April 11, 2024

How can queer pedagogy encourage educators to take risks? A panel Q-and-A

UCalgary educators share more about their upcoming talk at Conference for Post-secondary Learning and Teaching
Dawn Johnston, William Bridel, Safaneh Neyshabouri and Derritt Mason on a white background with multicoloured hexagons
From left: Dawn Johnston, William Bridel, Safaneh Mohaghegh Neyshabouri, and Derritt Mason.

Every year, the University of Calgary hosts the Conference on Post-secondary Learning and Teaching, which brings together hundreds of people to hear talks, presentations, and research about relevant topics in teaching and learning. This year’s conference, Courageous Practices, is focused on equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility in post-secondary learning and teaching. Taking place over three days, the conference has multiple keynotes that will dive into various aspects of EDIA in the post-secondary space. Over the next few weeks, we will share insights from speakers around their upcoming presentations.

During the in-person pre-conference, a UCalgary panel of educators will discuss queer pedagogy and explore what queer theories and methodologies can offer to teaching and learning. Moderated by Dr. Dawn Johnston, PhD, associate dean (teaching and learning), the panel includes Dr. William Bridel, PhD, associate professor in kinesiology, Dr. Derritt Mason, PhD, associate professor in arts, and Dr. Safaneh Mohaghegh Neyshabouri, PhD, assistant professor (teaching) in arts. What is Queer Pedagogy? Or, Stop Teaching Straight!, will take place on April 24 in Calgary.

Q: Tell us a bit about your panel, What is Queer Pedagogy? Or, Stop Teaching Straight!

A: The title of our panel is inspired by an article from Deborah Britzman called “Is There a Queer Pedagogy? Or, Stop Reading Straight!” which thinks through the way that conceptions of “normal” function in our lives and in the classroom. Britzman’s work asks readers to consider what queer theories and methodologies offer teachers, beyond just introducing queer content into our classrooms. 

As a gender and sexually diverse group of educators, we are inspired to think about what teaching and learning looks like for us personally as we inhabit our classrooms. We are also curious about how teaching outside of “traditional” structures, and challenging students to reflect on how certain kinds of knowledge become “normalized,” might be understood as queer. 

Our panel of four come from diverse academic disciplines and diverse identities, and we’ve all thought deeply about both how we design our courses to tell radical stories, resist the status quo, and challenge student expectations in each of our teaching and learning contexts. 

Q: How does queer pedagogy connect with courageous practices in teaching and learning?

A: Queer pedagogy is rooted in risk and courage. For each of us, our own self representation in the classroom is an act of courage — whether that is being “out” as a queer faculty member or doing the difficult work of challenging religious and cultural expectations while occupying a racialized body. Our gender identities, our ethnic identities, our religious identities, our sexualities — these all impact how students perceive us and how we experience our classrooms. 

Teaching what we do, in the ways we do, is full of risk, particularly at this moment in history when queer and racialized people are under regular attack both locally and on the world stage. In part, we put ourselves at risk to invite our students to risk their own long-held beliefs as they grow as learners, in hopes that we can all be a little more courageous together.

Q: Why do you think it’s important for queer pedagogy / queerness to be a part of teaching and learning in post-secondary education? How can the ideas and subthemes of queer pedagogy be applicable and relevant to all areas of post-secondary teaching and learning?

A: Every discipline has a conception of “normal” worth interrogating: research and teaching practices, forms of knowledge, and ways of operating that have become normalized through repetition. As a pedagogical approach, queerness can help us sit in discomfort, take risks, challenge authority and expectations. All disciplines could learn something from the lived experience, courage, and boldness of queer people inside and outside academia. Importantly to us, there are also queer students in every discipline, many of whom are unlikely to encounter queer material or practices in their courses. 

There’s incredible power in students seeing healthy, thriving, queer adults in their classrooms and in their curriculum. At its best, queer pedagogy challenges our students, but just as importantly, equips our students with the knowledge they need to challenge people in their own lives. 

Q: What can attendees expect from your session? 

A: Queer joy! Open, frank, and mildly irreverent discussions about identity, sexuality, risk, courage. How to think through what role queer pedagogy may have in their courses. They can expect to leave with more questions — and better questions — than they arrived with.

The 2024 University of Calgary Conference on Post-Secondary Learning and Teaching takes place April 24-26, with an in-person pre-conference and two days of virtual proceedings.

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