Prof. Hilary Weaver’s Fall 2020 Digital Visit to Syracuse University

Diane R. Wiener

Photograph of Prof. Hilary Weaver
Prof. Hilary Weaver

This unprecedented year, during which virtual platforms became necessarily ubiquitous in Higher Education and beyond, the leaves were turning their fall colors in upstate New York when Lakota scholar, Prof. Hilary Weaver, joined the Syracuse University community digitally to present a public lecture and workshop focused on reimagining the future. Both events were offered via the Humanities Center’s Syracuse Symposium series; the series’ 2020-2021 theme is “Futures.” Prof. Weaver is Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and a Professor of Social Work at the University at Buffalo.

Prof. Weaver’s public lecture, “(Dis)ability Futures and Indigeneity: Critical Epistemologies for Social Change,” took place via the Zoom platform on October 22, 2020. In mainstream societies, disabilities are perceived frequently as deficits, emboldened by values borne out of colonization. The public lecture by Weaver instead drew on traditional indigenous understandings, wisdom, and knowledges to answer vital questions. For example, what can the United States and the rest of the world learn to change our future, by making disabilities and other differences understandable, without applying a deficit model? The future, as Prof. Weaver asserted, does not need to be as hierarchical as the present.

100 participants joined the public lecture, including faculty and staff, students, activist-scholars, and community partners from across the globe’s time zones. A robust discussion followed the talk, with many participants sharing comments and stories about ableism, and its relationship to settler colonialism, racism, classism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of social violence and ignorance. The conversation included critical commentary, hope, strategies, and creativity. At the conclusion, an outpouring of gratitude occurred, articulated via Zoom’s many features, all lauding Prof. Weaver’s remarks, and her brilliance, candor, relatability, and compassion. Ideas and feedback were shared by participants from indigenous clans and communities, the U.S., and internationally. One guest shared warm greetings and appreciation from Turkey; another did so from South Africa.

The workshop with Prof. Weaver, held on October 23, 2020, was entitled, “The Medicine Wheel as a Framework for Understanding Disabilities: Informing Our Future Thinking, Informing Our Future Actions.” Prof. Weaver engaged over 40 participants in the digital conversation. She showed how the Medicine Wheel is a powerful symbol for many Native Americans and contains many layers of meaning. Weaver explored how components of the Medicine Wheel can be used to understand traditional indigenous ideas about disabilities. Participants engaged deeply with many relevant Native American teachings and interpretations to understand how these frameworks can inform everyone’s understanding of different abilities—of Mind, Body, Spirit, and Heart. The in-depth discussion focused on how we can all work toward change—for individuals and on a large scale—to reduce stigma and “othering,” creating a better future in our shared world. The participants—again, from across the globe—were from multiple constituent groups and held a plethora of identities.

The PowerPoint slides for Prof. Weaver’s talk and workshop are being made available to all participants; other interested parties are welcome to contact the Office of Interdisciplinary Programs and Outreach ( at the Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) to request this content; Prof. Weaver has graciously made her work available to share with others.

Prof. Weaver’s public talk and workshop both included American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation and live captioning; Prof. Weaver described all visual and image-rich content. Zoom’s many accessibility features were utilized robustly, in order to create a welcoming, inclusive experience for all participants. The public talk was recorded and will be posted—with captions—on the OIPO website.

New York State licensed social workers were eligible to earn Continuing Education (CE) credit for participating in these events. In partnership with the Office of Interdisciplinary Programs and Outreach, the Syracuse University School of Social Work Continuing Education Program offered free CE contact hours to eligible professional social work practitioners in New York State. Syracuse University’s School of Social Work is recognized by the New York State Education Department’s State Board for Social Work as an approved provider of continuing education for licensed social workers (#SW-0106).

These events were made possible by the Humanities Center and the Office of Interdisciplinary Programs and Outreach, with additional support from Falk College, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Department of Religion, Native American and Indigenous Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Native American SUNY: Western Consortium.

Any questions or comments pertaining to these events can be addressed to Prof. Diane R. Wiener at