As a feminist studies scholar, diversity, inclusion, and social activism are at the center of my research and teaching practice. As a white woman from a privileged background, I know I will always be learning, adjusting, and growing, but I do not let the knowledge that I may fall short in my efforts stop me from always striving to do better to make my classroom, department and campus a space where students have the resources they need to succeed. To this end, I seek to design inclusive syllabi, to promote empathy and active listening in class discussion, to center accessibility in my class policies, and to take part in and create campus and community programs that promote diversity,
My underlying goal for any course I teach is for students to understand the concepts of intersectionality and privilege but also for me to put them into practice in my course design and classroom experience. I work to make sure class content that is representative of a variety of scholars, writers, and media-makers. Not only do I need to take an intersectional approach to each week’s topic, I also need to make sure the films, television, and other media we watch in class comes from a variety of perspectives especially women creators of color and queer creators. I also believe a key aspect of recognizing one’s own place within society is to promote active listening and empathy within classroom discussion. I work to create a classroom in which students feel comfortable sharing their opinions but also understanding that racism, sexism, or homophobia won’t be tolerated as a simple difference of opinion. I try to promote classroom discussion that doesn’t leave oppressive language unchecked, but that that also allows students to make mistakes and learn from them. I see college as an environment in which students need to be have the space to expand their worldviews and understand others’ perspectives but in a way that isn’t detrimental to their classmates’ ability to learn and that doesn’t further marginalize vulnerable populations. I model this for my students by openly acknowledging my own mistakes and taking student criticism seriously. For instance, when students let me know they felt like my use of the term “guys” to refer to students wasn’t inclusive and when students suggested we bring in more scholars of color for guest lectures in our Sex and Gender in Popular Media Class. In each instance, I openly acknowledged their criticism and took steps to change my behavior, altering my vocabulary and inviting guest lecturers for several remaining class meetings.
The area in which I find I have become much more mindful over my five years of teaching is a commitment to accessibility in my classes. As someone who has always found traditional education structures suited to my needs as an able-bodied, middle-class student with a long line of family who attended college, I have needed to learn to be reflective of the needs of students whose learning is impeded by a strict adherence to traditional classroom rules and structures. I have always adhered to the University of Illinois’ Disability Resources and Education Services (DRES) policies, but have expanded my definition and commitment to accessibility and continue to adapt my approaches each semester. As teachers we can often lose sight of the range of barriers to education our students may face that go beyond documented learning disabilities covered under the policy. For instance, I used to ban laptops and technology in my class until I listened to feedback both from my students and arguments from instructors I interact with online that technology bans serve as a detriment to many students who need to take notes on laptops or who need access to their phones for family or work emergencies. I have also expanded my understanding of what constitutes inaccessibility. I have added a section on my syllabus that includes a list of educational resources as well as organizations and offices that can help with issues like mental health, discrimination, and food scarcity. I now also include a caveat with the DRES policy on my syllabus that acknowledges that just because a student does not have a documented learning disability does not mean that they shouldn’t come to me if they are struggling in order to work out alternative modes of class participation, test-taking, or writing.
Outside of the classroom, I have contributed to numerous programs that work toward personal empowerment as well as structural and systemic changes aimed at creating more a more just campus and community. Most recently, I worked with our Graduate College’s mentorship program that matches graduate students with freshmen and sophomores who want to the chance to conduct research and learn the research process. The program specifically invites underrepresented undergraduate students to apply to the program in an effort to diversify the academy by exposing more students to research practices. During my first three years on campus, I also volunteered with the Education Justice Project, “a program dedicated to building a model college-in-prison that demonstrates the benefits of higher education on incarcerated people, their families, their community, and campus.” I worked as a writing tutor every other week in the Danville Correctional Center, helped produce stories for the EJP radio initiative, and served as research coordinator for a semester, a role in which I facilitated the ongoing scholarship on prison education being produced by our members.
I have also helped to create several community programs with the goal of diversifying media, performance, and pop culture. I co-developed an after-school program called Girls Amplified that seeks give young women the tools to create change through storytelling and media-making in their communities, which has been piloted so far in two school sites in Los Angeles and San Diego and that will run in Chicago next summer. Finally, I started an inclusive open mic with the goal diversifying the stand-up comedy scene in Urbana-Champaign, and more specifically, with the goal of creating a space for women, femme-identifying, and queer performers who are vastly underrepresented in comedy, especially locally.
In addition to continuing to strengthen my intersectional feminist pedagogy and research practice, I am eager to take on an even greater role in fostering campus inclusion and diversity as a faculty member. I hope to develop the current programs that I run in Champaign for a new community and to contribute to similar groups on campus. I also plan to involve myself with current campus initiatives that promote diversity not just in name or mission but in agitating for material structural and systemic changes to create a more just campus for all marginalized students, staff, and faculty.