Examining experiences in the geosciences as a student and as a professor with a learning disability: an autoethnography comparing the two perspectives

Thursday 3:00pm Tate B20


Caitlin Callahan, Grand Valley State University

In 2015 when I started my career as an assistant professor in geology at Grand Valley State University, I resolved that I would disclose my learning disability (LD) to the students in each course that I taught, and I have. Over time, though, how I have disclosed has changed. In my early semesters, I explained that "I was a student with a learning disability." More recently, though, I have introduced myself by stating that "I have a learning disability." This change in wording reflects a significant transition in my mindset, one that required intentional efforts over a period of time.

The qualitative methodology of autoethnography involves examining cultural experiences and beliefs through construction of personal narratives that can provide "insider" perspectives and then contextualizing those narratives with existing literature. In this presentation, I am consciously choosing to set aside common questions about either external barriers or useful supports for students and professionals with learning disabilities. While such questions and discussions are significant, they can overlook the more intimate experiences of living with an LD and are unlikely to cover the span of experiences from student to teacher for a single person. Thus, I am choosing instead to employ my "insider" perspective to address the following questions: How did my LD inform and alter my experiences as an undergraduate and graduate student in the geosciences? How have my thirty years of experiences with my LD informed my approach to teaching in the geosciences? How do my experiences relate to existing literature on being a student and professional with an LD? While analyzing my own story and the literature offers me some resolution to these personal questions, another intent of this project is to add to the larger, ongoing discussion about inclusion and accessibility in the geosciences.