the full project description here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1JnvxQT3wDYmk-bPqcPJdZMIN8X8bnkDe/view?usp=sharing

We will select the themes and the speakers for the Perspective Series with your direction. We would like your feedback as to what histories, current events, and social issues you would like to be covered through Black disability, Deaf, and mad studies perspectives in DST courses. We are also looking to you for who to feature in this speaker series.

Here are the questions you will asked at the Town Hall:

  • What have your experiences been over this past year as a BIPOC student at Ryerson? How are you feeling?
  • What barriers related to racism and ableism/saneism/audism have you encountered in the classroom:
    • From readings and lectures?
    • From class activities?
    • In the teaching method?
    • From peers?
    • From faculty?
    • In the assessments (assignments)?
    • In technology?
    • In accessibility?
    • In course management policy (e.g. academic integrity, late assignment policy, non-academic accommodations)?
  • What kind of support would be helpful to you around your student experience?
  • How can the School better support you?

*At this point we will introduce the Perspectives Speaker Series*

  • What topics related to Blackness and disability, Deafhood, and madness would you like to see explored and taught in our classrooms?
  • What are some current topics, debates, or areas of concern that should be addressed through the perspective of Black disability, Deaf, & mad studies and activism in our classrooms?
  • Who would you like to feature in this Speaker Series?
  • How would you like to participate in the Perspectives Speaker Series (e.g. as a moderator, discussant, or another role)?

This will be the beginning of the conversation. We will follow up with you as we plan the Speaker Series, taking your direction, as we promote the Series, and we hope that some of you will be involved in the Series.

There will be ASL interpretation and Open Captions. If you have any access questions or concerns, please contact Tali at avital.cherniawsky@ryerson.ca.

If you have any questions, please contact Eliza as the chair of the DST Anti-Black Racism Committee (eliza.chandler@ryerson.ca) or anyone else on the committee. Eliza can put you in touch with the student/alumni representatives on the Anti-Black Racism Committee, who can answer questions as well.

Please confirm your attendance by emailing Eliza and she will email you the Zoom link ahead of the town hall.


The DST Anti-Black Racism Committee 

Idil Abdillahi

Tamika Walker

Fiona Watson

Ricky Varghese

Paris Master McRae

Esther Ignagni

Adan Jerreat-Poole

Tali Cherniawsky

Eliza Chandler

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.

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!


To the Bone: A Mad Review

This post was written by  Tobin LeBlanc Haley who holds the ELA postdoctoral fellowship in the school of Disability Studies.

photograph of thin white woman looking at a scale
Screenshot from To the Bone

Content Warning: The following is sardonic and involves discussion of eating disorders, racism, homophobia and patriarchy

As a young woman I consumed (if you will pardon the pun) every movie about eating ‘disorders’ I could get my hands on; think “Thin”, “For the Love of Nancy”, “Sharing the Secret”, “The Smartest Little Girl in the World” and “Kate’s Secret”…the list goes on, but note these films are largely about white women (I am also a white woman). Sometimes the viewings were, admittedly, about “tips” but, more often they were an attempt to feel less isolated, about trying to get a handle on why most of my time was taken up with behaviours that got me assigned an eating disorder diagnosis. Although I watched, re-watched and analyzed these movies, they never did bring me a sense of peace or a feeling of citizenship in a common community. Instead, they made me feel more isolated, broken, damaged, crazy, sad and alone in my attempts to control the world around me and to numb the pain of living in that world by filling up, emptying and contorting my own body.

Now, as a Mad scholar, when I look back on the inability of this form of storytelling to offer me comfort or community I can see that it is because these films were deeply oppressive. They offered me no sense of the root causes of my own experience, suggesting instead that I could not mentally cope in a world that demands that people who present as female be very thin as well as unassuming, well-behaved and uncritical. My brain, I was taught, was ill-equipped for this world and the challenges it brings, while ‘normal’ people (i.e., people without eating disorders or any psychiatric diagnosis) were mentally strong enough, mentally well enough, to cope.

This way of understanding distress, as we as critical scholars know, in anemic. It is a reification of the social conditions underpinning eating ‘disorders’ (e.g., gendered violence, precarity, racism); a means of locating distress in the individual, clinicalizable, medicatable body. This is Mad Studies 101 (see LeFrancois, Menzies, Reaume 2013), but as a young woman, I did not have access to this critique. I did not have access to media or support that positioned my body and mind socially.

Which is why I was so excited when I read the reviews of “To The Bone”, Netflix’s new movie about eating disorders and one in a long-line of disability-themed movies and shows. This was a movie made by and with people with eating disorders that was supposed to be a fresh new take on anorexia and the ‘patient’-therapist relationship.

It was not.

The Freudian tour-de-force follows the experiences of Ellen, an anorexic woman with an absent father, pushy step-mother and bi-polar lesbian mother (sigh), through her ‘journey’ into residential treatment and then ‘recovery.’ There are some departures from the tradition eating ‘disorder’ film, for example, the patients live in a large house instead of a hospital and can eat what they want. However, in the film they are still subjected to weigh-ins and post-meal locked toilets. The film, which was supposed to challenge the typical ‘patient’-therapist relationship, instead sees Keanu Reeves (Dr. Beckham) taking the residents on supervised outings and their days being made up of individual and group counselling. Some of these scenes could come right out of the documentary “Thin.” There is no attempt to understand Ellen’s experiences beyond her own home life (remember absent dad, divorced parents, new step-mom and bi-polar lesbian mom), her individual ‘obsession’ with being thin and the fact that some of her Thinspo art contributed to a suicide. Instead, we are only inside Ellen’s head. There is no space for social relations of power in this film.
Instead, there is a mounting sense that unless Ellen can get a ‘grip,’ she will die. Fortunately, she comes around after a soul-searching night in the mountains and allows her mother to bottle-feed her rice milk to recover some of her lost childhood and their lost connection. It is a cringe-worthy as it sounds. What I found more upsetting that the rather blasé and individualistic plot that reproduced existing tropes about eating disorders, was the treatment of queerness, gender, disability, and race.

When considering the representation of queerness in the film, I was left both dissatisfied with the analysis and alarmed. The film seems to assume that the mother’s bi-polar diagnosis, her coming out as a lesbian and her subsequent romantic relationship with a woman had a negative impact on Ellen. Absent is consideration of persistent homophobia and the alienating impact this may have had on Ellen’s relationship with her mother. Moreover, the bi-polar diagnosis applied to the character of the mother, which is barely unpacked, is irresponsible as it ignores the long history of the psychiatric pathologization of queer people (see, e.g. Chesler 1972; Carr 2005).

When considering gender relations, absent is any consideration of how women with psychiatric diagnoses are cast as “bad mothers”. Instead, there is an undercurrent in the film that Ellen’s eating disorder, her mental ‘illness,’ was inherited from her mother both biologically and as a result of her coming out and leaving the family. Similarly, Ellen’s relationship with her step-mother is fraught as it is the step-mother, in light of the absent father, who is left to do most of the family labour involved in Ellen’s ‘recovery’ and who offloads much of the day-to-day work involved in running the household on to a racialized and feminized housekeeper played by Joanna Sanchez. While the father is portrayed as a troubling, unhelpful character, there is no consideration of how such normative gender roles create conditions in which women are exploited and undervalued and the role of such patriarchal relations in eating disorders. Against the backdrop of these patriarchal family relations, Ellen enters into a relationship with a male patient who is, frankly, obsessive and then ‘rescues’ her in a dream sequence at the end of the film.

There are, to my recollection, two people of colour with named roles in the film. There is the previously mentioned Latinix housekeeper, Rosa, whose accent is mocked by Ellen’s sister (and whose contribution to the family is never unpacked in relation to the feminization and racialization of social reproduction (Arat-Koc 2006)) and a Black female played by Lindsey McDowell. Kendra, the only Black woman with a speaking role in the film, is not thin unlike all the other white women in the film. While it is good, I guess, to recognize that eating ‘disorders’ impact people across social location and that that not all eating disorders result in thin bodies, I am left to wonder precisely why it was a Black body was expected to represent the non-thin contingent. I was left to conclude that this film, precisely because it did not explore Kendra’s Black body and her experience, was ignoring the whiteness embedded in the beauty myth and the implications for women of colour. Moreover, given the weak healthcare coverage in the USA, I was left wondering precisely how these ‘patients’ paid for their residency and whether or not this was a movie about eating disorder or white rich women’s experiences with eating disorders.

Overall, I found the film absent of social critique and heavy on individuals, erasing the very social context from which these individuals emerged. Also, some actor had to starve herself to play this role…is this truly a new form of storytelling about eating disorders? We need to do better. We need Mad interventions into eating disorders.

Works cited

Carr, S. (2005). “The sickness label infected everything we said”: Lesbian and gay perspectives on mental disorder. In J. Tew (Ed.), Social perspectives in mental health: Developing social models to understand work and mental distress (pp. 168-183). London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Chesler, P. (1972). Women and madness. New York: Avon Books.
LeFrancois, B., Menzies, R., & Reaume, G. (Eds.). (2013). Mad matters: A critical reader in Canadian mad studies. Toronto: Canadian Scholars Inc. Press.

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

This post 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.


Mad People’s History

This post was written by current student, Marsha Ryan.

Three buttons which read "Mad Positive in the Academy"

I’m sitting in Out of This World Café next to CAMH, and I’d like to pause for a moment and share with you guys a wonderful experience called Mad People’s History. It’s a course that I took last semester at Ryerson University. There was a HUGE number of people wishing to pursue this course, so our professor – Danielle Landry – had to split up the class into three subgroups. I was thrilled to see such a number of students too because the more people are engaged in our communities, the better! I have to express my kudos to Danielle for keeping up with hot debates on the discussion board and actually responding to the posts. She’s definitely extremely passionate about teaching, sharing experiences, and inspiring us to go further and beyond.

I think it is remarkable that the course was created by a person with lived experience, it gives you a totally new perception of all the theory and practice covered in class. The course content got me deep down into learning straight away because it was stunning, unforgettable, and inspirational! The assignments are driven to engage students into the mad community, with all its joys and issues. I’ve never seen such a diversity of audio, video and webcasts before! You can either study while you commute to work or while you’re chopping veggies for your dinner. Imagine the big guru, David Raville, talking on your big screen in the living room! All the documents are downloadable and accessible for your convenience at any point of your day! Mad People’s History takes real issues and talks about them in a very human way.

I love the funny bits of sarcasm thrown in for good measure amongst the academic information.  For me the history was sometimes uncomfortable and yet fascinating!  It never ceases to amaze me how cruel humans can be to one another.  The first part of the course may be emotionally difficult for some people, but I believe it’s important to know where we’ve been to see where we’re going. This learning experience is foundational!

Writing a book review, going out on a field trip plunges you into the world you’re learning in class/online. The field trip was a wow experience for me – now I’m going to be involved in some capacity with the mad/survivor community in Toronto and the GTA. I met some really great people during my field trip: they are highly driven and motivated to bring change into daily troubles of mad people; all of them are doing a lot of really interesting things in the areas like art, politics, advocacy, retail, customer service, social security, entertainment, etc.

I urge students to take Mad People’s History, in any format, for it frames the development of breaking through a stigma against mad people throughout the centuries and illustrates how strong we can be. As the journey unfolds, you hear all of the horrific stories involved in the history. It is important to note these things, and talk about how ridiculous they were, and break down the societal views of individuals with mental health histories. There are a lot of success stories that transform a mad person’s image from being demonized and instilling fear to just another guy living around the corner, the guy who has equal rights and is socially included into our community.

This course has such a good balance between academic and humanity, through the readings, modules, and assignments. I will miss it and for this reason I decided to get involved with a couple of my favorite mad-driven organizations that are described in my assignment.

This is a life-changing experience guys, so please feel free to feel and share it!

To all Social Work Students – Take a DST course!

This post was written by Lois Didyk. She is a graduate of the Ryerson Social Work program.

Three buttons which read "Mad Positive in the Academy"

I returned to school to get my social work degree after 20 years of working in the mental health field. Apparently that makes me the “mature” kind of student. So hear my wisdom when I say to you, social work students – take a Disability Studies Course! Now. Hurry.

You know that expression – you don’t know how much you don’t know until you know. That’s what my social work degree was like for me. Sure I had tons of direct service experience, so I did know a lot about something. But I knew one thing well, and there’s so much more to this story.

My social work degree was great for giving me the theoretical lens that I needed to complicate existing knowledge, so that I could better understand what is really going on for people and be more critical of (and constructive to) our mental health system. This let me filter my work and experience through frameworks such as anti-oppression, post modernism, critical deconstruction, anti-colonialism and the likes… It’s all good stuff, and has made me a better social worker.

Equally important has been what I learned from the Mad People’s History course (DST 504) which I took at the end of my degree. Wow, did that ever rock my world! I got in on one of David Reville’s last courses before he retired – lucky me. It was one of those courses that made me feel really uncomfortable (in a good way!) and challenged me as a person, as a “case manager”, and as part of a system that has a horrible history. There is no ‘status quo’ once you’ve taken a course like this – it makes you see everything differently and you want to get involved to move things forward. At least that was my experience, anyway!

While I learned far too many things to summarize here, let me give you a taste of the thinking that DST 504 stirred up for me. Here are some bits from my Field Trip with Mad Activism assignment:

“Mad means so much more than just mental illness – it speaks to the history, to the social context and to the oppressive experiences that go along with having been diagnosed with a mental illness”;

“I watched If these Walls Could Talk – love the symbolism of walls as barriers that protect society from the hidden world of the mad. Today’s walls are social exclusion, inadequate housing, lack of income, inadequate supports, … A great line that stood out for me was that conformity and compliance are not life skills!”;

“Some things I realize now: the mad community, like all communities, is not homogeneous – there are many different perspectives, experiences and opinions working towards the same cause; change can be a slow process, but it is a process none-the-less as long as there is movement; critical thinking and speaking up are important for social justice work; and there’s a place for everyone in this fight.”;

“Mad academia matter! That’s because: this field of study shapes the students who are also the front-line workers providing mental health services; it affects the policies and practices that define our mental health system; it legitimizes a discipline that has often been excluded and viewed as superfluous; and it influences society’s views and practices of mad people.”

For me, Ryerson’s social work and disability studies programs go together beautifully – like dark chocolate and organic peanut butter. Yummy! It doesn’t have to be the DST 504 course – just find the course that speaks to your passion, and dive in (it counts as a professionally related course for social work, if you get it cleared first). After all, if you are doing social work, you are working with people touched by disabilities. It’s relevant. And did I mention – take a DST course!

Mad Studies – what it is and why you should care

This post was written by Lucy Costa. It was originally printed in the CS/info Centre Bulletin. The CS/Info Centre is an information resource centre providing assistance and referral to Consumer/Survivors and others in the Greater Toronto area (Canada). All staff and volunteers are consumer/survivors of mental health and/or addiction systems. They have been providing support and publishing the bulletin since 1992.

Lucy Costa, Jijian Voronka and Kathryn Church sit at a table underneath a large projection screen.
Lucy Costa, Jijian Voronka, and Kathryn Church presenting ‘Symposium: Making Mad Studies in Canada: process, practice, and contestations’ at Lancaster University in the UK.

From September 9th – 11th, 2014 Lancaster University in the UK held a Disability Studies conference with a stream that focussed specifically on Mad Studies. This is very important and it signifies a step forward in our history, community organising and hope for a more inclusive future especially for our next generation. Canada has some classes that do teach, “Mad Peoples History” but we need more commitment for an educational structure that supports learning, exploration and critical thinking in universities, colleges, and learning centres of all kinds. Given that for the last four decades lip service has been paid to inclusion, participation and rights for consumers/psychiatric survivors, it is reasonable to request that a morsel of funding be given to develop this area of study so we can build on the great work of our previous consumer/survivor leaders, and mentors.

What is Mad Studies?
Mad Studies is an area of education, scholarship, and analysis about the experiences, history, culture, political organising, narratives, writings and most importantly, the PEOPLE who identify as: Mad; psychiatric survivors; consumers; service users; mentally ill; patients, neuro-diverse; inmates; disabled -to name a few of the “identity labels” our community may choose to use. Mad Studies has grown out of the long history of consumer/survivor movements organised both locally and internationally. The methods, and approaches for research are drawn from other educational fields such as women’s studies, queer studies, critical race studies, legal studies, ethnography, auto-ethnography (again, just to name a few). But, Mad Studies, right here, right now is breaking new ground. Together, we can cultivate our own theories/ models/ concepts/ principles/ hypotheses/ and values about how we understand ourselves, or our experiences in relationship to mental health system(s), research and politics. No one person, or school, or group owns Mad Studies or defines its borders. As explained in the book, Mad Matters, Mad Studies is a, “project of inquiry, knowledge production and political action”.[1] Presently, (and as discussed at the Lancaster conference) we need more action. All we have available as a “progressive” theory to us now is the “recovery model.” Yup, the recovery model is important but it’s not enough to understand who we are, or what is needed especially in the current budget-cuts climate that favours business plans and wealthy professionals’ opinions. More to the point, “recovery” has been co-opted by the mental health system. The money that is being invested into the system right now ain’t about recovery, it’s about efficiencies and outcomes and dishing out services cheaper and faster. There will be some people who will inevitably criticise or feel threatened by the idea of “Mad Studies,” but the reality is that there is huge potential for trailblazing and innovative ideas. Think of what a difference feminist studies made in the lives of women, or what queer studies has done for the LGBTQ community or critical race studies to our understanding of how race and law intersect. Why shouldn’t we have a Mad Studies??

Why should you care about Mad Studies?
1. What you don’t know, actually can hurt you.

When you do not have the words, to name something that is oppressive, illegal or destructive then you do not have the knowledge or power to change it. Words matter. Ideas matters. Truth matters. Mad Studies is about getting to truths, asking more questions and finding more words. Education is knowledge, and knowledge empowers us.

2. We have something valuable to teach other areas of study:

And here, I don’t mean that we should be invited to a committee to review or offer feedback on already developed project. I also do not mean sending consumer/ survivors off by themselves so that they can tell their individual story or become a token poster child in projects with complex, deeply entrenched structural problems. I mean, that we are capable of teaching and offering deeper analysis that integrates critical thinking into what is going on, and how things are done. United we stand, divided we fall. We would have a lot to offer the study of art, law, social work or ethics. For example, perhaps all projects that have to do with mental health should meet with some ethical standards as developed by the consumer/survivor community. I bet we could offer a lot to businesses that wanted to learn more about creating a “psychosis friendly” kind of place. I bet we could teach people who organise rallies and forums how to be more inclusive. I bet we could even teach astronaut Chris Hadfield a thing or two.

3.Flip the micro-scope

Perhaps it’s time to flip the scope. Let’s stop studying mentally ill people and start studying sane people, normals, well-adjusted, balanced and secure people. What do their brains look like? Why do they get the kinds of haircuts that they do? How do they behave in workplaces, at cottages in the banks? What’s it like to be really rich and debt free? Let’s not talk about this newly popularised notion of, “patients as teachers” and instead, discuss, “psychiatrists as bad learners.” Flip the questions. Question the questioners. How many times have you been asked to participate or give your feedback on how to make the system better? Flip the scope— maybe it’s time we stop answering those questions and have Mad Studies develop our own questions and research agendas.

4. We Are Not Alone

Way back in the 1940s, a group of ex-patients founded, We Are Not Alone (W.A.N.A) in order to remind people of just that point. It was an early support group and yes, it’s part of our Mad Studies history like many other things we can hopefully house in a Mad Studies museum one day. We have evidence of our organsing, art, writing, thinking and endeavours to make the world a better place. For example look at the http://www.psychiatricsurvivorarchives.com or the Survivors’ histories website, http://studymore.org.uk/mpu.htm or the first support group in Vancouver called the Mental Patients Association: http://historyofmadness.ca/the-inmates-are-running-the-asylum/

5. Mad Studies is about you!

Finally, and this may be the most important point; your ideas matter. It’s not about how much school you’ve had, or credentials and it’s not about your pocket book. It’s about joining conversations. If you don’t share your thoughts, opinions and knowledge, then you impact nothing and no one. And hey, the next generation of consumer/survivors are going to push us forward BIG TIME. There are some very serious issues and debates impacting the lives of service users and we have to help each other to speak up. We need to be thoughtful, smarter and more strategic about what we say and what we do. That will require everyone. It requires you.

[1] Brenda LaFrancois, Robert Menzies and Geoff Reaume (eds.) Mad Matters: A Critical Reader in Canadian Mad Studies (Toronto: Canadian Scholar’s Press, 2013) at pg. 13.