On September 11, I was thrilled to host this semester’s first event in the Futures Initiative’s signature series The University Worth Fighting For: “Queer Pedagogies and Pedagogy for LGBTQ Instructors.” The event was co-sponsored by The Futures Initiative and CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies, both housed at The Graduate Center, CUNY.
For the past couple of years, I have been on staff for both of these organizations, and I have also served a tenure of three years on the Board of Directors for CLAGS. I am very excited about both of their missions. At the Futures Initiative, we believe that the truly equitable classroom can’t come out of a good will but needs to be intentionally structured, especially around pedagogy. In meetings with the Board of Directors for CLAGS we had a long-standing conversation about organizing a Queer Pedagogy Network. Needless to say, I was very happy to be able to combine both the organizations’ missions in this one event.
In the marketing of the event, my collaborators and myself (all of them listed with bios below) had distributed a list of four questions which all the participants had, hopefully, read in advance. We were hoping that the participants would all be educators, drawing on their experiences, from K-12, undergraduate, and graduate classrooms as well as their own life experiences. These were the three questions we asked them to focus on during the event:
What are your pedagogical priorities now? How have they changed?
What do we need to unlearn? Where does learning start?
What does intersectionality really mean? How have we gotten it wrong so far?
A fourth question was separated out: How do you take care of yourself? How will you perform self-care this semester? We asked the participants to write down an answer to this question on a post-it note and glue it to a designated area of the wall in the room. We saved these responses for the finale of the event.
The participants were also provided all of these instructions on a hand-out when they registered at the event.
After a short introduction by Jenn Polish, the participants—who were already seated in circles of 5–7 people in each circle—started their discussion. They approached each of the three questions outlined above, with one person in each group as an assigned “facilitator.” The facilitator's’ job was to (a) make sure that everyone’s voice was heard in each group, and (b) be ready to share a brief summary or highlights of their conversation. We had dedicated almost a full hour to these break-out discussions.
One group’s conversation was live-streamed, and the participants in this group opted into it. You can see their conversation on the YouTube video (starting at 17m48s). If you have trouble hearing the conversation, click on the CC button in the YouTube interface to see the Closed Captioning.
Around 7.25, with 35 minutes remaining, we decided to round up the break-out conversations. Each of the groups recapitulated their conversations through their facilitators, with the option for anyone to ask questions to the group afterward. All of the notes from this conversation are in the collaborative note-taking document .
Since the event was also live-streamed, with 24 people watching the live stream, those participants were able to also contribute their responses to the three discussion questions in the note-taking document. Here are some of the responses (see the document for a full list):
What are your pedagogical priorities now? How have they changed?
Relinquishing control of my classroom as much as possible; engaging students in the design of the course
Finding a way to include all students in course discussions
Accommodating different modes of learning
Acknowledging and treating students as persons with full, busy, difficult lives—and checking in with students, meeting them where they are at
Finding opportunities to make space for your students to become heroes themselves, to find their own power (via community-building or a concrete strategy: have students read out their work loud)
Asking more questions
Finding the courage to be more radical and open with content
Finding the courage to establish reciprocal vulnerability in the classroom
Finding ways to build cultural competency on the institutional level
Bringing in organizations/people from the outside
Making safe and accountable spaces in the classroom
Including all types of people in textbooks and examples—even just names of people and photos of different types of people make a difference
What do we need to unlearn?
The dominant structure of learning in classrooms as lecture-based teaching
Teachers must be “experts” or “masters” of their subject areas
Everyone learns the same way
The barrier of “professionalism” that make us cagey about our own life & work conditions
How expectations are different from reality
Ourselves—how do we start with unpacking and critiquing ourselves?
The classrooms we grew up with
Being stuck in previous models
Where does learning start?
What does intersectionality really mean? How have we been getting it wrong?
Recognizing that identity categories are not mutually exclusive, they are complex and overlapping
Recognizing that many of the identity categories we use regularly have been given to us from the State
Raises the question what it means for us to reclaim these identity categories or invent new ones?
(Tricky one) Navigating our identity with authority in the classroom: Some of us may experience challenges to our authority; others need to navigate authority
Ex. of getting it wrong: that I need to “fill the bucket” educationally for my students on this, rather than realizing immediately that they already are living it, and working from their experiences.
Ex. of getting it wrong: being overwhelmed by the scope of intersectionality.
Ex. of getting it wrong: speaking over people, rather than in concert with them.
After the groups had spoken out, María Scharrón-del Río summarized general themes from their group conversations that stuck out to her. Justin Brown, Executive Director for CLAGS, then spoke up and talked about the wish to create a conference, where the reflections made in this activity could be seen as the beginnings of an agenda for that meeting.
Finally, María Scharrón-del Río turned to the list of self-care strategies and read off of the post-it notes that participants had glued to a piece of paper on the wall. A list of all of them can be found in the note-taking document.
She then asked the audience to add anything that they may have thought of throughout our two hours together:
Drawing lines between working (any kind) and taking time to go and sit in a bathtub with a glass of wine
Helping the people who are physically near me, which sometimes feel more doable than worrying about people further away (i.e., on the news, etc.)
Read queer young adult novels and science fiction (one of the participants offered book recommendations)
Letting myself play more—run around the block with your dog; be goofy
Borrow or walk someone else’s dog
As an exit ticket, participants were asked to write down what they’d like to come out of a queer pedagogy network. Here are a few of them (a full list is linked in the collaborative note-taking document:
Queer syllabi archive
A private but accessible listserv to address/brainstorm specific pedagogic problems together
Make sure to address whiteness and white supremacy directly
Make sure to have mixed + institution-specific groups
Help members with templates and support for those targeted for resisting through legal support, action points when harassed, and awareness-raising activities
Come up with more tools/strategies to create a socially just classroom
Build an online platform that can serve as resource for building/establishing connections, exchanging teaching practices, developing university-wide programs/investigations
Create a bibliography with classic and current texts on the subject
As a direct result of the meeting, we created a Facebook group. There was also some tweeting during the event, using the hashtag #fight4edu. Much more is to come—request membership in the Facebook group to stay updated for now or follow CLAGS and The Futures Initiative to get more updates!
My collaborators for this event are fabulous individuals whose work you need to look up if you don’t already know them. Their labor was essential in coming up with a structure for this event together in the first place, and to get it all organized as well—with plenty of help from the staff of CLAGS and The Futures Initiative, of course!
*Photo Credit: Jessica Murray
Stephanie Hsu is an Associate Professor of English and Women's & Gender Studies at Pace University. Stephanie is also the Chair of the Education Committee on CLAGS’ Board of Directors, and a co-founder of Q-Wave, a grassroots organization for LGBTQ women and trans folks of API descent in the tri-state area.
Jenn Polish is a YA fantasy author and instructor of English and Theatre at CUNY LaGuardia Community College. Their debut novel, LUNAV -- a lesbian fairy tale set in a world where dragons hatch from trees -- is set for release with NineStar Press in March 2018. Their research interests as they pursue their PhD in English at the CUNY Grad Center include mental health and race in writing classrooms and the intersections of (ability/ disability) dis/ability, race, and trauma in children's literature and media.
María R. Scharrón-del Río, Ph.D. is Associate Professor and Program Coordinator of School Counseling at Brooklyn College, CUNY. They are committed to the development of multicultural competencies in counselors, psychologists, & educators using experiential & affective education. Their research, scholarship, and advocacy focus on ethnic & cultural minority psychology & education, multicultural competencies, intersectionality, LGBTQ issues, gender variance, spirituality, & well-being.