As an instructor, my first objective is to expose students to alternative ways of thinking about the world. As many of the international students coming from the so-called global south, I had the dream of seeing my country in better shape one day. Until college, the models of national success I was familiar with all came from Europe or North America. It wasn't until I began to take courses that dealt with critical social theory that it finally occurred to me that these models befitted these countries, for particular historical reasons, but it did not necessarily follow that they should be seen as universal, in a one-size-fits-all style. I realized that critical thinking is not only about questioning the status quo, but also understanding the very terms we use to make sense of reality. Inspired by those courses, I decided to go to graduate school in order to deepen my understanding of critical thinking, and now as an instructor I prioritize making some of these tools available to undergraduate students.
My second, related, teaching objective is to add diversity to the undergraduate academic experience by supplementing the course offering in the humanities and social sciences. As an example, because Johns Hopkins University (my current institution) does not offer many courses that focus on the writings and experiences of women and LGBTQ people of color or from the global south, I created a course outside of my main research focus to address this gap. It was also with the help of an unconventional Women’s Studies course I took in college that I began to develop my own vocabulary to make sense not only of my identity as a queer person of color, but also of the fact that the identities available to resist dominant norms often did not account for intersectional sensibilities. As a result of my own experience in college, I pay special attention to the ways in which minority students may feel silenced. This goes from encouraging these students to express and develop their ideas in the classroom, to smaller gestures such as asking all students for their preferred gender pronoun when introducing themselves, or adapting a class activity for the needs of a student with autism.
With these objectives in mind, I strive to foster dialogical interaction with and among students by choosing materials and activities that encourage critical discussion in the classroom. For instance, my syllabi include interdisciplinary texts ranging from Literature to Philosophy, and mixed media sources such as videos, music, and art. In addition, based on my previous experience as an instructor, a few activities have worked particularly well in fostering dialogical interaction. One activity that has been successful in a seminar setting asks students to lead, in pairs, the first half of a session, with the objective to give them a chance to delve further into a topic of their interest, and also to develop the ability to raise questions and facilitate discussion. This assignment often sparks students’ creativity when it comes to finding effective ways to stimulate discussion: I have seen students design activities from role plays to interactive quizzes that incorporate the use of cell phones. In other courses, I have asked students to submit two questions about the course material before every meeting, and we used their own questions to guide discussion. I noticed that students who are shy also had their concerns addressed this way because they had a chance to ask questions as well. More importantly, striving to create a dialogical classroom space has made me grow as a person and educator because it has challenged me to let go of the expectation that I should have full control of the space.
Furthermore, as part of my pedagogical focus on cultivating critical thinking, my courses encourage students to learn how to read news comparatively, and to distinguish between the nuances of different interpretations of current events. This exercise is intended to help students connect our discussions with life outside of campus. Some of these assignments can be easily adapted to the large classroom setting that makes small group discussion a challenge, via the use of blog posts, for example.
Lastly, I ask students not to see the course as being simply about its specific topic, but rather as an opportunity to dwell on the ways in which the texts speak to their own lives. Accordingly, I usually give students the option to either write conventional final essays or do independent final projects. Two of the most remarkable projects I have seen were one in which a student began to engage with her brother’s autism under a new light by exploring the concept of neuroplurality; and another in which a group of five students produced a series of interviews with faculty, students, and community members by asking them, on camera, some of the same questions we raised in class, such as: "is it possible to cultivate receptivity to difference?"
Outside of the classroom, I encourage students to continue the dialogue with each other and with me, and I make sure to be widely available for personal meetings. I also enjoy taking part in events on campus, and am happy to collaborate with student groups, as I have extensive experience with campus life at both my undergraduate and graduate institutions. For instance, at Vassar College I served as a board member of a campus organization called Poder Latino, which supported the Latinx community on campus. At Johns Hopkins, I worked as a graduate student liaison for the Program in Latin American Studies, a position which entailed organizing an annual graduate student conference, hosting monthly meetings, and advocating for students’ interests across different disciplines.
Under Courses, you will find a brief description of a few of the courses I have taught, with a link to their syllabus.