As a scholar and teacher, I am committed to meeting diverse students where they are, fostering an environment of mutual support that honors multiple perspectives, creating curriculum that highlights marginalized ethnic, religious, and racial communities, and building intercultural competence among students.
Prior to beginning doctoral work, as a research and outreach coordinator at an environmental non-profit, I worked with Native American communities in Montana to manage natural resources. Recognizing the ways in which land management policies have been implicated in colonialism, I strived to listen, rather than approach the community with preconceived solutions. I met with tribal members to build management plans that answered Native concerns and incorporated traditional ecological knowledge to best facilitate environmental reclamation. As a teacher, I continue to take the same approach with my students by creating spaces where students can feel comfortable sharing their skills, strengths, culture, and backgrounds in class, and then guide them on how to use these to participate in and enrich the curriculum.
In all of my courses, I model and engender interpersonal awareness, in which students are encouraged to acknowledge, challenge, and engage a range of perspectives of historical actors and modern scholars. When crafting my syllabi, I select primary and secondary sources from diverse voices and encourage my students to contextualize the biases and angles presented in the material. For example, in my Native American Religions course and my 12-credit American Culture Program, I privileged Native scholarship. In the syllabi I noted the Native community the author is from and asked students to briefly present on the history, art, and culture of the community. By understanding the perspective from which authors write, students begin to understand their own positionality. By thoughtfully integrating multiple voices and identities into the curriculum, I encourage my students to think critically about difference and their location in the context of cultural diversity.
At Randolph College and at Duke Divinity School, my courses are comprised of students from diverse socioeconomic, ethnic, and academic backgrounds. I have had middle-aged second career students, ex-military, students with accommodations, and first-generation college students. These different population groups came to class with different expectations and values. With this diversity of learners in mind, it is always my goal to create an inclusive learning environment and reach students in ways that work best for them. I employ a variety of assessment methods and vary the manner in which I present material throughout each course. We work in small groups, complete silent writing activities, write common questions on the board, and hold mock debates. Over the course of the semester I observe how the students interact with each other and the material, and adapt my teaching methodologies to what I see works best. For example, in American Christianity at Duke Divinity, my 16 MDiv and MA students benefited from brief lectures on the historical context of the day’s discussion, but some of my students were poor note takers. To facilitate note taking and prompt the following discussion, I provided handouts with headings for students to follow along. I always make time to meet with students individually throughout the semester to provide personalized guidance and to direct students to additional campus resources.
It is of upmost importance in my teaching to practice an inclusive pedagogy. To this end, I pledge to do my best to run every class in a manner that is respectful of difference, including but not limited to, physical and mental ability, age, socio-economic status, religious identity, gender identity, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality, and veteran status. It is particularly important to disallow the use of harmful stereotypes regarding religious practitioners. I open every course with a brief discussion and lecture on the use of inclusive language and ways to foster respect in the classroom for each other and the material. For example, in my course American Gods at Randolph College, a number of students had strong opinions regarding Islam. Through the careful study of diverse Islamic texts, practices, and living religious actors, however, students were able to reflect on their own interpretations of what it means to be Muslim and understand why, historically and socially, a variety of views regarding Islam have emerged. As in my scholarship and service, my teaching is dedicated to social action. I strive to make visible complex structures of power and layered aspects of systemic oppression. Often a sensitive subject for students to approach, religion offers a lens into a world of diverse actors and perspectives, and it is my goal to encourage students to engage with this diversity in order to develop as informed citizens and ethical leaders in a complex world.
Religious studies courses often tackle difficult questions regarding violence, suffering, and ethnic tension. In addition, these courses often offer students their first encounter with the diversity and internal disagreement of religious experiences in history and in the present. It is important to offer students a safe, open, and hospitable space to develop their own critical voices. The first day of every course, in addition to a leading a discussion on creating an inclusive and equitable classroom, I have students complete a syllabus contract exercise. Students form small groups to discuss classroom etiquette and guidelines. Students then bring three or four of these proposed “rules” to the entire group—common examples include timeliness, completing the readings, “no stupid questions,” respect for one another and diverse perspectives. Students feel empowered to take responsibility for their own learning and classroom experience, while simultaneously setting the stage for an inclusive learning environment
When conflict does arise in class, I guide students to unpack the multiple sides of an argument. For example, in Sustainability: Faith, Denial, Reason at Duke University, my 30 upper-level students came from vastly different socioeconomic backgrounds, but often assumed everyone had the same upbringing. This came to head when discussing how pollution and environmental degradation affects the poorest communities the most acutely. A few students struggled to see how the experiences of pollution in lower-income communities were the responsibility of other population groups. I provided examples both locally—the location of Durham’s industrial plants relative to the area’s poorest neighborhoods—and globally—overcrowded urban India’s reliance on biomass burning. I than asked students to piece-apart the layers of each case study to better understand the structures of power implicit and explicit in the creation and treatment of pollution. By providing real-world examples and asking the students to listen and respond to each other’s concerns and questions, I facilitated a space for my students to help each other think critically about the diverse perspectives and realities of environmental degradation.
I have experience working with a variety of underrepresented student populations and diverse learners, am dedicated to incorporating intercultural exchange and diversity into my curriculum, and strive to nurture a safe and open learning environment. As a teacher, scholar, and citizen, it is my mission to prepare students to be enlightened leaders within a diverse world.