My main goal as an educator is to engage students in critical reflection on issues of oppression and privilege, with a focus on active social justice engagement. Higher education institutions are spaces where students are asked to think outside their comfort zone and become better citizens of the world. Therefore, I challenge students to take on different frameworks to look at artifacts that are familiar to them.
In my classroom, instruction is directly relevant to the students’ lives. This commitment is reflected in the way I structure my Gender and Social Change class. In order to assess the needs of different students, before each class I prepare a guided discussion online where they can post questions and discuss the readings for the day. With these in hand, I can tailor the activities for the day to cover topics of interest, and focus on terms in the material they might have had a hard time with. For instance, students may have difficulty understanding the term intersectionality. In order to facilitate their comprehension, I may use an identity map, asking them to think about how their own identity is made up of multiple aspects. Or I may ask them to select one word to define themselves. In one class, I asked students to choose one adjective that they think define them and write it on a name tag. After, I told them to walk around the classroom and question their peers about the word they chose. When the activity was over, we discussed the difficulty of choosing the word but also having to explain it, which spoke to the complexity of individuals. In the same course, I encourage students to bring outside materials to the classroom to see how they can connect things they are interested in with gender and Feminist theories. In this activity, students can share with others their interest in video games, anime, music, and television in connection to theories we learned in class.
Most of my experience teaching college-level classes comes from teaching general education courses focused on diversity, which present a different set of challenges. In my Film and Culture class, an introductory course to Cultural Studies with focus on media, I used materials that were familiar to them, like current television shows or movies, to bring topics such as heterosexism and stereotyping to the forefront of our conversations. I find that when the conversation begins with prompts that they know, students are more likely to feel like they have ideas to share. Starting a conversation, for instance, talking about shows like Modern Family or Games of Thrones and connecting it to heteronormativity or gendered violence makes the conversation more relevant to students. I often start class just asking students to share what they have been watching at home. In the first couple weeks, they use words like fun, or boring to describe these pieces. At the stage of the course, I prompt them to start thinking about representation, asking questions they may not have thought about. As the semester progresses, they start using class content to describe them talking about how they have never noticed gender issues in shows they like or how they have notice the absence of people of color in a particular movie. Marie, a white woman in her forties, told me at the end of the semester that the class had changed her perspective on media, and that she was now teaching her children how to watch movies critically and examine stereotypes.
To conclude, in my classroom I focus on bringing social justice issues to the forefront. Students will leave any class that I teach, whether it is an introductory course or an advanced graduate level class, with a stronger sense of commitment to civil rights struggles happening in their communities.