I was lucky enough to give two off campus lectures this week. One was at a local middle school in town and focused on “Teen Lit and Politics.” Talking to teens is an exercise in patience. Some are interested, bored, phoning it in or really focused on making googly eyes with the person sitting behind or beside them! So, you just have to wing it and be prepared for interruptions, giggling, and some good energy!
The second talk I gave was at UBC in Vancouver and this talk was given to a Public Policy class. I was invited by my friend and colleague, Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega. The entire experience was fabulous. The students were engaged and asked all sorts of questions, and offered provocative points. On the ferry ride home, I was thinking about the trip and had to remind myself about the power that professors have when they walk into the classroom. Some students will be very careful about what they say, since they don’t want to be judged by the professor.
It’s amazing to me that students asking me what I thought about “Lipstick” feminists and other topics germane or tangentially related to my talk made me have this epiphany. I’ve had this moment before, but I must say it’s great to be reminded. I think it’s humbling and makes me as a professor walk back into the classroom with more compassion and patience. It’s good for my feminist politics.
I do think that those of us teaching material connected to social justice issues face this more. Students want to appear like a good social justice activist. I assume that students who self-select to take a class with gender or feminist in the title are probably already progressive leaning. But, this reminder this week was instructive. I walked back into my classroom and we chatted about this.
I explained that there is a big tent for feminists and we had a good conversation about feminists and people (women and men) who advocate feminism. I am hopeful that my students got that feminism is more than button wearing, but can also include having so-called guilty pleasure watching TV. Feminists and feminist advocates are human, too!
I know that my feminist politics are fluid and have evolved over the last twenty years and I’m glad to interact with students who are hard-core feminists, dabbling in feminism, or social justice activists. I hope that the class materials and discussions informs their politics and offers them some ground for more critical thinking. I joked with my students and noted that I don’t judge their feminism or their politics, but instead evaluate their critical thinking skills and their writing with the assignments. I hope that they understand this. I would prefer that they be honest in class and not worry about what I think or if I’m judging them. In the meantime, though, I will try to keep the learning environment safe for them to want to talk, to want to interject their assessment of readings or respond to me or another’s comment. Bring it on.