Headshot of Maya Pindyck

Tell us about the work you’ve done with regards to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access (DEIA) pedagogy and classroom instruction.

The work I’ve done regarding DEIA pedagogy and classroom instruction has been collaborative, ongoing, and uncomfortable. It is messy and sticky: I continually find myself “stuck” through that work, catching myself in patterns of behavior that I am trying to dissolve, and I also find that the work sticks to and with me: it follows me, lingers, and attaches itself to other work in areas of my life that I may have previously thought unrelated to DEIA and/or pedagogy.

My collaborative project White Study Hall came out of a four-year process of reflecting with three colleagues/friends at different institutions—Jessica Hamlin (NYU), Victoria Restler (Rhode Island College) and Asilia Franklin-Phipps (SUNY New Paltz)—on where we notice whiteness in the educational spaces we have inhabited as teachers and as students. It is our collective way of gathering and critically examining imagery that reflects when, where and how whiteness permeates educational spaces, habits, and practices. We focus on schools as sites where whiteness is taught, disciplined, standardized, and structures how people are valued and ordered. We are curious about what we might learn and what could be changed by studying “images of whiteness” that reflect educational practices and spaces. Collectively, our work has taken the form of workshops, publications, an Instagram account (@imagesofwhiteness), conference and webinar presentations, a collective blog and shared resources, like syllabi and classroom activities/assignments. Here at Moore, I’ve created an offshoot of White Study Hall in the form of a faculty and staff Padlet (one of the digital tools we use with students) as a jumping-off point for gathering experiences, reflections and ideas towards meaningful change. 

The book I co-authored with Dr. Ruth Vinz, Diana Liu, and Ashlynn Wittchow, A Poetry Pedagogy for Teachers: Reorienting Classroom Literacy Practices, was just published by Bloomsbury and explores what poetry can do to open up fresh instructional approaches to reading and writing. Though the book isn’t explicitly “about” DEIA work, it is infused with those concerns, which we see as deeply entangled with literacy practices. Some of the pedagogical principles we explore include recognizing our students as multiplicities—not as one singular thing with a singular voice that expresses a person’s identity, but as multiple voices and possibilities that can (and do) change at any moment. We see poetry offering accessible ways to tap into those multiple voices, fluid personas and expansive possibilities while disrupting flat, stereotypical ways of reading each other. We also look at how writing poetry often gives a person the courage to say what might feel unsayable in certain settings or using conventional rhetorical frameworks. The book is invested in our relationships with others, including other species, advocating for literacy practices as collective engagements rather than individualistic enterprises.

I am excited to be teaching a new course in fall 2023 called Dismantling Whiteness that will bring this work explicitly into the classroom. The course will critically examine whiteness in our society and how it gets systemically structured, reproduced and naturalized. Through writings by Sara Ahmed, Ibram X. Kendi, Toni Morrison, Danez Smith, Claudia Rankine, and others, it will engage the following questions: How does white supremacy systemically work? What does it look like and feel like in schools, literature, museums and public spaces? How is it entangled in broader structural inequities? How has whiteness been resisted and what can we learn from those examples to guide our own lives? The course will culminate with a group plan of action or antiracist proposal that contributes to the decolonization of our campus community.

How do you personally think about integrating principles of DEIA in the classroom space? What do you think lies ahead for the future of this work in higher education?

The main areas where I think about DEIA and classroom space are:

  1. Material/content: I work to create syllabi that reflect multiple perspectives and voices from diverse backgrounds and experiences. I want the readings that I select to feel culturally relevant to my students but also to push beyond the boundaries of their own cultural experiences. When I craft my syllabi, I pay attention to diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability, nationality and religion/spirituality, and try to ensure that no single voice or perspective is dominant.
  2. Space (physical and psychic): I think a lot about how we navigate and curate physical space in the classroom, and the ways the instructor is positioned in relation to the students. Personally, I’m a big fan of circles, especially for writing classes, where the instructor is positioned among, rather than above or in front of, the students. Even though the power dynamics are inevitable, there’s a hierarchical flattening that the circle invites and imagines. There’s also the psychic space of positioning. I keep returning to Paulo Freire’s critique of the “banking method” of education where the instructor is the one who knows and “deposits” information inside the minds of the students. When I taught high school English in Brownsville, Brooklyn, our principal would call it “the sage on the stage” syndrome. So, I constantly ask myself: How am I speaking to my students? From what position (physically and psychically)? Do I see myself as a co-constructor of knowledge or do I find myself “feeding” them knowledge in a top/down way, despite my best intentions? Am I making space for multiple voices and perspectives to be held and valued, and am I allowing myself to be changed by those voices and perspectives? Or do I want my students to understand the material the same way I do?
  3. Workshop/critique: I try my best to establish ground rules for workshop/critique that foreground student values, care, respect, listening, and rigor/vigor when engaging each other’s work. How can we make the work better in a way that values what the author/maker intends for the work? Does the writer have a particular audience or sociocultural context in mind? I see this as a practice of listening to each other and providing comments that address the irreproducible, diverse intersections of each person’s work. Setting clear ground rules that we collectively build helps everyone feel included and heard. 
  4. Failure: This is the hardest for me to make space for, and maybe the most important DEIA principle. Teachers are notoriously afraid to look bad, to fail, to be disliked by their students. I am definitely not a success story. I am a human, stumbling, flawed. I make an effort to do better each time I enter the classroom, and to keep the content and approach moving in specific relation to my students. Embracing failure as a tool for growth seems to me a crucial part of the future of this work in higher education. It enables us to recognize that DEIA work needs to be embedded in everything we do—it’s not a flattering list of things an institution does to create an image of “wokeness,” nor is it relegated to one person or area at a college, and it certainly isn’t a means to achieve some notion of perfection. We need to resist the idea of perfection altogether. 

DEIA work will continue not to mean anything in higher education if it remains a matter of optics. The work needs to sustain and nurture Black and Brown people, trans people, single mothers, neurodivergent and disabled folks. This requires academic institutions to acknowledge and uproot the structures of thought (and lack of imagination) underlying their taken-for-granted educational practices and assumptions. 

How is DEIA being integrated now, or being planned for future integration, into the Liberal Arts curriculum here at Moore?

I feel lucky to work with colleagues committed to this work. DEIA is something we discuss a lot in the Liberal Arts department, especially as we shape curriculum and consider forms of assessment. 

We’ve added three courses to our curriculum that explicitly address DEIA concerns and/or center non-Western content: Africa and Its Diasporas (an anthropology class), Critical Indigeneities (an art history class), and Dismantling Whiteness (a humanities class). We also work continually on broadening and deepening our existing courses from a DEIA lens. In Maureen Pelta’s art history courses, she discusses the notion of time in the U.S. as a Christian construction, and she raises difficult subjects, like the practice of slavery among the ancient Greeks and Romans. In the art history survey course “Becoming Modern,” she asks her students to think critically about what the word “modern” means to them and the Western histories behind those ideas. In the honors class I co-teach with Maureen, we take an experimental approach that brings together art history lectures, creative writing/art making prompts, and low-stakes presentations, opening up inclusive ways for students to engage material.

Jonathan Wallis’ art history courses focus on a diverse range of artists who explore critical race theories, diasporic studies, critical indigeneity and representation, decolonizing practices, and gender diversity in their works. He brings in various guest speakers, emphasizing diversity of voices in the field and providing expertise in areas beyond his own. He also addresses issues of access by offering different modalities for a final project. His DEIA efforts extend to his professional life; Jonathan’s science-fiction book Jati’s Wager was recently nominated for two Indieink awards including “Writing the future we want to see: nonbinary representation.” 

Kelly Kirby, who earned a diversity and inclusion certificate from Cornell University, explores in her courses the ways colonization and globalization have shaped cultural experiences. Her students learn about ethnocentrism and cultural relativism and read cross-cultural case studies, constantly uprooting Western ideologies and assumptions. Her lectures draw from scholarly works in multiple disciplines to engage histories of pre-colonial Africa, enslavement, abolition, uprising, independence, and contemporary lives in African diasporic contexts. Kelly and I recently collaborated on “Culturally Responsive Freedoms: A Workshop Navigating, Uprooting, and Expanding Ideas of ‘Freedom’ in Curriculum” for this year’s Bergamo Conference on Curriculum Theory and Classroom Practice. 

The work we do in Liberal Arts is so much about developing critical thinking and literacy skills—in other words, how we grow to question and read and write and speak and know our world. It’s about opening up understandings of how the past reverberates within the present and the ways cultural context affects what we think and believe about each other. In this sense, I see DEIA as both the heartbeat and the measure of a Liberal Arts curriculum.