To educate at the intersections of regional and cross-cultural knowledges produces heightened expectations that can illuminate the expanded contradictions of both the university and the social world in which it is situated. My labor as a teacher, then, is both affective and intellectual as I approach teaching with a deep sense of accountability, rigor, and care in hopes of growing the curiosity of my students. My goal is not to reproduce myself in the classroom, but rather to support students in building a critical vocabulary and a living cultural analysis that can apprehend the texts we read and our contemporary sociopolitical climate on a global scale. As one end-of-course evaluation from a student commented, “You make me question everything…everything I thought I knew.” Further, as a queer Black educator from a transnational background, I am firmly grounded in a feminist pedagogy that assumes difference and not continuity to be the strength of the class. I see the classroom as a collective experiment that is experienced differently by each of us. My aim is to connect these differences and echo knowledge already present while also challenging assumptions made under the name of “fact.”
I believe maintaining space for students to make claims on their objects of study, as well as allowing for questions of what constitutes those objects, produces the best learning environments. I generally construct my courses by organizing materials around a set of interrelated questions. Using social theory, literature, historiography, and ethnographic texts allows for multiple points of entry. I also use examples from popular culture and multimedia tools, such as music, to give my classes an energetic and lively environment. For example, in 2016 I developed and taught a new course in the Critical Race and Ethnic Studies program at the University of California, Santa Cruz that brought together the emergent field of postcolonial Italian studies with migration studies, European studies, and queer feminist theory to understand how the very idea of “Fortress Europe” is built and sustained through racist, misogynist and colonial practices. Along with the readings, my lectures explored webpages, news articles, archival footage, and brought in Italo-Ghanaian activist and media maker Fred Kuwornu to expand the limits of what constitutes knowledge and belonging within the contours of Black Europe.
Methodologically, I firmly believe in the importance of teaching primary texts and in developing close literary and visual reading skills. However, I make this process more approachable by pairing these texts with more contemporary cultural examples and academic readings. Though students can be resistant at first, I find by the end of a course they have gained not only new analytic tools, but also pleasure in reading these texts. I always try to remind them to approach theoretical and literary texts with openness—that is, the way that one ought to encounter art. The goal is not total mastery over the texts, but growth through the educational process. Teaching is perhaps the most difficult but also the most rewarding part of academic life. It is difficult because I am always reworking my approach in response to the many successes and difficulties in any given class. Knowledge in my classes is not about transference, but about building cultures of critical thinking buttressed with enough safety and discomfort to allow students to inhabit different relationships to materials. I believe this responsiveness is my ethical commitment to teaching as a practice. In the increasingly austere university, the relationships I build with students in the classroom and through mentoring help sustain and inspire me. My years of teaching illustrate a range in content and method, which have provided me the skills necessary to be a competent and successful interdisciplinary educator. Furthermore, many of the classes I offer are understood as “marginalized knowledges” (including racial formations and gender/feminist studies) which offer students an experience beyond the formally educational as I often see them find their own place of power in my classes. I also believe that the spaces outside the classroom, such as office hours, independent studies, or public forums, are vital educational sites. To this end I work to foster an environment where students feel supported and challenged in hopes that they, as well as myself, leave inspired and transformed.