My main task as a teacher of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies is to spark my students’ passion for learning, questioning, and social justice and to sharpen these skills into a proper feminist curiosity, feminist tool box and feminist voice. With feminist curiosity I am referring to a particular eagerness for knowledge regarding the topics of gender, sexuality, race, body, and power. A skeptic curiosity, attuned to moments where particular dominant views of these topics have been misused at the advantage of some, to subordinate others. With feminist toolbox I mean the acquirement of critical thinking, reading, analysis, art and writing skills, which enable students to detect, critique and deconstruct a variety of power-tools which result in misogynist, homophobic, sexist, racist and ableist forms of exclusion. With feminist voice, I finally refer to the translation of the fruits of this feminist curiosity and toolbox into legible products which rigorously articulate students critical reading of the world.
To obtain these goals three strategies guide my teaching: the creation of a learning environment in which students are applauded when asking questions, and encouraged to affectively and personally connect with the course material; a selection of interdisciplinary course material that marries dense theoretical texts with both public and artistic scholarship; and finally the creation of course assignments that encourages students to develop their own feminist voices.
My teaching first of all strives to create a learning environment in which all students are invited to be curious, surprised, puzzled, touched and/or critical about the course material they are confronted with. In my previously taught Intro to WGSS course (WGS 200), I ask students to write a one to two paragraph summary which indicates the main argument of each reading. They bring this summary to class and from there we collectively map the author’s thesis on the white board. Students are encouraged to share where they struggled in this task and we collectively reflect on the effectiveness of the author’s language and writing. Together we also situate the author’s argument in the broader history of WGSS and discuss how the scholar’s interventions relate or defer from previous readings. I encourage students to bring to class examples of how the theory relates to contemporary issues that are going on in the news or on social media, which we then use as hands-on examples to make better sense of the theory. Finally, my teaching equally leaves room for students to reflect on how they personally relate to the reading. One in-class exercise I like to do is have students split up in smaller subgroups and have each discuss a passage that affected them. We later regroup and share highpoints of this exercise with the whole class. Through these individual and group activities I aim for students to make the abstract course material their own.
Secondly, my teaching is characterized by a hybrid mixture of course materials which are not only interdisciplinary, but equally cross-modal. I realize this through the adoption of a particular course structure. Let’s again take my WGS 200 class as an example. Each week my course focuses on one particular topic. On Mondays and Wednesdays we tackle the topic through traditional theoretical scholarship, like articles or book fragments. This material is a careful selection of seminal texts in the field of WGSS, ranging from feminist to queer, critical race, trans and disability theory. On Friday we look at the topic through alternative-form material, either in the form of public scholarships (like blogs, podcasts, TED-talks, speeches) or artwork (like poetry, dance, performance art, music video’s). As preparation for Friday classes students are asked to write a two paragraph reflection on Canvas, in which they analyze the alternative-form material through the theoretical lens of both the Monday and Wednesday material. Sometimes I invited artist to give guest lectures during a Friday class. The main goal of this course structure is two-fold. On the one hand it allows students to apply theory that otherwise remains abstract. Secondly, it shows students that WGSS related scholarship can take a variety of forms.
Finally, I carefully design assignments that help students develop their own feminist voices. My own dyslexia has taught me that every individual has different intellectual and creative strengths, and with this in mind I created the “alternative form project”. For example, in WGS 200 I had students mirror the specific form of any of the Friday material, and substantiate their project’s intervention in an artist statement that touched upon a minimum of two theoretical authors. Students handed in pieces ranging from slam poetry, to photography, documentary, music video, blogs and cartoons. Subsequently, in their “final projects” I allowed students to pick between a traditionally written paper or a larger scale alternative-form project. Without any exception students choose the latter and handed in touching and compelling projects accompanied by strong artist statements. I contribute this success mainly to two factors. First of all, I divided the final project in many smaller sub-projects (i.e., proposal, annotated bibliography, draft, class presentation) and the accompanied feedback gave students space and time to let their projects grow. Secondly, I allowed students to come up with a personal topic. Many students took this opportunity to analyze, critique and subvert a misogynist, racist, sexist or ableist ideology which defines their own life.
These teaching philosophies and strategies are also prominent in my upcoming class, Sex-Love-Desire (WGS 300), which I created for the Mellon Public Scholarship Teaching Fellowship. In this course, students will learn how to apply their feminist curiosity, feminist toolbox and feminist voice to issues relating to sex, love and desire. This course is a further elaboration on the module on sex and love which I taught for the interdisciplinary freshman seminar Fifty Shades of Grey Areas (IDS 180), which I co-design and co-taughed with my fellow cohort of molecular biology, clinical psychology and anthropology scholars. The main teaching objective of Fifty Shades was to teach students how to deconstruct a dominant binary that governs our research. In my module I focused on the binary between love and sex.
Sex-Love-Desire is structured in a similar way as my Intro to WGSS. Every week we tackle a particular binary which governs dominant views on love, sex and/or desire. In Tuesday and Thursday classes students learn traditional theoretical approaches to the topic, while in Friday classes they are asked to apply the newly acquired theoretical lens to public scholarship material. I kept similar assignments – reading summaries, Canvas alternative form reflections, alternative form project and final project – but added two new assignments: (1) a reflection on a local art exhibition, (2) the creation of their own exhibition open to the general public. I equally added more guest lectures by local artists from Atlanta, in addition to a field trip to a local artists studio. Finally, we will pay a visit to Emory’s Centre for Digital Scholarship (ECDS). I have received Emory Center for Faculty Development and Excellence Mini-Grant to fund these activities.
It is my aim that all these additional assignments and activities will prepare students for their own final exhibition. After being immersed in theoretic, public and artistic scholarship by others, students will have the opportunity to share with the general public their take on either recent Women’s, Gender and Sexuality related issues, or Sex, Love and Desire related topics. A short version of their artist statements will be displayed as well, explaining which sex, gender, race or disability related ideology their work of art is aiming to subvert.
My teaching has been sponsored by Mellon Interventions Project Public Scholarship Teaching Fellowships, the ORDER/IDEAS Fellowship for inter-disciplinary teaching and an Emory Center for Faculty Development and Excellence classroom mini-grant.