In my classes, I foreground the relationship between humanistic methods and larger questions of power, equity, and social justice, guiding students to understand how all texts—not only those they read, but also those they produce—can act in and on the world. More concretely, my pedagogical philosophy is structured around three key values: questions; connections; and community. These values inform all of the courses I teach, which have included introductory writing-intensive surveys and composition courses, gateways to literary study, and upper-level undergraduate courses on topics including the literature of environmental justice, speculative fiction and social movements, Afrofuturism, and science fiction film (syllabi and student evaluations/comments provided under Teaching Materials).
By questions, I mean that I create engaging pedagogical structures that cultivate intellectual curiosity and excitement, encouraging students to develop and pursue the questions and projects that matter most to them. Across all of my courses, I emphasize generative questions over authoritative or absolute answers as key to humanistic habits of mind. For instance, in my foundational Introduction to Literary Studies course, part of each class session was spent with students in small groups creating their own evolving “question bank” from the core theoretical text for the course: “What particular forms of the uncanny show up in this text, and what do these forms of the uncanny defamiliarize or make uncomfortably familiar?” “How do race and/or colonialism shape the foundational relations of this text, and is the relationship between the two discernable?” “How do discourses of gender and sexuality intertwine with the representation of nature, and vice versa, in this text?” We shared our contributions to this resource every day, referred to it in discussions throughout the semester, used it to structure individual reflections on the projects students attempted in their major essays, and ultimately came to understand it as a resource for the rest of the students’ academic careers in English. By the end of the semester, students were able to articulate the research questions motivating their final projects with confidence, and to reflect on how these questions spoke to their emerging critical and scholarly identities. In my upper-level classes, students build on this foundation, learning to enter scholarly and other conversations and to see themselves as producers and not just consumers of knowledge. For instance, in the course I developed on Visionary Fictions, paired manifesto and utopian fiction projects challenged students to participate actively in the crucial work of imagining other worlds, other social structures, other possibilities.
This focus on empowering student inquiry leads naturally to my emphasis on connections: students develop the questions that matter to them as they learn to make substantive and motivated links across disciplines and between academia and real-world issues. My courses consistently foreground literature’s relationship to structures of power and systems of social and environmental injustice, an emphasis that shapes everything from course design fundamentals to specific assignments and activities. For instance, for the unit on “disaster” in my course on American Environmental Literatures, after the class criticized the erasure of social justice issues in popular representations of natural disasters, I asked them to draw on their cross-disciplinary readings in order to collectively develop and record a set of criteria for “adequate” disaster narratives, which we used to evaluate literary texts the following week. Here, students were learning about literature as well as environmentalism so that they could, as they did in their essays, practice articulating how literary texts contributed to interdisciplinary dilemmas and debates relating to environmental justice—drawing on disciplinary rigor as well as multi-disciplinary critical thinking.
As this example indicates, work in my classes proceeds through ongoing processes of collaboration and feedback in scholarly community, by which I mean both that I build strong relationships of trust and support with students and that I foster a sense of challenging but inviting academic responsiveness among students. My courses create intentional structures for robust and open discussion, build students’ willingness to enter that discussion by honoring multiple forms of participation, and scaffold up to ensuring that students experience the full process of scholarly inquiry, including dissemination to an interested audience. For instance, in my Science Fiction Film course, students paired up to lead course sessions in which they applied theoretical readings to science fiction films and participated each week both in oral discussion and debate and in collaborative synchronous screening notes (an exercise that sharpened analytic observations, generated expressions of appreciation for the details that classmates noticed, and quickly built less experienced students’ confidence toward robust oral contributions). These investments in intellectual community paid off at the semester’s end: the final “exam” session was structured as a conference in which students presented their in-process final research papers on thematically organized panels and took questions and comments from peers.
These commitments extend as well into my mentoring of undergraduate research. In summer 2021, for instance, I developed and led a climate literature research project with a small team of Southwestern University undergraduates. Working collectively, we developed an evolving set of research questions for our corpus of climate fiction and film that paid close attention to literary form and style as well as interdisciplinary topics concerning climate justice, communication, and science, set up and calibrated a structured system for data collection, recording, and sharing, and established patterns of shared reflection, support, and feedback. Our work was featured in a recent article in Grist magazine, and we are completing a collaboratively written article on climate fiction and climate justice that we plan to have under consideration early next year.