Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Problematic Discourse

The other day, I was conferencing with a student about his draft for the unit on proposals I was teaching in my mentor's class. He was proposing that Ball State should have a group on campus where people of the LGBTQ community and heterosexual people could come together to learn more about each other, specifically, for heterosexual people to learn more about "homosexuals," so they (heterosexual people) could be more accepting. (Btw, I informed him that such a group does exist--SPECTRUM--which he ended up including in his final draft, but essentially wrote they weren't doing enough.)

The word, "homosexual," was used quite a bit throughout his paper, even after I responded on several of his drafts to consider using more affirmative words such as "members of the LGBTQ community" or even "gay" and "lesbian" and "transgendered." He adopted one of these terms once in his proposal.

Now a bit of background: my assignment was themed, Social (In)Justice. When we started the unit, we did an activity where students took on "identities" that were apart from the heteronormative/able/white/male ideology. The students were to walk around campus for one week, seeing the campus and the community through the eyes of the identity they drew. The student in the above story drew a "lesbian student" as his identity.

As we worked on this assignment, I sensed engagement from most students and also some resistance from other students. As I planned the unit, I tried very hard to create a unit that opened discussions about "otherness" and that provided opportunities for students to see practices and identities inherent and privileged by the institution. For the most part, the unit ran smoothly.

Now, though, as I reflect on my unit and in thinking about this week's readings, I can't help but think I only perpetuated and reinforced a heteronormative discourse by asking students who (for the most part) don't identify--through gender, sexual orientation, race, or ability--with the students they were proposing changes for. It kind of reminds me of the historical instance reported in Brueggeman's introduction about the cochlear implants: how they were seen as a gift from the gods and also an evil invention that could harm Deaf culture, an invention created by hearing ("normal") people to make Deaf people ("abnormal") "normal,"without consideration for how Deaf people might respond.

Due to the time constraints, I also didn't have students do any field research, which further makes the assignment problematic--the voices of those being written about were silenced and unaccounted for. But, how do you account for those voices without singling out a person based on a physical appearances, that is, if some "disabilities" are invisible, if gender is performed, if skin color says nothing about race?

I'm afraid I put students in the position to feel like they can speak for people whom they themselves can't identify with or as, instead of taking the position of ally or advocate and speaking with. I'm afraid I helped construct a problematic discourse.


1 comment:

  1. I have had similar feelings about assignments I've attempted in the past. This year struggled with being a privileged, white female teaching The Other Wes Moore. In the book the two Wes Moores (the author a successful African American male and an incarcerated African American male) begin down the same same road (drugs, gangs, skipping school, etc.). In the beginning of the book, many of our class discussions perpetuated stereotypes and assumptions about this culture. Negotiating this was hard, because I felt the book also presented a generalization of inner-city Baltimore culture. I really struggle with these conversations, but I found that asking students why they believe the assumptions they had made them think. It didn't solve the problem, but it helped.

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