My experience facing hardship and inequity in my own life and as a single father of an amazing daughter, has taught me the necessity of: diverse perspectives and experiences to any informed discussion, advocating for institutional inclusion and support for, and developing an instructional approach that actively engages with every student’s individual experiences to make each student the majority stakeholder in their own academic success.
I spent the final six months of my enlistment in the Marine Corps at Balboa Naval Medical Center— after suffering a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) during combat operations in Iraq. I suffered significant peripheral nervous system damage and, at the ripe old age of twenty-two, found myself unable to stand without the aid of a cane. The injury also affected language processing and production centers required over a year of intensive speech and physical therapies during which time I essentially relearn the English language. This process taught me that things the general public take for granted or can do without thinking—like dressing one’s self, walking down a flight of stairs, reading a story to their kids, or even communicating abstract ideas like happiness, joy, or despair using language—can be a nearly impossible and infinitely frustrating ordeal.
After nearly a decade of therapy, treatment, and more patience than I thought existed, I am an able, and, in fact, more insightful reader than most and I can walk—though not always gracefully— without the assistance of a cane. For me, the experience navigating college and dealing with the physical mental setbacks has translated into active pedagogical advocacies for any of my students with disabilities or who require accommodations for any kind. I proactively meet with students and, often times, have worked with students to set up reasonable accommodations for my classroom and format that we have then taken to UDSS and have served as the framework for UDSS developing accommodations for my students to across other classes in the humanities.
I was awarded sole custody of my daughter Alexi Katherine, who was born with a rare chromosomal deletion on the long arm of chromosome 7 from 32.3-32.6 resulting in significant developments delays and intellectual disability, in the middle of the second semester of my PhD program. Though sometimes struggling through the program while trying to find and pay for childcare as a single, graduate student, father strengthened my resolve that the work I am doing is important and something I will not be deterred in. I also learned how unhelpful, decidedly unwelcoming, and unsupportive departments can be for non-traditional students—particularly when these students are single parents. I survived the situation in the department thanks to my advisor and by doubling down on quality time with my daughter who now, after a year of advocating daily for her with the district, has the accommodations she needs to succeed. She is currently in the second grade and, while experiencing significant delays in a number of areas, is reading at a third-grade level.
In my classroom, I employ the same pedagogy to enhance diversity and inclusion that I found successful with my daughter. In my classroom, I always treat each of my students with the dignity and respect due them as human beings. Thus, I approach them as individuals and listen to each voice as if it were, itself, a world. I listen to their experiences and position myself as a facilitator, helping each of my students find their authorial voice, and, then, as a guide to help them find the best way to give a voice to that experience. Then we work together on legitimizing that voice and coming to trust it and its authenticity. Finally, we develop ways to deploy it in all their academic writing.
In keeping with this philosophy, I allow students to select their own research projects and—as often happens—I am not an expert in their given topic. However, I take the time outside of class to research and become an expert and provide each student the assistance and direction they need to follow their passions and experiences. I have found this same approach to be immensely helpful in my work at Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, where I served for the past five years as tutor and writing center director for the BUNDLES scholars program—an initiative to support first-generation college students from traditionally underrepresented and underserved communities. I experienced the same success in this program as in my classroom and am convinced this pedagogical approach does real work dissembling systems of privilege and improving diversity and inclusion across the campus.