Originally published 2/16/15/Updated 2/1/17
Returning to Teaching Inclusively
Last week, Dr. Melissa McDaniels introduced inclusivity in the classroom, focusing on course curriculum design. This week we encourage you to extend this focus and think about how your identity influences the classroom environment.
This week, we want you to consider an alternative perspective about how you can make classrooms places where all students feel seen and heard. This perspective – that of “anti-oppression” – rather than inclusivity or diversity – will help you understand the role instructors play in creating classroom environments in which some students are oppressed and others are privileged. We recommend this lens because it focuses on the systems in which oppression operates rather than on differences themselves. Individuals differences can too often be used by educators (consciously or unconsciously) to privilege or oppress those they are teaching. Anti-oppression in the classroom begins with you. A later blog post addresses how student (rather than instructor) identities influence the classroom environment.
What is an Anti-Oppressive Classroom?
Anti-oppressive classrooms are those in which all forms of oppression are actively and intentionally challenged. Anti-oppressive classrooms attempt to directly address issues of power toward the fullest recognition of all individuals. As instructors, we have considerable power/influence over the classroom environment. How we assume that role and use that power will determine the boundaries and expectations for a non-oppressive classroom. As the instructor, you set the parameters. Your students will either be empowered or oppressed as a result of how you employ your identity in the classroom. This is why it’s important to begin the process towards an anti-oppressive classroom by reflecting on elements of your own identity.
Reflecting on Your Identity
Authentic self-reflection may not be easy, but is required if you commit to a non-oppressive classroom. This is a process…it involves steps. We can only start from who and where we are. To help you start your journey, we provide four questions to engage you in intentional thought towards becoming mindful of your identity.
Four Questions to Begin your Journey
(1) Are you aware of your identity statuses: sex, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, age, ability, religion, socioeconomic status, national status, language, etc.?
Answering this question is the first step toward a non-oppressive classroom in that you become aware of your identity statuses so that you can understand their meaning and how they intersect. (For instance, you’re not only Latino or White …you’re a [Latino or White], heterosexual, cisgender (insert other identity statuses here) male.)
(2) Have you acknowledged/do you understand what those identities mean to you? For instance, do you know what it means to be white racially if you identify as racially white? Answering this question allows you to understand who you are, so that you can begin to address the privileges (or lack thereof) associated with your identity statuses.
(3) Have you accepted the privileges (or lack thereof) that comes with your identity? Have you internalized why this matters? Answering this question allows you to deal with reactions you may have while accepting your identity statuses (such as defensiveness, guilt, powerlessness, responsibility, ownership), so that you can embody your identity in a true and authentic way.
(4) Do you actively engage your identity within your teaching? How do you situate or position yourself in the classroom? Now that you have become aware of, acknowledged and accepted your identity statuses, you must critically consider what actions you can take to address your privilege (or lack thereof) in the classroom.
We Are All Works in Progress
These issues are complex. Remember, you can only start from who and where you are. To create a non-oppressive classroom environment, it’s imperative that instructors commit to becoming conscious of their own identity and the impact identity has on teaching and learning.
Case, K.A. (Ed.). (2013). Deconstructing privilege: Teaching and learning as allies in the classroom. New York, N.Y.: Routledge.
Johnson, A. G. (2006). Privilege, power, and difference. Boston, Mass: McGraw-Hill.
We’d like to know: Who and where are you on your identity journey? What have you done to engage your identities in the classroom? Share your experiences (both successes and challenges) with us in the comments section below or via social media using the hashtag “#iteachmsu.”
Madeline (Maddie) Shellgren, M.A. is a Ph.D. student in Linguistics at Michigan State University and an Inside Teaching Fellow at MSU. She has taught for the Linguistics Department at MSU, as well as in English and Communications at Davenport University, and is committed to addressing identities, inequalities and social injustices, in an accessible and digestible way, promoting non-oppressive teaching and learning environments.
S. Mo, M.A. is a Ph.D. student in Sociology at Michigan State University and an Inside Teaching Fellow. S. has taught and TA’d for the Sociology Department at MSU and is committed to addressing identities, inequalities and social injustices, in an accessible and digestible way, promoting non-oppressive teaching and learning environments.