Academic journal article Intertexts

(Dis)Covered Bridges: Public Articulation and the College Classroom

Academic journal article Intertexts

(Dis)Covered Bridges: Public Articulation and the College Classroom

Article excerpt

Conservative and religious-conservative pundits have in recent years made something of a crusade out of decrying what they describe as "the radical homosexual agenda" on college campuses across America, based on a distorted and partial familiarity with what college professors do. A favorite target is the program of academic conventions in the humanities and social sciences, where it has become something of an annual ritual: not long after a high-profile convention has taken place, the MLA (Modern Language Association) and NCA (National Communication Association) conventions in particular, outraged conservative academics and their advocates wax indignant at the panels' politicized approaches to texts and methods of analysis; it's proselytizing, these critics cry, citing the most sexually overt and provocative paper tides they can glean from the program and insisting that these conventions, with their emphasis on radical topics, surely portend the end of American higher education and, with it, the collapse of society. (1) In one memorable example from an Accuracy in Media column, authors Reed Irvine and Cliff Kincaid assert, "College-age kids should be advised to steer clear of these sexual perverts masquerading as scholars." Such commentators, of course, conflate the teaching that occurs in the undergraduate classroom with the more provocative and professional conversations by openly GLQ-identified participants for which such academic conventions exist. (2) Although one might choose to read these polemical commentaries primarily for their entertainment value, there's an underlying question worth pursuing: What is the appropriate connection between undergraduate instruction and an instructor's revealing his or her GLQ identity?

The effects of an instructor's disclosure should be considered, we shall argue, not only with regard to how an instructor's career and pedagogical effectiveness might be affected, but also, and more important, with regard to how that instructor's students--gay, straight, undecided--might respond and might be affected. In this paper, we will contextualize and argue a twofold position: that instructors should not disclose directly in the classroom unless the decision is made with careful consideration of professional and pedagogical ethical considerations that we shall outline, and that such consideration should take account of the likelihood that any benefits of hypothetical disclosure are already more effectively achieved owing to students' nonverbal and indirect communication and perception. We will then offer analysis of two texts that we use in our own classrooms, The Ellen DeGeneres Show (Majocha, Communication & Rhetoric) and Alison Bechdel's Fun Home (Cox, English & Gender Studies).

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First, we shall consider the ethics of disclosure: what is the pedagogically and professionally appropriate distance between an instructor's public (that is, classroom) persona and their private life? And to what extent do students need or want to know private information about an instructor if that information helps shape an instructor's world view and perspectives? Perhaps more important, what motivates disclosure and whose interests are served? At the core of the debate are two familiar issues in academia today: advocacy in the undergraduate classroom, and essentialism as pedagogical imperative. Both are part of ongoing, often fierce, debates about undergraduate instruction, in particular the ubiquitous required freshman-level courses in speaking and writing, both of which, as skills-acquisition courses, have been appropriated, for better or worse, by instructors who use them as vehicles to instruct, enlighten, inculcate, or manipulate students with regard to contemporary social and political issues such as gender, class, race, and religion. Mary Rasmussen asserts the utility of considering such issues and contexts of disclosure in her 2004 article "The Problem of Corning Out": "teachers and students might benefit from being mindful of the moral, political, and pedagogical issues that necessarily influence educations discourses of the closet and coming out" (144). …

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