“Take Charge of Your Well-Being!”: A Critique of Neoliberalism and Ableism in Higher Education Well-Being Initiatives



Fojtik, Garrett

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Higher education well-being initiatives are in need of analysis within critical scholarship on the neoliberal university, on corporate well-being, and within the field of critical disability studies. Despite the proliferation of well-being initiatives in higher education, which is embedded in systems of neoliberalism and ableism, such an analysis is currently lacking within the aforementioned critical scholarship. Through a multi-method approach that combines content analysis with critical discourse analysis, I examine the ways in which higher education well-being initiatives perpetuate these interlocking hegemonies – neoliberalism and ableism – through their discourses of well-being. Through this analysis, it is evident that higher education well-being initiatives perpetuate notions of individual responsibility and other normative values of neoliberalism, obscuring the harmful systemic conditions in and outside of higher education that impact well-being. These well-being discourses also perpetuate ableist, medicalized notions of well-being and an uncritical, unnuanced pro-cure politics. They also broadly serve to other students, faculty and staff with mental disabilities. While most higher education well-being initiatives across the spectrum of institutions perpetuate neoliberalism and/or ableism in some way, some Historically Black Colleges and Universities and some Tribal Colleges and Universities demonstrate productive approaches to well-being that are rooted in the meeting of tangible community needs. Additionally, at predominantly white institutions, the co-optation of anti-racist liberation movements is evident as an emergent trend in need of further research. Finally, I argue for an embrace of feminist care ethics, conjoined with a political analysis of oppression, resistance and liberation, as a more meaningful and liberatory framework of care in contrast to the normative discourse of well-being predominant on higher education campuses.


This thesis has been embargoed for 2 years. It will not be available until April 2023 at the earliest.


Well-being, Neoliberalism, Ableism, Disability, Critical Disability Studies, Feminist Ethics of Care