As a bridge builder, I am committed to diversity because I believe higher education is fundamentally about engaging with new viewpoints and learning new approaches. I believe that diversity on campus is valuable because it fosters an innovative, dynamic community. I engage with these kinds of diversity and equity issues on campus and in my scholarship and national service in many ways. But here, I will focus primarily on my work with the Warrior-Scholar Project and on my curriculum design. I am committed to supporting diversity and underrepresented students because I cannot imagine my career—let alone my life—in higher education without diverse colleagues, students, and curriculum.
In my teaching, I have dedicated myself to building bridges for and providing resources to students who may not enter college with the kind of privilege that will set them up for long-term success because I believe they belong in higher education.
My pedagogy focuses on providing all students with the foundational skills they need to be successful in their coursework and careers. But as a first-generation, white, female college student from a middle class background, I recognize the privilege and considerable resources that enabled me to attend college, and I also understand the unique hurdles first-generation students face. Without familial experience in higher education, first generation students may not know what office hours are for, or why they should visit the writing center. I certainly did not. During the fall 2019 semester, I gave a public talk at Siena on my background as a first-generation student and describing my path into academia. By being open about my experience, I hope to signal that I am an ally. I want all students to feel comfortable asking me questions about how to succeed in higher education.
I am so committed to non-traditional students because my favorite part of higher education is connecting with new ideas and new ways of thinking.
The students I mentored through the Warrior-Scholar Project, a one-week academic boot-camp preparing active duty military personnel and veterans for higher education, reinforced my belief that diverse perspectives are inherently valuable. Most of the students that participate in WSP are non-traditional students because of their age, but they also tend to be first-generation college students; furthermore, many of the students who attend WSP are students of color and/or identify as LGBTQ+.
One of the most valuable aspects of this program is that it helps student veterans establish bridges for themselves into and through higher education. At WSP, we focus on respect, and on reframing the skills student veterans bring so that each student can forge links between their military experience and higher education. At the end of the 2017 course, one student wrote, “I am without a doubt a far better and more efficient writer than when I showed up at the beginning of the course.” Another commented, “this course has made the prospect of going to school so much less daunting…I’m blown away by how much information I’ve received.” Instead of seeing their differences as a deficit, we view their diversity as an asset. This is why I work with WSP, and with groups such as the Alabama Prison Arts & Education Project:
I believe all students bring valuable perspectives with them into higher education.
In my curriculum design, I am committed to including diverse texts because doing so allows students to build informed, creative arguments. The questions that motivate my teaching are: how does each text provide one possible answer to larger cultural questions that defy easy answers? How can we evaluate that answer in a larger historical, cultural, and critical context? Because the questions we consider have no single answer, we explore as many perspectives as possible. Students can then synthesize the possibilities and form their own interpretations.
One way I achieve this goal is through the “canon buster” assignment in my short story course. On the syllabus, I assign texts written by a wide range of authors from five continents. For this assignment, students choose a text in their anthology that we have not read. Then, they make a case for why I should include it in the future as well as for what it should replace on the syllabus. This project challenges students to think critically about the canon, and to consider the many connections between the texts we read. It is also one way I empower my students and ensure their issues and concerns are represented in the curriculum.
My focus on diversity links my teaching with my research on marginalized voices in early America. I could not effectively engage with my field, or create interesting scholarship, if I did not interrogate the canon. In my early American literature (1500-1820) course, approximately 60% of the syllabus is comprised of BIPOC or female authors. I intentionally incorporate Native American, Black, African, and female writers to provide a capacious sense of early American literatures.
As an early Americanist, I see the colonial period as inherently diverse, and resist teaching exceptionalist narratives that prioritize white, male, able-bodied experiences. Indeed, I believe it is imperative to focus on how/why Native, African, female, and disabled voices are included, excluded, or obscured in early American texts.
By bringing my research methods into the classroom, I provide a scaffolding that guides students to examine mediated accounts and recover diverse voices in American literature. My research methods serve a model upon which students can build as they pursue their own interests, constructing their own arguments and interpretations.
My commitment to diversity and equity is informed by my experience as a first-generation college student, but also by my overarching pedagogical goal of enabling student agency as a bridge builder. Knowledge creation is a collaborative process. We hinder our students if we suggest that ideas exist in isolation. One of the most valuable things I learned in graduate school was that it is okay to say, “I don’t know.” In my classroom, I want students to test ideas and explore new perspectives. If they don’t know something, we model how to work together to find answers. I work to include diverse authors in my classes, and to foster diversity on campus, so that future students will be intellectually curious, and have a better, more inclusive, diverse experiences.