I was the first person in my family to go to college. I grew up just outside of Los Angeles, my dad was (and still is) a copier repairman, and my mom worked as a cashier at Walmart. I almost didn’t even go to college. If I’m honest, the only reason I went is because I knew I wanted to get married someday, and I thought I should find a spouse who was going to get a better job than either of my parents did, so I’d probably find them at college. I went to a small religious liberal arts school close to home. Turns out, rather than falling in love with another person, I fell in love with education instead. I went on to get two Bachelor’s degrees, two Master’s degrees, and then, realizing I wanted to go back to college as a professor, yet another Master’s degree and a PhD.
As what folks call a first-generation college and graduate student, I often felt like an outsider, especially at places like Duke and Vanderbilt (and, for that matter, at UVA!), especially as a women studying religion, a field that tends to be predominately male. I also grew up in a deeply religious family, hence my fascination with studying religion, and came from a tradition that did not believe women should be teachers, especially not teaching religion. I felt like an outsider within the academy, and within the community I came from. My background deeply shaped my own research interests—can communities sustain their identity and take difference seriously at the same time? If so, how? How do accounts and practices of formation—the ways we become who we are—assist or hinder such endeavors? These questions lie at the heart of my research, which is on gender and sexual difference in religious thought and practice. They also deeply shape and are deeply shaped by my teaching, and are, in many ways, what drew me to teach courses in the Engagements.
I view the classroom as a formational site where community amidst difference can be interrogated, imagined, and inhabited—an occasion for transformative intellectual practice through engagement together with texts, traditions, and theories. No wonder, then, that I was drawn to teach courses in the Engagements program, given its emphasis on, well, engagement—on collaboration and creativity, on active learning, on conversation and critical thinking. In my course on Engaging Difference, we will explore these questions of community amidst difference, as well as practice and live them, as we consider what kind of good difference is by exploring visions of the future, and in my course on Ethical Engagements, we’ll look at how we become who we are and imagine together who we might want to become and how we might get there.