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Staley and Leonardi. Teacher Education for Gender and Sexual Diversity. RTE, Nov. 2016. Posted 01/04/2017.

Staley, Sara, and Bethy Leonardi. “Leaning In to Discomfort: Preparing Literacy Teachers for Gender and Sexual Diversity.” Research in the Teaching of English 51.2 (2016): 209-29. Print.

Sara Staley and Bethy Leonardi present the results of a literacy methods course for preservice English language arts teacher in which practices for supporting LGBTQ students were foregrounded. The authors argue that the “disturbing number of lives lost in recent years among youth who identified or were perceived to identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning” demands attention from educators who have failed to address “the resounding silence around gender and sexual diversity (GSD) . . . that has long pervaded teacher education” (209). The authors contend that LGBTQ students often report feeling that “school was often an unsafe place” (209). Staley and Leonardi discuss the results of a curriculum designed to help novice teachers make their classrooms more welcoming to such students.

The course was piloted in Fall 2012 and the study conducted during the Spring 2013 semester at a large public university in the Mountain West (214). Students in the course were about to commence student teaching (215). Primary data consisted of transcripts of
“two whole-class fishbowl conversations” conducted during weeks 4 and 16, and a blog that students began working with in week 4 (216). The researchers provided specific prompts for the blog. Of the seventeen students in the course, sixteen agreed to participate; three were eliminated as data sources because they contributed only minimally in the assigned venues, so eleven who self-identified as female and two who self-identified as male participated (215).

The researchers, both doctoral students, co-designed the course and the study (215). Staley was the “lead instructor” and Leonardi a “participant observer in three class sessions” as well as a facilitator of various components of the course (215).

The analytic framework for the course and study involved a “queer theoretical perspective on the problem of heteronormativity in schools” that urges teachers to disrupt dominant assumptions that sexuality functions as a binary in which heterosexuality is normal and other forms of sexual identification are deviant (211). The authors contend that such an approach is preferable to standard anti-bullying programs that “locate the problem in individuals, rather than in institutional practices that encourage bullying and oppress on the basis of sex, gender, and sexuality” (212). Staley and Leonardi combine this approach with that of Kevin K. Kumashiro, who casts anti-oppression education in terms of “desire, resistance, and crisis” (213, italics original) and of Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön, who encourages “leaning in” as a way of overcoming the resistance that can derail the process of “unlearning” long-held views about topics like sexuality (222; italics original). The authors define “leaning in” as “a moving toward discomfort, rather than away from it, and inquiry into what can be learned from such energetic responses as emotional pain, fear, and discomfort” (223).

These analytical perspectives led Staley and Leonardi to focus on manifestations of emotion in their data, as well as reactions to the course’s emphasis on the role of teachers in disrupting heteronormativity (217). They identified emotional responses as “discomfort,” “desire to disrupt,” and “desire to resist.” A recurrent theme in students’ responses involved “how” to further GSD-inclusive curricula; this marker was labeled “wrestling with praxis.” As a result of this coding, students were categorized as “dedicated disrupters,” “discomforted,” and “resistors” (217; italics original). The discussion centers on the “discomforted” because this group of eight students exhibited significant changes during the course (218).

The emotional shifts experienced by the discomforted students began with “shock,” “incredulity,” and “disbelief” as they confronted claims in the course readings that school environments were not uniformly progressive and that teachers were often not protected when they attempted to incorporate anti-oppressive curricula on GSD issues (218-19). The students became aware of their own lack of knowledge about responses to LGBTQ concerns in schools and the failure of their own educations as preservice teachers to address these concerns (219). The beginning teachers’ own experiences in grappling with classroom incidents in which they did not know how to disrupt heteronormative oppression led to a shift to “wrestling with praxis” as they began to search for viable tools to protect students (220).

Staley and Leonardi report that these searches and discussions led to positive results as discomforted students in their class began to be able to articulate “specific examples of actionable steps that literacy teachers could take to disrupt heteronormativity,” including recognizing the need to move beyond simply including LGBTQ-themed literature in the classroom (221). The authors note, however, that this increasing practical grounding did not alleviate the students’ sense that there were no simple solutions or “path[s]” they could consistently follow but rather that learning to address oppressive behavior in the classroom was a matter of “ongoing labor” (Kumashiro, qtd. in Staley and Leonardi 222).

The authors provide two examples of students who responded to the emotional crisis generated by unlearning familiar assumptions by “leaning In” to their discomfort. These two students “each began to frame their discomfort as generative and necessary—not as something to be resolved, once and for all” (222). These two responses emphasized the importance of considering mistakes as ways to move forward and of recognizing fear in challenging situations as a necessary component of acting in circumstances where there will never be clear answers (223-24).

Noting that language-arts teachers are especially well-positioned to bring GSD concerns into curricula, the authors call for a deliberate focus on these concerns in teacher education (224), so that teachers have tools that allow them to “move beyond inclusion” to active resistance to heteronormative agendas (224). They note that their own curriculum might have productively incorporated awareness of the necessary emotional journey in their course framework, recognizing and “celebrat[ing]” early “glimmers of leaning in” (225; emphasis original). Student teachers, they argue, will benefit from learning a greater “tolerance for discomfort, uncertainty, and ambiguity” (225). Further, they encourage efforts to engage prospective teachers whose cultural values, for example religious views, make grappling with GSD issues even more problematic than for others (225). The authors endorse the concept of leaning in to discomfort as a way to draw preservice teachers into the “ongoing labor” of anti-oppressive education.

 


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Coleman et al. Risky Equity Work. TETYC, May 2016. Posted 06/07/2016.

Coleman, Taiyon J., Renee DeLong, Kathleen Sheerin DeVore, Shannon Gibney, and Michael C. Kuhne. “The Risky Business of Engaging Racial Equity in Writing Instruction: A Tragedy in Five Acts.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 43.4 (2016): 347-70. Web. 27 May 2016.

Taiyon J. Coleman, Renee DeLong, Kathleen Sheerin DeVore, Shannon Gibney, and Michael C. Kuhne recount their experiences attempting to deal with equity issues at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) between 2005 and 2015 (348, 353). They argue that white dominance is entrenched in higher education and that faculty, administrations, and institutions must recognize and act on the material and emotional consequences of this dominance.

The article grows out of a presentation at CCCC in Tampa in 2015. It is structured as “Five Acts”; each author presents personal perspectives illustrating the struggles involved in making the curriculum of MCTC more responsive to the students it serves.

Michael C. Kuhne recounts his participation in curriculum changes designed to restructure the English department and its developmental writing program so that they no longer mirrored the pedagogical assumptions of the older white male faculty (348) but rather more nearly met the needs of an increasingly diverse student population. Of special concern in this shift was improving low retention and graduation rates, particularly among African American men and Native American students (349). The developmental sequence shifted from a “formal, structural approach” built around paragraph structure and timed tests to a portfolio system and then to the Accelerated Learning model in which developmental students enroll in regular first-year writing but participate in additional class time with their instructors (349-50).

These changes led to some success, and Kuhne was among the faculty instrumental in changing hiring practices to bring the faculty make-up more in line with student demographics (352). But Kuhne contends that because of his “naïveté and white privilege,” he “was not able to see that simply hiring faculty of color without changing the culture within the department and institution would not move equity forward” (352).

DeVore follows with a history of changes at the college that, she writes, show “How We Broke” (352). Central to her account is the effort to include a request in the hiring language that new hires exhibit “an awareness of Critical Race Theory [CRT] and a demonstrated connection to communities of color” (Position Description, qtd. in Coleman et al. 354). DeVore offers definitions of Critical Race Theory, including one from Tara J. Yosso: “A critical race curriculum exposes the white privilege supported by traditional curriculum structures and challenges schools to dismantle them” (qtd. in Coleman et al. 354). DeVore argues that the new hiring language “simply referred to the need for applicants who understand that we live and teach in a nation with a raced social order” (354).

Including these qualifications resulted in new hires, several of color, changing the department makeup. However, a white male adjunct who had not been hired brought discrimination charges against four members of the hiring committee (355). After a “yearlong investigation,” the committee members were cleared but were required to strike the CRT language from the hiring language (355).

Meanwhile, a new hire of color acquired funding for series of workshops with Tim Lensmire of the University of Minnesota (356). After the first workshop meeting, DeVore reports, “a majority of faculty of color asked to caucus out into two groups, one for faculty of color, one for white faculty, as levels of experience, awareness, and understanding of white racial identity formation and white privilege were painfully low in the combined session” (356). DeVore states that this practice was “a common move in racial equity work,” but in her view, it led to a drop in workshop participation; subsequently, the new hire resigned (356). DeVore recounts a final department meeting dominated by emotions as faculty of color expressed their frustrations with the department (356). According to DeVore, the program has not been able to return to constructive equity work in the three years since (357).

Shannon Gibney adds her account of returning to the mass communications classroom after a personal health and emotional trauma and attempting to begin a discussion of “the legacy of ongoing racism in American life” (357). A “small group of students” exhibited what Gibney describes as “animosity at this black female body in front of them” (357); their reactions led to a reprimand from the college vice president that cast Gibney’s “tone as ‘defensive, angry, and disrespectful'” (358). She was ordered to attend training sessions to “learn to model ‘civility'” (358). She reports being the only faculty member of the 172 who had faced student complaints to be “disciplined” (358). After two appeals, as her case was about to enter arbitration that would make the case documents public, the president removed a letter of reprimand from her file (358). She reports being “offered ‘a blank check’ to leave MCTC altogether” (359).

Gibney argues that her willingness to speak up led to the unease with which administrators and colleagues regarded her. In her view, institutional pressures generated within a white-supremacist system act to silence those who would critique the status quo (360).

Renee DeLong, a “white, child-free lesbian,” was moved to protest the establishment of a creative-writing associates’ degree because she sees such courses as invested in white privilege. However, she found her role in the discussion “just erased” in favor of the voices of the black women faculty (362). This experience, in her view, suggests the need for victims of oppression to recognize their interconnectedness, as called for in the 1977 Combahee River Collective’s Manifesto (363). She urges attention to black LBGT women (362) “through the lenses of both critical race theory and queer theory” (363). White faculty, she maintains, must move beyond making claims about their love for students of color to recognize that their motives, in her description, are born of a sense of themselves as students’ “white savior[s]” (363). She deplores “this grandiose vision of pedagogical prowess” as “damaging [to] the health and lives of colleagues and students of color alike” (364).

Taiyon J. Colman discusses the degree to which she contends most educators see dominantly white institutions and classrooms as “normal” (365). She draws on her own experience as a marginalized student to suggest that a context in which the majority of faculty and the bulk of the administration are “institutionally constructed as white” (366) cannot serve student populations that are largely non-white (365). She argues that racial constructions of the type she describes deliver a message to black students that they are “not supposed to be there”:

If I am not supposed to be there through the continued normalization of racially constructed and dominantly white spaces, places, and teaching positions, then who, too, is still not socially, historically, and institutionally constructed to be in the writing or literature classrooms? (366)

She agrees with Gibney that efforts to address this problem result in the derogation of those who speak up (366). She offers eight preliminary steps for addressing equity issues (367), focusing on rejection of “silence” and “rationalization”; attention to institutional and systemic accountability for the development of equity (367-68); and recognition by privileged faculty of their own responsibility for these changes (367). She emphasizes the importance of “moving forward collectively” because “achieving equity benefits all members of the institution and the communities that we serve” (368; emphasis original).


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Coles, Gregory. Reclaiming Derogatory Labels. CE, May 2016. Posted 05/31/2016.

Coles, Gregory. “The Exorcism of Language: Reclaimed Derogatory Terms and Their Limits.” College English 78.5 (2016): 424-46. Print.

Gregory Coles explores the process by which derogatory labels and terms are “reclaimed” by the groups to which they refer in an effort to undercut the power of the terms.

He explores four specific examples, “black,” “queer,” “nigger,” and “faggot.” The first two, he suggests, have been largely reclaimed such that their derogatory force has been weakened if not completely eliminated. He resists calling the varied uses of the second two terms a “failure” of reclamation; rather, he argues that they have been reclaimed differently, delivering in the process a different message than words that have been more thoroughly rehabilitated (436).

He grounds his examination theoretically in Kenneth Burke’s concept of the “terministic screen,” in which the way we describe the world through our language choices frames it in particular perspectives that close off or obscure other ways of seeing and thinking. Reclamation, Coles contends, takes advantage of the possibilities of “terministic rescreening” (426).

Reviewing previous work on Burke’s theory, he argues that much of the scholarship on terministic screens considers this feature of language use “static,” with the impact of the screening effect fixed; this research also portrays terministic screening as something to be deplored and overcome (427). Coles, however, argues that Burke saw terministic screens as a ubiquitous component of language use. Moreover, Coles maintains, in proposing the possibility of “secular conversion” and “exorcism by misnomer,” Burke theorized a view of terms used in screening as open to reinterpretation and novel uses (427, 428-29). In fact, Coles suggests, citing Ann George and Jack Selzer, Burke encourages us to see this kind of rescreening as an active engagement with the possibility of changing social attitudes through redirecting people’s “attention” and thereby creating new perspectives (428).

In developing his application of terministic screening, Coles addresses Burke’s dramatism, which casts language as action rather than as description. Coles uses this view of language as performance to argue that “[r]escreening is an adjustment not of what a word means but of what a word does” (430; emphasis original):

Insults become compliments. Far-reaching prejudices become inconsequential jokes. Linguistic demons become innocent old coats. (431).

This process, Coles says, can take place through replacing the oppressive language. However, he finds this option unavailable for many victims of such language, who lack the power to control the dominant discourse. Rescreening becomes the other option, as users attempt to “reclaim [a] word by causing it to select and deflect different portions of reality” (430).

The term “black,” Coles writes, carries a history of derogatory meanings. Its connotations of inferiority and undesirability framed the screen through which people of color were denigrated. However, Coles reports that the Ebony Fashion Fair that shifted attention from models’ clothing to their “performed ethnic beauty” and the “Black is Beautiful” movement allowed black people in the 1960s to redirect attention to new ways of understanding the word (432): “Although the definition of ‘black’ had not changed, its terministic screen had shifted, causing the discourse about blackness to change and black society to change accordingly” (433).

He also traces the path to reclamation of “queer.” For Coles, the derogatory force of this word lay in its insistence on the degree to which LGBT people diverged from the standards of the heteronormal culture they inhabited. Coles contends that members of the LGBT community were able to undercut the term by celebrating their difference and using it in contexts that emphasized the superiority of features of the queer lifestyle, for example through popular culture phenomena like the TV show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (433). Such efforts changed “[q]ueer . . . from a derogatory term to a category term” (433-34).

Coles discusses limits on such reclamation, noting that some gay activists still find “queer” tainted with what Judith Butler calls “traumatic residue” (qtd. in Coles 434). Generational division over the use of such terms is one manifestation of the degree to which the acceptability of the term depends on context, so that, depending on who is using it and for what purpose and to whom, “the term may hold any of several meanings, or ambivalently occupy multiple meanings” (435).

In Coles’s view, whether derogatory terms have transitioned to category terms that non-group members can use in appropriate settings distinguishes terms like “queer” and “black” from terms like “nigger” and “faggot,” which are limited to in-group use (435). Coles finds it “too simple” to explain the difference by noting that the connotations of the latter terms were seen as much more negative than those of the more successfully reclaimed terms (436). He also contends that the role of such in-group use of such derogatory terms to signal solidarity does not fully explain the problem posed by the degree to which they have retained their unpleasant connotations even when used within the group (437-38).

To explore this question, Coles distinguishes between “redemptive reclamation,” in which users of “queer” and “black” retain the “semantic meanings” of the terms but convert those meanings to markers of positive traits, and “restricted redemption,” which may appear unsuccessful but in fact makes in-group use of the terms reminders of the history they carry, “challenging historical and ongoing prejudice by mockingly calling attention to it” (438). Moreover, according to Coles, the in-groups in question have successfully claimed the terms for such subversive use while denying them to out-group members, even those who would invoke their derogatory meanings (438). This restriction “may also serve as a testament to the unexpected power of the minority” (438).

Coles explores possible student reactions to discussions of various levels of reclamation. He argues that examination of these processes and the different results they produce can alert students to the power of language as an act and to the importance of context. For example, students understand how using an apparently derogatory term for a group within a group they belong to differs from the use of that same term by people who do not belong to the group (440). For Coles, Burke’s theories of dramatism and terministic screens can be used pedagogically to introduce students to these powerful performative aspects of language (440).

 

 

 


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Pruitt, John. Heterosexual students read LGBT fiction. TETYC, May 2015. Posted 08/25/15.

Pruitt, John. “Heterosexual Readers in Search of Queer Authenticity through Self-Selected LGBT Novels.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 42.4 (2015): 359-74. Web. 16 Aug. 2015.

John Pruitt builds on questions raised by his experiences as a member of a gay men’s book club as well as by discussions with heterosexual students about a novel depicting the struggles of a gay Latino character. Positing that critical awareness of a text and its relationship to culture can be strengthened by seeing how that text functions for different audiences, and hoping to understand how students respond to difference before teachers frame their classroom analyses, Pruitt received a grant to conduct a case study of eight heterosexual students as they read and discussed novels by LGBT authors that addressed LGBT issues. Central to the students’ interactions with the texts was the issue of “authenticity,” which Pruitt, quoting Dana L. Fox and Kathy G. Short, defines as “the reader’s sense of truth in how a specific cultural experience has been represented” (qtd. in Pruitt 364). Pruitt concludes that a focus on authenticity can lead to essentialized responses to difference (372).

In Pruitt’s view, extant approaches to teaching LGBT literature emphasize the teacher’s role. They include assigning LGBT readings and carrying out discussions with LGBT individuals outside of the classroom (360). Critics of assigning readings in hopes of undercutting homophobia contend that such strategies leave untouched the oppression inherent in heterosexual cultural norms. Similarly, Pruitt’s sources argue, book clubs, which are often made up of middle-class white women, reinforce rather than help to dissolve current norms (360). However, other theorists defend the use of literature to “inspire both large-scale political action and less precarious face-to-face interpersonal interactions” (360).

In his effort to gain insight into the efficacy of LGBT literature for students encountering difference, Pruitt drew on members of the Sigma Kappa Delta English Honor Society, the “national English honor society for two-year institutions,” of which he is the sponsor. The eight students agreed to meet monthly in 2013-2014 to discuss novels they chose on LGBT issues. Pruitt wished to see how the students reacted to the novels without a teacher’s intervention; he did not attend the discussions but video-recorded them (361).

The group consisted of three white males, three white females, one African American female, and one Latino male (361). Asked what they “hoped to learn,” the students cited their desire for knowledge about gay experience within their own cultures, their concern about gays enduring oppression in other cultures, and their interest in understanding how stereotypes might have affected their perceptions (361-62). Quoting Pat Hutchings, Pruitt emphasizes that he focused on the research question “what is,” which “aimed not so much at proving (or disproving) the effectiveness of a particular approach or intervention but at describing what it looks like, what its constituent features might be” (qtd. in Pruitt 362; emphasis original).

The books selected by the students included historical fiction, “military novels,” novels from a range of cultures such as small-town culture in the United States, skinhead culture in England in the 1970s, Gypsy culture, the culture of Chinese prostitution rings, and gang culture in the Bronx. A novel about early twentieth-century artist Tamara de Lempicka depicted her relationship with a female model (363).

In their discussions, some of which became lively, students interrogated a number of themes and issues. The different levels of support for gays in different environments afforded opportunities to explore perceptions of sexual identity across race and ethnic boundaries, with attention to the role the understanding of family plays in a given community (368-69). Some of the characters, the students noted, chose to create “alternative families” when needed support was missing (368). Several of the novels inspired discussions of the definition of masculinity; one student noted that violence was often brought to bear in the novels in an apparent belief that a gay individual could be “toughen[ed] . . . up” by “beat[ing] the manliness into him” (“Keaton,” qtd. in Pruitt 366). The contradictions exposed by the depiction of a “gay skinhead” (365) and a “thug type” who was gay (“Frank,” qtd. in Pruitt 370) led to investigations of “shifting subject positions in which the identity marker of ‘homosexuality’ becomes both politicized and destabilized” (366). In one discussion, students noted that the very state of being different allowed the characters to imagine possibilities other than the difficult situations they found themselves in (369).

Such contradictions were among the factors that led to recurrent concerns about “authenticity.” The students questioned some of the more extreme elements in some of the novels and noted that some depictions did not match what they felt they had observed in their own culture (367-68, 371). Pruitt explores their “search for the elusive authenticity of LGBT life and culture” (371), noting their expectation that members of a community will depict that community reliably. Students intending to write and teach felt that knowing members of minority communities would be vital if they were to represent and teach about those communities (370). Quoting James Graham, Pruitt notes the value of “realistic” literature in “mak[ing] minority identities knowable to a majoritarian audience” (qtd. in Pruitt 371).

However, Pruitt cites Ana Maria Sanchez-Arce’s term authenticism to posit that the need for authenticity can lead to an essentialized portrayal (372), in which the depictions of a culture earn their authenticity by subsuming differences among members within a “reflection of the values, attitudes and worldviews considered worthy of acceptance by members of that culture as a whole” (364; emphasis original). This qualification leads Pruitt to question the authenticity of depictions of heterosexual culture, and he urges teachers to incorporate investigations of these depictions in their classrooms (372). He responds to the possibility that awareness that they were being recorded may have been shaping the students’ responses: even so, he posits, their concerns about authenticity mean that critical attention to the concept should be central to any classroom discussion about LGBT fiction (371).


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Drake, Kimberly. Genderqueering Language. Writing Instructor, March 2015. Posted 07/14/2015.

Drake, Kimberly. “Genderqueering Language at a ‘Women’s’ College.” The Writing Instructor (March 2015). Web. 08 July 2015. http://parlormultimedia.com/twitest/drake-2015-03

In a special edition of the online journal The Writing Instructor, Kimberly Drake, a professor of writing at Scripps College, explores the efforts of her first-year writing students to navigate the complexities of gendered language and the possibilities of “genderqueered” language. Scripps is traditionally a women’s college in the Los Angeles-area Claremont Colleges. Drake recounts efforts to refine language in official documents and in the classroom at Scripps and other colleges, in particular single-sex institutions, as they face the challenges necessitated by the increasing presence and visibility of transgender students.

Drake reports on the experience of Calliope Wong, who was denied admission by Smith College, a women’s college, because on many of her application materials she was identified as male. For Drake, this event highlighted the particular issues confronting single-sex institutions, which, she argues, have been predicated on a clear, foundational “gender binary” of “male” and “female.” Further, she writes, these colleges have traditionally presented their mission as providing a “safe space” for women to realize their potential with no interference from the patriarchy in the culture around them. Drake notes the special resonance of language use in such an environment and interrogates the concern that the missions of these institutions will be compromised if students’ efforts to alter language result in “turning the gender binary into a continuum.”

Scripps students, as Drake presents them, represent a range of feminist positions; some consider it unnecessary to insist on feminist stances because they feel these are implicit in the Scripps environment. Although Drake knew of queer students at Scripps, she felt that “cis-gendered heterosexual women were the normal Scripps students, and those not falling into this category did not have a strong public presence on campus.” As this situation began to change, however, Scripps students made the language of the Scripps Associated Students (SAS) bylaws gender-neutral so as not to “exclude and silence” a portion of the student population (Anna Salem, SAS president 2009-10, qtd. in Drake).

Drake posits that such choices are not perfect solutions to the problems of visibility and inclusion faced by students who do not fit the normative gender binary. While gender-neutral language precludes clearly sexist choices like generic “he,” it evades confronting the prevailing hierarchy that continues to assume a binary and leaves unchallenged the primacy “implicitly granted to members of historically privileged categories, such as heterosexual men” (Mimi Marinucci, qtd. in Drake). Drake writes that “[f]ull access . . . will not be gained by avoiding pronominal reference to the gender binary.”

Tracing the history of gender reference at Scripps, Drake reveals that over time, official documents and public events ranged from employing plurals to constituting students as “she” to a ceremony in which women were only mentioned twice, in the phrase “men and woman.” Members of the Board of Trustees and faculty were historically “he.” Drake posits that the often-chosen retreat to the plural may have resulted from the need to dodge the grammatical problems associated with the supposedly colloquial use of “they” in singular constructions but also possibly from the perception of some that a “representative college student” could not be female. To some students, surrendering the use of “she” as a designation for Scripps students compromises the feminist implications of such a choice. The students, however, ultimately voted to prefer gender-neutral options as a way of refusing the “gender oppression” inherent in sustaining the binary through the use of “she.”

Drake recounts the experiences of students in her first-year writing classes, which she designs around the language of social protests, creating a “brave space” for free discussion within the “safe space” Scripps provides. In particular, Drake develops readings and assignments that present the power of discourse to structure identity and culture, urging “imaginative resistance.” In exploring how language choices can provide such resistance to gender oppression, students learn that the use of “they” to address the lack of a neutral singular pronoun as well as efforts to create neutral pronouns have a long history, including the use of “yo” as a non-gendered pronoun by current-day teenagers in Baltimore.

As an example of an imaginative response to the problem, Drake’s students read Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time about a woman in a mental institution who travels in time to a utopian, egalitarian society in which “identitarian categories” disappear, with “person” and “per” replacing personal pronouns and possessives. Students experiment with Piercy’s solutions, moving on to consider other options like “ze” and “hir.” Students grappled with the claims of Judith Butler that not just “gender identity” and “gender performance” but also “anatomical gender” (qtd. in Drake) are all “socially constructed.” These efforts resulted in the conclusion that “if you are admitted to Scripps, it’s because someone in power believes you have a vagina.” The students in this class appropriated a phrase from a video game to generate a slogan, “Person’s Gender is a Lie,” which they used on T-shirts.

Ultimately, Drake argues, using language to refer to gender in ways that diverge from expectations about what is normal disrupts the ability of institutions like Scripps to subsume the diverse identities of individuals under the static gender binary. When readers found a student’s use of “ze” and “hir” in a scholarship competition “distracting,” Drake writes that this “distraction was purposeful and political,” demanding the recognition of gender as a continuum rather than a binary. Such genderqueering of language, in Drake’s view, replaces the idea of a normative, homogenous community with an acknowledgment of the differences within it.