During my freshman orientation at Seattle University, school administrators attempted to celebrate our perceived diversity by asking different groups to stand based on shared characteristics. When individuals of Latinx descent were called and I only saw one other person across the large auditorium stand, I remember feeling incredibly alone. I have attempted to help mitigate this sense of isolation for other underrepresented students through my role as an educator and scholar. I particularly work to actively support students from such historically and currently marginalized groups through my teaching and service with the Critical Gender Studies (CGS) Program, Disability Studies Research Group (DSRG), and other organizations.
As an instructor with CGS at the University of California, San Diego, I have designed courses that provide my students the opportunity to actively contribute to curriculum development, thus encouraging their investment in the learning process. Recently, I asked students to actively critique our primary text throughout the quarter, offering a brief review of the book in lieu of a final essay. Furthermore, I remain engaged with the campus community by attending university dialogues and events at which my students may feel more comfortable discussing their unique challenges openly, such as a CGS open hall in the wake of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Within my classroom, I make a conscious effort to foster a safe and respectful environment. At the beginning of each new term, I ask my students to read and critique our campus diversity statement in small groups to establish a shared awareness of the campus values to which they will be held. Understanding that many of my students do not have the privilege of prioritizing their educations due to the need to care for families through part or full-time employment, health issues, or other challenges, I endeavor to support them in the classroom while recommending outside campus resources when appropriate. I always encourage students to attend office hours to share difficulties or to email me directly to schedule a private meeting in person or via Skype.
I firmly believe that a commitment to diversity is not just about making students from heterogenous backgrounds feel welcome, but also about developing course materials that are representative of a wide breadth of cultures and experiences. I thus continually strive to make my teaching materials more relevant and, as a result, interesting, across cultural backgrounds. For example, I strive to make complex theories or concepts like Judith Butler’s articulation of the heterosexual matrix more accessible by complementing them with less formal texts by activists who are more likely to resonate with students, such as transgender activist Laverne Cox.
As a scholar, my work builds upon such commitments by introducing the idea of criptopia, a utopic space developed and/or inhabited by persons with disabilities where their bodies are treated as equally valuable to the normate or as constituting the normate. This work grew out of my research with the DSRG, and seeks to answer disability theorist Alison Kafer’s key question of whether or not utopia, by its very definition, “excludes disability and illness” (21).
As a faculty member, I plan to support Latinx and other students who may feel alienated from their peers, such as those who identify as queer. I also look forward to acting as a faculty ally with campus safe spaces while also helping to rejuvenate initiatives that support access for persons with disabilities on campus.