This post is written by Kevin Jackson. Graduate of the School of Disability Studies at Ryerson and now graduate of the Masters of Arts in Critical Disability Studies program at York University.
As a recent graduate of York University’s Critical Disability Studies (CDiS) master’s degree program (part-time), I wondered about how I should sum up all of my experiences in such a short space. Well, the first point that needs to be expressed is that I am a DST graduate (2014), and this is specifically written for Ryerson DST future/present graduates. As this piece will demonstrate, being a Ryerson DST grad gives CDiS MA students a tremendous advantage in the CDiS MA program.
My story would have to begin on orientation day. I was terrified. We all met in our dedicated Vari Hall classroom where I met my fellow MA/PhD students. We introduced ourselves and discussed the program. Thankfully Dr. nancy halifax was familiar with me from an edited collection to which we were both contributing. She was friendly and openly acknowledged my work. I felt this was a good way to start my MA! However, as I was delighted to discover, this was just the beginning of many outstanding experiences I would have in CDiS program.
The next thing to tackle were the actual classes. I recall the first few weeks of the mandatory disability studies overview class/tutorial with Dr. Geoffrey Reaume. I was overjoyed to learn that I was not only familiar with the themes, but that I had already read many of the assigned readings back in my DST undergrad! Although I did all of the readings again, I made sure to make notes that would allow me to make a few comments per class, which as anyone who knows can testify is a challenge for me. But with such small classes, great professors, and already being familiar with the themes/readings, I found class participation to be very manageable. In fact, I found my overall grades actually rose higher than my undergrad! Let me repeat that for DST students who might be worried about their capability to do the MA coursework: Yes, I actually received better grades in my MA than my BA. This was due to several factors—including the fact that I was academically supported (great profs), was dedicated to my academics (did all of the readings, research, and assignments), and that I was free to do my coursework. This last point cannot be overstated. One needs to consider their personal situation to determine if their job, social life, and even family can manage the amount of work that an MA requires. Certainly, doing the MA part-time could reduce the workload, but there are disadvantages to this as well. In all cases, there is a generous amount of work that you will be required to do to continue in the program (no less than a B for any course).
While CDiS is very good with accommodating disability and Madness, taking time off from the program is problematic. York University (but not CDiS itself) has a policy know as “continuous registration,” where once a student is enrolled, they cannot take time off from the program without financial penalty. That is to say, even if you have an accommodation (or even a MD’s letter) and you require time off, you will be charged for taking time off from the program. This red tape and bureaucracy were the most negative part of my grad school experience, but professors mitigate this issue by giving assignment extensions whenever possible.
I have tried to make this piece as helpful as possible to potential CDiS MA applicants; however, my experience will not be everyone’s experience. Being in the CDiS grad school has taught me that hard work, flexibility, and self reliance is so important, and the rewards far outweigh the negatives. I have met some of the most wonderful Mad and disabled people while doing my MA with CDiS, and these close relationships have stayed with me. My graduating class ceremony on October 19th, 2016 was a milestone in my academic, activist, and personal life. This experience has changed me, and I feel my own research has somehow changed Disability Studies and Mad Studies, hopefully for the better. You too can complete an MA in CDiS. As a Ryerson DST graduate, you already have a head start in the program (Kathryn Church has well prepared us for this). I myself can attest to the fear of beginning graduate school (MA), but if I can do it, you can do it—and make your own mark upon the world you are helping to create.