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Dr. Jennifer Scuro: A Most Productive Year

February 12, 2018
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Informed by her identity as a feminist and philosopher, Dr. Jennifer Scuro, Associate Professor of Philosophy in the School of Arts and Sciences, has published numerous articles on subjects including gender and immigrant identity, globalization and the environment, feminist epistemology, and disability studies. But in 2017, Dr. Scuro published two books inspired by particularly personal life events: The Pregnancy ≠ Childbearing Project: A Phenomenology of Miscarriage and Addressing Ableism: Philosophical Questions via Disability Studies

In her first book, The Pregnancy [does not equal] Childbearing Project, which is part graphic novel and part philosophical analysis, Dr. Scuro narrates her philosophical and emotional responses to the phenomenon of pregnancy loss and the ways in which it differs from the phenomenon of childbearing – both of which she had experienced.

"After the birth of my first daughter, I went through a difficult pregnancy loss, having to terminate a wanted pregnancy because of life-threatening medical complications," she said. "I immediately began to philosophize about it."

Just months after that loss, she went to a conference to present on the topic of miscarriage. 

"I spoke so abstractly about it. I had tucked it away. Afterward, when I tried to publish the paper, there was no place for it. Each time I sent it out for review, I got back comments asking to revise and resubmit, because it was too personal. And it was, so I had to put it away."

When she later observed two SAS students working on a graphic novel, Dr. Scuro, who has a BFA degree, decided to try her hand at a different approach.

"I went home and all memory that I had of the experiences – basically mental snapshots – began to unload one-by-one. I captured a lot of emotive, affective content and suddenly realized not only how wounded I was, but how hard it was to get myself back into the world. It was a difficult story to navigate, but through the graphic novel narrative, I took ownership of it, and that was very healing."

Tracework from Dr. Scuro’s original sketchbook, created as she prepared them for publication, are now part of a group traveling exhibit, Cradling Creativity: The ART of Infertility. First shown at the Old City Jewish Center in Philadelphia, the exhibit will next travel to Salt Lake City, Utah.  Two of her pieces currently are on exhibit at the University of Wisconsin OshKosh.

In part inspired by the personal experience of being the parent of an autistic child, later that year, Dr. Scuro published her second book Addressing Ableism: Philosophical Questions via Disability Studies, an academic piece addressing the scale and scope of ableism – the institutional and intergenerational discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities, including the fears and anxieties able-bodied people have about disability.

In each chapter, Dr. Scuro poses questions that provide "tools of navigation to point out how effectively ableism, instead of being challenged as a harmful bias, has been deflected or trivialized as if permissible.  Ableism continues to be an acceptable harm even when we say someone is 'crazy' or 'stupid.'"

"Several years ago, we did an autism education event at CNR. I brought in panelist Lydia Brown, a renowned author and advocate, who told me to go to the Society of Disability Studies (SDS). With the help of travel funds provided by CNR, I did, and it just lit up my imagination for what was possible!"

"It was very humbling, too, because I had gone for a very long time with an ableist mindset. I grew up around ableism, as many do, in a culture that says you must be able-bodied in order to disburden others; you have to show up, be on time, work hard, and produce, otherwise you’re perceived as lazy or non-productive. But there at SDS, I was part of a community that accommodated all of the different ways in which people engage the world, no matter what their physical or intellectual differences or difficulties."

According to Dr. Scuro, the experience caused a "tectonic shift" in the way she perceived not only her place in the world but also her work as a philosopher and educator.

"Much of what I thought was philosophically fair and valid, what I’d been trained to do, had to be thrown out."

"The book is really what I learned from my daughter as it is also my re-envisioning of the work of philosophy – which for me is giving meaning to things that have no meaning that needed meaning, speaking for what’s unspoken for, describing those things rendered invisible or that are on the margins, and bringing them together in order to reset scripts and initiate new dialogues."

As for Dr. Scuro’s plans for 2018, she’s drafting a book proposal based on her second-year seminar course, Marx for the Millennium, while editing an anthology with philosopher Devonya Havis, tentatively titled Race and the (Im)possibility of Health.