Jerron Herman teaches movement from one of his solos in front of dance majors.
Category: Campus & Community, Georgetown Magazine, Spring 2022, Teaching & Research

Title:Program explores disability as a ‘dimension of human diversity’

Author: Camille Scarborough
Date Published: April 26, 2022

The academic field of disability studies took root at Georgetown in 2014 with a cluster of classes in theology, literature, and theater. From that small seed the program has grown and flourished, branching into a series of interdisciplinary collaborations across the university.

In addition to the minor in Disability Studies, offerings include a new M.A./Ph.D. certificate, the Artist/Scholar/Activist in residence, student fellowships, and a Disability Empowerment Endowed Fund.

Founded by Libbie Rifkin and directed by Jennifer Natalya Fink, the program both supports the estimated 14% of Georgetown students who identify as having a disability and seeks to change the way the community thinks about disabilities.

“A disability is a dimension of human diversity, not a deficit,” explains Fink. “Learning about disability is an important component of cura personalis, or care of the whole person. Every- one can benefit from thinking about their bodies and minds—their capacities, functions, and differences. That will make Georgetown an even more inclusive institution.”

Grounded in the humanities and fueled by student interest, the courses explore such issues as ecojustice, epidemiology, the refugee crisis, health inequities, moral leadership, and genomics through this unique lens.

“Our work can’t exist in a silo,” says Rifkin. “We want the program to be a breeding ground for a cultural transformation. That’s why the extracurricular component is essential. Here in Washington, D.C., there are so many opportunities to engage in research, practice, art making, and activism.”

Here on the Hilltop, the students have the opportunity to learn from and contribute to the work of renowned choreographer/ dancer/playwright/activist Jerron Herman as he prepares his latest work, VITRUVIAN, for its May 2022 premiere in New York City.

“I’d like to bring academics and practice together for the Georgetown students by giving them a window into the collaborative process of artistry,” explains Herman, an ambassador for the Cerebral Palsy Foundation and trustee for Dance/USA. “Access to artists is rare. The team for VITRUVIAN includes disabled people of color who are exploring, among other things, stuttering, the concept of blackness, and trans rights. It’s a contemporary disability arts microcosm. Students will be able to experience that familial energy along with us.”

In addition to open rehearsals, Herman offers virtual office hours, class visits, and public workshops on the artistic process.

The residency was made possible by a gift from Matt (C’02, L’09) and Jenae (L’09) Ruesch. The couple also funded the creation of a three-week disabilities studies module for the Introduction to Ethics course offered through Georgetown’s philosophy department. Ethics Lab Director Maggie Little hopes the module will be incorporated more broadly across the university.

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