The goal of the university, I think, is to “do good well”—to deliberately and effectively foster in students not merely abilities but capacities and visions of themselves as curious inquirers, active producers of knowledge, creative and innovative inquirers, seekers of wisdom, ethical decision-makers, and catalysts for social justice. That happens best in contexts where a diversity of students are encouraged and expected to bring their experiences into the class setting and then take what they create there into their communities and the global world.
The work we do as teachers is not simply personally transformative for students; it changes their whole family tree. I am especially concerned with supporting students who have been traditionally marginalized in higher education, particularly first generation students, students of color, young mothers, and poor students. I maintain an active research project on higher education at all times, with a focus on diversity, professor-student interactions, the culture of higher education, and student learning. (You can find my research on these topics Radical Teacher and Proteus: A Journal of Ideas.) I am particularly interested in how online learning is reshaping students’ experiences, how an emphasis on course- and program-level assessment affects teacher-student relationships, how teachers can inspire students to be scholars, and how student loan debt affects students, graduates, and their families. I don’t teach just for my students; I teach for their families and their communities, because I expect them to make those places better. I carry this commitment outside of the university. Currently, I volunteer weekly as a book club leader at a local elementary school. In the past, I have taught enrichment courses offered at no cost to students of color seeking graduate education in fields where they are often underrepresented, and I have taught in a program that supports economically disadvantaged students as they enter elite schools. I want the most disadvantaged students to have access to what the advantaged have always been granted. I teach for big changes.
A vibrant research agenda of work that is aimed at the common good is one of the best ways I can model for students the possibilities that education holds for them. I work closely with students, especially on student writing and research design, having a strong background in teaching writing and having spent three years as a dissertation coach. I have supervised dozens of senior research projects in addition to working with dozens of graduate students. My students do fascinating work on topics including
- Racism and sexism in special education labeling
- Claims-making in the digital artifacts produced by the anti-whaling activist/ecoterrorist group Sea Shepherds
- Sexual happiness in marriage
- Content analysis of religious themes in pro-slavery antebellum sermons
- The relationship between physical and psychological stress on police officers
- Programmatic failures in religion-based prisoner re-entry programs
- Exiting new religious movements
- Doctors’ training for supporting the mental health of trans* people
- Mother-child relationships among women whose pregnancies resulted from rape
- Religion in anti-circumcision movements
My students are already changing their worlds, and I’m fortunate to be able to support their work.