First Joan Schafer Research Faculty Award in Sport, Fitness, and Disability

color photo of 5 people in a swimming pool
Petra Kuppers (left), with actors from A Different Light Company in a pool in Christchurch, New Zealand
color photo of 5 people in a swimming pool
Petra Kuppers (left), with actors from A Different Light Company in a pool in Christchurch, New Zealand

The Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center (SHARP) and the Institute for Research on Women and Gender have awarded the first annual Joan Schafer Research Faculty Award in Sport, Fitness, and Disability to Petra Kuppers, Professor of English, Art and Design, Theatre and Drama, and Women’s Studies for her project entitled “Water-Based Movement Training: A Disabled Woman’s Journey.”

As a disabled dancer and scholar, Kuppers works at the intersection of movement and writing, feminist somatics and politicized bodies. Since 2013, she has led community water-based workshops around the world, which incorporate physical movement and artistic expression in pools, lakes, rivers and oceans.

With support from the Schafer Research Faculty Award, Kuppers will deepen her water-based movement work by training in Ai Chi, a water-based total body strengthening and relaxation program, and Watsu, a one-on-one therapeutic form of aquatic bodywork that relies on touch. By participating directly in training workshops, Kuppers will evaluate disability access and explore her personal experience with Ai Chi and Watsu through the lens of disability, gender, class, race, and age.

To disseminate her findings, Kuppers plans to write a creative non-fiction essay on her experiences and teach community workshops. Her goals are to advocate for more arts-based work in the disability community and share skills and information about career paths and options for disabled movement artists and educators. She explains, “Sharing the work will allows others to see new options for themselves– for movement, for well-being, for career paths, and for creative development.”

Established in 2015, the Joan Schafer Research Faculty Award supports projects investigating how living with a physical challenge influences access to and participation in sport and physical activity. Projects that have real world application are a top funding priority. This grant supports both theoretical as well as intervention research.  

The Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center (SHARP) researches and creates real world solutions to our most pressing questions in public health and health care, deploying gender as a critical lens. SHARP is housed within the Institute for Research on Women and Gender.

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