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  • Shayda Kafai

Disability Justice Wisdom for Care and Healing in the Classroom

I am writing this sitting outside in the sun. I do this to re-root in feeling, in embodiment. Last week, six women of Asian descent were murdered in three different massage parlors in Atlanta in a clear demonstration of white supremacist-patriarchy-capitalism (for more on this interweaving, access this important knowledge by Sonya Renee Taylor).

Dear educators: if you have not brought the bodymindspirits of your students, or of yourselves, into the classroom, it's time to.

The classroom is not a place untouched by the world, by oppression, and by the weightiness of trauma and grief. We enter this space (even if it's digital these days) as feeling beings. It is time to center our emotions, our exhaustion, and our sadness, even if academia's inequity makes this imagining seem like an impossibility.

Ancestor Audre Lorde urges us to practice from our feelings outward. She writes, "Our feelings are our most genuine paths to knowledge." This is what a caring praxis enacts. It asks that we veer away from the expected plan of the syllabus and instead begin class as needed.

It is a radical and accessible gesture of care to begin class with check-ins: what is everyone's capacity today? How might we need to augment the discussion for the day based on our spoons? How might we need to adjust the length of our meeting time or of our breaks?

Remember, dear educator: time and pacing can be oppressive, especially during communal trauma. Here, care means negotiation, open communication, and checking in with our students' and our own bodymindspirit needs. In this cyclical practice, our needs are never shameful and they are always allowed to change; in fact, to express our needs is a political act. Disability Justice has taught me these lessons, and as a disabled, Mad educator, I apply them to the classroom.

This week, although we have started class the way we always do--with unrecorded Zoom check-ins--we have added a few things. We have re-rooted ourselves in our bodies by taking collective, deep breaths together and stretching; we have cried; we have shared our sadness, rage, and frustration. Most importantly, we acknowledge that our bodymindspirit needs might dictate a slower-paced discussion, more breaks, or a shorter class session. We do these things to resist the exhaustion, fatigue, and breakdown that so many of us have already experienced in academia (more on academic ableism in future posts).

May we process our trauma and learn in slowness. May we honor what our bodymindspirits need to thrive.

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