As an educator, I aim to foster my students’ connection-making practices. Whether I am teaching in ethnic studies, literature, or in the environmental humanities, I motivate my students to understand our course materials and the world around us as always historically and culturally inflected, always intersectional, and always in relation to others.
In my teaching, my connection-making pedagogy is guided by 3 Rs: relation, reflection, and real-life engagement.
In addition to making connections between texts, objects, and their cultural contexts:
I hold space for discussions that allow my students to relate to each other, in order to build the trust required of conversations that are both genuine and generative.
I build reflection time into class discussions and assignments, allowing my students to process what they’ve learned and how this might connect to their civic life beyond the classroom.
I encourage my students to act on these reflections by tuning our classroom learning to “real life,” or public-facing discussions and opportunities for community-engaged work.
And when I talk about connection-making, I want to resist the idea that connection must hinge on sameness. Because bodies are mobile and borders are malleable, even a purportedly “national” culture exists in intimate relation to ideas, histories, and conflicts with transnational roots and global implications. In choosing my course materials, I juxtapose texts and objects whose connections are often forged by difference. I challenge my students to recognize the embeddedness of multiple stakes and positionalities in any context—any aspect of a life lived, a narrative constructed.
Asian American Literature
What is “Asian American”? While migrants from Asia and elsewhere have been coming to the United States for hundreds of years, the idea of the “Asian American” is much younger. The idea has roots in the civil rights movements of the 1960s, and began as a strategic formation in order to join forces across multiple ethnic groups for political and social visibility and power.
This course explores the idea of the “Asian American” and the vast array of histories and experiences that it has come to describe by focusing on the historical contexts of its origins and the ways these contexts have endured or shifted into the contemporary era. Does Asian American literature have a particular style or focus, and how might these be politically inflected? Where do Asian American stories take place–in Chinatown? In Kansas? What about Asia itself? (And which Asia? Japan? Korea? Sri Lanka?) We will interrogate the potential elasticity of the term “Asian American” and its ability to encompass new waves of immigration; dramatic sociocultural differences across region, gender, generation, race, and class; a multiplicity of refugee experiences; and an increasingly transnational population.
Environmental Justice Literature
Environmental scholar William Cronon argues in a famous essay that “the trouble with wilderness” is that it assumes that “the wild” is the only place that nature, or the environment, exists. But what about the air, water, and land within the city limits? If we think about the smog, pollution, and the underground, there are environmental issues aplenty. The trouble is, they are often hidden by the assumption that nature can’t be urban, and environmentalism is all about saving “pristine” wildernesses and exotic locales. It also masks the fact that environmental issues often coincide with social ones: The color of your skin might determine not only the neighborhood you live in, but also the quality of water in your pipes, or the toxins in your air.
This class will explore issues of environmental justice in 20th/21st century multiethnic fiction that takes place in cities across the United States. From San Francisco to Detroit and Seattle to New Orleans, we will look at urbanization and urban decay; gentrification and dispossession; infrastructure and natural disasters; and, importantly, how ideas of race create–and are created by–the environment of the city itself.
Climate Justice (First-Year Writing)
This class approaches writing and academic inquiry from the understanding that the best writing isn’t chiseled from stone, but formed from clay, over and over and over (and over and over and over) again. That is, writing is a habit: And if it isn’t one yet, it will be! It’s also an eternal work in progress: Everything you write doesn’t have to be the Great American Novel the moment ink hits the page, or bytes hit the screen.
As such, this course focuses extensively on two areas of writing: the idea-gathering and question-chasing part of writing that happens before the draft, and the process of hardcore revision that continuously reshapes said draft. In order to tackle these subjects concretely, this course is themed around climate justice and climate change discourse. As we develop our craft and practice, we will look to models within climate change discourse that demonstrate how we might tackle contentious issues; topics that seem impossibly large; and problems being articulated across a wide range of vantage points, geographies, political spectrums, and mediums.
Because writing is so often deemed a solitary activity, wherein students shack up in their dorm rooms or 24-hour libraries and churn out brilliance unassisted, this class is the exact opposite. Our classroom is an open forum, highly interactive, and participation-driven. Writing is hard, but sharing rough-draft work and brainstorming new ideas is probably even harder if you don’t have a welcoming space to do it in. Because this class is limited to 18 students, we’ll be getting to know each other pretty well; and my hope is that the trust we build as classmates will raise the bar for the scholarship we create together.
Close Reading Exhibit
My students post their 2-page close readings on the classroom walls, adjacent poster-sized versions of the cultural object they analyzed. They then observe the different “exhibits,” and offer their reactions and additions on Post-It notes—sometimes creating chain-reactions of Post-It notes on the walls.
This activity de-emphasizes the idea that student writing is written for the professor, or that successful writing is writing that pleases me. Displaying their papers as part of an exhibit also helps affirm that their own work is worth exhibiting and taking seriously: Their audience is larger than they might think.
Gidra was a radical Asian American magazine, published monthly from 1969-1974. Through feature covering Asian American antiwar protests to articles that offer practical advice about how to fix your toilet, Gidra offers a window to the birth of “Asian American” as a political identity, and the ways Asian American activists ardently sought to connect their struggles to those of the Black Power Movement, the American Indian Movement, and the Womens Liberation Movement.
After working with Gidra as text, my students imagine what it would be like to pen their own Gidra in the present-day: What issues would they cover? Together, we create a mockup of Gidra 2020 in the style of the original.
For the 2019-20 academic term, I served as a Writing Fellow at the University of Michigan in two 200-level courses: “Representing Wildlife,” which discussed representations of wildlife in U.S. law, art, and literature; and “Rhetoric and Rights: Language and Power in U.S. Civil Rights Movements.”
I provided additional writing instruction and mentorship for a courses that would not otherwise offer this level of writing support. I worked extensively with students one-on-one, brainstorming potential structures for their papers and thesis statements; guiding students as they worked to explain their pieces of evidence and fully explicate the relevance of this evidence to their argument; and pushing students to consider not only what they wanted to argue, but why it was important in the broader scheme of the course/the world at large.
What I loved about being a writing fellow was the opportunity to engage in-depth with my students during office hours–about their writing, but also about the thought processes and investments they bring to their writing, their experience of the university at large.
Being a Writing Fellow allowed, I think, for frank discussions of the trials and tribulations of the writing process, and the opportunity to develop strategies for writing, and relationships to writing, that were real about those days when writing an 8-page paper seems impossible, or when rhetorically analyzing a difficult text can feel like trying to carve a tunnel from stone with only a spoon. Embracing that “in the trenches” stage of writing together makes the writing process feel collaborative, reflective, and even exciting (?!?!).