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SOPHIA Symposium:
"Disability, Civic Responsibility, and Community Friendship"

"Disability, Civic Responsibility, and Community Friendship" is the first of the SOPHIA symposia planned for 2011. It will be hosted at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, MS, on February 25th and 26th. We will have three facilitators for the event, including Dr. Nancy Tuana of Pennsylvania State University, Dr. Robin Wilkerson of the School of Nursing at the University of Mississippi's Medical Center, and Dr. Eric Thomas Weber of the University of Mississippi's department of Public Policy Leadership (Oxford campus).

NEW: PHOTOS! Plus, Photo Collage
Continuing Education Credits
Promotional Story and Appreciation of Support
Accommodations and Directions
Contact Information

Photo of man in wheelchair playing basketball.




This symposium, like all SOPHIA events, will be a philosophical conversation, not a traditional academic conference. We are inviting practitioners from outside the university, in this case people who work in a variety of areas concerning disabilities. Among such people are teachers, lawyers, nurses, doctors, social workers, all in dialogue with scholars of philosophy, religion, and other fields of interest. The aim of the event will be to apply the lessons of philosophy to the challenging situations that arise in real life and for philosophers to learn from people for whom philosophical challenges regarding disabilities arise in their lives or work.

We will have three main facilitators for our discussion at the symposium.

Dr. Nancy TuanaDr. Nancy Tuana is the principal facilitator for our event. She will be traveling from Pennsylvania State University, where she serves as Director of the Rock Ethics Institute and as DuPont/Class of 1949 Professor of Philosophy. Dr. Tuana also has established her expertise in the areas of moral and political philosophy, with emphases on science, technology, gender, embodiment, and feminism. She has both personal experience with disabilities and has lead outreach events in Pennsylvania for her community on disability related subjects. You can visit Dr. Tuana's Web site here to learn more about her many writings.

Dr. Robin WilkersonDr. Robin Wilkerson will join Dr. Eric Thomas Weber in leading one of our conversational sessions for the event. Dr. Wilkerson is a Professor and the Director of the North Mississippi Campus Sites at the University of Mississippi Medical Center's School of Nursing. She also serves as Co-Study Director of the Hinds County, MS Study Center of the National Children's Study, a NIH funded longitudinal study. Dr. Wilkerson's clinical expertise is in the area of children/ adolescents and their families. She has taught in the undergraduate, masters, and doctoral programs focusing on child health, pathophysiology, theory, philosophy, and qualitative research.

Dr. Eric Thomas WeberDr. Eric Thomas Weber will serve as a co-facilitator and program organizer for the event. He is Executive Director of SOPHIA and assistant professor Public Policy Leadership at the University of Mississippi. His doctorate is in philosophy and he teaches courses in ethics and public policy. He has some direct experience with disability in his family and has organized this event in part from this inspiration.

Beyond these facilitators, we will also feature speakers at the event in one session devoted to paper presentations. These papers are works in progress, written by philosophical scholars who are seeking input from practitioners and community members. These speakers include:

Dr. Michael Waddell, St. Mary’s College
.. “Should We Tell Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders That They Have ......Autism?  A Question for Disputation.”

Dr. Shane Ralston, Penn State University at Hazelton
..“Pragmatist Ethics, Disability and Educative Growth”

Michael Seifried, Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University
.. “Taking Natural Impairments Seriously”

Dr. Hanoch Sheinman, Rice University
..Work in progress

Dr. Bertha Manninen, Arizona State University
..Work in progress

We are quite fortunate also to have a number of further invited participants who are planning to attend. These include:

Robyn Gaier, Ph.D. candidate at Saint Louis University
Timothy Ignaffo, Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University
Dr. Jackie Kegley, Cal. State U. at Bakersfield (& Trustee of SOPHIA)
Dr. Nathan Nobis, Morehouse College

The event will be hosted in historic Bryant Hall, which you can find on a map here, and which you can see here (photos). We also have photos of the building and of our 2009 event hosted in it - click here to see the photos. The registration and opening reception for the symposium began at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, February 25th. At the reception we will offer some light food and drink. The first symposium session on Friday night begins at 6:00 p.m. On Saturday morning, we will open with a paper session starting at 8:30 am. We will then have three conversational sessions, interrupted by a lunch (provided). We will conclude the event at 5 p.m.

For this event, we have been approved to offer the following forms of continuing education credits:

Attorneys – approved for 3 hours of credit for attending Conversational sessions 2 and 3.  For credit, we will need you to fill out a CLE form and to write a check for $4.50 (1.50 per credit hour) made out to the University of Mississippi mentioning CLE in the memo line.  We will need you to fill out an evaluation form at the end of the program.

Physicians, Nurses, Nurse Practitioners, and Physical Therapists – approved for 7.5 hours of credit for attending the whole event, counting 1.5 hours of credit per session (including the paper session). There will be a flat fee of $20 for processing these credit hours – please make your check out to the University of Mississippi for this, writing CE Credits in the memo line.  It is also required you to fill out an evaluation form, then list your name and sign the form.  Finally, we will need you to fill out a special registration form (ask the program organizer), where you will need to include your name and address.

School teachers – Given that our program was approved by the University of MS Medical Center, you may be able to self-report your hours.  If you need information about the event for reporting, make sure that you have signed in for the event and contact Dr. Weber with questions or requests: etweber@olemiss.edu or 662.202.6301.



At SOPHIA events, we seek to foster conversations, first and foremost, much in the way that Socrates engaged in conversations in Athens, Greece, so long ago. We organize our conversations around themes, such as our this year on disability. In this instance, we will have four conversation sessions and will have some very brief readings to offer in order to help spark conversation. The idea is to have focused discussions on a set of key issues, divided among our conversational sessions. Each of the readings will be only one to two pages, so late comers can read the material quickly and engage in conversation.

Conversation session 1
Drs. Tuana and Weber will lead this conversational session together. It will open up discussion around questions about "What disability means in our lives." There are no readings to look over for this first, informal session. Our goal will be to set the tone for the event, to gain insight from the community about pressing issues and concerns that participants want to have raised in our overall program.

Conversation session 2 readings

Dr. Tuana will lead this session. The readings covered will be the following:

Davis, Dena S. "A Thoughtful Look at Disability," Hastings Center Report, March-April 2008, p. 54 - 55.

Marshall, J. "Concurring and Dissenting Opinion," City of Cleburne, Texas v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc, 473 U.S. 432, 1985.

Conversation session 3 readings
In this session, Dr. Wilkerson and Dr. Weber will lead conversation on the following texts:

Gostin, Lawrence O., "International Human Rights Law and Mental Disability," Hastings Center Report, March-April 2004, p. 11 - 12.

Silvers, Anita, "Rights are Still Right: The Case for Disability Rights," Hastings Center Report, November-December 2004, p. 39 - 40.

Conversation session 4 readings
This last session will be guided by Dr. Tuana and Oxford attorney Hale Freeland. The following to pieces are the readings for this session:

Snow, Kathie, "Inclusive Education: A Primer," from disabilityisnatural.com, last accessed 1/21/11. Pending permission, we will post this article on the SOPHIA Web site.

Freeland, Hale, Case Study: “I Ain’t dead yet! – Life and Lifestyle Decisions of Impaired Persons.” Mr. Freeland is an attorney living in Oxford, MS, who wrote a wonderful and rich case study for SOPHIA participants to discuss in 2009. We are grateful to have his participation again in 2011, with this new case study for consideration.

These readings will also be made available at the meeting. The longest of these is the Marshall dissent. If you have a chance to read only one of these carefully and in advance, please look it over. Also, please feel free to contact the symposium organizer, Dr. Eric Thomas Weber, to mention any questions you would like to have addressed at the meeting. We mean quite seriously to engage in dialogue with community members beyond the university.


Promotional Story and Appreciation of Support


Edwin Smith of the university's PR arm has put out a nice piece announcing our event. You can read it here. We are grateful to Edwin for his support.

Also, Dr. Weber was on Mississippi Public Broadcasting's (NPR station) MS Edition program on Thursday morning, February 24th at 8:30 am. We are grateful to MPB for their interest in the subject of this event.

Also, Thursday, February 24th, The Daily Mississippian published an article announcing the event. It contained a misquoted statement and left out mention of our key facilitator, Dr. Nancy Tuana, but otherwise it was helpful in announcing our event. You can read the article here.


SOPHIA is most fortunate and grateful for support from several wonderful organizations that have provided grant funds for this event.

Logo of the Mississippi Humanities CouncilThe Mississippi Humanities Council (http://www.mshumanities.org/) awarded SOPHIA $5,000 of support for this symposium. In 2009, the MHC supported our event, which yielded splendid reviews. You can read those reviews here: http://www.philosophersinamerica.com/eelcomments.html

Thumbnail photo of a sprouted seed to symbolize seed funding and growth as a result.The American Philosophical Association (http://www.apaonline.org) has awarded SOPHIA $4,000 to support two events in 2011. One is this symposium and the other is an event that will be hosted in Washington, D.C. in the summer of 2011. We are most grateful for the support of both of these organizations.

Beyond these two generous sponsors, SOPHIA is also grateful for the support of a number of offices and departments at the University of Mississippi. We are grateful for the support of the departments of Philosophy and Religion, Political Science, Public Policy Leadership, the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, the Lecture Series Committee, the College of Liberal Arts, the Office of Disability Services, the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, and the Office of the Provost.



SOPHIA secured a conference rate of approximately $90 per night for our symposium participants at the Inn at Ole Miss. Please mention SOPHIA to get the special rate. Contact the Inn early to make sure you secure the rate. For directions to the Inn at Ole Miss, click here. For reservations, call 1.888-4UM-ROOM (1-888-486-7666). If you have any questions, you can contact Ms. Laine Mitchell, 662.234.2333 or lmitchell@alumni.olemiss.edu or contact the symposium organizer, Dr. Eric Thomas Weber, 662.915.1336 or etweber@olemiss.edu.

Parking for the event will be available on University Avenue and around the circle, available for free after 4:30 pm on Friday and all day on Saturday. Anyone staying at the Inn at Ole Miss will be able to park there as needed. You can see a map of University Avenue here, which connects directly to the Circle. Bryant Hall, where our event will take place, is found on the Circle.

Also, should you have any special dietary restrictions or any other special needs for participating in our event, please let Dr. Weber know as soon as possible. You can reach Dr. Weber by phone at 662.915.1336 or by email at etweber@olemiss.edu. Upon request, we will have a sign-language interpreter at the event, thanks to the Office of Disability Services. If you, a family member, or a friend could use such a service and would like to participate in the symposium, please contact Dr. Weber as soon as possible at the number or email address listed here below.


Contact Information

If you have comments or questions about SOPHIA or about this particular event, you can direct them to Dr. Eric Thomas Weber, Executive Director of SOPHIA and program organizer for "Disability, Civic Responsibility, and Community Friendship." You can contact him via email at etweber@olemiss.edu or by phone at 662.915.1336 (office) or 662.202.6301 (cell phone).


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