Jacob McWilliams, PhD
A commitment to inclusive excellence is a commitment to cultivating an attention to and willingness to address inequities and injustice in all forms. It is also a commitment to building a community in which all members feel free to participate fully and authentically, from a place of curiosity, mutual respect, and investment in dialogue across difference.
As a queer, transgender man working in educational contexts, I have developed unique insights into how educational institutions can either reinforce or challenge sexist, homophobic, and transphobic beliefs and structures. My queer and transgender identities have led me down a curious path in higher education, both as a scholar who built a research agenda focusing on gender and sexual diversity in education and, now, as a Director of two identity-based centers focusing on education, advocacy, and support around issues related to gender and sexuality. I have learned to value and trust my experiences and insights, while also building a community of critical friends who can help me continue to develop my awareness of those whose identities and experiences differ from mine.
Social justice is at the core of all the work that I take on, even when I’m not explicitly advancing conversations about inclusion for historically underrepresented communities. I have designed an office space that disrupts hierarchical structures, with round tables that enable every meeting attendee to hold an equal position and open shelves that display the sexual health and wellness supplies that are available for free to all members of our campus community. I share my office’s budget and financial reports to all students and staff, to support my commitment to mutual accountability. Although I could make executive decisions about my Center’s mission, vision, and goals, I nearly always work from a consensus model in which all team members have an equal opportunity to provide input and insights.
My commitment to supporting diversity extends across my research, teaching, and service. As a researcher, my work investigates the notion of “safe spaces” in education—with a particular focus on forging safety across the spectrums of gender and sexual identity. In doing this work, I consider myself accountable to scholars such as hooks (2014) and Leonardo and Porter (2010) who draw on feminist theory and critical race theory to critique the very notion of “safety” in education. If “safe spaces” are only possible for members of dominant social groups, then how can we envision and design learning communities that support risk and minimize danger for members of nondominant groups? What would it look like to create livable educational spaces for learners of nondominant gender and sexual groups, as well as for learners from other historically marginalized cultural groups?
My teaching approaches these questions from the perspective of pedagogy. In addition to my commitments to supporting racial/ethnic, socioeconomic, gender and sexual diversity in the classroom, I have developed a commitment to supporting neuro-atypical learners. This includes learners with cognitive and intellectual disorders as well as students struggling with mental health issues. I am particularly interested in the ongoing debate about so-called “trigger warnings” in college classrooms, and I have continued to develop strategies for creating comfort and care for students with histories of trauma.
As I continue my career in higher education, I envision a path that explores the challenges of forming alliances across culturally marginalized groups, as well as strategies for supporting those who strive to be allies for students and colleagues, in classrooms and the workplace. My research, teaching, and scholarship all aim at theorizing and enacting these concerns.
hooks, b. (2014). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York: Routledge.
Leonardo, Z., & Porter, R. K. (2010). Pedagogy of fear: Toward a Fanonian theory of ‘safety’ in race dialogue. Race Ethnicity and Education, 13(2), 139-157.