CREATING INCLUSIVE CLASSROOM COMMUNITIES AND COURSES
Each classroom is a community. One way that I foster inclusivity in these communities is by assigning texts like “Definitions” in Ibram Kendi’s book How to Be an Antiracist (2019), Julia Serano’s “Trans Woman Manifesto” in Whipping Girl (2007), the now dated but nevertheless defining essay in disability studies “Reassigning Meaning” by Simi Linton (1988), and other texts that present clear explanations of terms and stakes of using anti-oppressive language during class discussions. After reading these texts, I bring students together to collectively establish community norms for cultivating respectful class conversations about difficult topics. In the past, these have included speaking in “I/my” statements whenever possible, referencing specific examples to avoid generalizing about any group of people, and expressing disagreement with another person by first repeating their point to indicate active listening before offering a dissenting opinion. Using these methods, students are better prepared to identify and respectfully resist sexism, genderism, queerphobia, transphobia, classism, and ableism when they arise in discussions (and they do, albeit usually unintentionally).
For decades, education researchers like Henry Giroux have asserted that students learn best when they can see themselves, their experiences, and their communities in the materials they study. Thus, not only do I work to resist oppression in class conversations, I also design course content that activates histories of class, racial, gender, and disability in works of art and habituates students to intersectional approaches to art history. For instance, I use Marxist and Ethnic Studies approaches when teaching objects like Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry (1932-33) to foreground relationships between capitalism, international relations, and artistic labor. I also use queer of color critique to compare objects like Paul Cadmus’s Gilding the Acrobats (1935) with Lyle Ashton Harris’s Brotherhood, Crossroads and Etcetera series (in collaboration with Thomas Allen Harris, 1994) to discuss how black queerness has appeared in art prior and into the contemporary.
EQUITABLE TEACHING METHODS
Growing up alongside my brother, I have also observed how the impacts of his disabilities result as much from his corporeal and physical conditions as they do from his environment. As board member for the Sibling Transformation Project—a national program that supports adult siblings of people with disabilities in advocating for themselves, their siblings, and the disability community—I have learned to create accessible environments, and these lessons shape my teaching methods and content. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how easy it is for each of us—previously disabled or not—to lose access to people, spaces, and information when the tools we have for connecting are ill-suited to our physical conditions. Thus, I vary my teaching methods to accommodate a variety of learning styles and physical access needs; these methods include creating encounters with physical objects in the classroom, organizing my lectures using carefully composed graphics, assigning drawing exercises, and facilitating group discussions. I also provide clear descriptions and rubrics for every assignment to not only support students with disabilities, but also first-generation students and other students who are new to college classrooms approach their work with confidence.
Additionally, I worried about money growing up and worked to support myself through college and graduate school, as well as borrowed a dizzying amount of money to pursue my education. These experiences have made me deeply empathetic to the financial challenges many students face, and I am invested in making institutions of higher education accessible to people with limited economic resources. I provide PDFs of all materials and free museum admission to minimize financial barriers to accessing the content of my courses. I also continuously work to improve my use of course websites to give greater opportunities for success to students who are balancing their efforts to achieve their educational goals with employment and family obligations.
My experiences as a transgender person have given me intimate knowledge of just how critical it is to mentor students in ways that support the development of their identities. For instance, during my junior review meeting at Bennington College—a major milestone for art students—one of my committee members repeatedly dead-named and misgendered me in front of other students and faculty. This was humiliating, and it forced me to shift my attention from presenting my work to hiding my embarrassment and figuring out how to respectfully ask this person of authority to address me appropriately. I called on this experience as a facilitator of a student-run, extra-curricular workshop in the Humanities House at Stanford called “Alison Bechdel and the Queer Graphic Novel.” Our weekly conversations about Bechdel’s work quickly turned to sessions wherein students shared similar experiences that they were currently encountering in their academic life. Using lessons I learned from personal experience and training I sought out through Stanford’s Diversity Resource Advocates, my role in this group became to bear witness to student experiences, work with them to strengthen their skills to self-advocate, and to advocate on their behalf by reporting concerns to Stanford’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Office of Accessible Education.
EXPANDING THE FIELD OF ART HISTORY
As an MFA student in interdisciplinary studio art at the Maryland Institute College of Art, I was hungry for information on the history of transgender art, but I felt both lost and frustrated when I realized that very little work had been done in this subfield of art history. This and the enthusiasm I found for teaching art history in studio art courses motivated my return to graduate school to pursue doctoral work in art history. Through my dissertation research and editorial work for projects like the August 2020 issue of the Journal of Visual Culture titled “New Work in Transgender Art and Visual Culture Studies,” I seek to shape what is slowly becoming the distinct subfield of transgender art history. This experience has also motivated my growing research efforts in disability art history. Like transgender art history, I have found this history has gone largely unexamined despite how central materiality and visuality are and have been to disability culture.
COMMITMENT TO DIVERSIFYING THE ACADEMY
As a citizen of the academy more broadly, I aim to promote diverse scholarship more broadly by organizing events that cultivate discussions of marginalized histories and peoples. For example, as organizer of the 2019-2020 Stanford Humanities Center Feminist and Queer Research Workshop, I invited scholars like Dr. Shari Huhndorf to present her project titled “Indigeneity and the Politics of Space: Gender, Geography, Culture;” Dr. Nick Mitchell to present on his book Disciplinary Matters: Black Studies, Women’s Studies, and the Neoliberal University; and Dr. micha cárdenas to present her book Poetic Operations, which proposes algorithmic analysis as a means to develop a trans of color poetics. I also invited graduate students working on dissertations that expand discourse on abstract painting in the African diaspora, domestic violence in Latinx literature, and queer subcultural pedagogies in San Francisco in the 1960s and 70s in order to promote community and provide opportunities to receive constructive feedback from supportive and invested peers. Through this experience, I realized how critical cross-disciplinary engagement is to fostering a truly diverse and inclusive academy.