Queering Student Participation: Whispers, Echoes, Rants, and Memory

Queering Student Participation: Whispers, Echoes, Rants, and Memory

Matt Cox

Participants & Methodology

Here, I share four stories/cases from lesbian, gay, and straight-identified students on my campus at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina (some my own former students and some who were students in other writing-intensive classrooms) that suggest how these sexual literacies can and do surface. I believe these students show that they are already leading the way and that often we as instructors are left to catch up.

When I initially began to think about this chapter and Gen’s work as it related to my own work in queer identity in rhetoric studies, I immediately began to think about and ask myself how queer students in writing classrooms are participating queerly (if at all). In her dissertation titled "Investigating the Rhetoric of Student Participation: Uncovering and Historicizing Commonplaces in Composition Studies," Gen draws on the idea of underlife (from Robert Brooke) in a term she calls “the underlife of helping”—that is, how instructors can be aware of the ways students participate beyond just contributing orally in the classroom (5-6). Further she points out that this underlife serves as a way students can help each other participate in ways that aren’t always apparent to the instructor (and, I would note, other students).

Do queer students participate in this “underlife of helping”? Is there a queer underlife of helping? What happens when queer students are given the opportunity to write about themselves and their experiences and share this with one another (and their instructor)? Do they write about queer subjects? Do they participate less, or more? Do questions and topics of sexuality and gender hold them back or push them forward in their writing? These questions began to form at a kairotic moment. Through my participation in the campus LGBT Resource Center and an LGBTq reading group, I had come to know more queer students. Additionally, over the course of the last two semesters, I had several LGBTq-identified students in my classes who took the initiative to share their work. I asked these students to share with me pieces of class projects that dealt with LGBT or queer subject matter as they related to assignments or prompts that did not specifically ask them to include LGBT or queer work. The five students whose stories and classroom writing I share have taken risks and put forward queer classroom work in situations in which it was not required of them. They took chances in how they participated. These students volunteered their work in the fall of 2013 through an IRB-approved e-mail solicitation to LGBT or queer identified students at East Carolina University. Many of these students had participated in campus LGBT Resource Center activities, and others had self-identified as LGBT or queer around the department and in various classes (my own and others’).

A Rant

I was so angry. In student evaluations for a previous semester, a former student had written: “I know Dr. Cox is involved in the campus LGBT organization and that this is important for those students, but on several occasions he wore gay-themed shirts to class that were inappropriate and it made me feel I couldn’t express my own beliefs.” I was flabbergasted. What student with anti-gay views and feelings had stayed silent all semester in a class I had tried so hard to make open to discussion and honesty? What hurt even more was that I remembered clearly that I had only worn a “gay shirt” once all semester on a day when the campus LGBT organization (with the university’s support and blessing) had distributed to all interested faculty and students, rainbow colored shirts that read “gay? Fine by me.” That particular day we were all going to wear our shirts and have a group photo on the campus quad. It hurt so much and made me so angry that an anonymous student had described my action as “inappropriate.” I felt dirty and judged. This was in my permanent file. It felt so unfair to be attacked in such an anonymous way. But I thought about the several LGBT students who had voiced how important my support had been. Walking this path as a teacher and mentor was such exhausting work.

[Go to "Terrence and Lena: A Gay/Straight Team Focusing on LGBT Issues"]