- Pedagogical Encounters, Graduate Teaching Assistants, and Decolonial Feminist Commitments
“The struggle to transform our institutional practices fundamentally also involves the grounding of the analysis of exploitation and oppression in accurate history and theory, seeing ourselves as activists in the academy, drawing links between movements for social justice and our pedagogical and scholarly endeavors and expecting and demanding action from ourselves, our colleagues, and our students at numerous levels”—Chandra Talpade Mohanty, 2003
Attempts to reform graduate teaching assistant (GTA) programs and enhance GTAs’ pedagogical experiences have been longstanding areas of interest in higher education. With the neoliberal climatic shift across US higher education, greater strains have been placed on departments to fulfill instructional roles that produce an output of quality student learners with limited investments into the development of pedagogical philosophies and praxis of the GTA workforce. Through examination of the interconnections between GTAs’ pedagogical philosophies, pedagogical experiences, and systemic structural inequalities, empirical studies can reveal spaces of struggle that speak back to institutional cultures of power and privilege and illuminate opportunities for social justice transformation in GTA programs across disciplines in higher education.
Cognizant of the important role GTAs play at research universities, higher education research includes numerous empirical studies that explore the experiences of GTAs. Yet these experiential studies have customarily occurred in isolation of scholarly inquiry and dialogue on the pedagogical philosophies held by GTAs. Contemporary research on GTAs’ experiences is situated across academic disciplines and identifies the need for increased pedagogical content knowledge through early training and preparation (Dunn-Haley and Zanzuchhi) and professional development (Gardner and Jones). Current literature examines GTAs’ personal experiences and perspectives on the responsibilities associated with their role (Cho et al.; Green; Jia and Bergerson), professional identity development (Archer; Dunn-Haley, and Zanzuchhi; Green), and includes revelations of negative emotional feelings, diminished self-efficacy (Prieto and Altmaier), and classroom management challenges and concerns (Luo, Bellows, and Grady). While most studies have focused on the symbolic experiences of GTAs’ university interactions, few studies have examined those experiences through a structural analysis that centers the concept of power (Lowe and Pugh). Moreover, there remains a significant absence of literature theorizing and researching GTAs’ pedagogical experiences and development in context of their expressed pedagogical philosophies and social justice commitments, and in [End Page 55] relation to hegemonic institutional conventions in higher education.
Pedagogical philosophies serve as a guide for those who teach; they “are a composite of assumptions, goals, choices, attitudes, and values that coalesce to form a way of seeing one’s task” (Petress 128). Pedagogical philosophies grounded in decolonial feminism reveal feelings and beliefs on best classroom practices as informed by an individual’s egalitarian values and sociopolitical commitments to justices across class, race, gender, and nation. Decolonial feminism promotes the idea and praxis of interpersonal and institutional interactions that are distinct from colonial legacies of power, domination, exploitation, and oppression (Grande; Lugones; Mohanty). A focus on the experiences of research participants who hold decolonial feminist pedagogical philosophies central to their work can inform a deeper structural analysis of how GTAs’ pedagogical experiences are devalued and/or compromised by neoliberal institutional cultures that privilege colonial legacies of power, capitalism, racism, and patriarchy. Empirical studies on pedagogical philosophies illustrate the positive impact that pedagogical communities have on the development of pedagogical philosophies and praxis for faculty and graduate students in higher education (Bauer et al.; White et al.). In attending to the gap in literature on GTAs’ pedagogical philosophies, as well as deliberating on the diverse and intersectional identities that GTAs maintain, this study aims to expand upon current knowledge and identify the types of pedagogical frames being used to prepare GTAs for the professoriate. Are GTAs being prepared through pedagogical frames of status quo pedagogy and situated in pedagogical misconceptions transferred from faculty member to GTA (Gardner and Jones), or through pedagogical frames that transform GTAs’ practices through the realization of democratic goals across divisions of academic labor, and by inclusive practices that actively develop and engage GTAs’ pedagogical philosophies, interests, needs, and recommendations for change?
This study examines the pedagogical experiences of fourteen GTAs across academic disciplines at a large private university in the Northeastern US...