For one long moment after I unintentionally swooned over a young man’s testicles, all 70 students in the UMD class I was teaching stayed mostly silent.
The incident happened in 2003, during an otherwise average session of Introduction to Cultural Studies. UMD’s course guide says the class, “Examines how cultural practices relate to everyday life by introducing students to each of the four core areas of the Cultural Studies minor: Identity Politics, Media Cultures, Cultures of Space & Place, and Cultures of Science, Technology, & Medicine.” My teaching contract was in Writing Studies, but the Sociology/Anthropology department faculty member in charge of Cultural Studies heard I might be into teaching something different, and my department head was cool with the idea. It’s been one of my favorite experiences in 20 years of trying to help people learn things.
I seek opportunities to participate in conversations with students and anyone else about how belief, intent, socialization, and other forces intersect to influence our actions. I approached Intro to Cultural Studies as an extended problem-posing conversation. I’d start most days by naming an example of something most of us in the room take for granted or don’t notice, then I’d ask a bunch of questions like, “Why do we do it that way? What happens if we try to do or see it differently. What if we did it for reasons different from the generally accepted ones? Who gets to decide?”