Ableism and Racism Within Higher Education

Ableism and Racism Within Higher Education

I have spent decades overcoming the experiences of intertwined discrimination as a result of ableism and racism. On reflection, these experiences existed way before I knew what they were. I use to worry about being vulnerable and speaking out about what I was experiencing. In more recent years, I have learned that 1: I am certainly not alone; 2: not speaking out does not change what is drastically required in what I describe to be an old-style, dominating, and oppressive system. 

In the past decade, I have noticed limited conversations about racism and ableism or how intersectional discrimination impacts upon Black disabled students accessing or pursuing higher education. The experiences can lead to spending days in bed feeling unwell, ashamed, helpless, and exhausted, all of which impacts upon one’s confidence and self-esteem. Yet, there never accountability for staff or students who inflict such discomfort of violence on other humans. Mainly due to individual and systematic biases and failures in society. It is worrying that in 2021 these failures are not being addressed and that narratives of Black disabled women are being intentionally unheard and omitted.

The approach by institutions in dealing with ableism and racism in higher education is the default of applying the deficit model to the person (problem and blame) instead of investigating the barriers and working with the students who report their experiences. In my view, it has all too often opted for its more comfortable practice in denying, disassociating themselves and being able to gaslight their behaviours. Another thing is that institutions will go as far as putting forward ‘their’ so-called paradoxical initiatives known as ‘higher education diversity measures’, led by non-white disabled people who have never had lived experiences of intersectional discrimination and oppression. Ableism and racism need to be incorporated in discussions when addressing inequality and moving towards inclusion. There needs to be more action, and remembering that inclusion has no limitations.   

… ‘we must reclaim our voices’… – (Paulo Freire, 1970).

Written anonymously – January 2021.