Adrianna Matthews has done a lot of self-discovery in graduate school, and she is ready to share what she has learned with educators and peers. A student at the University of Texas at Austin’s MFA program in Drama and Theatre for Youth and Communities, Matthews used a research assignment as an opportunity to address her experience as a black student with three disabilities. The resulting performative essay, from which she will present an excerpt at the 2017 VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education Conference, both examines her journey and provides facts and tips for educators on how to effectively engage minority students with disabilities.
Matthews decided to research the topic of blackness, disability, and education after facing issues of exclusion, discrimination, and systematic oppression in her graduate program. Her background as a playwright, actress, and educator inspired her decision to turn the research paper into what she calls a “performative, musical essay.” The one-woman piece features three characters: Black Graduate Student, the protagonist; Research, who provides facts and insight throughout; and Avatar for Black Graduate Student, the protagonist’s alter ego.
The essay was created for Matthews’ Performing Blackness class, where it was enthusiastically received by her peers and professor. “The class was blown away by the structure of my research presentation and the content,” says Matthews, continuing, “…many of them were surprised to learn I have invisible disabilities, or that I experience struggles because of my blackness. The positive feedback I received really boosted my confidence as a scholar and artist.”
Attendees at her Intersections session will see part of her performance piece and will also participate in what Matthews hopes will be an active dialogue on what people with disabilities experience in higher education settings, what black students experience, and what it may mean when students have both of those identity markers. She plans to explore questions like, how does white privilege play a role in disability discrimination? How does blackness play a role in school curriculum? And how does one’s cultural upbringing shape the way they identify with class and difference?
Matthews will also share suggestions for educators on working with students of color with disabilities. She strongly advises organizations and schools to provide training opportunities for educators on engaging and understanding student identity markers. “I love using drama strategies in community-building workshops to help build a better understanding of individuals,” recommends Matthews, adding, “Performing arts exercises can help a teacher and student build a relationship in a way they could not in a normal academic setting.”
Adrianna Matthews will present “ Blackness, Disability, and Higher Education” at the 2017 VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education Conference on Sunday, August 6, 2017, at 3:15 p.m.