Who do we read? What texts are commonly taught in classrooms? Why do we read them? These key questions guide my courses. After students have discussed who is commonly read and why, we then begin the larger task of addressing what books are missing. A character in Yaa Gayasi’s novel Homecoming explains the problems surrounding narratives of “History” to students: “We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must always ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth?” Yaw’s point in Homegoing aptly sums up the central question surrounding the construction of my courses: whose voices are missing and why? For instance, in covering American modernism, I make a point to teach texts that emphasize the formal experimentation of canonical modernism as in the work of William Faulkner and T.S. Eliot, but I also include authors from the flip side of that narrative like Nella Larsen, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Dashiell Hammett. I design blended courses that combine canonical, recuperative, and marginalized as well as high, middle, and low brow texts that force students to think about the systemic issues in curriculums that reinforce dominant power structures, especially regarding race, class, gender, sexuality, citizenship status, and ability.
In my classroom, I am unafraid to approach subjects that have historically been socially taboo. Considering that we are currently in an era of posts, post-feminist, post-racial, etc., I challenge students to think about the ways rhetorical strategies that emphasize equality as having already been achieved function to erase difference, maintaining heteropatriarchy and white supremacy. While many would shy away from facilitating discussions about these subjects, I have found that my students welcome the opportunity to read literature that is outside of their comfort zones and to discuss issues that they feel impact their understanding of the world in which they live. I translate the feminist emphasis in my research on twentieth- and twenty-first-century literature into an intersectional praxis by challenging the dominant norms of academia that make the university a difficult landscape for marginalized students to navigate.
My approach to teaching identity politics and social justice through literature emphasizes empathy as well as critical thinking in the hopes of making students better global citizens who are aware of the difficulties of those around them. More importantly, I foster a safe space that attends to the needs of students who struggle the most to succeed in the traditional university structure. In a course evaluation, one student remarked, “This is the first class where, as a student of color, I didn’t feel like the other. I felt like a student who could ask any question, make any comment, and I would be treated with respect and understanding. I went through my entire high school and almost college career before I finally met a classroom that really felt like it was designed for me.” Through my teaching pedagogy, I do my best to address the systemic inequalities that marginalized students often face in higher education by offering a welcoming space where students can engage in meaningful dialogue with one another.
My engagement with thinking beyond a single world-view in my courses also extends to my student-centered classroom, in that the need for inclusion and empathy drive the way I approach both the classroom and my selection of course content. I hold myself responsible for making sure that every voice is heard and that every student has the tools that s/he needs to succeed in my classroom. For instance, a student with a disability in a composition course of mine could not participate in activities that involved writing by hand, so I arranged for the university to provide a laptop for his use during class to ensure that the student felt a part of the classroom community. Ultimately, the way that I approach my work with students mirrors that of the literature I teach—in my acknowledgement that disparate voices can and should be put in concert with one another.