- Becoming Scholars in an Interdisciplinary, Feminist Learning Context
feminist classrooms and transformative learning: contextualizing ourselves
Feminist classrooms have become scholarly spaces where instructors, committed to the principles and processes of feminism, are able to seek out and employ creative ways to engage with teaching and learning processes (Gardiner 411). These classrooms are designed to be responsive to students' needs, experiences, and ways of being (Bryson and Bennet-Anylkwa 133; Hobbs and Rice, "Rethinking" 139), while also inviting instructors to "experiment with new, sometimes risky, pedagogical approaches" (Mahar and Thompson Tetreault 2). Feminist pedagogues value, recognize, and encourage each student's voice, and they view students as active participants in the learning process (hooks, qtd. in Donadey 83).
Transformative processes are implicated in undertaking, establishing, and instituting change on individual, collective, and structural levels in feminist classrooms (Hobbs and Rice, "Introduction" xviii). On a structural level, Carolyn Shrewsbury writes: "[f]eminist pedagogy ultimately seeks a transformation of the academy and points toward steps, however small, that we can all take in each of our classrooms to facilitate that transformation … [By centralizing] three concepts, community, empowerment, and leadership … [as] a way of organizing our exploration into the meaning of feminist pedagogy" (9–10). Shrewsbury encourages feminist pedagogues to resist the structural constraints inherent in traditional learning environments and to create spaces that generate transformative learning for students and instructors. In so doing, feminist pedagogies can shift orthodox arrangements and practices in the academy. By creating a learning environment that is attuned to power dynamics and structures, feminist pedagogy can generate provisional communities. Shrewsbury conceptualizes such communities as those wherein "both autonomy of self and mutuality" (12) of members' learning and developmental needs can be met by consensual "participatory and democratic" (13) processes, regardless of [End Page 29] participants' identities and differences, social positionalities, and shifting power dynamics.
Jerilyn Fisher contends that a feminist classroom emphasizes experiential and collaborative learning, promotes self-directed learning, and honors adult life transitions (125). Each learner is invited to be reflective and to create, validate, and build connections with their own and others' lived experiences (122). This reflective process allows learners to undertake self-directed learning while contributing to and expanding on the collective quality of learning as they make connections between theory and practice (124). During this process, students' perceptions of themselves as learners and as women (though these classrooms generally welcome students of all genders and often engage with queer and transfeminist theory) may also change. Fisher notes that feminist teaching can help learners to "more smoothly navigate the tides" of their personal development (126).
Feminist classrooms focus on "consensual, collaborative, non-hierarchical processes of learning and teaching" (Kenway and Modra 149), and both students and instructors are subject to the dynamic processes of power-sharing and knowledge construction (Bryson and Bennet-Anylkwa 134). The role of authority is generally deemphasized (Donadey 83), as instructors engage in various processes that affirm students' expertise, promote their critical thinking skills, and support their movement into the role of teacher (Bryson and Bennet-Anylkwa 134).
Some feminist pedagogues believe that traditional lecture-style university classrooms, where students are considered "passive receivers of knowledge" (Bryson and Bennet-Anylkwa 133), are ineffective modes of instruction. Within a critical feminist pedagogical framework, instructors aim to engage more effectively with students; instead of positioning themselves as privileged knowledge producers and knowledge disseminators, they become moderators, facilitators, questioners, and conflict negotiators (Nixon et al. 203; Spencer 199) who attempt to democratize knowledge creation and sharing. Transformative learning environments aim to promote clear collaboration between students and instructors (Locke and Kiselica, qtd. in Nixon et al. 203). This can include soliciting student input on course syllabus creation, arranging the physical structure of the classroom to enable discussion, and using a variety of readings that represent the vast assortment of student values, interests, and positionalities (Spencer 203).
Related to the intentional diffusion of power in feminist classrooms, many feminist-informed instructors aspire to cultivate "safe spaces" that support various views, build trust among participants, and empower student expression (Bryson and Bennet...