My teaching philosophy may be distilled down to the Greek philosopher Plutarch’s insight that “the mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting.” For me, this is not only about the ignition of interest, but also the deeper self-realization of expansive potential within all students, not only those currently excelling. I believe that the unlocking of individual potential cultivates the development of a fearlessly thoughtful citizenry that can further what Ruth Benedict asserts as the primary purpose of anthropology: “to make the world safe for human differences.”
I approach teaching and research as symbiotic, and centered around a close attention to process. Just as my research highlights the social life of film more than the finished product, so too does my teaching emphasize the wrestling with ideas over conclusions. I emphasize writing not only as a skill that can be learned and a muscle that can be exercised, but more significantly as an unparalleled means for asserting one’s inimitable voice and synthesizing threshold concepts. I aim to ignite in them the very love of writing that I developed as an undergraduate, fostered by my varied engagements with professors, mentors, and fellow students. I illustrate the importance of engaging multiple paper drafts through in-class peer-review protocols that help students to develop as writers by receiving and providing feedback, fostering a broader confidence in critical reading through identifying the strengths and challenges of others.
Drawing on a variety of active and experiential learning strategies, I aim to cultivate connections between students’ often disconnected academic and social worlds through small group discussions, class debates, media production projects, and other activities that engage diverse learning styles. For example, during the first weekend of class I often have students conduct fieldwork around campus for their first paper. This engages a topic that the students find inherently interesting while positioning them to construct original and ethnographic arguments that are relevant to their own lived experiences.
When engaging polarizing topics such as racism and Indigenous genocide, I aim to denaturalize students’ gut responses by initially framing discussions around less controversial parallel examples. When I then shift the conversation to the contentious issue, this reframing often leads students to be surprised by their own responses, stimulating open and empathetic dialogue. Examples of this approach include a lesson plan I wrote for the Cultural Anthropology website on Teaching Sovereignty, as well as a short sci-fi story I published through Fulbright's Minds and Hearts magazine titled "Planeterra Nullius," which challenges students to reimagine Australian colonization through a parable of extraterrestrial invasion set in the near future.