Following a current pilot program, Georgetown University will introduce a three-week disability ethics module into “Intro to Ethics” course syllabi.
A three-week disability ethics module is being piloted in a bioethics course taught by Margaret Little, philosophy professor and director of Georgetown’s Ethics Lab. The module includes discussion sections and lectures centered on disability studies, as well as readings that focus on the lived experiences of people with disabilities. After Little completes the pilot module, additional professors will introduce the module into their courses. The module was designed through collaboration between the Georgetown University Ethics Lab and the disability studies program.
The module’s content will engage students in the intersection of disability studies with the fields of justice and philosophy, according to Little.
“It’s a really interesting topic for exploring the human condition in general, how we feel about dependency, vulnerability and difference, and different ways of having bodies and minds in the world, and then also the very real and insistent issues that people with disabilities in this society often face as barriers and what justice asks us to do in the face of that,” Little said in a phone interview with The Hoya.
Jenae Ruesch (LAW ’09) and Matt Ruesch (COL ’02, LAW ’09) also made a $100,000 donation to the module, which helped pilot the module and will assist the university with developing the module for other undergraduate courses. The module will include classroom instruction and breakout group exercises. After it is incorporated into courses, the module will later be redeveloped and expanded across the undergraduate humanities departments as well as into courses at the Georgetown University Law Center.
Jennifer Natalya Fink, director of the disability studies program, wrote that examining disability studies in an ethics course will give students an introduction to exploring the field.
“By exploring the complexities of disability and the ethical issues it entails, this module will help prepare our students to create a more equitable and inclusive society, especially around this crucial vector of difference,” Fink wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The Ethics Lab and disability studies program worked together to select a range of course materials that reflect lived experiences of disabled people, according to Little.
“The readings are a combination of essays from people living with disabilities and across a huge diversity and a huge range of disabilities,” Little said. “This is included together with theories from disability studies, which are often written by theorists who have disabilities or who have close experience with people living with disabilities.”
The university began offering the disability studies minor in 2017. The introduction of the program came after three years of advocacy by the Disability Studies Minor Working Group.
The Ruesch donation will help the Ethics Lab access resources needed to build the module and expand it to a variety of undergraduate courses, according to Little.
“One of the great things that’s come out of the gift is that it helped to support us reaching out to other faculty who teach disability studies, especially in the philosophy department, because it’s a philosophy course,” Little said.
Georgetown students should learn about barriers that students with disabilities face, according to Matt Ruesch, who is also a current member of the board of regents, a group of advisers that provides financial support and counsel to the university’s leadership.
“This is the type of philanthropy that I find really exciting because it’s working with very effective people on a very meaningful mission and watching that small seed grow into something much bigger,” Matt Ruesch said in a video Georgetown posted to YouTube.
The Ruesch family previously made a donation in support of the Ethics Lab’s work in fall 2020 that helped create the “Religion and Disability Studies” course, which worked with the Ethics Lab to create a space for students to analyze accessibility in sacred spaces.
While this pilot is the first time that this module will be taught to students, Little says this work will expand to more students and courses in the future.
“The aim is to build something that’s a resource available to other faculty, and we’re also networking with faculty to continue to grow the ecosystem here in really cool ways,” Little said.