I recently started a new position as a full-time lecturer in the Department of Religion at Baylor University. Earlier this week, I attended a gathering for the department, where I was introduced, along with a few others, as new faculty. At the end of the evening, the wife of a retired male professor introduced herself to me and remarked about how happy she was to see more women in the department. (Four full-time faculty members were hired this year, and three of us are women.) She had been looking forward to this kind of change for quite a while. I was appreciative of her remarks, just as I have been generally pleased with the warm reception I have received around the University.
Her excitement about the increase in the number of women faculty provoked me to reflect on what I add to my department, particularly for my undergraduate students. I have thought before about how, from a purely representative standpoint, I bring something different to the faculty. I have thought about how my students may not have previously had a professor–especially a religion professor–who looks like me. Even if they had, I’ve had different life experiences than many of my colleagues, and that this bears on my approach to theology and ethics. Therefore, the research I do and share is distinctive in its approach. Yet, I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I have not given much thought about how my being a black feminist woman might impact my students. I am tempted to blame it on the fact that I have just been trying to keep my head above water in a new position. Of the many reasons I am grateful for feminismandreligion.com, I have to say that I am most grateful for the time it requires of me to reflect about feminism’s impact in my life, faith, and work. So I decided to reflect on this question: What difference does feminism make for the way I structure and approach my classes?
The answer I have come up with (so far) is that my feminist commitments inform the outcomes and expectations I have for my students. I seek to promote development of students’ critical thinking and writing skills and awareness of diversity within and between religious traditions through cooperative, dialogical exercises. I know I am not unique among my colleagues, feminist and non-feminist, for articulating goals about critical thinking and diversity. But I think the questions I challenge my students to address are different. This is particularly true in my Christian ethics class.
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