By Salvador Gutierrez Peraza, Ethnic Studies
Teaching Effectiveness Award Essay, 2023
As a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) in the Department of Ethnic Studies part and parcel of my pedagogical training is the teaching of courses on the Ethno-Racial experience of U.S. minoritarian subjects and cultures. Our discipline entails “the critical and interdisciplinary study of race, ethnicity, and indigeneity” within systemic racial capitalism in a settler colonial nation-state. Therefore, our courses engage with extremely traumatic, triggering contemporary and/or historical events or themes, for example, the mass incarceration of African Americans or Latinos within our present-day socio-historical milieu.
In the course Chicano History, for example, we learned about the historical antecedents of mass incarceration through a historical examination of the brutal policing of Tejanos (Mexican/Mexican Americans from Texas), in which state sanctioned public executions (lynching) took place all over Texas as a disciplinarian racial tool. How does one teach such traumatic histories to students who might be able to trace their own histories to said traumatic events? Furthermore, how does one teach Critical Ethnic Studies to those who have been and continued to be deeply affected by the logics of violence within our structural racial capitalist order of things? Finally, how does an instructor balance the divide between said ethno-racial violence teachings and a college-level education within the setting of the neoliberal university?
I do understand the mechanics of the Teaching Effectiveness Award prompt—besides stating the problem—yet there is no cookie-cutter solution to such an enormity. I have approached it, however, by stating the painful (and always triggering) nature of our subject matter as a required component of our shared academic journey—after all, students need to pass this class in order to graduate, academic pragmatism, perhaps… But how can one quantify the success of any approach when one is dealing with systemic violence and ever-present trauma?