Working with Professor Gretchen Bender this semester as a teaching assistant for Museums: Society and Inclusion? gave me the opportunity to grow both as a student of Art History and as an educator. As a recipient of a Chancellor’s Undergraduate Teaching Fellowship, I was able to explore the concept of media in museums, both in physical spaces and the digital realm, alongside Professor Bender, Annie Abernathy, and the students. I helped the class think critically about the affordances of displays and the role of consumerism and visibility in the choices underlying the actions of museum institutions. This position allowed me to recognize the various forms of learning that can occur both inside and outside the classroom through activities like slow looking, optional site visits, and creative work. Working with Professor Bender to navigate this new digital landscape and challenge restrictive classroom models which may emphasize numerical grades rather than a passion for learning helped me reflect on when I have been most engaged and curious as a student.
In our moment of pandemic and physical distancing, synchronous discussion time with the students created a space for social interaction and vocal discussion. Yet we also ensured the course load was manageable and the importance of due dates didn’t extinguish interest in the material or overshadow the wellbeing of students. This balance has helped me recognize the significance of professors as educators as well as people who care deeply about the lives and struggles of their students beyond the classroom, which is an approach to teaching I intend to carry with me in my remaining undergraduate career and beyond. Working with Professor Bender and Annie Abernathy allowed me to utilize my past classroom experiences to create a stimulating and welcoming space for students. This opportunity strengthened my voice as a student and a lover of learning. My work in Fall 2020 granted me the space to explore museums in our moment of pandemic and heightened social justice movements, helping me equip students with ways to think critically about museum institutions and critique systems of power and acquisition moving forward. Guiding these challenging but productive discussions and creating space for reflection was an invaluable experience and enabled me to integrate student perspectives into my own relationship with museum institutions.
Next semester I plan to continue taking Museum Studies and Art History courses as I near the end of my undergraduate career. At this moment I anticipate graduating in Spring of 2022 in order to complete my Honors Thesis as a part-time student next fall and the following spring. But as we enter another unique moment of pandemic and will likely navigate similar digital landscapes in Spring 2021, I hope to continue engaging in community building activities with my classes and extracurriculars like on my Ultimate Frisbee team. I plan to take our Museum Studies internship course this upcoming semester, which would give me the opportunity to receive credit while working for a local institution. This class, alongside my employment at the William Pitt Union and pursuit of Studio Arts projects will allow me to pursue learning opportunities while also growing as a professional in unique spaces. I am extremely grateful for my time as a recipient of a Chancellor’s Undergraduate Teaching Fellowship. It was an enriching opportunity that taught me new ways to approach and discuss topics of colonialism, race, and individual identity, and it provided me with the experience and skills to build connections among students to promote a passion for learning.