This week's post comes from Charissa Powell, Student Success Librarian for Information Literacy, and Lizeth Zepeda, Diversity Resident Librarian and Research Assistant Professor, both at the University of Tennessee. Learn more about our guest authors on our Featured Authors page.
Today’s blog post is the edited transcript of a conversation between two teaching librarians! Charissa Powell and Liz Zepeda met in November 2017 and immediately bonded over the fact that they both have Women’s Studies undergraduate degrees and Library Science Master’s degrees. They both love to think, talk, read, and write about queer, feminist, and critical theory. By reading this blog post, they hope that you will learn a little bit about these theories and how to incorporate them into your teaching practice. For further reading, see the list at the end of the post.
Where did you first learn about some of these theories (critical, queer, feminist, etc.) and why do you use them in your professional life?
Liz: In my women’s studies classes in undergrad at Cal State, Long Beach. I’ve always had these theories in the back of my brain as a form of survival. As a queer, Chicana, first-generation, transfer college student, I didn’t feel connected to the histories, professors, and spaces I was studying until I found women’s studies. Coming into the Library and Information Science field, I was dissatisfied with the notions of neutrality within librarianship but was inspired by how feminist and queer theories could be embedded in my work. My personal interpretation of neutrality means that folks are satisfied with the status quo and avoid doing the work to incorporate inclusive practices within the profession. It felt natural to me to be critical of librarianship and to incorporate these theoretical frameworks into the field, to make students like me feel like they belong.
Charissa: I also majored in women’s studies for my undergraduate degree and spent a lot of time thinking, reading, and writing about mostly feminist theory and queer theory. I didn’t learn about critical theory until graduate school — shout out to Rachel Gammons who introduced me to #critlib and handed me the book, Critical library instruction: Theories and methods! I have found these theories to be essential to my librarianship. I think being a truly student-centered teacher means that you’re doing everything you can to make students in the classroom feel seen, included, welcome, and heard. I think part of the effort involves recognizing that students have different experiences based on their identities in the world.
How do you incorporate these theories into your teaching?
Liz: I think that every moment (inside and outside the classroom) is a teachable moment. There is already a lot of anxiety for students to do research using library databases; you don’t want to also add to their anxiety by misgendering them or having assumptions about them. Keep that in mind when you’re teaching. One example of how I incorporate theoretical frameworks within the classroom is with the examples I use to help students brainstorm their topics. For example, if they have a general topic about food, I will give it a social justice twist by using examples that incorporate topics of food justice, food deserts, and the cost of food.
Charissa: Liz has taught me how to incorporate queer pedagogies into teaching by introducing myself with my pronouns whenever I teach. As an ally, introducing myself with my pronouns is a small intervention in the classroom to disrupt heteronormativity. It is also important to not assume the gender of your students! Instead, I try to take the time to learn students’ names. This can be harder in one-shots, so a suggestion I have is to use gender-neutral ways to identify students. My favorite is when I ask a student to volunteer is to refer to this student as “our friend.” Example: “thank you to our friend in the front row who volunteered their topic for our brainstorming!”
Liz: Pronouns, like language, are fluid and constantly evolving; for example, she/her/hers, they/them/theirs, he/him/his, or ze/hi (Astra). It is important to incorporate pronouns in your language so once folks do disclose their pronouns to you, it will be a part of your language and you’ll be less likely to misgender students. But if you do mess up, own up to it. For more information, see the resources provided by Adolpho (2018).
What lessons have you learned from using these theories?
Liz: Because I don’t want to out anyone, I don’t require my students to explicitly state their pronouns when I’ve only just met them--especially in one-shot instruction where it is difficult to build relationships with students. Be mindful that asking students to state their pronouns can be seen as outing themselves.
Charissa: As someone who has taught both one-shot and semester-long classes, I used my syllabus during my semester-long class to make a names/pronouns and self-identifications statement (LGBT Equity Center). I let students know that they can share with me what they would like to be called or referred to by. This sets the tone that if they wish to disclose their pronouns to me, they can. I also include my own pronouns in my syllabus. Although I don’t want to force my students to be explicit, I myself am as explicit as I can be as an ally.
Keeping the Conversation Going
We hope that this post, while short, has sparked some thinking for you! In summary, theories can be your friend and help inform your practice in librarianship.
What is one change you could make to your teaching practice to incorporate one of these theories?
Suggested Reading & Resources