Orange Alert

Disability Studies Trailblazer Susan Schweik in Residence March 19-30

UC Berkeley professor is Jeanette K. Watson Distinguished Visiting Professor in Humanities

March 16, 2018, by Robert M Enslin

Susan Schweik

The Syracuse University Humanities Center will host a visit by renowned disability studies scholar Susan Schweik.

Known for her innovative work at the intersection of disability studies, literature, feminist theory and civil rights history, Schweik is the 2018 Jeanette K. Watson Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Humanities. The overarching focus of her residency is “Bodies of Evidence: Documenting/Representing Injustice, Confinement and Incarceration.” From March 19-30, she will participate in lectures, discussions and seminars on the Syracuse campus.   

All events are free and open to the public. For more information, contact the Humanities Center in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) at 315.443.7192, or visit

Schweik is associate dean of arts and humanities and professor of English at the University of California (UC), Berkeley.

Vivian May

“We are honored to welcome Susan Schweik as this spring’s Watson Professor,” says Vivian May, director of the Humanities Center and professor of women’s and gender studies in A&S. “She challenges widely accepted ideas about disability, gender and sexuality, and state and disciplinary violence. Susan also transforms how stories about and by marginalized groups should be understood. Anyone interested in disability rights and theory, questions of the state, criminality and incarceration, social history and collective struggles for justice will find her presentations highly engaging.”

Beth Ferri and Michael Gill, professors in the School of Education (SOE), will co-host Schweik’s residency, whose schedule is as follows:

Tuesday, March 20
Welcome reception
4:30-6 p.m., Goldstein Alumni and Faculty Center
American Sign Language provided

Wednesday, March 21
Lecture: “Unfixed: How the Women of Glenwood Changed American IQ, and Why We Don’t Know It”
Schweik will examine a chapter in the turbulent history of Glenwood, an institution for “feeble-minded” women in Iowa, which gained notoriety in the 1950s and ’60s for pairing “mentally defective” orphaned toddlers with women incarcerated there. By placing women at the center of story, instead of erasing them (historically the case), Schweik provides fresh insight into this troubling experiment.
4:30-6 p.m., Peter Graham Scholarly Commons, 114 Bird Library
Computer Assisted Real-Time Translation, or CART, will be available at this event.

Friday, March 23
Dialogue Discussion: “Contested Ethics, Contesting Institutions: Dialogue on Interdisciplinary Research Practice”
Schweik will engage in conversation with Zosha Stuckey G’11, associate professor of English at Towson University; Liat Ben-Moshe G’12, assistant professor of disability studies at the University of Toledo; and Cynthia Wu, associate professor of transnational studies at the University at Buffalo. Drawing on Schweik’s work with the International Disability Rights Research Network, they will discuss research ethics in context of institutionalization, incarceration and the politics of the archive.
12-1:30 p.m., Peter Graham Scholarly Commons, 114 Bird Library
CART provided.

Monday, March 26
“Meet-the-Scholar Coffee Hour”
10:30-11:30 a.m., 300 Tolley Humanities Building

Tuesday, March 27
Lecture: “Here the Dairies End: Intellectual Disability and the Ends of Life Writing”
Schweik will discuss Paul Scott, an individual with Down syndrome who learned to write at the age of six and kept a diary for the next 40 years. Drawing on the landmark article “A Basic Kit to Confront the Human Disposal Authority” (Journal of Education, 1974), by the late Burton Blatt, a pioneering disability rights scholar and dean of SOE, she will reconsider parts of Scott’s diaries as modern-day protest literature and prison writing.
4-5:30 p.m., Peter Graham Scholarly Commons, 114 Bird Library
CART provided.

Thursday, March 29
Lecture: “Disability Justice in the Archives”
Schweik will examine the history of Carrie Buck—whose forcible sterilization was the focus of the 1927 Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell—to highlight the complex issues surrounding her presentation and representation as a so-called “feeble-minded” woman. She also will analyze materials made and curated by other people institutionalized in the first half of the 20th century.
4:30-6 p.m., Peter Graham Scholarly Commons, 114 Bird Library
CART provided.

Beth Ferri

Friday, March 30
Workshop: “The Poetics of Confinement”
Schweik will join Steve Kuusisto, University Professor of cultural foundations of education in SOE and a faculty member in the Renée Crown University Honors Program in A&S, for an interactive workshop about poetry that takes up or riffs off archives of confinement and eugenic ideologies. Participants will look at how poets contest various states of confinement and incarceration.
12-2 p.m., Lemke Seminar Room, sixth floor, Bird Library
Space is limited; registration required. Please RSVP Beth Ferri by Friday, March 23, at, and include any accommodation requests.

Ferri thinks all these events demonstrate the “intellectual curiosity, rigor and interdisciplinary breadth” of Schweik’s scholarship. “From her early work on Ugly Laws to her more recent scholarship, she carefully interrogates not just injustice or sites of confinement, but also moments of collective and individual agency and voice,” says Ferri, professor of inclusive education and disability studies and coordinator of the doctoral program in special education in SOE, as well as an associate faculty member in women’s and gender studies in A&S.

Michael Gill

Gill, assistant professor of disability studies in SOE, agrees. “Susan Schweik has helped make UC Berkeley a worldwide leader in disability studies, while building on the legacy of disability studies scholarship at Syracuse from Burton Blatt, Doug Biklen ’73, and Steve Taylor, G’73, G’77,” he writes. “Her scholarship crosses disciplinary boundaries, and attends carefully to intersectional analyses of race, class, gender, sexuality and disability.”

Schweik has been a visionary leader in disability studies at UC Berkeley for more than two decades. She is co-founder and co-director of the disability studies minor program, and is active in the disability studies cluster in the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society. Schweik also has coordinated the Ed Roberts Post-Doctoral Fellowships in Disability Studies, funded by the National Institute for Disability Research and Rehabilitation.

A highly decorated professor and administrator, Schweik has received the Chancellor's Award for Advancing Institutional Excellence and Equity, as well as the Distinguished Teaching Award. She holds UC's Presidential Chair in Undergraduate Education.


Schweik joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 1984. Her teaching and research interests span 20th-century poetry, late 19th-century American literature, women’s studies and gender theory, urban studies, war literature and children’s literature. She is the author of two milestone books: “The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public” (New York University Press, 2009) and “A Gulf So Deeply Cut: American Women Poets and the Second World War” (University of Wisconsin Press, 1991). Her current book project is titled “Unfixed: How the Women of Glenwood Changed American IQ, and Why We Don’t Know It.”

Support for Schweik’s visit comes from the SOE; the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics; the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs; the Center on Human Policy (SOE); the Legacy Fund for Disability Studies and Human Policy (SOE); the University’s Disability Cultural Center; the Department of English (A&S); Department of Writing Studies, Rhetoric and Composition (A&S); Department of Cultural Foundations of Education (SOE); Department of Sociology (Maxwell); Department of History (Maxwell); Department of Women’s and Gender Studies (A&S); the Syracuse University Bookstore; and the Special Collections Research Center (University Libraries).

The Humanities Center sponsors the Watson Professorship, which supports on-campus residencies by prominent humanities scholars, writers and artists. Past Watson Professors include Cherríe Moraga, Saul Bellow, Laura Freixas, Noam Chomsky, Angela Davis, Hans Mommsen, Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood.

Now in its 10th year, the Humanities Center cultivates diverse forms of humanities scholarship, sponsors dynamic programming and partnerships, and highlights the humanities as a public good to underscore the humanities’ relevance for addressing enduring questions and pressing social issues.


Vivian M. May Professor

Media Contact

Robert M Enslin