This page has examples of events/talks from around the University of Warwick that present evidence of queer pedagogy and support for trans and gender-diverse students.
Contact: Stuart Knight - Food and Drink Manager, Warwick Conference Park and Events (stuart dot knight at warwick dot ac dot uk)
Could you provide a brief description of Stonewall 50?
Stonewall 50 is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in NYC that sparked a revolution and the beginning of gay rights. It was a monumental milestone in queer history and should be celebrated. Pride month was chosen to be in June to coincide with 28th June, though we know this stretches itself out to 3 months of the Summer as many cities around the world celebrated their pride on different dates, so all are included.
As part of the LGBT taskforce, I brought up the fact that it was a special anniversary and Warwick should mark this occasion. I then created the Stonewall 50 organising group and that’s how the events took place.
How did these events come about?
The first meeting was put out to the LGBT staff network and all LGBT themed student societies. It was clear from the first meeting that no event was going to be aimed at students, no event was going to be aimed at staff but it was a full inclusive event that all can attend. Sam (Parr) from the SU was instrumental in helping get the ball rolling, having had some ideas of what he wanted to do. Luckily for us, we had such a good representation from across the board – that is why events covered all areas. Having a representative from the Chaplaincy was great at bringing religion into the conversation and representing these in potential events.
All I did was keep the group motivated and supported. Each person who cultivated an idea went away and made it happen. So, it was a group effort.
What kind of a response did these events provoke?
Positive response across the board. There were some interesting conversations from the events I attended. Sam and I introduced several of them and explained the inclusivity. Responses were really positive and a lot of thanks for putting events like this on.
Some students came with some challenging questions, however, this was handled very well by external speakers and students were respectful.
Are there any lessons or advice that you could offer for others who want to put on queer events/spaces?
Do it. Be confident in your conviction. Ask for support and advertise as much as you can. You are not alone in events and anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Collaborations between the Student Union and the University are all positive. Most of all, make it open to everyone. Don’t just have them aimed at one small group of people. All events are inclusive.
Image of the Stonewall 50 Exhibition displayed in the University of Warwick Library
Contact: Hannah Ayres (Hannah dot Ayres at warwick dot ac dot uk), Somak Biswas (s dot biswas dot 1 at warwick dot ac dot uk) and Pierre Botcherby (p dot botcherby at warwick dot ac dot uk)
Could you provide a brief description of the group?
Pierre: The group is primarily a reading group for students of any level/age/department/sexual orientation to discuss various themes relating to queerness and LGBT+ issues. Staff, of course, are also welcome. Although thus far there has been a distinct historical/sociological bent to the groups’ events, there is no reason why contributions from other disciplines/perspectives would be unwelcome. Students and staff are free to make suggestions for readings, seminar topics, blog posts etc.
Hannah: Pierre summed it up pretty nicely but I would like to add that I think the group provides a space for queerness at Warwick: queer topics, queer people, queer discussions. Whilst historically focused, it allows for those participating in each session to think about the topic a little differently and I must admit that I am always surprised by the creative thinking that this can provoke. I also think queerness in this context is accessible – we are often institutionalised and disciplined to think certain ways so bringing people from different backgrounds and various areas of academia (and beyond) allows for really varied and interesting conversations.
Somak: The Queer History group is an attempt to create a space to discuss ays that queer the writing of history as a discipline. The group seeks to focus on ways to historicise queer subjects, a field that is still being developed, following important interventions made in the field of queer and gender studies. It seeks to bring together students and staff who identify or has an interest in LGBTQ politics and history to be able to gather and discuss collectively themes of related interest.
How did the group come about?
Pierre: Somak (and possibly other PhD students) realised/felt there wasn’t a group addressing these issues within the History department – though of course there are groups, such as the Feminist History group, in which similar themes can and do emerge. The aim was to have a dedicated ‘Queer’ group, in order to explore topics and experiences related to queerness and to provide a forum for people to discuss these. I then asked the department, in my then role as SSLC representative, to put up provisional funding for the group, which they did.
Somak: The department has had important work being done by the Feminist History Group, led by staff members, in opening up conversations on gender and its intersections. However, explicitly queer topics were not much in focus. Some of us felt that issues relating to sexuality need to be foregrounded more strongly, and with particular regard to issues of BME experience. There wasn’t a space within the department, which was otherwise quite big and diverse in its specialisation, for LGBT students or those interested in it to have these conversations.
In what ways do you queer the learning of students?
Pierre: Given the group mainly attracts post-graduate students, I’m not sure it necessarily queers the learning experience of students (in the way that, for instance, an undergraduate module in queerness might). However, it does provide a forum for topics related to queerness to be discussed and explored, hopefully broadening awareness of them to a wider student/staff audience, and prompting an increasing body of students/staff to think about them when conduction their own research. I would hope the presence of the group would also be an encouragement for any undergraduates (or indeed post-graduates and staff) who feel their modules do not sufficiently ‘queer’ their learning experience and/or represent their voice that their voice/interests do have a place in academia.
Hannah: I ran a session on Sodomy Trials and Gay Subculture in 18th century England, this session was picked up by the Student Union to be ran again during LGBTUA+ History Month. Running this session again provided a completely different experience. We invited Professor Mark Knights to come and contextualise the material and just as he was finishing his talk, we had a load of students walk in. These students had not read the material nor did they realise the groups format, they saw the word queer and were instead drawn to that. These students were not from the history department, instead coming from sociology, engineering, biology etc. Rather than alienate these students with discussions specific to the context of the reading, I began to draw parallels between the sources and the present. This prompted some of the most amazing conversations, one that sticks in my mind was on the erasure of queer lives and voices that happened in the past and continues to happen today – we are often accused of ‘reading too much’ into tv shows, books and film. This is just one example of the way in which, I felt, the group helped queer the experience of those in the room.
Somak: The whole thing began as an informal reading group where interested folks would come and discuss pre-circulated papers relating to queer history in its session over tea and basic food. Not having a formal structure was in itself a gesture towards queerness. Most of the readings chosen were also not conventionally historical or had a historical narrative. The hope was to grapple with new ways to recover and write about queer subjects in history and the difficulties that surrounded such a proposition. As students who ran it voluntarily, we did not have the required resources to test new pedagogic methods to queer our learning experience, but our reading sessions offered very interesting and intense insights on how queerness can be made generative academically. The group did not shy away from engaging headlong into difficult questions of race, religion and non-white identities even within LGBT histories and discourses. We were the only group in the department that consistently foregrounded BME histories of queer through its events as well as highlighting more marginalised identities such as trans or intersex within the LGBT spectrum.
What kind of a response has the group provoked?
Pierre: The group has proved immensely popular, attracting over 30 attendees to its first event last year and consistently around 12-15 per event since. There has been a good range of topics proposed by people of different backgrounds and research interests. Students and staff attending have ranged across most Arts and Social Science departments (in particular History, Sociology, and English), and have included all levels from undergraduate to permanent staff.
Somak: The group has been generally received well. We have had great interest from undergrad and PhD students as well as some staff members. Our collaborations with the Centre for the Study of Women & Gender and Queer Asia has been extremely fruitful in expanding the conversation. The Department has been enthusiastic in its support and has renewed its funding for the next year. Numbers wide, it varied between 15 and 30, with events ranged from reading sessions, film screenings, talks and panels. However, it is still a very young group, and its labours are yet to be mainstreamed in the department to be able to become a more strong voice. But very importantly, it has been able to provide many students who identify as BME to feel connected to their discipline, to find that their identities can be reconciled with their historical pursuits and make them think of making history a less heteronormative discipline.
Are there any lessons or advice that you could offer for others who want to implement queer pedagogy?
Pierre: A little bit like the above questions about how the group ‘queers’ learning experiences, I feel I am ill-placed to comment as I really only dealt with admin, other than when convening my session on queerness and class. Anyone who wants to implement queer pedagogy should perhaps come along to a session to see the sort of topics/discussions/interest there is in queerness and how valuable of a lens it can be.
Hannah: I would say that the best advice I could offer is to get yourself a support network. Get other people around you who understand what you want to do and why you want to do it and who can help you pull the resources together to achieve what you want.
Somak: That this needs sustained support and thinking. There is much contention on what queer pedagogy entails. Since much of it involved serious unlearning of established pedagogic methods, it requires critical resources to make it possible. At the same time queer pedagogy can often slip into sometimes rather lazy formulations. I am in strong favour of testing new methods and courses specifically designed on queer pedagogy.
Is there anything else you would like to add that you feel I haven’t covered?
Pierre: I think the group is also important in that it is the result of the students, so it is bottom-up rather than top-down. This again should be a source of encouragement for anyone who feels their voice/interests are excluded that they can get themselves heard and that they can play a role in shaping their education/research environment. I suppose the fact that no staff members had thought it necessary to start such a group is telling – though equally this might be because they felt existing groups (Feminist History Group, Centre for the Study of Women & Gender etc.) covered queer issues already.
Somak: We saw ourselves very much part of the decolonise and diversify work being done in various UK universities. More financial and academic support would be greatly desirable, given the very new-ness of this field.
Contact: Dr Gavin Schwartz-Leeper (g dot e dot schwartz-leeper at warwick dot ac dot uk)
Could you give a brief description of the case study?
As part of our induction, we teach students about a basic analytical tool, “Observe/Infer/Analyse”. This tool gets used throughout the first year as a way to help multidisciplinary students become comfortable with taking a ‘metacognitive pause’ – assessing the object of study and trying to make critically-aware judgements about how they will approach it. This tool gets used in a number of ways (in the past, we have used it to help students analyse graffiti, especially of graffiti depicting bodies, in the Middle East). I also use it in all our Open Days and Offerholder Days by getting prospective students to analyze a movie poster (I use World War Z, the zombie movie with Brad Pitt and Mireille Enos). In this activity, we think about intersectional analyses to understand who gets to be ‘human’ in this film: the beautiful white heteronormative family at the center of the action? The ‘discoloured’ zombies (to use a phrase from a prospective student)? How does the movies poster tell us that Brad Pitt is the star and Michelle Enos is not? This gets us into thinking about bodies, which becomes a major part of the first year core modules.
If relevant, how did this case study come about?
We were trying to find a case study for Open Days that 1) didn’t require any prior knowledge, 2) demonstrated the processes we use in the program, and 3) set out some of our departmental values. I teach an Honours-level module on the apocalypse, and so we decided to pull an example from a case study on the zombie apocalypse.
In what ways do you think that you queer the learning experience of students?
For me, ‘queering’ is another way of thinking about this metacognitive pause: a moment where you stop and critically examine the object, idea, dataset, etc. that has been presented to you and consciously test your assumptions about that thing. If you are presented with a cishet-presenting male/female pairing in a movie poster, what meanings can we find in that? Who is included/excluded, and what effects might that have? In this way, my students are encouraged to stop seeing heteronormative images or ideas as normative, but as a choice made by the author (or artist, creator, etc.). This helps us to discuss otherwise marginalized or invisible queer perspectives.
If relevant, what kind of response has the case study provoked?
Generally very positive: our feedback has been very good. But these issues have to be handled carefully, in no small part because prospective students haven’t yet built up a sense of trust between me (as lecturer) and themselves, or between each other. They have to be carefully supported so that they feel able to comment on sensitive issues. I would be surprised if we were totally successful in this respect.
Are there any lessons or advice that you could offer for others who want to implement queer pedagogy?
My only advice would be to resist seeing queer pedagogies as displacing subject-specific expertise, approaches, or content. Queer pedagogies can be used to provoke critical thinking of anything you want the students to examine. To me, supporting students to perform close and critical interrogations of all assumptions and theories is essential to the learning process (and especially for undergraduates) – queer pedagogies are a key component of critical thinking development, and I believe all learning is fundamentally about critical thinking.