As a feminist media scholar, diversity, inclusion, and social activism are at the center of my research and pedagogical practice. I strive to always be learning, adjusting, and growing in my effort to create an inclusive classroom, department, campus and community and to transform the world through education. I do this through my commitment to diversifying my syllabus and practicing more accessible and inclusive pedagogy, my critical media research agenda, and my campus and community service.
Curricula, Syllabi and Pedagogical Practices
I try heed the call of scholars like Radhika Natarajan (2019) and Nayanara Sheoran Appleton (2019) to continuously diversify syllabi, decenter hierarchical knowledge production, and disrupt the traditional canon in my classrooms. I not only work to promote student recognition and understanding of intersectionality and privilege, I also strive to incorporate these concepts into my syllabus design. I draw on work and assign readings that are representative of a diverse group of scholars, writers, and media-makers. This means incorporating readings beyond the traditional canon, particularly scholarship and writing done by emerging scholars and cultural critics, and discussing work produced by women creators of color, queer creators, and other marginalized media makers.
Natarajan also challenges scholars to understand reforming our classrooms as “more than a matter of addition, subtraction, or replacement of authors and texts.” We must also, “address the relationship between forms of knowledge we value in the classroom.” The area in which I find I have become much more mindful over my six years of teaching is a commitment to accessibility that goes beyond a perfunctory adherence to disability accommodations. As someone who has always found traditional education structures suited to my strengths, I have learned to be reflective of the needs of students whose learning is impeded by a strict adherence to traditional classroom rules and structures and to find ways to disrupt traditional values associated with assessment, writing, communicating, and learning.
I do this in several ways, large and small. I used to ban laptops and technology in my classes until I listened to feedback both from my students and from fellow instructors that technology bans serve as a detriment to many students who need to take notes on laptops or phones. I added a section on my syllabi that includes a list of educational resources, organizations, and offices that can help with needs related to mental health, discrimination, and food scarcity. I include a caveat with the accessibility policy on my syllabus that acknowledges that even students without documented accommodations should come to me if they are struggling and want to discuss alternative modes of class participation, test-taking, or writing. Working with many non-traditional, commuter, and first generation students at West Chester, I find that trusting students to know when they need to miss class while setting clear expectations for making up work and getting notes makes for a much more conducive learning environment than strict and inflexible attendance policies that tend to do the most damage to the most marginalized students.
I also try to experiment in disrupting assessment in larger ways. In one of my smaller classes this semester, I experimented with “un-grading.” I explain my expectations in class and in individual meetings with students three times throughout the semester, give extensive feedback on writing and homework, and have students write a memo for their midterm and final in which they argue with evidence for the grade they think they deserve based on these expectations. I’m ¾ of the way through the class, and while students were hesitant at first, they are taking the contract seriously and seem to be able to learn better without the constant worry over points. I have also learned several ways to improve the process in future iterations.
My research, which lies at the intersection of feminist media studies, popular culture, and technology, takes the form of critical-cultural qualitative analysis of how identity and power affect media industries at every level and produces certain relationships between audiences, fans and producers. More specifically my work on gender and stand-up comedy tries to understand how the culture of local stand-up scenes and online spaces shuts out the voices of marginalized fans and performers and how local stand-up scenes function as the first gatekeeper erecting social barriers to entry for those marginalized by gender, race, class, and sexuality. Similarly, my work on social media, community, and fandom explores how technology mediates discussions of popular culture with our friends, in writers’ rooms, in local comedy scenes, on podcasts, online, in critics’ reviews, and in the press. I investigate whose voices dominate these discussions and whose get silenced, how these discourses shape who gets to make media and who is constructed as a legitimate critic or creator, and how preferred meanings of texts are contested and solidified. I conduct this work in hopes of learning best practices for disrupting cultural and social barriers to entry in the media industry, of which film schools, colleges, and universities are a part. I also hope to include students in my research process, especially marginalized students, and to partner with student media-makers to create projects based on my research to be able to disseminate the work to a wider audience.
Campus and Community Programming
Beyond the classroom, I have contributed to numerous programs that promote structural solutions to supporting campus and community inclusivity. At the University of Illinois, I worked with our Graduate College’s mentorship program in which graduate students are matched with freshmen and sophomores who want to learn how to conduct research. The program specifically invites underrepresented undergraduate students to apply to the program in an effort to diversify the academy by teaching students to the practice of research earlier in their college careers. During my first three years on campus, I also volunteered with the Education Justice Project (EJP), “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 to 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 aimed at 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.
As I develop as a scholar and teacher, I will continue to develop and strengthen my intersectional feminist pedagogy and research practice. I am also eager to take on an even greater role in fostering campus inclusion and diversity as a faculty member. I hope to develop the programs that I ran 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.
Appleton, Nayanara Sheoran. (4 February 2019) “Do Not ‘Decolonize’…If You Are Not Decolonizing: Progressive Language and Planning Beyond a Hollow Academic Rebranding.” Critical Ethnic Studies Blog.
Natarajan, Radihika. (17 March 2019) “Imperial History Now,” History Workshop Online.