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In my opinion

My attempts to “crip” academia

Navigating academia with invisible disabilities.


The term “crip” represents an empowering effort by some disabled individuals to reclaim a once-derogatory term. “Crip” as a noun is a label that disabled individuals have reclaimed, transforming a historically stigmatized word into a source of pride and identity. Not only does “crip” serve as a noun, but it also morphs into a verb, embodying a dynamic form of practice that encompasses both “doing” and “transforming.”

The term “crip” challenges societal norms and biases by centering the experiences and perspectives of disabled individuals. It seeks to dismantle barriers, create more accessible environments, and advocate for disability justice. “Crip” recognizes that disability is not a deficit but a facet of human diversity and that embracing this diversity can lead to a more inclusive and compassionate society.

“Cripping” mentorship

As a disability studies scholar, the role of mentorship within academia has brought about a profound and sometimes conflicting set of emotions. It is a space where I grapple with the delicate balance of guiding aspiring scholars while remaining deeply aware of the pitfalls that lurk in the shadows. The heart of this dissonance lies in my fear of inadvertently perpetuating unrealistic and problematic expectations of productivity and success within the academic realm, while simultaneously nurturing the potential of my students to become strong candidates for graduate schools and tenure track positions.

I grapple with these concerns daily. I find myself caught between nurturing the aspirations of my students and ensuring that they don’t get entangled in the web of unrelenting expectations that have led to burnout and compromised mental health for so many in academia. To navigate this dissonance, I have made it a point to engage in open and candid conversations with my mentees. I encourage them to define success on their own terms, not exclusively within the confines of traditional academia.

“Crip” mentorship is about seeking ways to challenge and reshape traditional mentoring practices to ensure that they are more inclusive, empathetic, and supportive. This includes, for example:

  • Flexibility in expectations: Recognize that disabled graduate students may need more flexible timelines and expectations. Be open to accommodating needs regarding deadlines, research schedules, and workloads.
  • Open communication: Create an environment where open and honest communication is encouraged. Let students feel comfortable discussing their disabilities, needs and concerns without fear of judgment or stigma.
  • Mental health awareness: Stay attuned to the mental health and well-being of your mentees. Recognize the signs of stress and burnout and provide guidance on seeking help when needed.
  • Mentorship communities: Promote the creation of mentorship communities for disabled students.

“Cripping” time

Deadlines, schedules and expectations are woven into the fabric of academic life. However, the conventional notion of time can be remarkably unforgiving, particularly for academics living with disabilities. It is here that the idea of “crip” time takes centre stage, calling for a re-evaluation of the academic tempo and the expectations that accompany it.

  • Acknowledging diverse temporal realities: “Crip” time recognizes that disability can fundamentally alter one’s relationship with time. It takes into account the variable nature of disabilities, which can lead to fluctuations in energy, physical capacity, and cognitive functioning.
  • Redefining productivity: The conventional academic notion of productivity often emphasizes constant output, with little room for rest or recovery. “Crip” time encourages academia to redefine productivity, valuing quality over quantity and allowing for periods of rest and rejuvenation without guilt.
  • Embracing flexibility: Academia can benefit from greater flexibility in deadlines, class schedules, and work arrangements. This approach accommodates the needs of scholars with disabilities, enabling them to work at a pace that aligns with their abilities without compromising the quality of their contributions.
  • Fostering inclusivity: A culture of “crip” time fosters inclusivity by valuing the experiences and perspectives of scholars with disabilities. It acknowledges that every scholar, regardless of their physical or mental health, can make meaningful contributions to their field.
  • Promoting well-being: Prioritizing well-being over burnout by focusing on maintaining scholars’ mental and physical health as a foundation for their academic endeavors.

This redefinition of time and expectations isn’t a departure from rigor but rather a recognition that the traditional model has often excluded, and sometimes harmed, a significant portion of the academic community. It is a call for a more inclusive, accessible, and empathetic academic world where scholars can flourish and contribute to the advancement of knowledge without sacrificing their well-being.

Alan Martino is an assistant professor in the department of community rehabilitation and disability studies at the University of Calgary.

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