Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Professors discuss education, DEI, American history at Contested Discourse

Naina Srivastava
From left to right Annette Rodriguez, assistant professor of history; Pavithra Vasudevan, assistant professor of women’s & gender studies and African & African diaspora studies; and Lauren Gutterman, associate professor of American studies speak at a panel about pedagogy at Contested Discourse on March 22, 2024.

UT professors discussed the state of the University in relation to concepts like liberalism, antiracism and diversity, equity and inclusion on Friday during Contested Discourse, an event co-sponsored by several College of Liberal Arts departments and programs.

The event occurred concurrently to Civil Discord, a multiple-day event that began on March 21 discussing many of the same issues. Contested Discourse featured three main panels: a keynote, a roundtable on pedagogy and a dialogue on history and defining the founding of America.

American studies assistant professor Lina Chhun moderated a panel which discussed pedagogy, the practice of teaching. She said limitations on higher education, including Senate Bill 17, exist because professors often teach ideas that break the status quo.

Pavithra Vasudevan, a women’s and gender studies and African and African diaspora studies assistant professor, said she pushes these limits by making education a space open for transformation, which can help students apply the material to current world events.

“(Pedagogy is about) creating a space for action and reflection,” Vasudevan said. “Seeing the classroom as a space where students are going through their own processes individually and then coming together to create a process collectively. I think about how to create that in the space of the university which is so counter to that effort.”

Assistant history professor Annette Rodríguez said teaching about the past is crucial to learning about the present, an idea referred to as presentism. She said students see history as progressive, so they struggle to understand that history can be a long narrative of injustice that has not ended yet. 

American studies professor Lauren Gutterman said she prides herself on her use of her presentism in the classroom. 

“(My goal is) to teach them the history I didn’t learn in school,” Gutterman said. “Some students say it’s too negative, but that’s okay.” 

Stephen Marshall, associate professor of American Studies, was one of three speakers featured in the discussion on history, which asked whether 1619 or 1776 was the true founding of America — a question taken from a Civil Discord panel that also took place on Friday.

“My reflections actually were motivated by the original symposium that our colleagues are having across campus,” Marshall said. “I’m reformulating this question because the question that our colleagues told me the other day is such a bad one.”

Marshall said the question forces an impassioned response that “deals no real answers,” and more information can be learned from questions considering the politics associated with the topic better address the issue. 

Bedour Alagraa, assistant professor of African and African diaspora studies and a speaker in the dialogue, said the problems with this question reflect larger issues with periodization.

“Why not unburden ourselves of the desire for an empirical origin?” Alaagraa said. “Perhaps do this thing we’re doing now of ‘what’s the question we want to respond to?’ and ‘which story do we know is there that might be able to respond to that?’”

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