As a feminist media scholar, diversity, inclusion, and social activism are at the center of my research and pedagogical practice. I know I will always be learning, adjusting, and growing in my effort to create an inclusive classroom, department, and campus where students have the resources they need to succeed, but I do not let the knowledge that I won’t be perfect stop me from working toward this goal. To this end, I seek to design inclusive syllabi, to promote empathy and active listening in class discussion, to center accessibility in my course policies, and to take part in and create campus and community programs that promote inclusivity.
Inclusive Syllabi and Class Discussion
I not only want to promote student recognition and understanding of intersectionality and privilege in my classes, but also to into incorporate these concepts into my syllabus design. I therefore 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 screening work produced by women creators of color, queer creators, and other marginalized media makers.
I also want students to discuss and learn from these assigned readings and screenings in ways that promote the recognition of perspectives outside of their own. College is a unique environment in which students have the space to expand their world views, and I foster this in my classroom by promoting active listening and empathy within our discussions. Further, I want my students to feel comfortable sharing their opinions but also to understand that racism, sexism, homophobia, or any type of hateful language and behavior won’t be tolerated as a simple difference of opinion. I want to create a space in which students feel comfortable making and learning from their mistakes in talking about topics like structural racism and gender inequality that they may not have openly discussed before, but without allowing oppressive language to go unchecked. I do this by setting discussion norms during the first week of the semester and by co-creating with students best practices for dealing with conflict that might arise. I also model these best practices by openly acknowledging my own mistakes and taking student criticism seriously when it is given. For instance, in my Sex and Gender in Popular Media class, students let me know on a mid-semester feedback form that they felt like my use of the term “guys” to refer to students wasn’t inclusive and that they would like us to invite scholars of color for guest lectures. In response, I thanked them for their comments in class 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 six years of teaching is a commitment to accessibility in my classes. As someone who has always found traditional education structures suited to my needs, 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. While I have always adhered to our university’s accessibility and disability policies, in recent years, I have tried to expand my definition of accessibility and to increase my awareness of the range of barriers to education that go beyond documented learning disabilities covered under the policy, including mental health and food and housing insecurity. For instance, I used to ban laptops and technology in my class until I listened to feedback both from my students and points made by 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 also 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 now also include a caveat with the accessibility policy on my syllabus that acknowledges 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.
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 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 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.