Emily Smith Beitiks

Headshot of Emily Beitiks, smiling with her hair in a side braid.
Associate Director of Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability
  • Bachelor of Arts, University of California at Davis, 2005
  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of Minnesota, 2012
Humanities Building, Room 135

As an undergraduate at UC Davis, I was immediately pulled in by anything relating to social justice, but when I was introduced to disability studies, it resonated on a personal level. As a child of a mother with a disability, everything I read in disability studies made me understand my experiences in a new way. In my senior year, I chose to focus my thesis project within disability studies and wrote about the history and current politics of the assistive technology industry. Technology has much to offer to disabled communities and the disability rights movement, but too often we treat technology as a silver bullet, putting off the social changes we need to make that are harder to tackle but will have a more permanent impact.

When I finished my undergraduate degree, I still felt hooked on disability studies, and so I began a PhD program at the University of Minnesota that allowed me to maintain this focus. My dissertation, Building the Normal Body: Disability and the Techno-Makeover, looks to integrate Disability Studies and Science and Technology Studies into American Studies. In particular, I employed an interdisciplinary approach to uncover the cultural stories we tell about disabled bodies normalized with science and technology, which tend to say much more about ableism than they do about the lived experiences of people with disabilities using devices. I completed my PhD in April 2012, already having relocated to San Francisco, my native home.

During my graduate education, I worked towards disability justice outside of my research as well. I served for three years on the University of Minnesota Disability Issues Academic Senate Committee and also served as a board member of the Disabled Student Cultural Center (DSCC), working with undergraduates to raise awareness of disability issues around campus. I was the lead organizer of the first disability-related protest on the University of Minnesota campus in over a decade and helped connect the DSCC to the local disability rights groups. Further, I taught at the University of Minnesota, UC Santa Cruz, and UC Davis, always working disability studies into my curriculum.

In April 2011, I began working for the Center for Genetics and Society (CGS) in downtown Berkeley, which provided me with additional experience at applying disability theory outside of academia. CGS is a social justice non-profit working to ensure the responsible uses of human genetic and reproductive technologies. Such technologies involve high stakes for issues of disability justice, as efforts to "enhance" the human species threaten to bring back eugenics through new scientific means. These emerging issues are currently giving rise to what some are calling a "biopolitical movement," which brings together publicly engaged academics and scholarly-minded activists. I look forward to helping build similar bridges through my work with the Institute.

I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability. Paul was a welcoming presence when I first got interested in disability studies as an undergraduate, and then again when I returned to the Bay Area in the final years of my PhD and was looking to reconnect with the local disability community. Through my work at the Institute, I hope to be able to have a similar impact on others that Paul had on me.