Far beyond classroom practices and grading scales, I practice pedagogy as justice-centered activist praxis. Since 2010, I have taught writing across a range of settings and subjects—creative writing, WID/WAC for STEM undergraduates, multimodal writing—from rural North Carolina to Seattle to New York City. However, my time at the City University of New York (CUNY)—where I’ve now taught composition and held multiple pedagogy-focused fellowships for more than six years—has solidified my commitment to multimodal, access-centered pedagogy (Stella and Rice-Evans). As a white educator working with primarily Black and brown, multilingual, and working-class and working poor students, I shoulder the additional responsibility of challenging my own internalized investment in white supremacy and academic gatekeeping (Inoue; Yosso).
In his own teaching statement, Anti-Ableist Composition Collective founder Cody Jackson writes:
What if composition courses were sites of transformation? What if we could utilize the spaces of “first-year” composition for re-imagining worlds? What if composition classes never upheld the status quo assumption that there is one world, one way of doing things, one way of coming into relation with knowledge production?
Following Jackson, M. Remi Yergeau, Carmen Kynard, Aimi Hamraie, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Patty Berne, Jesse Stommel, and other abolitionist educators, my pedagogy follows several specific principles:
- writing as embodied, political praxis;
- anti-ableist and anti-racist assessment;
- collaborative, reciprocal teaching and learning;
- working towards collective access;
I believe strongly in Carmen Kynard and other radical Black scholars’ calls to center and celebrate linguistic diversity, students’ right to their own language, and disrupting white supremacist and Eurocentric knowledge production and performance. My pedagogy sincerely values and respects student voices, written and spoken, by collaboratively co-creating assignments, research projects, and timelines.
Though my teaching interests range in topics from digital rhetorics and health and education justice to disability justice and critical whiteness studies, my teaching draws on my training in writing pedagogy centering process and context. I see writing as a mode of learning and an embodied, active practice that makes meaning in the world. The inherent power dynamics between faculty and student, and the presumptive role of the instructor to discipline and punish composition that decenters whiteness and English monolingualism, means that teaching community-engaged writing demands collaboration between and among both students and instructors (Hubrig; Cedillo). As an educator, it’s my responsibility to equip students with critical literacy strategies, rhetorical practices, and sociopolitical frameworks (Royster) to explicate knowledge, objectivity, and rhetorical demands (Bitzer).
At CUNY, my teaching and research have shifted to more directly take up issues of technology and multimodality, largely because of my own emerging access needs around my disabilities. My courses always incorporate digital writing projects engaging varied literacies and methodologies that challenge narratives about whose written contributions are valued and why. Course texts include videos, graphics, and podcasts and accompanying transcripts, among many other multimodal forms, and provide cultural context for critical rhetorical and sociopolitical issues. We also analyze texts as access artifacts: what are the rhetorical expectations for a piece of media? who is able to fully access this text? what access protocols or tools are missing from this text? By working with students towards delineating and practicing collective access, we think creatively about genre, audience, modality, accessibility, and collaboration.
Relatedly, at the beginning of each semester, I assign several short texts about my “ungrading” policy. As a group, students and I have a conversation about the function of grades within the structure of the university, including their historical role as a racist gatekeeping practice to block Black and brown students from higher education (Gumbs, Kynard, Bailey). Instead, we co-imagine a classroom built upon trust and reciprocity instead of top-down policy directives from me, the instructor, as a policing force of the university. We further explore how higher education’s expectations of attendance and participation similarly reward specific types of embodied behaviors and penalize others, specifically less neurotypical, less class-elite, less white cultural norms. Instead, we establish attendance and participation as based in trust instead of performance: I do not require specific kinds of “professional” behavior in my classroom, nor do I penalize its absence. As such, attendance and participation are reimagined by and for each student, and communicated to me in a series of informal response writings posted to our course website. As a dynamically-disabled educator, I cannot cleave my body from my mind, and I do not expect my students to sacrifice their health and self-care for my class. Collective access means that students are free to attend class asynchronously, remotely, or in another, perhaps non-traditional, format, and that I am always open to working with students to meet their access needs as best I can.
All told, I endeavor to create a justice-focused, equitable classroom that values student insight and knowledge and is grounded in contemporary abolitionist theory, disability justice, and critical university studies.