Curriculum Development in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies
It has been a year since I was awarded a Curriculum Development Grant from the Humanities Engage Program at Pitt to develop a module titled “Fragment, Ephemera and Periodicals: Reimagining Global Trans History” as part of Julie Beaulieu’s class on Transgender Studies. I had earlier written about how I was envisioning this module and how it turned out in practice. Today, I wanted to take a moment to articulate my reflections on the process of curriculum development and to stress upon the importance of mentoring and collaboration to prepare graduate workers for such work.
When the announcement for the curriculum development grant was made last year, there were three specific reasons why I thought I should be applying for this:
a) I see research and teaching as invigorating each other and not as something separate. In fact, this is one of the reasons that I would love a job which gives equal emphasis on both research and teaching. Trained in two public universities in India during my BA, MA and MPhil, if all that my teachers did was to write books, I would not have been here. At the same time, they were committed to research even with very scant resources and no incentives.
Despite the hierarchy, I have always seen my students as my interlocutors who have helped me to think and clarify my ideas in a more nuanced way.
b) Curriculum development gives me a direct opportunity to shape institutional spaces, what gets taught in the future and who is a part of that conversation. Considering the numerous anti-trans bills and laws worldwide, in what direction one can steer conversation about trans lives becomes equally important. As a cis-gender woman and an ally, it calls for a self-reflexivity in how that happens. It helped me understand my relationship with institutions.
c) Many of my family members lost jobs because of COVID, the numbers of dependents that I had increased. Hence part of my decision was prompted by a material need, to support my extended family with money.
I started thinking whom to reach out to and the name that came up on my mind was Dr. Julie Beaulieu, Lecturer in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Program(GSWS, hereafter). I have my eyes on GSWS jobs and postdocs. So I wanted to have a broader range of teaching experiences even those beyond my department. When I took a class with her, she told us that she could not be on our committees because she was not on the Tenure Track and I was looking for ways to work with her. She also has a history of mentoring students interested in archival work and I knew that she was scheduled to teach courses on archives and sexuality.
When I approached Julie and I told her that I am interested in a making a module for her archives class. But she read the language of the Call for applicants very carefully and told me that I probably have a better chance of getting it for a class where there is no pre-existing archival component. It was Julie who actually suggested that given my interested in archives and also Trans studies, if I am willing to develop something for her class on Transgender Studies. I said yes ! and that was the beginning of a strong mentoring relationship that has helped me in difficult moments! This experience taught me that seeking mentorship that will help me grow as a scholar and teacher can make a lot of difference. I will also say that its perfectly fine if one is seeking mentorship outside one’s own discipline and department. It helps one to retrain professional and academic identities in many ways.
Once the grant period was over, Julie invited me to contribute excerpt of my module as part of a broader project on LGBTQ Digital Archives in the classroom at Pitt which enabled me to collaborate with Pitt’s undergraduate worker Olivia Mania who was an intern for the project. Olivia’s insights were valuable in how the module was presented on the library guide that was developed as part of the project. This collaboration also prompted more urgent and important conversations about the sustainability of the module that we were developing. Is it a one off thing? Do we want it to share it with a wider community so that they can adapt it? How much can we share ? I went ahead with the decision of sharing a larger part of the module because I saw it as a way of building community and to be in conversation with fellow educators in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies.
Finally, as I reflect, I think that my strongest motivation for curriculum development in Trans Studies was driven by the fact that Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies programs are struggling all over the world to carve space for themselves. Funding and fellowships in GSWS are being cut without any reasonable justification. We are finding it difficult to teach our histories in institutional spaces due to availability of resources. My general sense is that a large percentage of faculty teaching GSWS courses in institutions all over the world generally constitutes adjunct faculty who are paid poorly and have no medical benefits or pensions. I see my work of curriculum development as one of advocacy — for more resources. I believe in my students whom I taught the module The dreamer that I am, I believe they have the power to change the world. A world, where equity, justice and dignity to life and living are basic and not another “Diversity Initiative” of institutions.
To radical futures…