Undergraduate Research

Miranda Harris '22

OUR Featured Researcher: Miranda Harris '22

Portrait of Miranda Harris.
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones

Miranda Harris (she/her) is a Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies and Law and Society major. She conducts research in Professor KJ Cerankowski's lab. Her research is titled "Disabled Becomingness: Our Rights and Our Futures Through and Beyond the ADA".

Please describe your research project: 

This project explores the visualization and creation of feminist disabled futures via an examination of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its enforcement. Now over thirty years after the passing of the ADA, it is necessary to take a hard look at how far the disability rights movement has come and how it can continue to grow, moving closer to justice each day. In this project, I will evaluate the reality of current disability policy and where it can go with its present societal foundations, and looking both within and beyond the legal system with a feminist framework will allow me to gain a comprehensive view of the implications and reality of disability policy. By utilizing feminist theory in addition to court cases and legal documents, my goal is to interrogate how successful the ADA is in serving its purpose and ask how the ADA should serve disabled people, in particular, disabled children, as some of the most vulnerable among us and those who carry the future in their hands.

A brief summary (the elevator speech) of your research project: 

This project explores children’s rights and disabled futures through linguistic analysis of the Americans with Disabilities Act, court case studies, and a grounding in feminist theory. It seeks to answer questions about how society redresses harm endured in the formative years and teaches disabled children they are allowed to exist in the world. This project then moves from discussing what a just future must not hold to actively imagining what it might look like.

Why is your research important?

This research is especially important as it clearly draws the connection between disability studies and feminist studies. I find the two inextricably linked and each necessary to the other. To me, looking at research and at the world intersectionally is essential to both understanding and undoing the systems around us. I hope this research deepens intersectional connections, and I hope it offers up mechanisms to create the future in which disabled people do not simply survive, but are allowed to thrive.

What does the process of doing your research look like?

Right now, my research looks a bit like promises to friends that we will write together soon, and it looks a bit like 10 am Zoom calls on a Monday morning while I yawn and come to exhausted yet enamored realizations about where my project is going. It looks like spreadsheets, and it looks like tens of open tabs on my computer.

I am using methods of linguistic analysis and case studies. I am studying court cases that cite the Americans with Disabilities Act, specifical lawsuits against schools on behalf of children. I am also studying the legal language within the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended. Through these methods, I will gain an understanding of the protections the law currently provides, what it might offer, and the path to getting there.

How did you get involved in research on campus?

I got involved with research during my second year at Oberlin with the encouragement of my mentor. There was an opportunity to submit abstracts for a Gender Studies conference, and Professor Cerankowski recommended that I apply. I was unsure, but he taught me that my knowledge and way of knowing hold incredible value, and that I can and perhaps should share them. I had my abstract accepted to that conference, which was unfortunately canceled due to COVID-19, but it gave me the confidence to progress as a researcher.

What is your favorite part about engaging in this work?      

Funnily enough, my favorite part of the research process has been one that is sometimes the most cumbersome and frustrating to others – I have really loved the organizational process of my research. I love keeping spreadsheets and notes, and I love reading the theory and court cases and tracking them in those ways. Intersectional feminist theory, to me, feels like a written assertion of our own humanity, and the court cases I’m reading are the physical record of people fighting for their own humanity to be recognized. There is a deep part of me that resonates with that.

How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project? How has it impacted you as a researcher? 

Working with Professor Cerankowski has been an absolute joy and incredibly impactful. As my longtime advisor, frequent professor, and now my Honors mentor, he has both encouraged and facilitated my growth as a researcher, student, and person throughout my four years at Oberlin. Working on my Honors project now with his support has been both meaningful and effective. My relationship with Professor Cerankowski is that he is someone who is always in my corner but will also always push me to be a bit better each day. In terms of my project as well as my time at Oberlin, he’s helped me see where I want things to go and how to get there. And I admittedly need quite a bit of outside structure, so I am grateful for the accountability as well!

How has the research you’ve conducted contributed to your professional or academic development?   

What is especially important to me about this project is that it combines where I’ve come from with where I am going. I have spent my time at Oberlin studying disability studies, and I plan to study law postgrad. My research combines these two things in its focus on disability policy. As I grow in my career, I want to remember why I chose it, and that reason is justice -- to fight for people. I think and hope that framing my entrance to the world and to the field in this way will solidify the foundation I will rely on throughout my career.

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?

Research often sounds like something huge, scary, and only for a few people to do. My best advice is to remember that there are many ways of creating knowledge that have a place being used and studied. I would tell those who may not feel as though they have the preparation or privilege to participate in research that their knowledge is more valuable than they could imagine and that the things they may find to be obvious may not have been said yet in the academy. They could be the ones to finally say them.