The main aim of my teachings on the intersection of critical humanities and art, is to spark my students’ passion for learning, questioning, and social justice while sharpening these skills into a proper critical curiosity, critical tool box and critical voice. With critical curiosity, I refer to a particular eagerness for knowledge regarding the power mechanisms which use the identity categories of gender, sexuality, race, age and/or ability to advantage some and subordinate others. With critical toolbox, I mean the acquirement of critical thinking, reading, analysis, artistic and writing skills, which enable students to detect, critique and deconstruct a variety of power-tools which result in misogynist, homophobic, sexist, racist, ageist and ableist forms of exclusion. With a critical voice, I finally refer to the translation of the fruits of this curiosity and toolbox into multi-modal artistic 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 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 encourage students to develop their own critical voices.
First of all, my teaching strives to create a learning environment in which all students are invited to be curious, surprised, puzzled, touched and critical about the course material they are confronted with. In Intro to Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies with Radical WGSS Art (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 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 often abstract and always complex 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 into small subgroups and have each discuss a noteworthy passage. 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 that 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. As an introductory course, my syllabus meanders through the vast history of WGSS. Each week my course focuses on one particular subdiscipline or import topic in WGSS. 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 materials, either in the form of public scholarship (like blogs, podcasts, TED-talks, speeches, newspaper articles or self-help books) or artwork (like poetry, dance, performance art, music videos, etc.). Two to three Friday’s a semester, I invite a local artist to give guest lectures on the critical potential of their art. One Friday a semester, I take my students to an on or off-campus museum, gallery, or artist studio. As preparation for these Friday classes, students are asked to write a two-paragraph reflection on Blackboard/Canvas, in which they analyze the alternative-form material through the theoretical lens of both the Monday and Wednesday theory. 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 critical artistic voices. My own interest in creating art led me to create 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 three theoretical authors. Students handed in pieces ranging from slam poetry, to photography, documentary film, music video, blogs, and cartoons. Subsequently, in their “final projects” I allowed them 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 divide the final project into many smaller sub-projects (i.e., proposal, annotated bibliography, draft, class presentation) in which they received feedback from both myself and their peers. Secondly, I allow students to come up with a personal topic. Many students took this opportunity to analyze, critique and subvert a misogynist, racist, sexist, ageist or ableist ideology which defines their own life.
My dedication to teaching is illustrated by the fact that I was awarded two teaching fellowships: first the Howard Hughes Medical Institute/Emory University-funded ORDER Fellowship (On Recent Discoveries by Emory Researchers), and secondly the Mellon Public Scholarship Teaching Fellowship. For both courses that I designed in light of these fellowships, my discussed teaching philosophies and strategies were always prominent. For the ORDER-course Fifty Shades of Gray Areas (IDS 180), I worked with my fellow cohort of molecular biology, clinical psychology and anthropology scholars to co-design and co-teach an interdisciplinary freshman seminar in which each of us taught students to deconstruct a dominant binary that governs our research. For the Mellon Fellowship, I designed the advanced WGSS class Sex-Love-Desire. The Subversive Power of Art (WGS 285) which I consider my most successful course so far. This course was a hybrid between my IDS 180 and WGS 200 courses. Every one to two weeks students would analyze and deconstruct problematic binaries that construct normative notions of love/sex/desire: love-sex, Madonna-whore, normal-perverse, vanilla-kinky, feminine-masculine, heteronormative-queer, etc. Throughout the semester, students would acquire a critical lens, formed by the feminist, queer and post-colonial canonical texts we discussed on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Among these texts were de Beauvoir, Irigaray, Lorde, Anzaldúa, Kristeva, Muñoz, Rubin, Sandoval and Haraway. Additionally, students would apply this lens to analyze radical art, such as the performance art of Abramovic, Schneemann, Coco Fusco and Guilermo Gòmez-Peña, the photography of Francesca Woodman, the contemporary dance of Alice Sheppard, the docomentaries of John Berger, or music videos by Björk, Jenny Hval, Beyoncé, FKA Twigs or Janelle Monáe – to name a few. Simultaneously, students would start to build their own artistic repertoire, through art analysis, local artist guest-lectures and visits to art exhibit and galleries. All semester, students would work on different renditions of their final art project and critical artist statement. This culminated in a highly successful art exhibit All Tied Up: Unraveling Love, Sex and Desire, which I co-curated with my students. After being immersed in theoretic, public and artistic scholarship by others, students had the opportunity to share with the general public their take on a sex/love/desire-related topic through both a WGSS and artistic lens.
My students stay in touch regularly. I enjoy meeting them for coffee on campus if they want to talk about their future, or any WGSS related topic. And I am very proud when I hear that more than a handful of them continued a feminist and/or artistic education. Their thank-you emails and cards often mention: “this class has changed my life forever.” Let me end with the words of one of my Love-Sex-Desire students, in order to illustrate the effectiveness of my triple teaching goals: to encourage students to affectively and personally connect with the course material; develop an interdisciplinary and multi-modal critical lens; and facilitate the courage to develop their own critical voice through carefully curated assignments :
Just wanted to say thank you for teaching me so much this semester! Your course was meticulously planned, and your passion was infectious. […] It’s been a real pleasure to create a performance art piece for the first time in my life, and it is thanks to your class that I was able to have that experience. I recently chatted with my fiction writing professor about my writing, and she observed that the topics of masculine power and bodies keep cropping up in my stories. Your course, if anything, fueled and expanded my reflections on those topics. And of course, your course has also made me think a lot about how I navigate intimacy in my personal life, which is wonderful!