Speaker series at VCU to explore disability studies

The Science, Technology and Society program’s lecture series will investigate gene-editing, negotiations around deafness cures, adaptive activism in art and theater, and inclusive building design.

The Science, Technology and Society program of Virginia Commonwealth University will host a series of public events throughout the 2019-20 academic year that will explore topics related to disability studies.

“Using interdisciplinary perspectives, our speakers will investigate such topics as gene-editing in humans, negotiations around deafness cures, adaptive activism in art and theater, and inclusive building design,” said Kathryn J. Shively, Ph.D., associate director of STS and associate professor in the Department of History. “The series seeks to foster a more inclusive, creative and informed community at VCU and in Richmond.”

The speaker series, “Disability Studies,” is presented in partnership with VCU’s Transforming Accessibility Initiative, a collaborative of individuals and teams dedicated to inclusion and access for individuals with disabilities. The initiative strives to elevate the conversation around disability and foster a culture of inclusion and accessibility within institutions of learning and across our society.

STS, part of the College of Humanities and Sciences, hosts a lecture series each year, bringing nationally renowned scholars, scientists and artists to VCU’s campus. The program started in 2006 with a goal of encouraging all members of the VCU community and Richmond area to think broadly about scientific, technological and medical work through campus and community lectures and events, coordinated curricular planning, and faculty research and teaching.

This year’s speaker series will include:

Event 1: “Persuasion, Human Improvement, and Disability: A Talk from Fables and Futures”

George Estreich
George Estreich

Speaker: George Estreich, instructor of writing, Oregon State University

Date: Thursday, Sept. 12, 3:30-5 p.m.

Location: SGA Senate Chambers, University Student Commons, 907 Floyd Ave.

Abstract: From Francis Galton's “Essays in Eugenics” to the announcement of the first gene-edited babies, the dream of human improvement has been entwined with persuasion. Looking at contemporary and historical examples, from the famous allegorical drawing of the “Eugenics Tree” to Chinese scientist He Jiankui's YouTube announcement of gene-edited twins, Estreich will explore the literary aspects of persuasion, with particular attention to metaphor. What values do these persuasive acts embody? Whose purposes do they serve? And whom do they obscure, dehumanize or erase? The literary content of these persuasive acts suggests a necessary role for writers, literary critics and scholars of disability studies, as we seek to guide the use of new and powerful biotechnologies in human beings.

Co-sponsor: VCU English Department

Event 2: “Negotiating a Cure: Deafness Technologies and the Health Market”

Jaipreet Virdi
Jaipreet Virdi

Speaker: Jaipreet Virdi, Ph.D., assistant professor of history, University of Delaware

Date: Tuesday, Oct. 22, 3:30-5 p.m.

Location: University Student Commons Theater, 907 Floyd Ave.

Abstract: Virdi is currently completing her first book, “Hearing Happiness: Fakes, Frauds, and Fads in Deafness Cures,” to be published by University of Chicago Press. The book rethinks how therapeutic negotiation and the influence of pseudo-medicine shaped what it meant to be a "normal" deaf citizen in American history. Examining how deaf/deafened individuals attempted to amplify their hearing through various types of surgical, proprietary and/or technological “deafness cures,” the book charts the dissemination of ideas about hearing loss from beyond medical elites to popular culture and the imagination.

Communication Access Realtime Translation services will be available at this event.

Event 3: “Creating Adaptive Activism: Reframing Disability through Art”

Anne Fox
Anne Fox

Speaker: Ann Fox, Ph.D., professor of English, Davidson College

Date: Monday, Nov. 11, noon-1:30 p.m.

Location: Richmond Salons I-II, University Student Commons, 907 Floyd Ave.

Abstract: How might contemporary art that might not initially or obviously suggest itself as radical or innovative actually challenge and reframe how we understand disability? In this talk, Fox will discuss her own inquiry into visual representations of disability from mainstream American art and drama for how they manifest, something she has come to call “adaptive activism.” She will focus on four ways this concept has helped her think more deeply about disability as embodied, relational, a social justice movement, and an identity we all share.

Event 4: Title TBD

Aimi Hamraie and Amy Slaton
Aimi Hamraie and Amy Slaton

Date: Monday, Feb. 24, 3:30 p.m.

Location: James Branch Cabell Library, 901 Park Ave.

Speakers: Aimi Hamraie, Ph.D., assistant professor of Medicine, Health, and Society and American Studies at Vanderbilt University, and Amy Slaton, Ph.D., professor of history at Drexel University. Hamraie is the author of “Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability” (University of Minnesota Press, 2017). Slaton’s most recent book is “Race, Rigor, and Selectivity in U.S. Engineering: The History of an Occupational Color Line” (Harvard University Press, 2010) and her current book project is “All Good People: Diversity, Difference and Opportunity in High-Tech America,” under contract with MIT Press.

This will be a low-light and chemical-free event.

Co-sponsors: VCU da Vinci Center and the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies

At least one additional event in the speaker series will be held in the spring.

If an attendee requires accommodations for a specific event, please contact Shively at kmeier@vcu.edu. Requests should be made as soon as possible to ensure organizers have ample time to make any necessary arrangements.

For more information, visit the Science, Technology and Society website.

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