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Teaching Philosophy: Consent as Queer Pedagogy

I believe teaching and learning are about desire—students’ desires to hold onto literacies from their home communities, while acquiring particular academic literacies; institutional desires to inculcate them with literacies that serve the learning goals. I use consent, a theory and practice with histories in queer communities, to negotiate these desires in teaching and learning relationships.

In all the classes I teach, I practice consent in several ways, including: 1) being aware that trauma histories are present in the classroom; 2) teaching students to speak to their desires and ask for what they need; and 3) knowing what to do when a student discloses. As recent public debates on trigger warnings point out, teachers are not often trained to deal with the world that students live in. What the debate has made clear is that those teaching in higher education need to consider how to handle student disclosures.

In upper-level nonfiction writing courses, I use consent to bring up issues of disclosure and risk and facilitate more accessible teaching and learning spaces. As we read/write multiple genres of contemporary nonfiction, part of my role as the instructor is to respect the vulnerabilities around disclosure and risk that come up through writing. Because I understand consent as how we come to know our own power and use it well, I accept my responsibility as the instructor to not allow written or verbal comments that are offensive to historically underrepresented communities to go un-questioned. It is an embodied risk to be “the only one” in the classroom. Therefore, I practice checking in with students and, through writing groups they select and stay with throughout the semester, teaching them peer support.

In community-based first-year writing courses, consent facilitates accountable relationships between students, communities, and media. One example of this is in how I approach feedback. A queer approach to giving and receiving feedback requires students to take responsibility for getting the kinds of feedback they want and need. We practice this by: 1) entertaining the possibilities; 2) accepting the important of timing; and 3) making use of demonstration moments. In this approach giving and receiving feedback and taking it into account is a form of embodied listening and an act of trust that is practiced over time.

In a service-learning course, where students are working directly with community members, students can, in respect for community members’ time, learn to assess their own work. To facilitate this process, I have adapted a “Yes/No/Maybe So” checklist to teach students to ask for the feedback they want and need and “Guidelines for Community Accountability,” which we develop in class together. These practices of consent position writing not as a solitary act, but as a practice done in community. When students later tell me the course taught them to realize the power of writing to transform their experiences and their communities, I consider my methods successful.

In a community-based, graduate-level course on queer rhetorics, we might play with the questions: What’s normal? What’s desirable? Where is the line? Who decides? Students would read queer and feminist histories (essays & stories, news & commentary, ephemera & craft, digital media). From the course readings, short assignments, and community work, they would consider radical solutions to social problems. Their work would require them to negotiate ethical issues about consent in their writing and practice with community members.

Examples of all these practices related to consent are in my teaching portfolio. I look forward to talking with you more about teaching.