Learning to Transgress

How do I tell the story of five Office of Community Engagement colleagues reading bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress?

I can tell you that the setting was a weekly Zoom discussion, sometimes infiltrated by the sounds of air conditioners and flashes of ‘UNSTABLE INTERNET CONNECTION.’ The story takes place in 2020 in the midst of a global pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and so much uncertainty.

We brought our whole selves to the conversations which meant reckoning with our own stories, learning and un-learning our histories, reflecting on our families and what they mean to us, bringing snacks that couldn’t be shared through the screen, acknowledging the days when we couldn’t keep our eyes open long enough to finish that week’s chapter, and stopping to sing Janet Jackson’s Control because it seemed the exact right thing at the moment. Sometimes we heard ourselves in hooks’ prose. Sometimes we heard our children, parents, former teachers, and students.

In the words both on the page and shared between us we found affirmation and opportunity:

  • Learning together is meant to be a space of joy and excitement. Learning at its best should be the irresistible responsibility of everyone.
  • Experience is knowledge which should be honored.
  • We can break the fourth wall and acknowledge that each of us exists beyond the roles we play as students and educators. We should interrogate those very roles and our imagined classroom boundaries.
  • Everything is designed, so we can design something new.
  • “To educate as the practice of freedom is a way of teaching that anyone can learn.”
  • Race, racism, and white supremacy are always a part of the characters, plot, setting, and story.
  • We can’t control everything.
  • Developing empathy and understanding is worth the effort it takes.
  • Building relationships should not be centered on control. Building community should not be based on fear of discomfort and emotion.
  • The boundaries that keep us from what we are hungry for are just as imagined as our wildest dreams of what learning can be.

While we’ve finished reading the book, I can’t tell you how this story ends.


*Reading Teaching to Transgress was one of the ways OCE is living out our anti-racism commitments.

Categories: Alumni Blogs, Community Engagement & Service, Diversity, Faculty & Staff Blogs

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