Living with Disability in the Time of Coronavirus

Shahrzad Ghobadlou

(Note: This is a post in response to our call for submissions addressing the experience of graduate students living with disability in the time of COVID. Thank you to Shahrzad Ghobadlou for sharing such an experience, and thank you to Ariadne Wolf for taking the lead on the call. If you are interested in contributing a post to MLAGrads on this or any other topic, please email Janine Utell, program manager for professional development and co-staff liaison to the Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Humanities, at jutell (at) mla (dot) org.)

I am responding to a thoughtful post by Ariadne Wolf, who wrote how the pandemic has affected people with disabilities. Of course, we were disabled in many ways due to the pandemic, but this period also gave us a new perspective on how to live under constraints. This post is about our life under constraint from the perspective of someone who has an invisible disability.

I suffer from a chronic disease that severely affects my immune system and makes me susceptible to infections and viruses. However, if you were to meet me at school, you would never guess how hard I work to maintain a sense of balance in my life. You would see me as a young, energetic person interested in learning about new scholarship. There is an accent and rhythm in my speech that immediately identifies me as an international student. I am proud of my accent and pleased to show myself as equally engaged in academic life as my peers. So far, I look like any other graduate student in your eyes and am also so glad to have met you!

All of a sudden, the pandemic arrives like an unexpected fall and henceforth, life descends into despair like leaves falling from trees. Everyone is forced to adjust their social interactions, first by wearing masks and then by distancing themselves from others. You might still meet with your friends and family but you are more cautious. The social distancing policy soon prohibits any large gatherings, and all meetings and classes transform to virtual Zoom meetings. Even though surreal, virtual becomes the new normal! 

You might have noticed that I am recently absent from all gatherings. You respect my decision for being cautious, but the social distancing makes you also forget about me. After six months you do not inquire about my whereabouts. 

On my side, things are a bit different. I see a question getting bigger and bigger: Who would help if I test positive for Covid? While most students went back to their home countries and hometowns, I couldn’t return due to visa issues. Like many other international students, I shouldered the solitude alone. Later in the summer 2021, the insurance stopped covering one of my medicines. After a few months of changing multiple medicines, my auto-immune system developed multiple inflammations, so I started new injections to suppress it even further. Life got more complicated when my housing situation became precarious through no fault of my own. I am not writing this post for sympathy but to let my scholar friends with disabilities know what they should do in such cases.

Despite the fact that I could see no end to the pandemic and my medications were failing me, I’m glad that I talked to my school about my situation. My constrained life has also taught me to be cautious about my level of tolerance for outside obstacles. The importance of taking care of yourself can’t be overstated. So define a level of tolerance for yourself and know which part is doable by yourself and which part is not. It is also important not to endure a situation silently. If you recognize an outside element interfering with your control over your disability, talk to your family, a counselor, or even your advisor. 

In my case, I discussed the situation first with my parents. As a result of their distance, they were unable to offer any assistance other than to raise concerns. As soon as I discussed the situation with my advisors, they immediately sought help from the school to ensure I received appropriate support, both financially and mentally. When you are dealing with a disability, whether it is visible or invisible, don’t try to handle it all on your own. Be vocal and talk to your advisors before you lose your energy to handle the difficulties that life throws at you. Maintaining good energy is essential for academic success. A final suggestion: keeping each other in mind is essential.

Call for Submissions—Living with Disability in the Time of Coronavirus

The Call: I would love to hear from any of you about your experiences surviving Covid as a student who, like me, experiences disability. If you have ideas about how your university did a great job supporting disabled students during this time, or ideas about how your university can do better in the future, now’s the time to share them! Heck, if you’d just like to vent a little anonymously, that’s fine too. I want to hear your voice.

I am inviting you to submit your blog posts to me, Ari Wolf, member of the MLA Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Humanities, at arwolf@alumnae.mills.edu. I want to get your work up as soon as possible so that others can hear what you’ve got to say. When people think about college campuses and disability, they often think about things like testing times or parking. The idea that disability can be a source of oppression that impacts every aspect of our lives still isn’t quite there yet. It is my wish that this project will be a small drop in the bucket that moves us all forward to acknowledging disability as a vital part of understanding diversity in all its glory, as well as all the bullying and abuses done towards those who are marginalized. I stand in solidarity with all of my “crip sibs” who self-identify as disabled. You’re not alone.


I’ve written my own blog post on this subject to kick us off:

Dear Colleagues,

I write to you today with a purpose. My purpose is borne from Covid-19, from the struggles I’ve witnessed my fellow students undergo, as well as the struggles I myself have fought through.

My purpose is simple: I wish to inspire, encourage, beg, advocate, do whatever it takes to push universities to acknowledge the needs of the growing population of immunocompromised and disabled students.

We’re here. We will enter through the front door of every college and university in this country in this fall of 2022 and beyond. We are just like every one of you reading this, with our big dreams and our dedication to working hard to achieve them. We are also very, very different.

We are different because the mandate to unmask is, for some of us, the difference between being physically able to attend college in the fall, or not.

We are different because right now, many of us are already engaged in what will become protracted arguments with departments too entrenched in their traditional and elitist vision of university life to accommodate our needs with a hybrid model of classroom attendance.

We are different because there are laws to protect us, including federal ADA standards, but unfortunately many universities do not follow them out of inconvenience or callousness.

We were here before Covid. Some of us, like myself, have auto immune diseases. Some of us had asthma worsened by raging fires or polluted skies or global warming or all of the above. Some of us had heart conditions, inflammatory disorders, rare diseases, amputations.

We were always here. You often chose not to see us. We were never invisible just because you were not always interested in looking at us.

Now that Covid has hit with a vengeance, we’re here in even more sizable numbers. Unfortunately, given the research into the symptoms of Long Covid, our numbers have rapidly grown in the past two years. Given a few more short years, we might well outnumber you.

That is all the more reason to adapt your policies now.

Colleagues, we do not demand anything from you. We are in no position to demand anything. We are sick, remember? Our lives are too often about managing drawers full of medication, hospital stays, working ahead in fear of the days or weeks when we will not be able to get out of bed. We don’t have the energy to convince you that we are worthy of being given anything.

Nonetheless, I so wish that you would consider what I have to say. Now is the time to implement solutions to the challenges we present. Be creative and be bold. Use your existing technology.

For example, schedule departmental meetings online to spare people the trek and the safety concerns. Most Humanities and Social Sciences classes can easily be adapted to accommodate a hybrid model which allows for remote attendance for those too ill or concerned about Covid outbreaks to be on campus. If you are a Teaching Assistant, normalize meeting your advisees remotely rather than in person. Practice using your voice to raise concerns about your university’s Covid testing practices or rising Covid rates or mask mandates, and find someone willing to listen to you.

We can all make campus environments safer and more inclusive. 

That responsibility falls on every one of us.

Publishing Your First Academic Article – A Roadmap

by Didem Uca, Ph.D., co-chair of CSGSH, Assistant Professor of German Studies, Emory University

So you want to publish your first academic article––but where do you start? This roadmap outlines the key stages and steps of this process, beginning with selecting a piece you have already written as part of your graduate studies through working through revisions.

  1. Identify potential piece(s) of writing you already have produced to develop for publication, as well as potential publication venues. Sometimes you just *know* something has potential, which is great, but if you don’t:
  • Discuss with professors/mentors (e.g. if you got very positive feedback on a seminar paper, ask your professor if they think it would be a good piece to develop, get advice on venues and revision suggestions). If you presented the paper at a conference and got a good reception, ask your fellow presenters or the convener/respondent of the conference panel for more feedback.
  • Notice what kinds of research different journals in your field are publishing. This isn’t so that you tailor your piece to the venue, but rather so that you choose a venue based on what piece you want to publish.
  • Think about how this project fits in with your overall research agenda (is it part of dissertation/thesis or an important subfield not in your diss/thesis?)
  1. After getting feedback from a few different mentors/colleagues, create a revision plan that answers the following questions (among others):
  • RESEARCH: What additional research needs to be done and how will I manage this (Will this require archival work? → need a summer grant? part of regular dissertation workload or a different project? → time management/balance)
  • BACKWARD-DESIGNED TIMELINE: What is my desired date of publication? For most journals, it takes a minimum of 1 year from the date of submission to the date of publication, and that’s with a very smooth process and minimal revisions. So, consider: Do you want this to come out before you go on the job market or by graduation? Or by another particular milestone? Figure out the ideal date of publication and work backwards from there to outline when you will need to complete the various research, writing, and revision steps.
  • WRITING/REWRITING/REVISING: What content still needs to be added? How many new words do you need for your argument? Be sure to consult the journal’s word count min. and max. before you start adding or subtracting words. What stylistic issues do I need to fix? These may include typos, writing style, flow, organization/structure, and adhering to the journal’s style sheet.
  1. Get writing support! (Listed as #3 but you should do this throughout the process!)
  • Organize or join a writing group with your department mates or even with people you don’t know personally. (Side note: virtual writing groups saved my pandemic sanity.)
  • Find an accountability partner (whether this is a colleague or mentor), share your timeline with them, and have them help you stick to your goals (and vice versa).
  1. Get it as close to perfect as you can––and then press send!
  • Most journals won’t even read your work if you don’t follow the style sheet or submission guidelines, so follow these closely as you’re preparing your submission.
  • Once you’ve done that, the worst thing that can happen is an outright rejection, but this can still provide helpful feedback for next time.
  1. Learn how to approach revisions and editors/reviewers to make your piece shine:
  • If you pass through the initial stage of review, you will be asked to do one or more rounds of revisions before the journal can commit to publishing your article. This is an absolutely ROUTINE part of the process and will result in a stronger piece you will be proud of in the long term, so try not to feel personally attacked by feedback.
  • Sometimes you feel like the reviewers/editors are asking for the moon but maybe it’s not *that* bad and you’re just feeling attacked, tired, or frustrated. Take a beat to try to write a list of the most pertinent suggestions and prioritize them. Or if you’re truly at a loss, share the reader reports with a colleague or mentor to help sort out the most salient points.
  • Sometimes the editors or reviewers will ask you to make changes you don’t agree with or that you feel veer away from your original argument. Have an open conversation with the editor to clarify what is required and then choose your battles (and don’t back down if the changes will detract from your vision of your work). Most importantly, make your argument coherent, clear, and bullet proof, so that you can be confident in your contribution.
  • Keep a running list of anything you do to improve and revise your submission (even if you’re using track changes). You will need to write a revision letter detailing the changes that will be sent to the editors/reviewers as part of the revisions process that needs to demonstrate that you have seriously engaged with and addressed (most of) the feedback.
  • In general (though there are certainly unfortunate exceptions), reviewers/editors are on your side and acting in good faith. They are engaging with your work to help you improve it, which is actually a really cool thing!

Sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error, but if you follow this roadmap, I have no doubt that you will find success in placing your work in a great venue. Good luck!

Meet the Committee

Thais Rutledge (2021-2024)

My name is Thais Rutledge, and I am a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of Texas at Austin. After a rewarding teaching experience, I decided to return to school to become a professor. I work primarily with Modern British and Brazilian literatures with a transnational and multilingual focus. I am interested in narrative forms, cultural history, space, trauma, and memory — all of this through the context of intersectionality where race, class, gender, and ethnicity meet. I have a Master’s degree in Literature from Texas State University. I joined the MLA many years ago, and now I have the privilege to be part of the Committee for the Status for Graduate Students where I hope to advocate for inclusion, equity, and diversity in the academy. My article “Woolf’s Feminist Spaces and the New Woman in To the Lighthouse: The Cases of Mrs. Ramsay and Lily Briscoe” was published in the South Central Review (2020), which focuses on women and gendered spaces in Woolf’s’ To the Lighthouse

Kay Sohini (2021-2024)
I am a Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellow and a fifth year PhD candidate in English at Stony Brook University, where I am currently drawing her doctoral dissertation as a comic. In both my creative and academic work, I focus on how comics can be utilized by scholars and artists alike in ethnography, in narrative medicine, in public health discourse, in resisting disinformation, and in espousing an equitable future for all. 

My work on comics has been published in The Nib, Graphic Mundi’s Covid ChroniclesAssay: A Journal of Non-fiction Studies, Women Write About Comics, Solrad, and Inside Higher Ed, Handbook of Comics and Graphic Narratives, amongst others. Apart from MLA’s Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Humanities, I serve on the editorial team of The Comics Grid, in the Executive Committee of the International Comic Arts Forum (ICAF), and I am a member of the Feminist Leaders Council at Feminist Press

Nina Ellis (2021-2024)

I am a third-year PhD candidate in American Literature at the University of Cambridge, where I am researching twentieth-century short fiction under the supervision of Dr Kasia Boddy. My academic interests range widely — but my doctoral thesis is a critical biography of the American short story writer Lucia Berlin, funded by a Full Studentship from the British Arts and Humanities Research Council. I am Co-Representative to the AHRC Student Liaison Group; and I was Graduate Representative to the Faculty of English from 2019–2020 and Co-Convenor of Cambridge’s American Literature Graduate Research Seminar from 2020–2021. I also teach undergraduates at Cambridge, and have supervised dissertations on a wide range of American literatures. 

Prior to PhD study, I gained my BA at Jesus College, Cambridge in Archaeology and Anthropology, and my QTS and PGCE (British secondary school teaching degrees) from the Institute of Education. I taught English Literature in a London state school for five years, and I completed my MA in English and American Literature at University College London. I have written about Berlin for Granta, and I am a regular columnist for Review 31. My short stories have appeared in Ambit, American Chordata, Granta, The London Magazine, 3:AM and elsewhere, and I recently won an Editors’ Choice Award in the 2021 Raymond Carver Short Story Contest. I am currently working on my first novel.

Mario De Grandis (2020-2023)

My name is Mario De Grandis. After receiving my Ph.D. at the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures at The Ohio State University, I have joined the Irish Institute of Chinese Studies at University College Dublin (Ireland) as an assistant professor/lecturer. My research focuses on ethnic minority literature (shashu minzu wenxue) and its filmic adaptations. I am also active as a translator and I’ve subtitled documentaries and translated fiction from Chinese into Italian. Among these translations are documentaries by Ai Weiwei and works by Alat Asem, Chen Xiwo, and Lu Min.

Viana Hara 

My name is Viana Hara, I am originally from Panama, but I consider my hometown Durham, North Carolina, since I have lived there for 18 years before moving to Portland, Oregon. I hold a M.A in Foreign Language and Spanish Literature from NC State University.Currently, I am a first year Ph.D. graduate student in the Department of Romance Language ( Spanish and Portuguese) at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Before coming to Portland, I taught upper-level undergraduate Spanish courses at Duke University under Dr. Walter Mignolo. Then, in Portland, I taught lower-level Spanish classes at the University of Portland as an adjunct instructor. 

My research interest is Panamanian Caribbean Narratives: the traces of Colonialism( race, sexism, nature abuse, control of knowledge/Subjectivities), Post-Dictatorship, Present Democracies with the theory of Coloniality, Decoloniality. I am also studying for a certificate with specialization in translation studies.

I have worn many hats in my career journey: I was in U.S Army Reserve for eight years, worked at a hospital as a phlebotomy technician ( while studying for my bachelor as a nontraditional student), and was a flight attendant in my natal country before coming to the U.S. I  love to share this knowledge and life experience with my students because I wholeheartedly believe that motivation for learning and intellectual curiosity comes from within. It does not depend on circumstances; learning is a never-ending process, and life is not in a straight line.

Ariadne Wolf (2019-2022)

Hello! I graduated with her MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College, where I now sit on the Board of Governors, in 2019. I earned my Master’s in English from the University of Rochester in 2021 and moved immediately into my present role of Women’s Center Coordinator at Colgate University. My professional advocacy extends to my role with the MLA, where I focus on protecting the minimal rights of Master’s-level students and trying hard to ensure that the needs of marginalized students are recognized. As an academic, I am most interested in Performance Studies, Whiteness Studies, and other elements of Cultural Studies that I hope to see come to fruition in the near future.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/ariadne-wolf-73a341180/

https://ariadnewolf.com

Didem Uca (2019-2022, co-chair)

I began my time on CSGSH while at the University of Pennsylvania, where I received my Ph.D. in Germanic Languages and Literatures in 2019. After spending one year as Visiting Assistant Professor at Colgate University, I began my current role as Assistant Professor of German Studies at Emory University. My research analyzes post/migrant cultural production within an intersectional framework and through a variety of media, including the Bildungsroman, multilingual hip-hop, and transnational social media movements. My research has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Monatshefte, Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies, and Die Unterrichtspraxis/Teaching German.

I love teaching and developing inclusive pedagogies, which led to my contributing to the new intermediate German language textbook Impuls Deutsch 2. In 2020, I was awarded the Goethe-Institut/American Association of Teachers of German Certificate of Merit. As a Turkish-Arab-American from Long Island, New York, I became fascinated by Turkish-German cultural production as an undergrad, because it was the first time I saw representations of Turkish diasporic identity. I am now co-editor of Turkish-German Studies Yearbook and translate from German and Turkish into English, with translations forthcoming in TRANSIT and SAND. I truly enjoy the translation process and am grateful whenever I have the opportunity to make someone else’s words accessible to a new audience.

G. Edzordzi Agbozo (2019-2022)

I joined the committee as a graduate student in the interdisciplinary humanities program at Michigan Technological University from where I received my PhD in Rhetoric, Theory and Culture. Prior to my doctoral studies, I received a Master of Philosophy degree in English linguistics and language acquisition from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and a BA in English and Linguistics from the University of Ghana. Currently, I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. I am also a Junior Fellow at the Pan-African Scientific Research Council. 

I work at the intersections of Scientific, Medical and Technical Writing, Critical Discourse Studies, Rhetoric of Health and Medicine, and Applied Linguistics. My recent publications appeared in Applied Linguistics Review, Journal of African Rhetoric, Current Issues in Language Planning and Programmatic Perspectives, and forthcoming in Technical Communication.

You can see more on my work at https://sites.google.com/view/edzordzi/home. I am a recipient of ​​the Barbara Heifferon Graduate Students Fellowship in Rhetoric of Health and Medicine, CPTSC Diversity Scholarship Award from the Council for Programs in Technical and Scientific Communication, Graduate Research Award from the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing, Dean’s Award for Outstanding Scholarship, and Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching Award at Michigan Technological University among other recognitions. I am currently co-editing two books on cross-cultural communication of Covid-19, and election rhetorics in West Africa.