Meet Professor Kym Weed! Prof. Weed is a teaching assistant professor, Co-Director of the HHIVE Lab, and Associate Director of English MA concentration in Literature, Medicine, and Culture. Prof. Weed received her PhD in English and Comparative Literature here at UNC Chapel Hill in 2018, and joined the faculty in 2019.
The Department of English and Comparative Literature is doing a Featured Faculty series to share the work and interests of our faculty, particularly newer members.
Get to know Prof. Kym Weed through the interview below!
What is a project you’re currently working on?
The BA/MA makes it possible for ECL majors to earn both a BA and MA in English and Comparative Literature on an accelerated timeline. Carolina has so many talented undergraduate students who are invested in studying health and healthcare from diverse disciplinary perspectives, so it only made sense to offer them a path toward an MA with a concentration in LMC. It is a great option for anyone who wants to take a gap year before medical school or other health professional program, to explore graduate study before committing to a PhD program, or to earn a graduate degree before entering the workforce.
The graduate certificate connects current PhD and professional students with the LMC curriculum, offering an additional credential in health humanities. Anyone exploring the academic job markets knows that more and more schools expect PhDs to have multiple areas of expertise. The graduate certificate is one way for students to develop and demonstrate their expertise in health humanities alongside their primary area.
We admitted our first cohort of students last semester and will review applications for both programs again in April.
What is one fun thing you’re teaching/taught in one of your classes this semester?
KW: I just can’t limit myself to one because I am teaching two of my favorite courses this term: ENGL 269: Introduction to Disability Studies and ENGL 071H: FYS: Healers & Patients!
The Disability Studies course (ENGL 269) is one of my favorite courses to teach because it meets a felt need for students at UNC to have a safe space to examine and discuss disability. I try to build a community of disability advocacy in the (virtual) classroom, so our discussion is the most exciting part of the class. Many students bring their own experiences to our conversations, sharing both challenges and triumphs, and I am routinely delighted to learn about the incredible advocacy work that UNC students are already doing around disability access on campus and in the community.
In ENGL 071H, we’re reading Damon Tweedy’s Black Man in a White Coat (Picador, 2015), which is such a great text to teach. Tweedy combines personal narrative (including stories about his patients) with historical and structural analysis of racial health disparities in ways that really resonate with students and prompt passionate and exciting discussion. I’m especially looking forward to teaching it this term because he gave the first Health Humanities Grand Rounds talk of the academic year and I can share that recording with my current students.
Students in ENGL 071H are also working on a research project that utilizes the SOHP Stories to Save Lives project archive of oral histories. We are in the early stages of listening to interviews and identifying themes, but eventually each group will compile a playlist of interview clips and write short essays that weave together the interviews with their own secondary research into a health topic of their choice. If the essays and playlists that students produced last year in the midst of our abrupt transition to remote teaching are any indication of what is to come, I know the projects this year will be excellent as well!
What are a few texts that have been intellectually inspiring for you recently?
KW: Jay Dolmage’s (new to me) book Academic Ableism: Disability and Higher Education (University of Michigan Press, 2017) has me thinking about all the ways that the academy has excluded disabled students and faculty. He makes a compelling case that eugenic thinking has played a central role in the modern university and that the exclusion of certain people from higher education plays a structural role in perpetuating eugenic thinking. What sticks with me is the image of “steep steps”—the imposing stairs leading up to some of the historical buildings on college and university campuses—that are both a physical and metaphorical sign of inaccessibility. It has me thinking differently about what our built, intellectual, and classroom environments communicate about who belongs and, importantly, who doesn’t belong at Carolina. It has also prompted me to be more deliberate in how I design my courses with inclusivity in mind. It can be intimidating to rethink accessibility in an academic environment that prioritizes production and performance, but Dolmage offers some helpful places to start in the appendix to his article “Universal Design: Places to Start” in Disability Studies Quarterly (35:2, 2015) for anyone who wants to do the same!
I’ve also had the incredible pleasure of reading a few great books with ECL graduate students in the Literature, Medicine, and Culture Colloquium (LMCC). Stephen Knadler’s Vitality Politics: Health, Debility, and the Limits of Black Emancipation (University of Michigan Press, 2019), stands out because it combines disability studies, medical humanities, and Black Studies in exciting ways. I learn something new from every reading and meeting!