Inside Higher Ed Reports on the Stubblefield Story

Inside Higher Ed has an article on Anna Stubblefield, the Rutgers-Newark philosophy professor accused of sexually assaulting a man (referred to in various accounts as “D.J.” or “John Roe”) with cerebral palsy.

In 2011, Stubblefield allegedly met with the man’s parents to inform them that the relationship had become sexual. The parents… say Stubblefield molested their son. They say he was physically and intellectually incapable of consent and has the cognitive ability of an 18-month old. But Stubblefield says that she informed the parents that she and John Roe were in love, and that their sexual relations were consensual.

The article also touches on the controversy surrounding “facilitated communication,” a subject of Stubblefield’s research and the means by which, she says, John Roe was able to express his consent to their relations.

Michael Bérubé, professor of English at Pennsylvania State University, has written extensively about disability studies, and about the fact that his son has Down syndrome. He said the Stubblefield case would renew the debate about facilitated communication – something Bérubé says works — drawing out its detractors. “No doubt this will be yet another opportunity for people to claim that [the method] is a fraud,” he said. “I understand the basis for skepticism but have seen it at work with people who cannot possibly be being manipulated,” including the nonverbal son of a colleague, who is now attending college.

The method has its critics.

Jason C. Travers, an assistant professor of student development at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, has studied autism spectrum disorders and assistive technology. In an email, he said the Stubblefield case “demonstrates the potential for catastrophic harm associated with [facilitated communication, which was] long ago debunked by numerous well-designed empirical research studies.” He called it “a manifestation of the well-known and understood ideomotor effect (the phenomenon responsible for the Ouija board effect).” Travers said even facilitators “usually do not realize they are authoring the messages, but every credible study indicates that they are,” and that Stubblefield herself may have been “duped” by the method.

The IHE article provides a link to a paper in Disabilities Studies Quarterly that lists the alleged victim as its author—a feat achieved, it is claimed, through facilitated communication.

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