On the first day of any small writing or literature course, I instruct the students, already seated, to reassemble themselves so that they are able to see the faces of their classmates. I write a few simple questions on the board and ask students to interview one another in pairs. Students then introduce their partner to the whole group. Typically, while introducing themselves to a large group on the first day of class, students are tempted to cut short, offer little detail, or obscure their personalities out of a reluctance to be vulnerable, but by asking them to introduce one another, I find that students are encouraged to speak with energy, give meaningful detail, and make their partner feel well-represented. Finally, students consider the ethics of using their own voices to investigate and represent another person. My goal is to begin every semester by challenging students to consider their own authorial responsibility to their subjects––those they research and write about in their projects throughout the semester. All of my assignments hinge on teaching introspection and inclusivity.
In both composition and literature courses, I challenge students to engage in these practices through textual analysis and argumentation. In a composition course titled "Cultural Rhetoric in Advertising," students perform rhetorical analysis of television advertisements, employing social critiques of concepts such as gender, race, and class. In order to familiarize students with these concepts, in addition to supplying them with readings and examples, I ask them to reflect on their own subject position. For example, at the end of our first lesson on socioeconomic class, students write for ten minutes about their own experience of wealth, broadly defined. Even though I don't read these reflections, I find that these exercises result in greater sensitivity in the student's research projects. At the end of the semester, students often express how much they learned, not just about writing, but about the world they live in. Similarly, in my Introduction to Women's Literature course, students encounter underrepresented voices, which strengthens their analysis because I encourage them to broaden their comprehension of what literature is. In addition to more canonical pieces, we view Beyoncé's visual album Lemonade and place it in conversation with other texts, such as Alice Walker's The Color Purple. Students compare representations of female relationships in both works and create "remixes," taking visual components from Lemonade and passages from The Color Purple to complete a textual analysis. Students enjoy working across mediums and with pop culture artifacts, so I find these projects especially insightful and complex. In my teaching experience at predominantly white institutions, I enjoy watching my students open up to works by women of color and other underrepresented voices; these courses offer us the opportunity to practice introspection and inclusivity while we analyze literature, which results in more sensitive, thoughtful, and dynamic students.
As an instructor, I am both personally and professionally committed to inclusivity. For me, as an openly gay instructor with a non-traditional gender presentation, understanding my own difference as a part of my teaching persona made it possible for me to highlight difference in the classroom without inciting division. When I first entered the college classroom as an instructor, freshly graduated from college, I wore clothes that made me uncomfortable, and I spoke with borrowed authority. Today, from the first time I step into the classroom, I give students a sense of who I am. And more importantly, I give them a sense that I care to know who they are, and that learning to extend compassion and recognition to one another is key to our success inside and outside the classroom.