Reflections of an Adjunct Professor on Inclusive Excellence

This blog post is part of AAC&U’s blog series on Making Excellence Inclusive.

I am an adjunct faculty member who teaches sociology courses on gender and sexuality. Both of these topics speak broadly to social issues at the structural level and more specifically to students’ personal identities. Each semester on the first day of class, I openly identify as a lesbian to my students. I am intentional about this, because I believe that heightened visibility of LGBT faculty helps normalize difference in the classroom and fosters awareness and understanding of marginalized identities. It is a personal choice, and not one that I think is better than any other decision around coming out, but I am heartened that students in my courses have not seemed at all phased by my decision to openly share my identity with them.

My intention is to be a resource for LGBT students and their allies on campus, but there are limitations in my ability to fully engage with students due to my status as an adjunct faculty member. Like most adjuncts, I have very tight time constraints and I teach at the periphery of my home department. The New Faculty Majority has been making these and other issues related to the experiences of contingent faculty members explicit. These experiences, and the steps needed to improve the working conditions of contingent faculty, were the focus of the organization’s recently-held National Summit, sponsored at the same location and directly following AAC&U’s Annual Meeting. If conditions improve for the nation’s contingent faculty, conditions will also improve for undergraduate students in the classroom. Fair compensation, access to campus resources, and encouraged involvement in developing and advancing departmental learning outcomes and intentional curricula are just a few inroads toward better working conditions and better outcomes for students.

My own set of outcomes in the classroom, reflective of AAC&U’s Essential Learning Outcomes, includes critical and analytical thinking, written and oral communication, and civic and intercultural knowledge. Yet, contingent faculty members often structure their course syllabi and learning outcomes in a vacuum. Inviting part-time and per-course faculty members to departmental conversations on curricula and learning outcomes would be beneficial to everyone involved, and such conversations should be facilitated in the spirit of collegiality. Many contingent faculty members also enjoy engaging in campus activities, and these individuals bring different kinds of expertise to the institutions they teach in, providing their respective campuses a rich pool of critical and diverse perspectives. There should be some sort of departmental recognition of extracurricular campus participation in activities such as campus panels, since contingent faculty partake in these activities because they care deeply about certain issues, in spite of their time constraints.

In the courses that I teach, we often read about and discuss issues that could lead to ambivalent or even defensive feelings among students. Time and again, however, I witness students grappling with these issues in profound ways. Issues of gender and sexuality pervade public life and are highly visible in all of the major topics that are woven into the daily updates of our modern news cycle—topics such as the economy, healthcare, education, political violence, immigration, and marriage. A critical perspective that interprets the world through a race, class, gender, and/or sexuality lens is not woven into our news cycle as explicitly as I would hope, but I am inspired by the level at which students engage with such a critical lens to discuss issues of the modern era; these students are making inclusive excellence a priority in their education. We can also see this at California State University, Chico, which has a gender and sexuality pathway figured into the institution’s General Education program. Additionally, we see this at the University of Vermont, which – thanks to “a long institutional change process” – has established an LGBTQA Center, “the inclusion of gender identity and expression in UVM’s nondiscrimination and harassment policies,” and a Sexuality and Gender Identity Studies minor. Both institutions were recently featured in Diversity & Democracy (Volume 15, Issue 1).

In spite of these positive examples, much must still be done to improve the campus climate for all students. As Warren J. Blumenfeld points out in the same issue of Diversity & Democracy, 31 percent of the students, staff, faculty, or administrators who participated in a 2010 survey (conducted by Blumenfeld with Sue Rankin, Genevieve N. Weber, and Somjen Frazer) “experienced a difficult or hostile campus climate and 21 percent experienced some form of harassment related to their sexual identity or gender expression.” And the situation is even worse for transgender people or queer people of color. What practices can be instilled at institutions to ensure that harassment, bullying, and hate crimes decrease significantly (or altogether disappear)? Blumenfeld and his colleagues suggest the following: “campus climate and needs assessments, inclusive policies, training and development options, services including counseling and healthcare, housing options, appropriate and timely responses to anti-LGBTQ incidents, and inclusive curricular and co-curricular education.” We can also look to individual campus responses to specific incidences of intolerance or hate crimes, such as the University of California–Davis’s The Civility Project.

Inclusiveness is a crucial part of a healthy and fulfilled undergraduate experience. I hope that more campuses across the United States present concerted efforts to create and foster tolerate environments for all current and incoming students, administrators, staff, and faculty (full-time and contingent).

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