I fundamentally believe that education is a tool for people to use nuanced understanding of the world to empower themselves and their communities. The transformative potential of education is particularly relevant for those who, like myself, are first generation college students and/or people of color who seek to comprehend the nature of the social circumstances in which they live and the cultural integrity of their communities. Further, based on the theoretical basis of my research, I believe that heightened awareness of diverse cultural heritages and unequal conditions in society can be the impetus for students to initiate important personal and social changes.
My primary teaching goals are to:
- facilitate learning in ways that are attuned to variations across student abilities, background knowledge, or levels;
- develop students’ critical thinking about how our lives are shaped by history and social forces;
- strengthen students’ understanding of how structural stratification contributes to and sustains inequality at macro and micro levels; and
- advance knowledge of how the academic field of African Diaspora Studies developed as a result of 1960s-70s protests and a longstanding black intellectual tradition.
My approach to teaching assumes learning to be an interactive process that is best facilitated when all participants are actively engaged. I employ the Socratic method and ask interpretive questions to stimulate conversation that allows students to critically think through the meaning, purpose, and major points of the course materials and their own learning experiences. I aim to create an environment where students are able to share their thoughts in an honest yet respectful manner, and to intellectually grow from the exchange. I also encourage students work in groups to make formal and informal in-class presentations on the learning materials. The purpose of these presentations is to help build students’ written and oral communication skills that can serve them well in and beyond academic settings.
At the same time, I use brief lectures to provide contextual information in order to ensure everyone is contributing to conversations from a shared knowledge base. While the direction and requirements of my courses are specifically explained in the syllabus, I also view the syllabus as a flexible, “living document” in order to ensure each student is comprehending course materials and is able to equally contribute to the learning process. In addition to major assignments, quizzes, and papers, I employ spontaneous assessment techniques such as reflective journaling, small group work, and short take-home assignments to further encourage students’ reading and in-class participation. Generally, I prefer that during class students do not use technological devices that may present distractions to themselves or their peers; however, I do create opportunities for students to use their devices for in-class learning exercises. For example, I may ask students to work in a group of two or three to critically analyze cultural artifacts such as photographs, videos, or song lyrics to highlight implicit messages about race and social class in the media.
In my training in Sociology and African American & African Studies (AAAS), I have learned the importance of bringing a world-historical perspective to complex social issues such as race, social class, and gender. This training provides a foundation for the perspective that all human groups have integrity and agency that are shaped by and have the capacity to transform lasting structures and institutions. I approach teaching that prioritizes highlighting the power and persistence of social structures in shaping people’s everyday lives through consideration of social science research studies, for example those produced by the Pew Research Center. As an AAAS scholar, I find it important to apply the field’s ethos of interdisciplinarity to the classroom setting by introducing students to materials from various media platforms. These include historical data such as notable speeches or archival images and documents, and popular media sources like documentaries, films, poetry, or music. These materials also help me highlight the ways in which human expressions and collective action can influence social change by serving as vehicles of resistance to oppression.
When I teach African Diaspora History, I begin with an Africa-centered and comparative approach to contextualize the lived experiences of African descendants. It is important that students understand global processes of enslavement, colonialism, and systematic oppression; at the same time, I prioritize teaching agency and creative human expressions through resources on collective action, culture, religion, and identity. Students read Michael Gomez’s Reversing Sail: A History of the African Diaspora (2005) and we use web-based resources such as the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database and the North Carolina Runaway Slave Advertisements project. I assign a creative history project wherein students select data from the runaway ads to imagine life as an enslaved woman, man, or child who elected to escape their bondage. In the form of short stories, poetry, or song, students create narratives that address issues of agency and oppression, identity. and cultural beliefs. This project helps students assume the perspective of Africans and African descendants while employing and producing multiple modes of media.
In my African Diaspora Social Movements course, students will learn about a range of mobilizations that span time and space – such as rebellions against enslavement, transnational pan-Africanist and leftist movements, Black Power, and post-globalization movements. Readings will include two edited volumes, From Toussaint to Tupac: The Black International since the Age of Revolution (West et. al 2009) and New Social Movements in the African Diaspora (Mullings 2009). Additional readings will also help center women’s roles in these transformative actions. Community engagement is another area that I seek to integrate into my teaching. When I teach Social Movements, students will choose a local organization with which to participate and study. They will be encouraged to critically reflect on the course concepts, the aims and implications of the movement, as well as methodological issues such as their role as researchers and potential activists. This experiential learning process will give students a stronger comprehension of social movement dynamics and realities; and push them toward deeper reflections about self, black communities in society, power and change.
My teaching and mentoring aims to provide students with conceptual tools and information that will enhance their critical thinking skills about the world in which they live, and the opportunities and challenges they will face in the 21st century. I aim to be a facilitator of student achievement based on their self-identified aspirations, while continually urging intellectual growth. I am interested in teaching because it offers an opportunity to contribute my knowledge, skills, and experience to create learning environments that are encouraging and supportive of students from all walks of life in their quests for meaning and higher learning.