Writing 101: Disability and Democracy
Instructor: Marion Quirici
As the daughter of a Vietnam War refugee, I’ve always been inundated with messages about the American Dream and its sacredness. My father was blessed to be accepted by this country where he could create the life he wanted for himself, and he became living proof that the Dream is alive and well. For his hard work, achievements, and the life he has provided for our family, he has my deepest admiration and gratitude. So, when I was a child, I fully internalized the belief that hard work can bring you where you want in life.
However, as I grew older, I became aware of systemic barriers to opportunity that make the American Dream less or inaccessible for many. While there is no doubt that my father had to overcome some of these, that does not make them any less just. Whether it be lack of clean water, racism, or ableism, there is no lack of unjust obstacles for people to overcome to achieve their desired goal.
When I came to Duke and heard about the Writing 101 Course: Disability and Democracy, I knew immediately that this class would centralize the experience of people with disabilities in a country where democracy is almost synonymous with agency and opportunity. I wanted to explore questions such as: What does it mean to have a disability? How does the American system support or hinder the success of people with disabilities? What structural barriers to opportunity are perpetuating inequality between disabled and non-disabled people, and why?
While exploring the latter question, I became aware of the overrepresentation of people with disabilities who are incarcerated in the criminal justice system. Involvement within the criminal-legal system is perhaps one of the most impactful and systemic barriers to opportunity in the United States. A criminal record is a barrier to employment, housing, and in some cases, the right to vote. The mass incarceration of people with disabilities was a prime example of a phenomenon which prevented people from achieving their American Dream, and I wanted to explore why.
I would like to thank Dr. Marion Quirici for her invaluable input and support writing this paper throughout the semester. Dr. Quirici always created an inclusive, open, and exploratory classroom where our ideas were allowed to thrive. My worldview is fundamentally altered for the better because of her class, expertise, and compassion.