Thinking Queer: Sexuality, Culture, and Education

By Susan Talburt; Shirley R. Steinberg | Go to book overview
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Chapter 12

Nurturing Images, Whispering Walls:
Identity Intersections
and Empowerment in the
Academic Workplace

Townsand Price-Spratlen

The season was always Christmas with you there and . . . you did not neglect to
bring at least three gifts. You gave me a language to dwell in, a gift so perfect it
seems my own invention. The second gift was your courage, [that] of one who
could go as a stranger in the village and transform the distances between people
into intimacy with the whole world. The third gift was . . . your tenderness—a
tenderness so delicate I thought it could not last, but last it did and envelop me it
did. —Toni Morrison, “Life in His Language”

Three gifts. Language. Courage. Tenderness. With these three terms, Toni Morrison emphasizes the gifts she gained from James Baldwin's writings. In doing so, she succinctly presents three critical components of a healthy learning environment, one that consistently and proactively contributes to the dialectics between knowledge and ignorance and between public and private spaces. This is true whether describing (as she is) a reader's relationship with an author, a teacher's relationship with students in a classroom, or any of the many other formal and informal learning environments that exist. Current discussions on pedagogy, social science, and the nature of subjective identity tend to overlook the academic workplace as a central site of identity reification (Miller and Rose 1995). One such semi-formal, semi-private workplace that is too often minimized is the office of a college professor. To help broaden our understandings of this particular site, what follows is a visual autoethnography of my academic workplace.

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