Meet Our Staff
DCC Staff Profiles
I joined the Disability Cultural Center staff as Director in 2019. I identify as a white, cisgender woman who is deaf. As an adult, I’ve learned some sign language, but I grew up mainstreamed in hearing culture.
I received my PhD in English Literature from the University of Chicago, and my academic interests focus around representations of disability and everydayness, particularly the formal choices that build certain concepts of disability in relationship to race. One of my primary questions has been: what can visual representation say, convey, or be ambiguous about that textual representation can’t, and vice versa? These investigations have led me to focus on representation not just in prose novels but also in media like comics and reality tv. (Ask me about the course I taught on reality tv and “anomalous embodiment”!)
Before coming to UIC, my professional background was in writing program administration, where I specialized in academic writing and supporting graduate students–both as teachers of writing, and as writers working in highly specialized discourse communities. While my interests in supporting writers have sometimes felt separate from my interests in disability studies, they come together in two important ways. As an undergrad at UW-Madison, I worked as a peer writing tutor, and being assigned to an Intro to Disability Studies course is how I encountered disability studies for the first time. I thought it “might be interesting,” and it turned out to be a lightbulb moment that nudged me to explore my relationship to disability identity, begin processing my experiences and how they had been narrated to me, and grapple with my own internalized ableism. Also, it was at academic conferences for rhetoricians and writing instructors that I first experienced radical accessibility put into practice. It was hugely transformative to feel, for the first time, that I was invited to ask for what I needed, that I was anticipated and welcome. In these contexts, I learned to think about practices as shaping environments and sending messages.
As I carry these experiences with me, I’m grateful to find a professional home in a cultural center that’s organized around building cross-disability and cross-movement solidarity.
I am a disabled, cisgender, immigrant woman raised on Chicago’s southwest side and am a first-generation college student working towards a PhD in Disability Studies at UIC. My research interests are based on my personal experiences with mental health systems and from the stories shared with me by visitors to the DCC. I long for culturally attuned practices to mental disabilities guided by disability justice principles, particularly in current mental health services.
I am reengaging with my dreams about what support can look like when experiencing mental distress without relying on policing systems that harm my communities. Though I am a Licensed Social Worker in Illinois, I experience a tension about the power and privilege I hold and question how the fields of social work and disability studies can be reimagined for radical liberatory ideologies and practices.
My advocacy emerged through writing and performing personal narratives and poetry; I believe in the power of narratives and subjective experience as valuable tools for social change. As a student, I advocated along with other students, faculty, and staff for funding dedicated to cultural programming and a space for building community at UIC. I have worked on disability cultural programming since 2017 beginning at the Disability Resource Center and have continued coordinating programs in the Disability Cultural Center since its new location opened in 2018. I also was part of the campus committee that created the current mission and vision of the DCC; it informs my goals to proceed with humility and constant self-reflection.
Graduate Student Worker (May 2020-Present)
Former title: Undergraduate Student Worker (August 2019-May 2020)
I am an activist, public historian, and anthropologist. I’m currently enrolled in the Master of Arts in Latin American and Latino Studies with a certificate in disability ethics.
I am a member of the UIC Native American and Indigenous Student Organization, Subcommittee of Disabled Student Experiences, and a variety of other campaigns in Chicago. I’m learning to teach workshops on accessibility, disability cultures, and ableism. While starting to embrace my disabilities, I joined the protests as an undergrad student for an accessible disability cultural center. Being a part of the creation of the DCC, I am incredibly proud to have been the first undergraduate student aid and to continue my work as a graduate student.
I’m working towards becoming a researcher and educator in both academia and community. A current project that I am working on is creating a fellowship program for students to improve accessibility within museums. My values are greatly centered by feminism focussed on BIPOC, LGBT , crip, decolonization, abolition, and anti-capitalism. I was born and raised in Chicago and I am disabled/mad, queer, Indigenous/White femme raised in Mexican-American culture.
Program Assistant- Community Care Kit Project
I am a white queer disabled educator and activist originally from Boston, MA. I’ve been chronically ill since childhood, but didn’t identify as disabled, or understand disability as a political identity, until reading “Exile and Pride” by Eli Clare in college. I was hungry for connection to politicized disabled community and didn’t know where to find it.
I approached Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha after a book reading and they generously took the time to welcome me into crip culture: connecting me with online groups, advising me on bringing Disability Justice into political consciousness on my campus, giving much needed advice on funding the work, sharing the labor and not burning out.
In 2014 I completed the YP4 fellowship, a fellowship for progressive leaders, where I met activists from all over the country and was paired with a mentor for the year. My mentor was Ki’tay Davidson. He was the first disabled activist I considered a friend, who I could talk to about chronic pain and prison abolition. We worked together on a mutual aid project that I hoped would not only distribute resources, but also encourage people to come into disability identity. He helped me to begin to unravel my internalized ableism and shame.
These deeply influential experiences with crip mentorship have fueled my desire to create formal and informal mentorship opportunities at the DCC, and to focus on ways to welcome more people into disability culture through mutual aid projects.
I recently completed a Masters in Education at UIC with a focus on critical special education. I am passionate about care work and political education and have a dream of creating a disability justice based after school program for disabled children.
I joined the UIC Disability Cultural Center in Fall 2021 as a Graduate Assistant. My role focuses on working with DCC Director Margaret Fink, Ph.D. on developing a national symposium on disability cultural centers in order to assist other universities and institutions in creating this necessary space. I’m pursuing my M.Ed. in Urban Higher Education with an emphasis in Leadership, Governance, Organization and Policy and a Certificate in Disability Ethics at UIC.
I identify as a gender non-binary Indian-American with disabilities. I have Tourette’s Syndrome, Obsessive-Compulsive Dis/order, clinical depression, chronic anxiety, sleep apnea, and several other ambiguous conditions and illnesses.
My disability cultural work began during my college years. I graduated from the University of Southern California with a B.A. in Gender Studies and a minor in Education and Society. I co-founded & co-directed USC’s first student organization dedicated to disability culture and accessibility issues run by and for the disability community. Building this student organization from the ground up was one of the most profound experiences of my college career. Having no prior leadership experience coming into college, my life suddenly transformed: I became a public speaker, a community builder, and an event moderator/organizer. After college, I knew I wanted to work in a Disability Cultural Center. A lifelong Chicagoan, I returned to my hometown to join the University of Illinois Chicago, one of the only universities in the country to institutionalize such an important cultural space. I’m grateful to be part of a center that focuses on unifying the disability community and empowering all of our queer and diverse bodyminds.
My advocacy also derives from my critical disability studies research experience. I conducted and published original research on invisible disabilities at the Moore Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (MURAP) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a Ph.D. pipeline research program for students of color. I also have previous internship experiences working at Planned Parenthood Los Angeles & Planned Parenthood of Illinois as a community engagement and events intern.
Shan Shan Song (they/them) is a graduate assistant and first year student in the MSW program at UIC, specializing in clinical mental health practice. They are a gender non-binary, second-generation Chinese American and community organizer. They have been a fierce, impassioned social justice advocate since 2007 organizing efforts to increase access to affordable education, advocate for the rights of sexual minorities, and support those affected by domestic and gender-based violence. They have organized since 2014 with the street medic collective Chicago Action Medical to support protesters in the local Chicagoland and St. Louis areas. They have done volunteer work to represent, fundraise for, and support the AIDS Run/Walk Team at Heartland Alliance and have also volunteered at the Women’s Resource Center at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. They received the 2011 Community Action Award at U. of I. Urbana.
They received their B.S. in Psychology from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign in 2011. From 2011 to 2019, they worked as a mental health worker at Heartland Alliance, working in a residential program for formerly homeless folks with persistent mental illness challenges and substance use issues. From 2019 to 2021, they worked at the Chinese American Service League as a community liaison at Mercy Hospital, charged with running a Community Resource Center serving the Bronzeville and neighboring South Side community. In 2021, they started at the Disability Cultural Center at UIC as a graduate assistant.
Their research interests center on applying queer-anarchist philosophical perspectives and activist intervention models to community service provision practice, from the perspective of an academic, a social services provider, and a peer in recovery. Their writing has been published in Queering Anarchism (2012). In their spare time, they like to spend time with their cat, write poetry, and bake and cook as many delicious things as they can for their friends and polycule.
Callisto Wojcikowski (They/Them/Theirs)
- Year & Major: Final Semester Senior, History Major/Anthropology Minor
- Passions and/or research interests: Space exploration, 19th century European history, tabletop games
- How I connected with the DCC: Found the DCC via the Gender & Sexuality Center upon transferring to UIC, started coming to events and really loved the community being built here, and y’all haven’t been able to get rid of me since! [evil laughter]
- Ask me about: My Star Trek fan theories
Iemaan Khiyani (She/Her/Hers)
- Year & Major: I am a Nutrition and Psychology major here at UIC and am in my last year of undergrad.
- Passions and/or research interests: I am passionate about nutrition, cooking, baking, reading, exercise, art amongst many other things.
- How I connected with the DCC: I connected with the Disability Cultural Center as a freshman in college. Back then, the DCC was very new and it was just starting up. I strongly believe that one of the reasons I love UIC is because of the DCC and its warm, kind and accepting environment that has given me a place to be myself. So feel free to stop by and talk to all of us.
- Ask me about: I am always happy to chat with people about anything and everything — I love to talk!
Nia Sims (She/Her/Hers)
- Year & Major: Junior, Disability and Human Development
- Passions and/or research interests: My passions are learning about other cultures/experiences. Also giving back to underserved communities. I also want to become more active in disability rights/justice.
- How I connected with the DCC: I participate in the Community Care Cohort internship, which had informed me about this position. I wanted to work here because I want to help provide a comforting space for people with disabilities, learn more about different forms of access, and further my impact within the community.
- Ask me about: I am always open to conversations about different hobbies, pets/animals, tattoos, or anything else. I love learning and talking!