Selected Graduate Courses
- Introduction to Rhetorical Studies
- Rac(e/ist) Rhetoric(s)
- The Archive: Theory and Practice
- Social Movement(s) in the Margins
- Race & Public Culture (sample from SP2011)
- Rhetorical Methods (sample from FA2010)
- Critical Race Studies
- Rhetorics of Race and Nation
- Neoliberal Whiteness (independent study)
- The Archive: Theories & Issues in Critical Rhetorical Studies (independent study)
Selected Undergraduate Courses
- Introduction to Latina/o/x Communication and Culture
- Understanding Communication: Humanistic Approaches
- Rhetoric, Culture, & Ideology (sample from SP2011)
- Communication, Diversity, & Critical Citizenship
- Rhetorical Criticism
- Latin@ Social Movement Rhetorics
- Race, Rhetoric, & Radical Democracy
- Argumentation & Critical Thinking
- Introduction to Latin@ Studies
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I am currently (2019-2020) a Learning Design Collaboratory Faculty Fellow at the University of Iowa.
Born out of my scholarly and personal concerns with political possibilities—and informed, no doubt, by my connection to Latina/o/x Studies—I believe that the most effective teaching, regardless of discipline, helps students to become active and productive members of their communities. Where education has lost sight of its origins in preparing a critical democratic polity, I seek to remedy this loss of mission in my classrooms. Specifically, I find that my home discipline of communication studies is uniquely suited for this role because it is situated to empower students to more fully understand and (re)appropriate institutions of power for the betterment of humanity. Communication in general, and symbolic action in particular, plays an enormous role in both supporting and breaking down relations, structures of power, and domination. Hence, I see my primary role as a teacher as enabling my students to recognize and act within and outside these structures as people striving to improve the quality of life for all. In short, I act on the ideal that what we do in the classroom has effects beyond our scholarly institutions, and what I do in the classroom can make my students better suited to address issues important to their communities.
A key component of my teaching philosophy is the understanding that learning is a two-way street. Learning is a lifelong process that does not end at the conclusion of the class session, semester, or degree; as such, I make clear to my students that professors continue to learn new things from their own research and from student participation. I believe that students learn best when they play the central role in the learning process. I recognize that all students come from, to a lesser or greater degree, different socioeconomic, political, and cultural backgrounds, each offering a unique perspective on any given topic. Anything a student learns, then, is filtered through the particular lens of their experiences; in turn, each student has something important to offer the rest of the class, including the instructor. Ultimately, teaching is a humbling experience—one that forces me to confront various degrees of recalcitrance and constantly revisit how I approach students, materials, and my own research.
In the classroom, I seek to put this teaching philosophy into practice in various ways. First, I try as much as possible to turn control of discussions about the material over to the students. Sometimes lectures cannot be avoided; and I am comfortable in my role in such situations and in my lecturing style, which often involves the use of multimedia materials like Keynote, video clips, and audio clips. When I am more central to disseminating information, I often use focused questions, free-writing assignments, and timed group work to facilitate student engagement in the course materials. Second, I encourage discussions and dialogues to flow beyond the classroom through participation in community forums, and public speaking events, and course blogs. Such extension of in-class discussions has the added benefit of further fostering a sense of community amongst enrolled students, and tapping into spaces for students to relate their personal experiences to the course materials in a manner that makes those materials more germane to their lives. Third, I have become a firm believer in group-work and problem-solving in the classroom because it empowers students in their own learning. Fourth, when it is appropriate to the setting (i.e., in the graduate classroom and advanced undergraduate classes), I have begun embracing the Socratic method as a means to prod students to dig more deeply into their critical reasoning skills and engage one another more actively in the teaching/learning process. Finally, I also bring my own research materials into the classroom—not to take advantage of the students as free labor, but to introduce them to rare archival and textual material that can enliven their experience of historical and contemporary phenomena. In the end, I am confident that my teaching methods help me achieve my philosophical goals and constantly refine my specific strategies as student learning styles demand and evolve over time.
As my research agenda has sharpened over the years, so too have the attitudinal, theoretical, and practical perspectives I bring to bear in the classroom. Specifically, I seek more seriously to treat teaching as a transformative process that requires an active, enthusiastic commitment on the part of my students and myself. I have made an effort to ensure that students experience a critical voice in all class discussions and in the structural makeup of the course (e.g., in the formation of attendance policies, the choice of course readings, and the expectations for my actions). Although I still occasionally have the tendency to overestimate my students’ comprehension of course material and theoretical underpinnings, I strive consciously to create an environment that is respectful, enthusiastic, challenging, and open to discussion and inquiry.
Looking back over my years as a scholar and teacher, I am convinced of the importance of teaching methods that encourage students to become active participants in the classroom and beyond. In an era when teaching is too often understood as a service provided to consumers seeking vocational and professional degrees, I think it is more important than ever that teaching destabilize foundations and foster the ability for students to be critical participants in an active democracy. In his pamphlet titled “Student Social Action” (1962), Tom Hayden wrote,
I believe education in a democracy should be threatening and renewing—threatening in that it should critically examine the deepest understandings of life, confronting taboo, habit, ritual, and personal ethics with a withering ‘why,’ unearthing the values that society buries for security’s sake, and exposing these to the sunlight of the inquiring mind; renewing in that it transmits human culture from generation to generation and place to place, transforming some parts, modifying others, concurring with still others, yet expressing reverence for the whole (p. 12).
While I do not align myself entirely with Hayden or the Students for a Democratic Society, I interpret his point seriously: education should not merely reproduce dominant inequities and stagnant politics; rather, it should challenge, engage, and revivify lived experience and our connections to each other. I treat education as a reflexive critical rhetorical performance that challenges students and teachers to question knowledge-power relations in public, private, and peripheral spheres. For some students, this task is too daunting because there is so much personally to risk; thus, I take heed of their concerns and reluctance, doing my best to encourage them to accept that they should struggle with readings and ideas. When my teaching and scholarship do this—when they work in tandem to encourage people to struggle with themselves and with each other in public culture; when people begin to see and experience their relations to power differently—my faith in the possibility of robust political praxis is renewed as I continue to push on toward a more socially just world.
Part of that project toward justice has involved building and strengthening Latina/o/x Studies in the places I have labored. In my last job, at the University of North Texas, I was part of a planning committee that was defining and building a proposal for Latina/o and Mexican American Studies at North Texas. That program came to fruition shortly after I left. At Iowa, I was part of the early conversations in 2013-2014 for forming an interdisciplinary minor, which we have now had for about four years. Since its inception, we have been working hard to achieve “program” status (which happened in Spring 2018) and have begun the process of rethinking the curriculum, applying for budgeted faculty lines, and more. This has involved working with central administration in the Provost’s office, college administration in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and partnering with residential programs for a Living Learning Community.
My experience teaching Latina/o/x Studies courses at the undergraduate level has mainly revolved around four items. First, I have experience teaching Introduction to Latina/o/x Studies and have been working with colleagues at Iowa to create some consistency and standardization in the Intro course syllabus. Second, I teach a course currently titled Introduction to Latina/o/x Communication and Culture, which is particularly focused on various aspects of activist and popular communication. This course is now part of the core curriculum at Iowa. Third, I have taught a course in Latina/o/x Social Movements, which is kind of at the core of a lot of the research that I have conducted. Finally, I work Latina/o/x Studies into all of my courses in one way or another. Even in something as seemingly boilerplate as the humanistic communication studies “methods” course, I rely heavily on case studies and examples that come out of Latina/o/x communication studies. Rooted in my recent/ongoing Mellon grant for a Sawyer Seminar, I am also planning an advanced-level undergraduate course titled “Imagining Latinidades” that will involve a research project and poster session to highlight the work that our students are capable of doing on the topic.
At the graduate level, I specialize in teaching critical/comparative race and ethnic studies. At Iowa, I teach perhaps the only critical race studies theory-oriented course every other year. In this course, I usually try to strike a balance between books that (1) provide a comprehensive and relational approach to the study of race, (2) engage questions of antiblackness from critical (and often pessimistic) perspectives, (3) interrogate questions of settler colonialism, and (4) engage various dimensions of Latinidades. Since the course draws students widely from across Iowa’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, readings and foci shift from iteration to iteration. If I am still at Iowa next year, for example, I plan to have a heavier emphasis on Latina/o/x studies readings to pair the course with the Mellon Sawyer Seminar activities.
Students are certainly a driving force for my energy and interest in teaching. I was a first-generation student and many of my Latina/o/x students at Iowa are, as well. I find myself drawn to helping students from that background navigate the structures of the university and the practices of higher education, in part because I didn’t really have those kinds of guidance. I take my mentoring duties seriously and particularly enjoy working with students who are eager to learn and grow. Most of my formal mentoring opportunities so far at Iowa have been with graduate students. I have served or am currently on the committees of over twenty doctoral students, four of whom I also serve/served as advisor. I have also served as faculty mentor for two different undergraduate research fellows—one through our Iowa Center for Research of Undergraduates and one through a summer research fellowship program for underrepresented students interested in pursuing doctoral education—and currently serve as the faculty advisor for a graduate student professional organization (the Bruce Gronbeck Rhetoric Society).