book cover for Promoting Equity and Justice through Pedagogical Partnership

My experiences as a Mad/disabled/queer graduate student were incredibly lonely. It was these experiences of loneliness that led me to participate in pedagogical partnerships with faculty, staff, and fellow students, and that informed my contributions to the theoretical framework for Promoting Equity and Justice through Pedagogical Partnership, a recently released book co-authored with Beth Marquis, Alison Cook-Sather, and Leslie Patricia Luqueño.

As a graduate student from multiple equity-seeking groups, I felt like (and was) a misfit within the academic institution, like my efforts to communicate my knowledge were unintelligible to others. Instead of this loneliness or distress being recognized as an expression of harm, it was perceived by those around me as an individual “psychological” or mental health problem. In response to this loneliness, I organized Mad/disabled student peer support groups to find and spend time with people with shared experiences. Although this community offered beautiful, life-preserving company, I continued to feel lonely and couldn’t figure out how to explain why.

Find Conceptual Company

Then, one of my PhD committee members suggested I read Miranda Fricker’s (2007) book on epistemic injustice, and through a lucky search of the university library catalogue, I found Jill Stauffer’s (2015) work on ethical loneliness. I started writing about loneliness, weaving the work of Fricker and Stauffer together to articulate a form of “epistemic loneliness”—loneliness produced when equity-seeking students are abandoned as knowers and learners by those who might otherwise encourage and support us in our epistemic pursuits (de Bie 2019). I focused on tracing how mainstream approaches to “mental illness” awareness and intervention on campus can abandon Mad students, though abandonment can happen in many other ways too (e.g., inaccessible courses, disrespect of gender pronouns, institutional racism, etc.).

This development of a conceptual framework for understanding my experiences helped ease some of the loneliness I was facing. It gave me words for noticing and interpreting how violences in the academy resulted in loneliness, and how this loneliness reflected a form of epistemic, affective, and ontological harm. I could now describe how I was lonely as a learner and knower and in my development and articulation of Mad/disability knowledges because there were few people around me who recognized, affirmed, and supported this work. I felt emotions of loneliness—alone and apart from others who could understand me, a loss of confidence in my ability to make sense of the world. I could recognize how, combined, these epistemic and affective experiences had ontological impacts on my sense of myself as a knower and as a person.

My experiences of loneliness also prompted me to apply for a pedagogical partnership position working with Beth Marquis (and Alison and Leslie), as well as to a position as a service user educator/researcher on a mental health professions education project. Around the same time, I also joined the board of directors of a provincial psychiatric survivor/peer advocacy group where I was able to connect with Mad elders and longtime movement leaders. Although each position was quite different, they offered me people to think with and learn from, and began to repair some of the loneliness I was feeling. I needed the company of people, yes, but also of movement history, theoretical ideas, change strategies.

Conceive a Framework for Promoting Equity and Justice

The chapter that Beth, Alison, Leslie, and I wrote on epistemic confidence (de Bie et al. 2019) was my first opportunity to consider how the theoretical ideas I was developing and applying in my own life might help us notice details in the transcripts of interviews with student partners from equity-seeking groups. It was also a chance to talk through and process these ideas with others.

The Promoting Equity and Justice through Pedagogical Partnership book was yet another forum to do so. In some of our initial writing, Beth and Alison had extracted a long list of examples of how pedagogical partnership literature was engaging with questions of equity and noting the impacts of working in partnership on greater equity and justice. To this list I brought forward the ideas I was developing in my dissertation around epistemic and psycho-emotional (emotional and ontological) harms from oppression and their redress, and Leslie brought in her work on epistemic violence and students’ learning experiences. We collectively began to read the existing pedagogical partnership literature through this theoretical framework, expanding our focus to include epistemic components as well as affective and ontological violences, harms, and redress.

In developing this framework over the course of writing the book, I have appreciated the space to critically engage with both the possibilities and challenges/tensions/limitations of partnership, which are crucial to considerations of how we might promote equity and justice through these forms of collaboration. Indeed, participating in partnership has itself been an epistemically lonely experience for me at times—such as when those around me or the partnership literature I read feels more optimistic or less cautious than my own orientations through Mad/disability social movement affiliations (see de Bie 2020; de Bie and Raaper 2019). The book grapples with these and other tensions, and the barriers that may prevent partnership from redressing epistemic, affective, and ontological injustices, or even to aggravate harms at times.

For me, Promoting Equity and Justice through Pedagogical Partnership is a book that began in loneliness, and has provided me different ways of understanding and healing from these experiences. I hope it offers a form of company to others who are struggling to negotiate postsecondary (and other) institutions and make them more hospitable places to be.

The book is available through the Series on Engaged Learning and Teaching from Elon University’s Center for Engaged Learning and Stylus Publishing. You can learn more about the book and directly access the book’s supplemental resources at:


de Bie, Alise. 2019. “Finding Ways (and Words) to Move: Mad Student Politics and Practices of Loneliness.” Disability & Society 34, no. 7-8: 1154-1179.

de Bie, Alise. 2020. “Respectfully Distrusting ‘Students as Partners’ Practice in Higher Education: Applying a Mad Politics of Partnership.” Teaching in Higher Education, 1-21.

de Bie, Alise, Elizabeth Marquis, Alison Cook-Sather, and Leslie Luqueño. 2019. “Valuing Knowledge(s) and Cultivating Confidence: Contributing to Epistemic Justice via Student-Faculty Pedagogical Partnerships.” In Strategies for Fostering Inclusive Classrooms in Higher Education: International Perspectives on Equity and Inclusion, edited by Jaimie Hoffman, Patrick Blessinger, and Mandla Makhanya, 35-48. Bingley: Emerald Publishing.

de Bie, Alise, and Rille Raaper. 2019. “Troubling the Idea of Partnership.” International Institute on Students as Partners Connect Blog.

Fricker, Miranda. 2007. Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing. Oxford University Press.

Alise de Bie is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Paul R. MacPherson Institute for Leadership, Innovation, and Excellence in Teaching, McMaster University.

How to Cite this Post

de Bie, Alise. 2021, June 28. “Start with Loneliness: Conceiving a Framework for Promoting Equity and Justice” [Blog Post]. Retrieved from