English professors combine areas of study for new specialization

Media Credit: Katie Causey | Hatchet Staff Photographer

The English department, lead by chair Robert McRuer, will offer a new master's degree program in "crip theory," a field that combines LGBT studies and disabilities studies.

The English department is merging two of its strongest concentrations to lure top students to apply to GW.

The department, known for its expertise in disability and LGBT studies, is looking to newer faculty to blend the two topics into a common subject area.

Robert McRuer, who chairs the English department, said he was the first scholar to combine LGBT studies with disability studies and call it “crip theory.” The theory looks at the histories of and issues within the LGBT and disabled communities, which have both faced marginalization. “Crip” is a term that people with disabilities have “reclaimed,” he said.

“The histories of the two fields have been entirely wedded,” he said. “Many schools have both, but we’re combining them. We hope that it will build on existing strengths at GW.”

McRuer said GW is the first English department in the country to fuse disability and LGBT studies into one discipline, and prospective graduate students are noticing.

That could help the department’s graduate enrollment grow. GW enrolled 48 graduate English students last year, two more students than in 2012.

David Mitchell, the department’s director of graduate studies, said bringing the two subjects together was a way to approach a new interdisciplinary field.

“The primary idea was to address an emerging interest in intersectionality studies – the ways in which we all occupy multiple identities – while also drawing on the existing historical, literary and cultural expertise of our faculty,” Mitchell said.

Combining the two disciplines is a way to honor “two socially marginalized populations,” he said, and look at how their history and culture can add to a rigorous academic program.

The department has worked with GW’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion to sponsor a disability studies event in the last few years.

M.W. Bychowski, a transgender woman who is completing a dissertation for her Ph.D. on transgender people in the Middle Ages, said the combination of subjects focuses on both individuals’ and groups’ hardships.

“What characterizes myself, my project and crip/queer studies is not only an attention to the uniqueness of particular persons but the movement that turns from individual to collective struggles,” Bychowski said.

Over the past two months, the department has increased advertising for the specialization online and emailed disability studies information. Some interested students have had a chance to talk with students now attending GW.

Professors have also talked about the area of strength at professional conferences, like the Modern Language Association Convention that was held in Vancouver earlier this month.

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