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UIC Symposium Empowers Global Conversations with Disability Cultural Centers

Symposium on Disability Cultural Centers in Higher Education logo, with “Symposium on” in thin aqua text, sitting on top of “Disability Cultural Centers” in a central block of bold purple text, and “in Higher Education” in small, bolded aqua text underneath. To the upper right are abstract aqua leaf shapes and a circle, suggesting a plant with a bud. Logo design by Alonzo Zamarrón.

UIC Symposium Empowers Global Conversations with Disability Cultural Centers

The UIC Disability Cultural Center (DCC) opened this year’s Disability Pride Month by hosting a Symposium on Disability Cultural Centers in Higher Education. The symposium was held virtually from July 8 to July 9 and was the first major public-facing gathering of Disability Cultural Center staff, scholars and practitioners in the United States.

The symposium sought to foster discussions and connections between already-established disability cultural centers as well as individuals and institutions looking to create new disability cultural centers on their campuses. A central goal for the event was building shared knowledge, education and strategy archives for all administrators, staff, faculty and students who are involved with disability cultural spaces.

Nearly 500 individuals from across the world registered for the symposium, coming from a wide variety of backgrounds and institutions. Each day featured different themes, with the first day focusing on the past (basics of disability culture, histories of DCCs and current research) and the second day focusing on the present and future (how to design a DCC, successes and learning curves in creating programs and envisioning accessible futures).

Sandie Yi, an artist and leader in the disability culture movement and UIC alumni, facilitated the keynote conversation. Participants also heard from liz thomson, a foremost researcher of disability cultural centers who formerly served as interim director of the UIC Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC) and the UIC Asian American Resource and Cultural Center (AARCC). Both Yi and thomson earned their PhDs in Disability Studies from UIC.

Additionally, several UIC student alums who fought for the DCC shared the histories at the event.

“With these topics, shared practices, and co-mentorship-produced knowledge, we hope that there will be a growth in societal thinking about how to fully include disabled students, how to transform university culture, and how to navigate the bureaucracy of higher education to ensure that disabled students are co-centered with all other marginalized groups on campus,” Javin D’Souza, graduate assistant in the UIC Disability Cultural Center, said.

Margaret Fink, director of the UIC Disability Cultural Center, shared that the DCC received a lot of support for the symposium from other UIC cultural centers as well as the UIC Department of Disability and Human Development and were grateful to see their colleagues joining in the discussions. Now that the event has concluded, the conversations that were sparked in the sessions have continued to gain momentum and are allowing the DCC to share its story and mission across campus.

The DCC hopes that the symposium will become a regular gathering that will encourage collective resource development for and collaboration with disability culture advocates at colleges and universities at the local, national and international levels. The introductory topics covered at the symposium lay the foundation for a myriad of other questions and topics that could be explored at future events, but the impact of this inaugural conference is already clear.

“With the knowledge shared to this diverse group of attendees, we believe that the DCC Symposium will bolster the already-growing presence of DCCs across the world and ensure that disabled students will be represented and recognized at a greater university level,” D’Souza stated.