When issues of gender and sexuality meet questions of pedagogy, the principle of academic freedom
achieves a particularly weighty significance. At the same time, the practical challenges facing the
educator grappling with these questions are no less daunting. And that’s where Lesson Plans—the
continuing series of pedagogy workshops jointly sponsored by CLAGS and the Center for the Study of Gender and
Sexuality (CSGS) at NYU—comes in. Moderated by CLAGS director Alisa Solomon and CSGS director Carolyn
Dinshaw, a diverse group of educators from universities and high schools in and around New York City met four
times during the 2000-01 academic year to question, and debate, and brainstorm, and plan, and argue, and learn.
Sometimes, the topic was curriculum: one meeting focused on establishing a “desert island” queer-studies
reading list, another on ways of introducing discussions of gender and sexuality into courses which are often
taught from a monolithically straight-white-male perspective. The other two sessions turned the spotlight on the
teacher/student dynamic and on the responsibilities and repercussions of bringing gender and sexuality into the
classroom: Are there lines that should not be crossed and others that must be crossed? How much of my private
life is it appropriate/imperative/safe to expose to students? To what extent will an appeal to ‘academic freedom’
protect an instructor accused of perverting subject matter on ideological grounds? What about homophobia, overt
and covert? What about student evaluations?
And what about my career?
What makes this workshop special—and perhaps unique—is the diversity of the participants. Many universities
have faculty groups devoted to issues of gender and/or sexuality where these topics are endlessly and continuously
explored—witness CLAGS and CSGS. When I attended the first workshop this year, I expected to find myself the
sole outsider among CUNY and NYU faculty, but I told myself that, having spent half of my life in CUNY and NYU
(as student and adjunct), I could sort of lay claim to membership in both sponsoring institutions, so I wouldn’t
really be, well, queer. What I discovered was that many of the workshop regulars were a lot like me: faculty
members in institutions where we find ourselves more or less alone in engaging issues of gender and sexuality in
(and out of) the classroom (and dealing with the concurrent loss of privacy that comes with that territory), where
there is not only no formal dialogue on these matters but also no real sense that there ought to be a conversation.
That’s what drew me to Lesson Plans. I’m not a group-joiner by temperament, and—to tell you the truth—I’d
rather slit my throat than ‘share.’ But a year out of grad school, shortly after beginning a job as an assistant
professor of English at Adelphi University eighteen months ago, I found myself in a position other than the one to
which I’d been hired. I thought I was the Medieval-Renaissance person. But just by virtue of being, I was suddenly
the queer feminist—and, having no training for this role and for the flak that came with it, I needed to learn, and I
needed a professional community.
As educators, we talk a lot about making the classroom a safe space for the exchange of ideas. But even
educators need a safe space sometimes. Lesson Plans gives us that space.
R. E. Sternglantz is Assistant Professor of English at Adelphi University.