Taking Reflexivity in Research Seriously: New Disability Master’s Scholarship Opens Access for Graduate Students with Disabilities

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In the past the criminological ‘mainstream’ has failed adequately to differentiate criminals. Despite recent so-called critical perspectives, inconveniencing ‘a criminology imbued with male, adult, mentally healthy, formerly non-victimized values’ (Peay, 2007: 501), few scholars take intersectional approaches. Moreover, even within intersectional approaches, disability is too often considered as an afterthought or not considered at all (Sokoloff & Dupont 2005; De Coster & Heimer, 2006). Referencing to research on offenders with mental health problems and learning disabilities, Baldry et al argue that the way forward, both for criminological theory and Criminal Justice practice, therefore requires these groups to be moved ‘from a categorical or diagnostic attribute to a central location in the conceptualisation of the individual who presents to the CJS’ (2008: 42). Broadening the purview of our discipline, and academia more generally, is not just about substantive research; it’s about increasing opportunities for researchers with disabilities because of the intrinsic value of reflexivity in research and the role of participatory action.

As I have discussed elsewhere an intellectual interest about the way disability intersects with academia led me and other Wadham students to establish the Let’s Get Disability on the List! Campaign. Our Campaign began by asking faculties and Colleges to look at their reading lists and taught course syllabi and audit where disability is included. The Centre for Criminology and Faculty of Law were the first University departments to undertake such audits. As many members of the Campaign are graduate law students, we wanted to showcase the intellectually interesting ways in which disability issues intersect with domestic and international law. Consequently, we worked with the Faculty of Law and the law firm Herbert Smith Freehills to establish the Herbert Smith Freehills Oxford Disability Mooting Championship. The Faculty’s first Moot Court competition focus solely on legal issues affecting persons with a disability, the inaugural Championship examined tort law and civil justice issues relating to damages for disabled claimants.

Dupont notes, ‘
Yesterday, Wadham announced the launch of our new scholarship to fund academically excellent Masters’ students with a disability. I hope this will be a small but significant step in helping better participation in and access to post-graduate research for academics with disabilities. A generous £75,000 donation has been made to establish the Oxford Wadham Graduate Scholarship for Disabled Students. It will cover 100% of University and college fees at the UK/EU rate and a grant for living costs (at least £13,863) for the duration of the course. Applicants for the BCL and MSc in Criminology 2015/16 entry are eligible to apply.

The development of a more clearly-conceived disability perspective is vital because the absence of such a perspective leads to theoretical blindspots, and - to the extent that criminology can affect criminal justice policy (Garland&Sparks 2000; Loader 1998; 2006) - to discriminatory practice. Foregrounding disability in academia - formerly perceived of as a minority discourse - does not only involve expanding academic enquiry. It involves improving access to post-graduate education for students with disabilities.

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