Laissez-faire Ableism in the Academy

Contouring the Map with Graduate Student Perspectives


  • Emily R. Koren University of Pittsburgh
  • S. E. Xhey Evans-El University of Pittsburgh



disability studies, black feminism, qualitative inquiry, graduate students, ableism, higher education


Graduate studies present unique contexts for accommodation due to the factors such as student age, professional background, and employment status within the university. Scholars recognize the need to reframe the dominant narrative which positions dis/ability in relation to ability, or ableism. The present study uses graduate student experiences with self-advocacy to examine Laissez-faire ableism at interactional and personal levels of higher education. We argue that dis/ability accommodation should be viewed as an iterative and interactive process between the student, faculty, and other institutional actors such as Dis/ability Services. The authors are doctoral students in education with hidden dis/abilities who are racialized differently. This article values dis/abled student voice as essential to the equity and inclusion for dis/abled students (Pearson, 2015). We use Black Feminism in Qualitative Inquiry (BFQI) and duoethnography to empirically investigate our ongoing attempt to transform our institutional climate. Our purpose is to highlight the centrality of humanity in the pursuit of dis/ability justice by putting our lived experiences becoming coconspirators in conversation with each other.

Author Biography

Emily R. Koren, University of Pittsburgh

Emily R. Koren is a doctoral student in Social and Comparative Analysis in Education at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education. Emily conducts quantitative and qualitative research on the informal support systems that students create in order to improve their outcomes and experiences in school in both secondary and postsecondary settings, with a focus on minoritized populations. Her work prioritizes student voice and intersectionality and aims to challenge traditional ways of thinking and knowing.