Queer Voices: NYU Shanghai Discussion Follow-up

Last month, I shared a follow-up on a conversation that I was part of for the NYU Shanghai Teaching and Learning Conversation series about equity and diversity. That talk continued with a thrilling conversation with one of my colleagues, which led to me and her being invited to give a moderated discussion on the topic queer issues in higher education in front of the Queer and Ally Society at NYU Shanghai.

In today’s blog post, I’m going to offer a rejoinder to that conversation. Both my former posts and my publication history (Journal of Language and Sexuality and SLW News) point to the fact that I am in favor of queering the classroom. I believe, and have stated elsewhere, that queering the classroom is important because it 1) makes the classroom more accessible to all students; 2) it lays bare the ways that dominant discourses make available different identity options for learners; and, 3) it equips students with a critical framework to apply to inquiry in other domains.

In the moderated discussion, my colleague, Dr. Pandavar, took a stand against queering the classroom for a number of reasons, some of which required digging through a layer of logical fallacies or contradictory thoughts. Here are my responses to the most salient issues that she pointed out.

Teachers need to be 100% present in an unbiased way.

On its surface this seems like an agreeable claim. It comes from a good place. The heart of this idea is that teachers need to be there to teach and to do so in ways that are welcoming to all students. However, if you dig deeper, this isn’t just untenable; it’s a fantasy. It’s unrealistic because teaching is an ideologically fraught act, and we teachers are products of our educational heritage and our lived histories. Like it or not, we bring that to the classroom with us. It informs our pedagogies. It shades our linguistic choices. It guides our classroom management. There’s no way to be 100% present in an unbiased way.

Rather, we can be forthcoming with our students about who we are as teachers, about the ideologies that prop up our pedagogies. Moreover, we can purposefully trouble our own practice by working to include disparate perspectives in our teaching, creating not only a voice for those that may be marginalized by our ideological biases but also showing the value of queer pedagogy as one that actively seeks to trouble all identities and their relationship to various discourses. This move can show students how to actively seek perspective in their own lives in order to avoid living in an echo chamber.

We can just follow-up with students who make marginalizing/othering comments.

This would be great if the follow-up actually happened. Too often it doesn’t. Too often, we segue to a different topic for discussion. Or, even worse, we actively seek to avoid controversy in the classroom—we keep it vanilla. Other times, we condemn the negative behavior and move on. This can also be silencing and othering in its own way.

The follow-up needs to happen and it needs to happen in a way that models respectful disagreement for the students—in ways that show them how to be mindful members of the learning community. Doing this can help students to become comfortable with uncomfortable situations and conversations, equipping them to become more effective advocates for self and for others, and more skillful language users. These two goals—modeling respectful disagreement and getting comfortable with discomfort—can also be facilitated through a purposeful queering of the classroom in such a way that alternative perspectives are given voice and then troubled, as we do with all perspectives and all identities in queer approaches.

Queering the classroom is just about identity politics.

No, no its not. It may have its roots in identity politics. But, to say that queering the classroom is all about sexual identity, is to say that queerness is just about “altnerative” forms of sexual desire and expression. It’s more than that. It’s about equipping students to critically trouble normative discourses, helping them to see the identity options that are created, made available, and policed by these discourses, and how to respectfully standup for self and other.

In closing, the moderated discussion was a delightful experience, even if my eyes shot wide a few times, as it became clear that my colleague was playing to the crowd at certain moments. It certainly led to new ideas on my end about what queering the classroom should actually look like.

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