By Vivian Delchamps ’14

 

While I was at Scripps, my friends and I took affectionate photos with Jack Zajac’s sculpture Bound Goat, Thursday near the Bette Cree Edwards Humanities Building and nicknamed the goat Gary. A few years later, when I began my PhD in English at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), I was delighted to find Zajac’s Bound Goat, Wednesday nestled in the UCLA Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden. 

Zajac’s sculptural contradictions of beauty and painful, twisting anguish offered a pleasurable step back in time, a comforting reminder of my undergraduate studies. Scripps prepared me to experience beauty and pain together at UCLA, where I researched nineteenth-century representations of disabled embodiment in American literature and dove into advocacy for disability rights. Scripps also provided abundant opportunities for leadership and collaboration—experience that proved invaluable during my PhD program.

 

Literature became a way for me to ponder the exhaustion that comes with balancing pain and pleasure in a world that undervalues disabled lives.

 

At Scripps, I began thinking about disability studies long before I had the vocabulary to say anything about the field. I lived with chronic pain caused by multiple conditions; nevertheless, I danced almost daily, competing with The Claremont Colleges Ballroom Dance Company, co-founding The Claremont Colleges Ballet Company with Emily Kleeman PZ ’14, and minoring in dance. 

I don’t want this framed as “inspirational” or “overcoming” (over-used and fraught words for disability scholars); pain is a crucial, even mundane part of life for ballet dancers and disabled people that is lived with rather than merely overcome. Amid all my dancing and studying, I attended one of the first meetings of The Claremont Colleges Disability Illness and Difference Alliance, founded by my classmate Maddy Ruvolo ’14. There, for the first time in my life, I heard the phrase “spoon theory”—the notion that for people with chronic illnesses, energy is expended differently. 

Even as I strove to be and be seen as energetic, I instinctively gathered coping and analytical tools that permitted me to find balance. While I pursued an honors English major at Scripps, I realized that literary analysis afforded me the freedom to sit with and even celebrate seemingly contradictory ideas. Literature became a way for me to ponder the exhaustion that comes with balancing pain and pleasure in a world that undervalues disabled lives. 

When I began my PhD program at UCLA, my joint pain immediately flared, and memories of my momentary encounter with the disability community housed at Scripps flashed into my mind. I remain passionate about both dance and literature, but slowly I began to serve more organizations that fought for equity and access, including the Disability Law Journal at UCLA School of Law and the UCLA Center for Accessible Education. Much of this service has involved making spaces more accessible; for example, I served C19: The Society of 19th-Century Americanists by recommending best practices for conference accessibility—even ensuring that infant nursing areas will be wheelchair-accessible. 

 

Doing antiracist work and fostering inclusion requires, to borrow Ellen Browning Scripps’ terms, living confidently, courageously, and hopefully…

 

Working with nonprofits focused on race and health equity, such as REPAIR: A Health and Disability Justice Organization and Disability Law Journal has taught me that the most significant problems in higher education today originate from the forces and stubborn prejudices that keep accommodations away from students of color and low-income students, staff, and faculty. I became a member of the Center for Accessible Education’s Advisory Board, which is beginning a new era of supporting disability culture at UCLA and beyond. We aim to serve the students who are most impacted by the global pandemic, capitalism, and heteropatriarchy, and advocate for those for whom the word “accommodations” evokes only an image of dependency. 

From this service and my teaching, I have discovered anew that doing antiracist work and fostering inclusion requires, to borrow Ellen Browning Scripps’ terms, living confidently, courageously, and hopefully; it also requires having difficult conversations and taking up space. 

I remember Zajac’s bound and tortured goat not because I see myself reflected in the statue, but because I love that this being can openly reside and even be celebrated in a space as unapologetically aesthetic as Scripps. Those in pain are not mere objects of pity or correction. We work together and find community, offering new perspectives and styles of movement that make the world a more livable place.