Disability Studies

Apply for the minor in disability studies! Applications due March 12, 2018

Applications for the Program in Disability Studies are now OPEN!

Interested students should submit a 500-word personal statement describing their interest in becoming a Disability Studies Minor to Prof. Libbie Rifkin at lsr@georgetown.edu. Applications are due by March 12, 2018. First-years, sophomores, and juniors who have space remaining in their schedule to complete the coursework are all welcome to apply.

Over the past three decades, disability studies has emerged as a robust and vibrant field of intellectual inquiry, bringing together cutting-edge research in the humanities, social sciences, and health sciences. The discipline analyzes the cultural and political significance of disability, examining the construction and production of disability in history and in the present moment. Disability studies hones critical tools to analyze how societies grapple with physical and mental difference, the way disability becomes a site for negotiating stigma and social power, and questions of normativity and deviance.

Disability is a fundamental dimension of human diversity. One in every five Americans lives with a disability, making it our country’s largest minority population. Students increasingly recognize that gaining a more sophisticated understanding of disability experience is a critical element in their education, and one that will help prepare them for a growing number of disability-specific careers. Drawing from rich offerings in disciplines as various as anthropology, bioethics, English, health systems administration, nursing, philosophy, psychology, theater and performance studies, theology, and women’s and gender studies, the minor in disability studies will enable students to explore this critical facet of human diversity in an in-depth fashion as it relates to their major field of study and to their professional aspirations.

Minor Requirements

Six courses are required to complete the minor in Disability Studies:

  • ENGL-270 Introduction to Disability Studies - Sara Schotland
  • Three Disability Studies core courses (below)
  • Two elective courses that engage disability in theory or practice (below)

Disability studies core courses (take 3):

Disability studies electives (take 2):

The above list is not meant to be exhaustive. If students identify other courses that provide significant opportunities to engage with disability in theory or practice, they should present them to the steering committee for approval.

A maximum of two courses taken elsewhere (i.e., study abroad or summer courses) may be counted as electives in the minor, with approval of the steering committee.

Classes Offered in Spring 2018

Core courses:


Potential electives (present syllabus to DS Director for approval):

  • AFAM-315 The Psychic Holds of Slavery
  • PHIL-105 Bioethics
  • PSYC-357 Psychology of Health


Past Events

The Disability Studies Program was granted academic minor status in the fall of 2017, but students and faculty organized events as the Georgetown Disability Initiative and Course Cluster for years prior. Below are short descriptions of a number of events the program hosted in the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 academic years. Users with Georgetown NetIDs can view the events in more detail in the Disability Iniative Wordpress archives.

Human Trafficking and Disability: A Discussion of Domestic and International Issues In 2016

April 3, 2017
The U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report noted that people with disabilities are especially vulnerable to trafficking. This panel will explore the complex intersection of domestic work, disability, and human trafficking nationally and internationally with a group of experts devoted to research, policy, prosecution and advocacy around trafficking and disability issues.

Conversations in Bioethics: Disability

February 2, 2017
Every year, Conversations in Bioethics brings together student work and expert conversation on a pressing topic in bioethics to inspire leadership for change. This year Kennedy Institute of Ethics asks: what is a disability, anyway? This unprecedented six-panelist lineup—from an award-winning documentary filmmaker to the first signing Deaf woman in the world to receive a doctorate in philosophy to an intersectional autistic activist honored by the White House—promises an evening of rich conversation where philosophy meets the reality of lived existence.

Special Olympics, Intellectual Disability, and the Ethics of Storytelling

January 25, 2017
Special Olympics, Intellectual Disability, and the Ethics of Storytelling is a panel discussion with Washington Post columnist and novelist Fred Bowen and Special Olympics Leadership. This collaboration between Special Olympics and the Georgetown Disability Studies Initiative will introduce students to individuals with and without intellectual disabilities whose awareness, perceptions and lives have changed through their involvement in Special Olympics, as athletes, family members, volunteers, fans, coaches, community leaders, authors and staff. Panelists will share their personal experiences and insights, and will also provide recommendations for how students can become engaged in promoting social change through writing and their own actions. A select group of students enrolled in DS Course Cluster classes will have the opportunity to do an assignment for course and UNXD 130 credit in which they participate in Special Olympics Unified Sports Basketball, interview participants, and write about their experiences. Students’ writing will appear in Special Olympics 50th anniversary communications and potentially in the Washington Post.

"Fully Alive," a Lecture by Timothy Shriver

November 10, 2016
Lecture and discussion with Timothy Shriver, who has been a part of an amazing team that has created exciting new Special Olympics programs in athlete leadership, cross-cultural research, health, education, and family support.

Making Sense of Each Other

October 18, 2016
How do we look at each other? How do we allow ourselves to be seen? How do our movements and physicalities shape how we perceive the world around us? How much can we affect the way we see others? Can we learn to see – across lines of difference – in new ways. International Choreographer/Performers Jess Curtis and Claire Cunningham will speak about, and share excerpts from, their internationally touring performance work The Way You Look (at me) Tonight, which is being presented October 22 and 23 at Dance Place in Washington DC.

An Uncomplicated Life

September 14, 2016
Lecture and facilitated conversation with Paul Daugherty open to Cluster students. A father’s exhilarating and inspiring love letter to his daughter with Down syndrome, whose vibrant and infectious approach can teach us all how to live a little better.

Disabilities in the Media

April 4, 2016
A workshop for cluster students on representations of disability in the media by Beth Haller.

Life After Georgetown

March 1, 2016
A panel discussion with GU alumni Lydia X. Z. Brown, Taylor Price and Tiffany Yu.

Trained to Kill: Reading Race and Disability in Dance

February 22, 2016
In this blend of academic talk and intimate dance performance, dancer Alice Sheppard considers her work as a dancer and choreographer from perspectives informed by the disability arts and culture movement and by critical race theory.

The Remote Everyday

February 3, 2016
A performance by artist Julie Laffin that  will engage performatively and discursively the problem of representing the ‘live’ body in relation to environmental illness.