Sydney Spotlight with Dr Chris Pepin-Neff

8 September 2023
A discussion with Dr Chris Pepin-Neff
This Disability Inclusion Week we talk to Dr Chris Pepin-Neff who has recently been appointed as Associate Dean (Student Affairs) in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS).
Dr Chris Pepin-Neff

Dr Chris Pepin-Neff

As the first person who has openly discussed their lived experience of disability to hold this position, Chris shares their ambition to improve accessibility and inclusion for all students.

In my role as Associate Dean (Student Affairs), I’m looking forward to…

Working 110 percent on making sure students feel welcomed and supported coming back on campus in 2023. It's weird, it has been a rough three years and everyone brings their own important experience of being in the world, whether they are living with a disability, queer, trans, and gender diverse (I'm queer and non-binary), or an international student, or first in family. So, I'm looking forward to being overly American in person rather than over Zoom. As much as every American likes to appear on television, that little Zoom box is too small! 

This is important to me because...

The Student Affairs portfolio in FASS is about making some of the tough stuff easier on students. The FASS vision led by Dean Lisa Adkins is to work with students to make this a transformational experience and I think this is important because ensuring that no one is left on the margins brings us all together – making sure there is access to classes for those using a wheelchair, or that lecture notes are in Word so they can be audio-read, or that all lecturers use a microphone are all small bits that make a big difference so the University belongs to each student. 

Aside from my day job, I’m passionate about…

I am neurodiverse so I track the dates of old movies, when they were released, and which actors were in them. I have an Excel sheet of every movie I've watched in the past 10 years and which years are best represented. The most-watched are Star Wars (1977), Jaws (1975), The Godfather (1972), and Mulan (1998). I'm also obsessed with old television game shows from the 1950s. I find predictability comforting and old TV shows or old music is supportive. Having said that, I'm not jumping into a time capsule anytime soon either. I'm on TikTok and just connected enough to know that my algorithm is a little odd. 

Beyond Disability Inclusion Week, I’d like to encourage everyone to...

Remember to keep considering both the visible and invisible disabilities that people are living with. In my Faculty about 25 percent of students report having a disability, but 72 percent of those students report having an additional disability. So much of the time we are only getting one-half of the issue and that is probably based on what is most socially acceptable and has the most resources, which means tougher, less-resourced disabilities are kept hidden and continue to hurt us as part of the system and structure. 

My favourite place to go on campus is…

I love the Graffiti Tunnel. When I was doing my master's degree at the University of Sydney, I was part of the queer group on campus and each group had a week to paint the steps and graffiti the walls with a message for the whole campus. Deep down I'm still just a queer non-binary youngster with a can of spray paint leaving outrageous messages of love and support to people walking by. 

Something that might surprise people about me is...

Oh dear. I collect White House Easter Eggs. These are wooden Easter Eggs that are issued each year by the President and First Family. I have 115 eggs of every colour dating back to when it started as a tradition at the White House in 1981 (my first egg was 1982) and sometimes give them away as a prize for class participation when I guest lecture. I have an egg for every year between 1982-2023. Stop by one of my classes when I teach and chances are there is a small wooden-painted White House egg in the front row!

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