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any shadow

at this point in the semester, the “power” is in the students’ hands. they lead presentations on arguments of their choosing.

these days, many talk about gun violence and whether or not banning guns will help solve the problem. they say they grew up in communities where people knew how to use guns properly, that these people aren’t the ones committing mass shootings. they say society/people behind the guns need the healing. they give convincing and nuanced arguments, and i want to weep watching them. they are usually 18 years old, just freshly legal adults and they speak with a trembling bravery in the front of the classroom. the trembling bravery seems to be more about the feat of public speaking tho. when it comes to their topics, they speak with conviction. they speak like a generation with their feet planted in the parameters of this moment’s crises. it’s disheartening (that these are the problems) and brilliantly-inspiring (that we are communities poised to reconcile them).

today we watched that video, We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in which she speaks about gender compartmentalizing as a disservice to everybody. she takes a compassionate stance and considers multiple perspectives—e.g., the burden of masculinity on boys, too. i wondered if this video could be irrelevant / outdated for my students— it comes from an older generation, emphasizes gender binary without once mentioning non-binary realities, and it’s from a culture/system based in Nigeria. that said, many of the female students insisted on its relevance. one boy, the only one to contribute, said that his sister was encouraged to be an engineer, and he was raised by feminists, that the anti-feminist trends don’t apply to him.

i wondered, by this point in the semester, if anyone felt they could safely disagree with feminism in my classroom. my hope is that they could feel safe to, but after designing a syllabus focused on the voices and literature of the historically-marginalized, it’s probably clear, from those choices, where i stand, and despite efforts to empower students, at the end of the day, we are still working in a framework where there’s hierarchy. i give them grades.

i’ve learned a lot about how to listen and how to facilitate conversation around complex political conversations in these classes. but if i’m asking a question with hopes of a certain answer, am i really asking a question or am i passive-aggressively teaching my beliefs, and , therefore, teaching dogmatically?

i often feel my role as a professor as healing. when i was a student, i had few adults or teachers who boldly embodied politics of liberation, but those who did ignited a forest fire in my soul. those who didn’t also stoked an intense sense of adversity that fueled my resolve to act, internally and externally, toward liberation. sometimes this looked like organizing a Take Back the Night rally or making zines about birth control options on our abstinence-only campus. i know that teaching now heals that young adult in me, but i’m not only teaching for her.

the same passion that may make me an inspiring professor could, at its extreme, also recreate the one-sided politicized classroom that i grew up resisting— how any shadow, unexamined, will lead a life.

Sara Sutter