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Conferring legitimacy on the counter-hegemonic through the establishment of an antipsychiatry scholarship

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Image: Wikimedia Commons/SimonP​

Part one of a two-part series. Read part two.

Those of us who are radicals are commonly struggling to find ways to confer legitimacy on positions which substantially challenge hegemonic constructions and ruling (oppressive status quo ways of constructing and operating made to look like common sense). In this article, via a case study, I will be exploring how to accomplish such feats successfully, leveraging the authority of mainstream organizations in the process (obviously, this is not the only way to go). Highlighted are what kind of problems happen along the way, and how you might deal with them. The case in question involves two separate but related campaigns to establish an antipsychiatry scholarship at a leading university. What makes this case particularly instructive is that psychiatry, and all that surrounds it, is the height of hegemony; universities are recognized gatekeepers of what counts as knowledge; and academic psychiatry is pivotal to psychiatric hegemony. 

The Case

The first of the struggles to launch such a scholarship began early in 2006. Knowing of course that someone personally endowing such a scholarship would be pivotal to making this happen -- for the extremely counterhegemonic are hardly agendas that mainstream organizations rush to implement -- I wrote the Senior Development Officer in the Gift Planning Office at the University of Toronto with this proposition: that in accordance with previsions that I was creating in my will, my residual estate would go toward creating scholarships in two different areas -- antipsychiatry and combatting homelessness, and such scholarships were to be awarded annually to thesis students at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). 

The stipulations were: 1) students who were psychiatric survivors and students who had experienced homelessness would be given priority; and 2) the words "homelessness" and "antipsychiatry" would both be squarely in the title of the award. Why I put these two areas together, to be clear, is that besides that they often interact and that I was committed to both, I was counting on the fact that the antipsychiatry area could, as it were, "ride in on the coattails"  of the homelessness area.

At this point, you may be wondering why did I not just let the will speak for itself after I died? I did not because that would seriously jeopardize the success of the venture. After I died, the president of the university, the university's lawyer, and the dean of OISE would have to agree to the terms of scholarship, and I would not be around to marshal my arguments. Given how out-of-the-box the antipsychiatry part was, given, moreover, that it conflicted with the teaching of psychiatry, and given that academic psychiatry is a mainstay of most universities, such a gift would hardly be approved easily. However if I could prevail upon the current dean, current lawyer, and current president to agree in principle in now, it could pave the way for future agreement.

Was there any interest in the scholarship?  There was. Nonetheless, what followed was a very difficult nine-month struggle -- at this juncture, all of it at OISE. Examples of challenges presented and how I responded were: I was told that having such a scholarship was probably a no-starter for it would outside of everyone else's area of expertise and so no program at OISE would ever agree to administer the scholarship. I realized that this was likely to be the first of many obstacles, and if I did not deal them thoroughly, the initiative would go nowhere.

I proceeded to ask the coordinator of my program (adult education) if our program could oversee it. She sounded doubtful. I instantly suspected that my best course of action would be to see if I could interest another program in it, for this might well result in two programs agreeing to oversee the award. I turned to Sociology and Equity Studies (SESE), who quickly passed a motion agreeing to administer it, then I returned to Adult Education. As I had intuited, in response to SESE, Adult Education passed a similar motion (see minutes, Adult Education Program October 11, 2006). So now I had official minutes of meetings showing that two different programs were happy to oversee the scholarship. With such obvious "buy-in," would it now be "clear sailing" for the scholarship?  Of course not!

Next problem: I was informed that while it was just fine giving priority to students who had experienced chronic homelessness, there was a serious problem giving priority to students who were psychiatric survivors for doing so would constitute a human rights violation. Moreover, no students "in that position" would even want such a scholarship. Leaving alone the question of possible prejudice here, I quickly demonstrated that it was not a human rights violation for we have queer scholarships for which gay students are given priority. Correspondingly, I went on to write both Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault and The Mad Students Society, who forthwith consulted their membership, then went on record stating that their members very wanted such a scholarship. I duly presented the evidence. Was this the end of the objections? Hardly!

Though naturally, this had been the issue all along, the word "antipsychiatry" was now objected to. I proceeded to successfully defend the term/concept, whereupon, I was asked to sign a variance clause that in essence would allow the university to do anything they wanted with the money if they thought that the area was no longer relevant. Knowing that no gift is acceptable to the university without a variance clause, I immediately created a substitute variance clause that seriously limited what they could do, would ensure that the money would be used for the purposes intended. And, indeed, they agreed to the clause.

Now I thought that this must surely be the end for nine months had passed and I had dealt with every single objection. However, at this very juncture yet a further objection arose: I was told that it would be important to consult with the head of my department to see if antipsychiatry made sense to her as an area (a very nice person but one who, significantly, had no knowledge of the area at all).

Realizing that the same issue was just returning in a new guise but that it was possible that they wanted my money more than they hated the area, I figured that the moment had come to "play hardball." So I said to the Dean, "Thanks for the consideration, but this has been going on too long, and if the general tenets of this scholarship have not been approved by you, the university lawyer, and the President of the university within the next week, I will extend the offer instead to the School of Social Work at Carleton University." Three days later an agreement had been reached -- all three players had consented. And a few days after that, in a highly collegial spirit, the dean, the gifting specialist, and I got together for a celebration.

Now I proceeded to go on to other projects as if this matter had been thoroughly resolved. However, about eight years later it dawned on me that the antipsychiatry part of this scholarship might not be secure after I was dead, for here lie the bones of contention -- moreover, no one else would fight for it as skilfully as I did. My solution? To endow and to endow now a scholarship in antipsychiatry only -- an initiative that I took on partly because it would be good for the movement if such a scholarship existed now, partly to prepare the way for the later and far larger scholarship which would materialize upon my demise. 

Part one of a two-part series. Read part two.

This article originally appeared on BizOMadness Blog.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/SimonP​

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