When I took Science & Religion (S&R) with Dr. Brock Bahler my junior year at Pitt, I was thrilled to explore the intersections between my pre-med and Religious Studies courses. In class, we discussed concepts including how astronomy interacts with theism and how one might reconcile beliefs in both the divine and evolution. When Dr. Bahler and I decided that I would serve as an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant (UTA) for S&R, I asked if he was open to my concurrently participating in CUTF. He then shared his concerns about how he hopes to move away from the traditional andro-, Christian-, Eurocentric focus in science, philosophy, and religious studies. Dr. Bahler and I subsequently decided to take a step towards this goal of “decolonizing” the S&R syllabus as my CUTF project. I have a long-standing interest in gender- and sexuality-related advocacy work, so I decided to specifically “decolonize” the syllabus by integrating queer studies topics into the course.
Faculty are more likely to agree to involve students in teaching when they already know the student is hard-working, engaged, and excited about learning. As a result, I would advise students interested in CUTF or other teaching opportunities to begin by seeking out mentorship from a faculty member whose class you are in. This might include going to the professor’s office hours, asking questions during lectures, and staying after class to ask questions about course material or academic/professional plans. After demonstrating that you are committed to and interested in their field of study, you may look for opportunities to begin a project with the professor, whether that is joining their research lab, pursuing CUTF, completing a BPhil (https://www.frederickhonors.pitt.edu/bphil), or seeking out another opportunity that Pitt offers. If you are interested in learning more about these opportunities, I would suggest you reach out to a Frederick Honors College scholar mentor or academic advisor (listed here under “academic staff” https://www.frederickhonors.pitt.edu/people) for guidance on the many opportunities the Honors College has to offer. These advisors (shoutout Brett Say!) have been incredibly helpful to me during my journey with CUTF.
Becoming a collaborator alongside Dr. Bahler has been an eye-opening experience. To incorporate queer studies into the S&R syllabus, Dr. Bahler and I added queer studies-related discussion questions to every lecture this semester, planned two new queer studies-related lectures, and are working on curating a bibliography of sources from feminist, queer/gender-diverse, and indigenous voices in S&R for students to consult while writing their final papers. As a UTA, I have learned that teaching requires a lot of work behind the scenes, especially on Canvas! Over the pat few weeks, I have been planning my upcoming lecture on queer theory and ecology — a concept I thought was nicely encapsulated in this photo I took of performer Darrell Thorne, who you can read about here https://www.darrellthorne.com/. While preparing, I have realized that giving a lecture is very different from giving a presentation in class. In S&R, students are highly engaged during lectures –– with about half of the time being taken up with discussion –– and lectures primarily focus on one or two readings while pulling in additional supporting information from five to ten other sources; the presentations I have given in the past, meanwhile, usually involve far less discussion and heavily rely on just two or three sources. By modeling my lecture after Dr. Bahler’s, I have been working toward replicating these two aspects.
One of my main concerns during CUTF has been that I am unsure how to best facilitate and respond to student comments while lecturing. To address this concern, I have observed Dr. Bahler’s facilitation of discussion during lectures and built specific discussion questions into my lecture. At this point, I am super excited about bringing topics I am so passionate about into the classroom. This group of students is incredibly thoughtful and engaged, and I am looking forward to hearing their perspectives on queer studies during my lecture and in their final papers. Ultimately, I am most enthused about the fact that these changes to the syllabus will last beyond this year; S&R students for years to come will be able to learn about queer studies and likely other diversity-related topics as Dr. Bahler continues to further “decolonize” the syllabus.