Lauren Elander Headshotby Lauren Elander, Adjunct, Assistant Professor, Composition & Literacy Studies

With the disruption of the Western Literary Canon, literature courses can include dynamic texts that are as relevant and diverse as the students we serve. However, the responsibility falls on the individual professor to decide what texts are appropriate for my course. Without a clear approach, it is easy for professors to fall back on classic texts. Even worse, if a professor flippantly selects diverse works, they can create token viewpoints of marginalized people and reinforce stereotypes instead of dismantling them. How can we create a curriculum that incorporates diverse voices while also safeguarding against a stereotypical or biased reading of the people or cultures in a text? Given these concerns, I applied to the Global Women and Gender Studies Faculty Learning Community (FLC) hoping to find answers.

Over the course of the FLC, I have gained clear insights on how to make informed text selections for my class and I have been given a framework to do so confidently. However, the experience was so much more than a framework. Participating in the Global Women and Gender Studies FLC was a paradigm-shifting experience. I learned about nuanced global issues from world-class lectors and gained a community to collaborate with.

For my project, I was inspired by the PISA Global Competency Framework to examine global and local issues through my short fiction course. In our first unit, the course objective is to analyze and discuss the elements of short fiction and how the elements create the theme. To create a more globalized class, I wanted to adapt the unit to consider how literature is an extension of cultural values, specifically gender and family values.

Historically, I began the course with simple texts (like fairytales or children’s stories) and graduated to more complicated works as the semester progressed. Wanting to keep the same basic course structure, I was inspired by my FLC to research different fairy and folk tales across cultures. Quickly, I discovered that there are hundreds of versions of the Cinderella story, and each one reflects the ideal qualities of women at their time and place of origin. As a class, we analyzed the different characteristics of the women in the stories, and asked the question, “If Cinderella is held up as the example of a good woman, what is being valued? What characteristics are seen as ideal for perfect femininity?” We then followed up with the current relevance of the depictions. “How do these values compare to what is valued as ideally feminine today? Who is included? Who is excluded?” The answers built upon the elements of fiction, but the analysis went much deeper than our usual entry points. Students began to consider not just how the elements functioned to create meaning but used them to question the values the elements instilled.

For their Unit Paper, students used the same questions to analyze a story from their childhood. This story could be a book, fairytale, or movie they watched, and their goal was to analyze what cultural values it reflected through the characterization, language, setting, conflict, and point of view. The project seamlessly married the objectives of both the global and the course objectives, and connected to students’ personal cultural identities and experiences. It truly transformed the class, as text selection fell on the students themselves the works were as diverse as our classroom.

By providing my students with a model and a clear structure, they were more engaged and invested in the course than ever before. By entering into literature at a familiar point and providing a Global Women and Gender Studies Lens, my students were able to see themselves and others in a critical way, and go beyond their initial biases in interpreting the cultural values. Beyond the classroom, the global framework allowed me to confidently teach my students to question the implications of the stories and media in their lives, and begin to build strong defendable arguments to support or critique their worldview. Most importantly, they were able to follow their individual interests, and be guardians of their own cultural narratives.