On Wednesday, November 9th TLH hosted the event Voice and Vulnerability in the Transformative Classroom with Kiese Laymon. Fall 2022 Pedagogy Co-Leader Virginia Diaz introduced TLH to the over 200 attendees, and TLH Faculty Co-Director Matt Brim then introduced Laymon.
Senquiz, a TLH Student Advisory Board leader, asked Laymon how to teach history that’s still happening. He responded that he does not know the full answer, but emphasized the importance of asking about what violence means to your students before bringing trauma into the classroom. He critiqued the perspective that we need to protect students from violence, instead sharing that we should get their experience with violence into the space and then move forward from there.
Another Student Advisory Board leader, Renois, asked: how do you teach these tragic race-related events to people of different races? Laymon responded that he doesn’t know the answer to. He noted it demands an exquisite amount of time with each student to do this, in office hours. Laymon’s thoughtful responses and generous admittance of failure showed the importance of acknowledging that we all fail. He shared that we should ask our students, “how can I better love you today?”
The Zoom chat erupted with comments of feeling validation and identification with what Laymon shared as a teacher and a wealth of love and support for his candor, with messages like, “I am completely blown away by your gut-wrenching honesty and humbleness.” Then we turned to some questions from the audience. In his answers, Laymon highlighted the significance of checking in with students about their needs and what makes them feel happy, full, and safe. We should be honest about times faculty have created spaces that are harmful to students, he said, and know when and how to put boundaries into place. He spoke on rethinking the role of professors as leaders and placing the agency on students to spark deep conversations and to create. In a moment of real vulnerability and humility, Laymon admitted to not having the energy to “go there” or start the fire in the classroom anymore, though, he believes, students do deserve professors willing to do so. The Q&A session ended with Laymon reflecting on his written work, and not his work in the classroom, as his primary means of sharing opinions. In the meeting with the Student Advisory Board following the event, the students thought about Laymon’s theories of revision and being the “student you want to be,” and acknowledging that that can change over time and given external circumstances.