Loyola University Chicago

School of Education

Loyola Interdisciplinary Conference (Spencer Foundation)

Loyola hosts interdisciplinary conference “Reducing Suspensions and Expulsions of Students with Disabilities: Linking Research, Law, Policy and Practice

by Emma Healy


Loyola University Chicago hosted an interdisciplinary conference titled “Reducing Suspensions and Expulsions of Students with Disabilities: Linking Research, Law, Policy and Practice” on June 19-21, 2019. The goal of the gathering was to establish an agenda to mitigate suspension and expulsion of students with disabilities.

The conference, supported by funding from the Spencer Foundation, was an opportunity for professionals who advocate for students with disabilities to collaborate with others who have the same goal, yet approach the work from varied professional lenses. Twenty-five participants traveled from all areas of the country to Loyola’s Water Tower Campus to attend the three-day event hosted by Loyola’s Pam Fenning, a professor in school psychology at Loyola’s School of Education, and Miranda Johnson, a clinical professor of law and the Director of the Education Law and Policy Institute at Loyola’s School of Law. Attendees shared their work, made connections, built relationships with one another, and identified action plans for how the field should move forward.

This working conference required that attendees not only submit a paper beforehand, but also that they review the work of others assigned to them prior to their travels. On the first evening of the conference, Drs. Markeda Newell, Angel Miles and Dean Adams facilitated a conversation on DisCrit, which was used as the framework for the participants to frame critical questions to reflect on during the conference. As described by Annamma, Connor & Ferri (2013), DisCrit stands for Dis/Ability Critical Race Studies and is a theoretical framework that examines the intersection of racism and ableism in our Western society. DisCrit has a number of tenets, and a critical component is giving voice to individuals that have been historically marginalized in society. Because the focus of the conference was on the intersection of race/ethnicity and disability status, the participants used DisCrit as a lens to examine the intersection of race and ethnicity, particularly among students who are black or from a Native American background and also labeled as having a disability. During the dinner, Dr. Adams encouraged attendees to utilize “an analytic framework that encompasses the historical segregation of education” in their work.

Sarah-Bess Dworin, a professional restorative practices facilitator, led attendees as they continued to reflect on their independendent and collective work in a solution-oriented manner throughout the conference. The attendees agreed that this type of collaborative, interdisciplinary work will not only benefit their own individual efforts, but will also prove more effective in ultimately moving the field forward for reducing the disproportionality of exclusionary discipline for students with disabilities. During the next year, Pam Fenning and Miranda Johnson will continue the work through writing a peer-reviewed book prospectus with the goal of publishing a selected subset of the papers from the conference in an edited book.


Subini Ancy Annamma, David Connor & Beth Ferri (2013) Dis/ability critical race studies (DisCrit): theorizing at the intersections of race and dis/ability, Race Ethnicity and Education,16:1, 1-31, DOI: 10.1080/13613324.2012.730511