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Leading Disability Studies Scholars to Join Burton Blatt Institute

November 7, 2018
Source: Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University (BBI)

The Burton Blatt Institute (BBI), housed in Syracuse University’s College of Law, today announced that two leading disability studies scholars have joined the institute and will be charged with launching a new initiative, known as Interdisciplinary Programs and Outreach. Steve Kuusisto, University Professor, and Diane Wiener, currently the director of the Disability Cultural Center, will join BBI as the director of interdisciplinary programs and outreach, and research professor and associate director, respectively.

“The College of Law is proud of the Burton Blatt Institute’s long tradition of advancing the civic, economic and social participation of people with disabilities,” says Craig Boise, dean of the College of Law. “The addition of these two experts to BBI’s team will enhance the incredible work being done at the institute and the strength of the innovative research occurring there. I am confident Steve and Diane are the right team to stand up this important initiative designed to enhance our interdisciplinary productivity and community outreach.”

The new Office of Interdisciplinary Programs and Outreach will create and advance interdisciplinary, intersectional educational programs, research and pedagogy focused on disability justice, identities, cultures and studies. The office will also engage with a wide array of University constituents to interface, network and collaborate with local, regional, national and global partners, and pursue development and advancement opportunities that underscore, celebrate and enhance the rich and nuanced experiences of disabled people. Disabled students, faculty, staff and alumni—including the significant experience and contributions of veterans—will be at the heart of this initiative.

“Though they’ve been longtime partners of BBI, we are excited to formally welcome Steve and Diane as members of our team,” says Peter Blanck, University Professor and chair of BBI. “Syracuse University is fortunate to have such accomplished leaders in the field of disabilities studies, and we are grateful their collective expertise, talent and experience will be deployed in this new, cutting-edge initiative.”

Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs “Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey” (Simon & Schuster, 2018); “Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening” (W.W. Norton & Co., 2006); and “Planet of the Blind: A Memoir” (Random House, 1997); and of the poetry collections “Letters to Borges” (Copper Canyon Press, 2013) and “Only Bread, Only Light” (Copper Canyon Press, 2000). A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges and Ohio State University. He is currently a professor of disability studies in the School of Education and previously served as director of The Renée Crown University Honors Program. He is a frequent speaker in the United States and abroad.

“Disability is everywhere, once you learn to search for it,” says Kuusisto. “From architecture to music, information and communication technologies to inclusive pedagogies, the age of critical thinking and innovation with respect to different bodies, minds and emotions is really upon us. We’re looking forward to moving disability into a central place of discussion and imaginative engagement with this new and exciting opportunity.”

Wiener joined Syracuse University in 2011 and currently serves as the director of the Disability Cultural Center. She has extensive experience in teaching, group facilitation, advising and mentoring, as well as in program development and management, leadership, counseling, disability advocacy, assessment and supervision. Wiener has worked closely with people with disabilities/disabled people in non-therapeutic and therapeutic contexts in accordance with sociocultural models of disability.

Co-chair of the University’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion and a member of the Contemplative Collaborative, Wiener has published widely on subjects related to diversity, social justice, inclusion, pedagogy and empowerment, with attention paid in particular to interdisciplinarity, cross-disabilities perspectives and the Mad Pride movement. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Arizona, majoring in comparative cultural and literary studies and minoring in anthropology. Wiener has a postgraduate certificate in medical anthropology, also from the University of Arizona. She received a B.S. from Rutgers University and an M.S.W. from Yeshiva University.

Wiener’s first full-length poetry collection, “The Golem Verses,” was published in summer 2018 by Nine Mile Press.

“After having served for seven years as the founding director of our Disability Cultural Center, I am honored, delighted and grateful to begin this new chapter in my career at and devotion to Syracuse University, underscoring, as always, the lived experience and expertise of disabled constituents who study, live and work in our campus community and beyond,” says Wiener.

As Wiener moves into her new role at the BBI, a national search to identify the next director of the Disability Cultural Center will commence in the coming weeks.

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