What Queer Inquiry-based Pedagogy can Look Like in Graduate Literacy Courses

The goal of many graduate courses is to help students to professionalize into their chosen disciplines (see Casanave & Li, 2008; Cho, 2013; Hyland, 2004). While this primary focus is on helping the student to enculturate in a way that grants them recognition by their disciplinary peers, this does not mean that there is no room to queer graduate education in all disciplines (see, for example, Maritz & Prinsloo, 2015). The challenge at the graduate level is to find disciplinarily-situated ways in which to make queer-informed pedagogies relevant to the work that the student is completed. In my scholarship, I have regularly argued for the need to queer graduate education for future TESOL practitioners, something which has fed into the work being presented in this book (Paiz, 2018; Paiz & Zhu, 2018). This work, I have argued, must involve making space in the graduate training regimen for readings from the field’s LGBTQ+ and queer aligned interest sections. Moreover, and echoing Maritz and Prinsloo (2015), it can’t be left up to the students. So, what does this look like in practice in disciplines outside of TESOL/applied linguistics?

Starting in 2016, I was granted a courtesy appointment with New York University’s Silver School of Social Work to teach a graduate literacy course for their L2 English students. I would begin each course positioning myself as an active scholar and an experienced L2 literacy teacher—sharing my teaching experiences as well as my research and scholarly agenda. I would share with them why I was motivated to investigate issues of LGBTQ+ issues in the field of English language teaching and learning. I would then invite them to reflect on how they understand the field of social work and what they see as the major questions and goals of the discipline. I would then ask them what drew them to the field. Each semester, at least one of my students identified working with LGBTQ+ elderly or youth as one of their core motivations for entering the field of social work. I find that this act, of asking students to identify what they see as the breadths of their field and their core interests, is useful in showing students just how dappled and variegated a discipline indeed is—often stretching beyond what we see as its conventional borders.

As we moved through the semester, I would make it a point of including readings and example texts that covered a range of topics. So, when we worked on writing policy briefings, I would add one focused on elder care and one focused on trans youth in schools. We would use these texts not only as exemplars of the genre but also to being interrogating how the clinical social worker can move beyond potentially reductive, othering views of marginalized people to advocate on their behalf and to, where necessary, speak truth to power (see Green & Simon, 2012). It was here, as we started discussing advocacy and pushing back against discriminatory policies (speaking truth to power), that we were able to start asking the critical, problematizing questions that, to me, help to define queer inquiry—What is the status quo? Who benefits from its maintenance? How can it be challenged to improve the lived conditions of those in power-under positions in society? I would then encourage students to seek out how they could apply these questions to their areas of interest, which we shared in online reflection blogs throughout the semester.

While it has been easy for me to think of ways to queer the classroom in the so-called soft and human sciences classrooms, it has been harder for me to consider what this might look like in classes founded on the hard sciences and their application. For example, I now teach in an applied English studies program at a private, research-intensive university in Washington, D.C. Many of my students come from our School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, which has forced me to think of how my queer inquiry-based pedagogy can be applied in a way that is accessible and meaningful to these students. Here, turning to insights from Leyva, Massa, & Battey (2016) has been helpful. They point to the fact that many of the probing and problematizing questions favored in queer inquiry—questions that seek to lay bare the power structures that maintain the status quo and their normalizing effects—can be applied to issues of engineering and design. Here, however, the focus may be shifted away from matters of sexuality and sexual identity and moved towards a focus on culture, gender, able-bloodedness. The goal here is the same as in any queered classroom space, which is to get students thinking critically about how “doing it the way it’s always been done” can shut specific groups out of mainstream conversations. Thinking specifically about engineering disciplines it may also require students to take more ownership over issues of usability and accessibility (see Krug, 2009).

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