Alumnus Chad Duffy smiles in front of the Applebee Center. Duffy is teaching SAAJ and rhetoric this semester for the Humanities and Teacher Education Division. Photo courtesy of the Pepperdine website
Alumnus Chad Iwertz-Duffy (’08) said he is joining the Humanities and Teacher Education Division as faculty for the 2022-23 academic school year. Duffy studied Writing and Rhetoric and Religion at Seaver.
Duffy said his research is on the intersection of disability studies and emergent digital technologies. This research led him to Pepperdine, where he now teaches portions of the Social Action and Justice Colloquium.
“As a professor, I want to have a genuine connection with my student that isn’t mediated through someone or something else just because that student is deaf,” Duffy said. “We can find a way to still communicate, and we did. That’s where [my interest] started.”
The field of disability studies emerged in the 20th century as part of the Civil Rights Movement but reached its height during the 80s and 90s, according to JSTOR Daily. It is primarily concerned with examining the physical and abstract barriers people with disabilities face.
“We have banners that say, ‘You belong here’ and ‘You’re welcome here,’ but what is the actual space communicating?” Duffy said. “What does the University communicate, and how do students, the community and I change that to focus on relationship building and accessibility?”
While teaching a college writing course at Oregon State University, Duffy said he encountered a student who is deaf who used the accessibility program TypeWell. TypeWell is a service that transcribes conversations in real-time while also allowing the user to edit any potential typos or add additional notes.
Duffy said this made him curious about the other programs students with disabilities are using.
“Price wrote the book ‘Mad at School,’ which is one of the first books to deal with the rhetorics of mental disabilities in academic life,” Duffy said. “They just had some great stuff happening in their disability studies program, which was what guided me there.”
While his interest in disability studies began after Pepperdine, Duffy said studying at Pepperdine inspired him to seek ways to bridge the gap between learning about social justice and enacting it.
“Lori Goodman [from the english department] and the religion department focused on getting [students] out of the classroom, getting into the community and learning about what people in LA experienced in their daily lives,” Duffy said.
The website says while enrolled in SAAJ, students will participate in community service, learn about the history of activism, and examine how to integrate activism into their majors or professions.
He is excited about teaching SAAJ and seeing how his students can make changes at Pepperdine. Recently, he led his class in designing and completing an unofficial disability audit of campus. Duffy said the goal was to get students thinking about how the University’s claims of belonging hold up against the actual accessibility of campus.
First-year Julian Moghaddasi wrote in a Sept. 27 email to the Graphic his time as one of Duffy’s SAAJ students has been eye-opening.
“I have already learned so much, and Dr. Duffy does a great job teaching us and getting us to think,” Modhaddasi wrote. “I think that the work we are doing is important because it puts us in other people’s shoes and gives us more to think about than just ourselves.”
Moghaddasi wrote he believes Duffy’s work is important because students deserve to learn about people’s different experiences and should be able to help implement equity.
“What Duffy is teaching and doing research on is very important to our society because we don’t want to leave people out just because they look or act different,” Moghaddasi wrote. “I think it’s all very important.”
Currently, Duffy and his students are coordinating to invite the LA Spoonie Collective to present to the school. The collective is made up of LGBTQ+ artists and activists of differing abilities who seek to educate on disability justice.
“We have work to do on campus, and being a junior faculty member coming in with training on accessibility for people with disabilities, this is what I want to help with,” Duffy said. “Disability counter-culture exists everywhere, and the more I hear about the culture at Pepperdine, the more I want to do to help educate and eventually lead to acceptance.”
Duffy said he hopes to establish more academic interest in the field through his SAAJ and rhetoric classes.
“The field of disability studies is such a beautiful area of study because there’s so much excitement, pride and just good things coming out,” Duffy said. “I feel really fortunate to have found it and to be with colleagues and friends who are all wavering towards justice.”
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