Campus Icarus Updates: 2011

Section: 

CAMPUS ICARUS UPDATES -
END OF YEAR 2011

Update from Dr. Brad Lewis <bradley.lewis@nyu.edu>

Mad Pride/Mad Science

After a year of sabbatical, I have had the opportunity to teach my regular interdisciplinary class titled Mad Pride/Mad Science at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. The class uses contemporary philosophy, social theory, and narrative theory to open up the many voices of madness and the power dynamics at play between them. We look at the models of madness developed by mad scientists—such as biological, cognitive, psychoanalytic, person-centered, family, and interpersonal. And we look at generative models of madness developed in mad pride communities—such as creative, spiritual, and political models of suffering and alternative states of awareness. Theory helps us understand the possibility that all of these perspectives have something valuable about them. But theory also helps us see how the pharmaceutical industry and cultural structures of sanism (which ride on similar logics to racism, sexism, homophobia, and ableism) overdetermine the way we perceive and too often denigrate and pathologize psychic difference.

Icarus Project activism, intellectual work, and networking are key to our efforts and more or less scaffolds the class. We start the class with a viewing of Crooked Beauty which sets the stage for thinking outside the box in this arena. Then, after working through the many issues, we return to Icarus at the end of the semester with a reading of Navigating the Space, some background on the Campus Icarus movement, anda repeat viewing of Crooked Beauty. By the time we return to Icarus, the class is remarkably sophisticated about the issues at stake. In tomorrow’s world, at least in my fantasy, this kind of class will be common on campuses. In that world, interdisciplinary scholarship in the humanities and cultural theory can do for madness studies what it has done for gender studies, queer theory, postcolonial studies, and disability studies.  

Neil Gong

In 2006 I attended Professor Brad Lewis’ Mad Science Mad Pride course at NYU. Some Icarus Project folks came and helped me examine some profound questions, not only about mental health, but also much larger ones of how we ought to live as a society in general. Brad’s class offered me an alternative theory of what mental health care could look like, and the Icarus Project offered a model of what that would actually look like as a community in practice. Working as an Icarus intern gave me amazing opportunities to explore these ideas in unexpected venues, such as the Virginia Tech workshop and the first Global Conference on Madness in Oxford, England.

Since my more active time as an Icarus Project member I’ve looked for ways to incorporate these ideas into the mainstream. I’ve been involved with Pathways to Housing, an agency that pioneered a harm reduction approach to homelessness, first as a clinical staff member and now as a collaborator on research. Unlike the transitional housing model, “housing first” gets long-term street homeless folks into their own apartments immediately, without prerequisites of sobriety or psychiatric compliance. People tend to do better psychically and commit fewer crimes of poverty when they have housing options, and the savings in reduced hospital and jail time is often greater than the costs of housing. This may sound pretty straightforward, but it has taken immense amounts of research and lobbying to convince cities that this approach is viable.

I’ve recently started graduate training in sociology, and I’m hoping to find ways to incorporate more radical ideas into mainstream places. Sure, something gets lost when you talk about harm reduction in terms of cost reduction, but I’ve also been surprised at how open folks from the mental health world and bureaucracy are. More than one administrator and clinician has been impressed with the ideas from the “Harm Reduction Guide to Coming off Psychiatric Medications,” so maybe there’s more room for incremental change than I’d previously thought. In the absence of something larger this is definitely something to be hopeful about.
Evergreen College Icarus

A chapter of Campus Icarus at The Evergreen State College had a Mad Pride Week near the end of the 2010-2011 academic year. During the week of May 16th-22nd, they led workshops such as "What is Radical Mental Health Activism?" and "Making a Madness First Aid Kit." This chapter of Icarus is not currently organizing because the student coordinators graduated. One of the student coordinators is currently working on an Olympia-based chapter of The Icarus Project, and is holding events starting in January 2012.

For more information about The Olympia Icarus Project, email oly.theicarusproject@gmail.com.