Getting It Wrong: Rate Your Students and Ableism
[Possible trigger warning for upsetting and ableist language]
As some of you may know, I am a graduate student getting my Master’s Degree in Women and Gender Studies. I currently have vague career aspirations of getting my PhD or at least remaining in academia in some capacity; my academic interests primarily have to do with feminist disability theory and the body.
I was an undergrad when I discovered Rate Your Students, a blog for college professors and TAs to rant, with anonymity, about the wonderful world of academia–including its apparent hordes of clueless undergrads. I can’t quite remember how I stumbled upon it, but I found it very refreshing. I was probably what the RYS denizens would call a “special snowflake”, or “snowflake” for short–that is, an overeager student who is convinced of zie’s own specialness (however, my low self-esteem may negate such a categorization)–but I found the site a welcome break from dealing with fellow undergrads at my school, many of whom, I felt, fit the “snowflake” categorization perfectly.
Given my disability and resulting limited energy, during this time I was privately contemptuous of those whom I percieved to be slacking and getting away with it, particularly when I was assigned to work with them on group projects or in discussion cohorts. Inevitably, I would be the one who led the group in discussion–even when I had been the only one to have done the reading–or the one who would do most of the “group” project planning and resulting work. I do not say this to toot my own horn; this information is meant to be context for the reasons that I started reading RYS in the first place.
After this week’s posts on accommodation(s) for students with disabilities, however, I am seriously rethinking my earlier enthusiasm for the site. One professor sent a query to the other readers of the site:
How do you teach a student…who clearly has severe intellectual developmental issues? How do you make sure the other students aren’t held back? What if your course is a small seminar course, not a large course? You have to spend a lot of one-on-one time with one at the expense of several. Why doesn’t the university provide resources for you and this student?
Am I bad teacher for not knowing how to deal with this? Or for not wanting to?
Anyway, I don’t think too much of students who come to me with a letter demanding time-and-a-half on tests. Nor do I pity the poor fucktards when I think of their asking a future boss for time-and-a-half on a project. There are some students who are truly disabled, and truly need accommodations. But ADD is a sad joke. It puts us at the beck and call of every spoiled tool whose parents can find a quack to label the kid as ADD.
I am an academic. I am also a person with disabilities. I know, furthermore, that “difficult” students exist, and in some cases, universities do not provide clear policies for faculty when dealing with students with disabilities. Professors, however, are not usually assigned to be the disability police, and with good reason (see above). From the glut of postings on this topic, the message that I am getting–as a person with multiple disabilities, both physical and other–is that I do not belong in the academy. People with severe emotional or mental health issues, apparently, do not belong in the academy because they freak out the “normal” folks. Furthermore, if I choose to disclose my disability to faculty, I may be subject to disbelief and doubt, due to their past experiences with disabled students. Hell, someone might even rant about me on RYS if I piss them off enough!
I respect the fact that RYS is a site for professors to anonymously vent; all of us need those spaces. Some of us, however, are both hopeful professors and people with disabilities. Privileged displays of ableism like the above are asking some of us to side against our own, which many of us cannot do.