“I Have to Be Black Before I Am Disabled”: Understanding Agency, Positionality, and Recognition in Higher Education

  • Lauren ShallishEmail author
Part of the Critical Studies of Education book series (CSOE, volume 12)


In a 2015 qualitative research study on undergraduate college students who identified as disabled, interview data demonstrated the complex ways in which racism and ableism entwined to extend or deny benefits in a postsecondary setting. At tension in the informants’ experiences was both the suppression of personhood and the celebration of it. The following examples represent two students in particular: A disabled, female-identified, queer, international student from Botswana and a disabled, female-identified, heterosexual, US citizen from New Hampshire, respectively: Taken from the larger context of their 90-minute interview, these testimonies make apparent the racial, linguistic, ethnic, and dis/abled positions that support or deny student agency on a college campus. They also signal the “interconnected and collusive” properties of racism and ableism (Annamma et al. 2013, p. 6). This sampling is not intended to set up a racialized dichotomy about disability-related experiences but rather explicate the ways race and ability entwine to frame students’ agency, positionality, and recognition in higher education settings. In line with DisCrit theorists who assert that “ability is distributed and withheld based on race through policies and practices” (Annamma and Morrison 2018, p. 72), this chapter will lay out the bodies of knowledge and research in disability law and higher education (specifically the fields of enrollment management, student affairs, and academic affairs) that have siloed inquiry on race and dis/ability, respectively, rather than contribute to knowledge about interlocking systems of racism and ableism. I will examine the literature on disproportionality in K–12 special education and offer implications for postsecondary education in an attempt to expose the larger structures that situate (or omit) dis/ability in the context of diversity work in higher education.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The College of New JerseyEwing TownshipUSA

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