Disability Studies · Scholarship · Writing Centers


This year I had a slightly different role at CCCC. I served as a respondent to a panel: “Performing Access in, through, and because of the Writing Center.”

If you’re interested in the presentations from the four fabulous panelists—Rachel Hertzl-Betz, Leigh Elion, Neil Simpkins, and Brenna Swift—you can access them here: http://bit.ly/2JchxVw

I am also offering my response.


First, I want to thank the panelists for sharing their knowledge and raising important questions about disability, access, and inclusivity in writing center spaces and practices. As I read these presentations, I was struck by the intentional disruption or cripping of writing centers.

Robert McRuer defines cripping as a way to resist oppressive norms and enact progressive change. Cripping insists that the system of compulsory able-bodiedness is not and should not be the norm; it imagines bodies and desires that fit beyond that system. Cripping writing pedagogy requires a disruption of how the field has idealized standard writing produced by standard bodies and draws attention to “disruptive, inappropriate, composing bodies” (155)—bodies that exist beyond normative time frames and spaces.

Indeed, many disability studies scholars have discussed crip time and space.

Margaret Price discusses crip time as living our lives with a “flexible approach to normative time frames,” such as meeting deadlines and navigating work schedules. Similarly, Alison Kafer describes crip time is a response to the demands of disabled people to adapt to the clock and instead “bends the clock to meet disabled bodies and minds.” And, as Ellen Samuels argues, crip time “requires us to break in our bodies and minds to new rhythms, new patterns of thinking and feeling and moving through the world.”

These panelists ask us to crip writing center spaces, tutoring practices, and normative assumptions about the writing process. For example, Leigh advocates for cripping the tutor/student dynamic, noting the ways in which disability can be a resource for pedagogical innovation. Centering non-normative responses to writing helps illustrate to student writers that the writing process is not fixed but rather is responsive to context. In this way, disability crips the space and linear timeline of a writing center session.

Brenna and Rachel pick up this line of thought with specific suggestions for cripping tutor education. For example, Brenna highlights the ways in which writing instructors are unaware of the extent of the prejudices that disabled students face. This is something that I have wrestled with at my institution where I use examples like #AcademicAbleism and #EverydayAcademicAbleism to illustrate the pervasive ableism that undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty face. It is important for tutors to learn to name ableism and recognize how it constrains their views of the students they see.

Similarly, Rachel illustrates the importance of disrupting tutor education by enacting intersectional training that helps tutors understand the importance of identity as a useful lens in writing center work, making connections between different identities and roles in the WC, and adopting more inclusive recruitment strategies.

More broadly, Neil addresses cripping time and the writing process through dynamic planning, which is a way for writers to care for disabled bodyminds and ableist time structures in higher education. He argues that planning is a way to crip time in relation to academic writing, that writing centers can teach a flexible relationship to this strategy. Planning becomes a way to structure time that, as Ellen Samuel notes, “insists that we listen to our bodyminds so closely, so attentively, in a culture that tells us to divide the two and push the body away from us while also pushing it beyond its limits.”

These panelists ask us to be mindful of disabled bodyminds, to crip writing center spaces and practices, to work together to build more accessible and inclusive writing center environments.

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