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Religion Belief & Faith Part 2: ‘Religion in Britain: Challenges for Higher Education.’

March 5, 2017 in Inclusive Teaching & Learning

I read through the following three headings of this paper in detail to respond to:

Multiculturalism (Mahmood)

Minority identities (Mahmood)

Religion and knowledge of religion in UK universities (Calhoun)

The two aspects of this paper under the above headings that were new to my understanding of the challenges of religion in higher education are:

  1. There was a lack of explanation about intersections with religion or faith.

After reading up on Gender so intensely and becoming more aware of the implications in a learning environment as a result, I struggled with this paper barely mentioning the repercussions of not supporting a student who is not sure about their religion, faith or beliefs. Maybe they began their studies as a religious person and decided to become Agnostic. What if a student wishes to change these as a result of discovering who they feel more comfortable to identify as from perspectives of gender or sexual orientation. Some useful links I came across whilst pondering this:

What is a student becomes lost or aligns themselves as Agnostic, not Atheist? How does a teacher support that student, allow them to creatively explore that if they want to?

2. I hadn’t realised that the term ‘multiculturalism‘ had become an unpopular concept amongst politics and the public recently.

Personally, I don’t feel it is outdated, but perhaps an older form of our vocabulary that has since developed into more sophisticated terms such as ‘multiculturalist sensibility’. I experience that we have developed further vocabulary, just as we have created around terms to describe Gender as vastly to adapt and reflect the more subtle and wider range of religions the UK (and certainly London) has to represent its people.

Multiculturalism is perhaps too much of a generic term these days, but it’s definitely one I consider an important part of my vocabulary. When discussing these subjects you often reflect on your own identity within them. I’ve grown up knowing that I am from a ‘minority identity‘. I have a subtly different Bengali accent to someone who’s family is from Bangladesh, because my parents came from West Bengal. My mum and dad had a strong upbringing around Hinduism, so whilst I learnt about that, it was not through practice of Hinduism myself, it was through observing others, attending celebratory festivals surrounding the religion, and slowly learning about them alongside my observations of the English society in the Midlands I grew up in. A few generations have developed in which there has been a mix of people like me – where really, I am not fully ‘at home’ in either the Midlands or in West Bengal. But this transient feeling has interesting creative perspectives. I enjoy the artist Hate Copy for this reason. She plays on the American humour in which she lives to describe traditional traits of a culture she (the artists) has grown up amongst:

Illustration with Caption on saucer

by artist Hatecopy

Laddoo illustration on saucer

by artist Hatecopy

fairnlovely illustration

By artist Hate Copy

Trust no aunty illustration

by Hatecopy


From reading the ‘Religion and knowledge of religion in UK universities’ section of this paper, I began to wonder how we could progress from this tentative avoidance of discussing the subject within an art and design curriculum. So my question about this paper is about providing practical examples of good or bad teaching practices in a religious context. Where can we find such examples that can assist teachers to learn about the subtle and drastic implications? Where can teachers investigate, practice and learn how a design of a teaching session can impact upon someone’s learning because of their strong adherence to faith, a religion or their own beliefs, personal to just them? Should teachers be consulting the universities’ Chaplains to seek guidance on a regular basis, to share and build a religious literacy? At UAL can this be feasible, considering there are only two Chaplains providing support across 6 university sites?

Ultimately, is there a way to avoid ‘religious illiteracy’ unitedly, build confidence in teaching without individual research and interpretation (and fear of misinterpretation)?



Gender – Inclusive Learning and Teaching in Higher Education

February 24, 2017 in uncategorised

Inclusive Learning and Teaching in Higher Education – Assignment 1 – Gender


Source 1 – Gender Diversity at UAL website



How can I apply this resource to my own teaching practice?


These web pages are a valuable resource for all who work or study at UAL. Reading the perspectives of trans students at UAL on a UAL-branded online resource is powerful, as it brings these crucial narratives to the forefront. In my own teaching practice, I can apply the simple advice offered by these students. For example:


  • Using gender neutral pronouns in teaching materials
  • Avoiding assumptions around individual students’ gender identities
  • Challenging biological essentialism in discussions about gender i.e. embedding understandings of gender beyond the binary + avoiding the conflation of sex and gender
  • Promoting the work and ideas of trans artists within a critical pedagogy – examples may include Mikki Blanco, Anohni, Angel Haze
  • Exploring discreet and supportive ways for students to share their pronouns, and modelling correct pronouns for students who are sharing their gender identity publicly


How could I integrate the research/work my students do on this subject into my teaching/professional practice?


The research and work done by students on this subject can contribute to my own understandings of gender, and thereby affect the way I teach around gender. Every artist and artwork referenced by students is a learning opportunity. Every new gender identity or gender expression I encounter adds to the different ways I can teach gender.


If teaching about gender, or artists who explore gender in their work, it will be important for me to introduce the work of artists of different genders. This will include looking in-depth at the work of trans artists, and offering varying historical contexts for trans identities globally. A very important part of this will be the inclusion on the curriculum of non-Western examples of gender diversity, such as the 5 genders of Bugis society in Sulawesi, Indonesia, and two-spirit people of Native American and First Nations peoples. By challenging and expanding the most common gender narratives students and teachers alike may have had exposure to, I can encourage inclusive understandings of gender in the learning environment.


Source 2 – ‘Understanding Patriarchy’ by bell hooks (2013)


Often in critiques of gender norms, the focus of critique is on the ways women are harmed. “Understanding Patriarchy” by bell hooks critiques binary gender norms for the harms they enact against people of all genders, including men.


From this essay, I understand that bell hooks is not simply advocating for an “equal share of pie” type feminism, but rather for the dismantling of all patriarchal harms. Where domination takes place in our communities, this domination is not truly beneficial to those who are dominating and so hooks believes it should not be maintained or held onto. Instead, hooks acknowledges that patriarchy takes away men’s freedom of will, e.g. to be sensitive, soft, “feminine”, to an extent that impacts their wellbeing. Patriarchal masculinity, according to hooks, places a dynamic of dominance/submission into relationships at the cost of true connection and intimacy. This demonstrates to me the urgent necessity in teaching to challenge the patriarchal binary of masculine and feminine for the benefit of all learners.


In common usage in British media and parlance, “patriarchy” is often equivalent to the oppression of women or femininity more generally. Despite having read feminist, Black feminist and intersectional texts before, I am still prone to taking this common usage of “patriarchy” for granted. This text provided me with a clear reminder that patriarchy is damaging for people of all genders, as it prescribes behavioural expectations for people who may not feel naturally inclined to adhere to a binary gender. It is therefore hugely important to avoid gendering behaviour and expression within a learning environment, and instead to engage critically with a curriculum that represent diverse genders.


Another lesson made clear from this essay is that gender roles are enforced in cultural practices and norms in many areas of life, including within educational institutions. Our choice in these gendered environments is either to adhere to the “gendered script” or provoke the violence of patriarchy. My challenge as a teacher will be to promote an alternative script in the classroom, and to embed anti-patriarchal analyses of gender into my teaching practice. This will require regular representation of gender diverse artists in the curriculum and encouragement and support for students wishing to do work and research in this area. I also aim to represent an extensive range of masculinities and femininities, as well as non-binary gender identities. By including as many narratives as possible and promoting further research amongst students, the learning environment can provide a space for exploring gender identity through creative practice. This seems in line with Freire’s assertion that educators must strive for “mutual humanization” with students in the learning environment (Freire, 1970), by encouraging gender uniqueness and diversity.

Source 3 – Museum of Transology exhibition at the Fashion Space Gallery



The curation and use of artefacts in this exhibition is personal and powerful. Each artefact is displayed alongside a label explaining its significance, handwritten by a trans person. Reading these labels gave me a strong sense of the people writing them and the importance of acceptance, acknowledgement and support in their journeys and experiences.


The train tickets from important dates and items of clothing and underwear spoke to the fact that there is no single trans experience and that each trans person’s story of transition is singular and personal and may be ongoing or fluid. Garments that cis people may take for granted, such as bras or boxer shorts, can be so central to trans people’s expressions of their genders. It is especially compelling that these items are on display at the London College of Fashion.


This exhibition, to me, speaks to the individuality of people and to the importance of valuing individuals and their infinite journeys, possibilities and realities in my teaching practice.


Inclusive Teaching & Learning Unit: Gender – Part 3

February 15, 2017 in Inclusive Teaching & Learning

‘Boy you’re just a stupid bitch and girl you’re just a no-good dick’

(Words from ‘Black Tongue’ by Karen O of the New York pop rock band YeahYeahYeahs)

These words make me laugh as they play on a twist of making gender assumptions in language and treating one gender identity as a derogatory term to call what is actually the opposite in gender.

This leads me in to my reflection of the Museum of Transology exhibition which was a positively defining experience for me. My visit reconfirmed what I believe to be a strong method of inclusive learning – understanding and increasing knowledge through an exhibition of objects, people and experiences (and I also think I’m a museum-loving geek).

The exhibition was curated incredibly carefully, as I felt it invited you in to see stories of importance to all, whether as a visitor, you know much about transgender communities, are curious in yourself or have family members or friends with gender fluid identities.

The exhibition highlighted the situations where gender is questioned unnecessarily from the small social acceptances amongst friends through to security procedures at airports. It also explained the peripherals in a person’s life that can be key to developing their gender confidence, such as a person’s wealth in order to afford hormones or high quality fake breasts, ‘packing’ and binding. A survey mentioned in the exhibition text also revealed that many transgenders go through years of homelessness as a result of being unaccepted as their true selves by families and support networks. This is not a phase, this is a person’s lifelines, shattering.

These stories of struggle, acceptance, loss of time, love, family, mental health, confidence really resonated with me in the set up of this exhibition, whilst walking amongst the broken closets. I wanted to reach up to read every story written on labels, even those that I couldn’t access which were inside cabinets mounted higher on the walls, and those suspended high above, amongst the gender gradation of undergarments. But actually, in not being able to read all of them, illustrated a concept perfectly that maybe stories can be there, dangling right in front of your face, but it may not be the time to read them. We may need to work carefully to find out how to read them and understand these stories.

Alongside the films the exhibition made me internally ask questions to myself about how I would approach teaching from a pastoral perspective to students going through any gender confidence issues. I felt an overwhelming amount of empathy mixed with positivity and sadness. How could I address and implement appropriate support and inclusive learning to make a student who is in a crisis, confusion, suppression or a determination phase of expressing their gender identity? This exhibition gave me some wonderfully simple, yet grounding insights into how I could be a positive support anchor in a student’s status or journey of gender confidence.

Inclusive Teaching & Learning Unit: Gender – Part 2

February 14, 2017 in Inclusive Teaching & Learning

Part 2 – A response to reading “Understanding Patriarchy” by Bell Hooks

I learned quite a lot from reading this text, just from visualising the scenarios from Bell Hooks’ childhood highlighted that I have understood and recognised Patriarchy for many years. However I did not necessarily know how to label it with this definition as eloquently has Hooks has.

Acceptable and unacceptable Patriarchy:

I was able to relate the various scenarios Hooks talks the reader through with my own experiences of understanding Patriarchy. For example, it reminded me of speaking to a friend who’s male cousin had committed suicide and how their family members got uncomfortable talking about this young, male adult with depression (a large contribution to his suicide). On the flipside, my friend’s family deemed it absolutely fine to speak about the same (depression) to do with a female within their family, and better yet, openly speak about this female’s mental health at public gatherings to mock them or define them as weak. This was not to do with age / generations / or traditions in culture, my friend was confused and surprised by the vast range of family members that acted out their patriarchy towards both situations. It is very similar to the story Hooks described when her father angrily told her to stop playing with marbles and her mother almost said ‘I told you so’ after telling Bell quietly to stop playing the marbles

Familiarity is a big friend to Patriarchy:

Again, reading through this text made me think about how I’ve challenged my own review of situations and environments, as those I’ve experienced over the years have broadened. For example, I have grown up visiting India regularly and I can remember the first time I saw two adult heterosexual, male members of my family, walking down the street in Kolkata holding hands, thinking to myself ‘that is uncomfortable to look at’. Now I see it so many times I think the familiarity has taken away the ‘weird’ factor for me, but if I saw that same scene in my home town of Leicester, I would (for a split second) have that uncomfortable feeling return to me – and then think, why? Is it out of fear of local people’s reactions to this scene more than my own? Why is it not ‘weird’ if I see the same in London? Is it because I am familiar with seeing people feeling more open about their gender and sexuality in public (in London) compared to Leicester? Bell Hooks paraphrases some content in her text from  ‘How Can I Get Through to You?’ by family therapist Terence Real, in which his sons decided between themselves and their friends, what was appropriate for boys to play. A stern look – body language – communicated that ‘play’ did not include dressing up as a Barbie doll. With this in mind I wonder if I ever received such communication growing up in majority amongst friends in the UK, which embedded patriarchy in me, almost as if it was through a ‘reality facade’.

Having read this text, overall I believe it is always good to reflect on your decisions to design or make a choice that affects others and keep this understanding of patriarchy in mind to who we want it to benefit. I do wonder if, in today’s global society are we largely having struggles internally about gender and patriarchy, as well as acting out our struggles externally? I suspect the internal struggle will always exist to a degree, but I do wonder, can societies ever become fully ex-patriarchic, or fully dispel taboos that any one person might feel towards gender fluid behaviours in themselves and in others around them? I am hopeful that more understanding can be developed at the very least.

Museum of Transology, Fashion Space Gallery, LCF

February 9, 2017 in uncategorised

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Through the glass… Museum of Transology, LCF

What really struck me about the ‘Museum of Transology’ exhibition was how personal the objects on display were: someone’s first bra, a worn box of hormone replacement pills, and tags written by hand, each a testament to presence. These lives lived were partially visible through the collection of precious and ordinary things, the objects that confer dignity, and I found a pattern in the recurring sentiment, that someone took up and put on these things to find themselves looking at a reflection that matched how they felt ‘in (their) head’.

These things we do to our bodies are a reaching towards feeling at home in ourselves, a more conscious and determined project for some, more hard-fought for some, and this came through in these stories, too: the strain of waiting to be put on hormone replacement medication, the discomfort of compressing flesh to force the ‘right’ shape. But the playfulness that can be inherent in transformation also winked through: I loved how the person who gave the polka-dotted packing sock said that they ‘think it’s great because its vivid colour carries my flamboyant non binary identity to my underwear’-! I’m proud that LCF is showing such a thoughtful exhibit that illuminates these often-overlooked ‘theirstories’, and hope this collection finds a longterm home.

bell hooks, (2013) ‘Understanding Patriarchy’

February 9, 2017 in uncategorised

Given the untenable and insulting nature of the demands placed on men to prove themselves in our culture, why don’t men revolt?…Why haven’t men responded to the series of betrayals in their own lives—to the failures of their fathers to make good on their promises–with some thing coequal to feminism?

I have never considered this question before, but it’s a good one: given that men are also damaged by the restrictive patriarchal system, why have they not struck out? It was interesting to read that hooks’s ‘bond’ found himself conforming to a patriarchal masculinity when he realised how it benefitted him- how seductive it must be- and this reminds me of the ways patriarchy benefits me, too, and recalls me to be mindful, and to resist.

What can dismantle patriarchy? It seems impossible, because the system-“imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy”, to borrow hooks’s words- is the basis of the Western democratic political system, of the global capitalist economy, and of everyday social relations and what is considered ‘normal’. What toehold do small and significant gestures like Real’s patriarchy-free household have, when his son’s friends can bring shame into the room with a single look?

One thing that gives me hope is the groundswell of awareness rising, of women and men telling stories that push back, and of men and women taking to the streets and marching together. Two films are in cinemas at the moment that I was thinking of as I read this article: Moonlight, about a young gay black man in America, and Fences, about a family dominated by a frustrated patriarch, disappointed in life but persisting, and his relationships with his fierce wife and their son. I’m dying to see both.

And I was also thinking of my sweetest ex-boyfriend, who once told me about how he used to love sewing. As a kid, he stitched an old towel into a skirt and wore it proudly around the house. His mom took time enough to take a photo to chuckle over later before telling him he could never wear things ‘like that’. His dad was disapproving. It became a family myth, and I never saw the photo.


Gender Diversity at UAL (1)

February 9, 2017 in uncategorised

655px-for_the_non_binary_folk_by_tonytoggles-d620r4zThe Gender Diversity website is a wonderful resource, although I’m not sure how I could incorporate it into my teaching practice, beyond referring students to it to connect with other students with non-binary gender identities. We already cover much of the information posted on the website in Cultural and Historical Studies, but I would be interested to learn more, as staff, about how to sensitively ask a student what their preferred pronoun is. Asking assumes a non-binary identity, which is also an assumption about gender- and potentially not every student who is engaging with their gender identity is in a place to confidently answer that question. I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this!

The students I teach at LCF are very interested in exploring theories of identity, including gender, and it’s a big part of our curriculum in both Years One and Two. For example, the first three weeks of our Year One unit Introduction to Cultural and Historical Studies are largely devoted to an exploration of the shifting and contingent relationship between gender and fashion, spanning fashion and feminism, changing representations of masculinity in response to movements such as Gay Liberation, and we also introduce the students to the concept of gender as a social construct rather than biological fact. In Year Two, I lead a unit on Fashion Media, and a big part of the unit is devoted to discussing representation, spanning the representation of people of colour in mainstream fashion media, the absence of people with disabilities in fashion representation, and the ways fashion photography loves to play with gender representation.


Something many students have considered over the past few years is whether fashion has moved beyond gender, because of the work of designers like Alessandro Michele at Gucci or models like Jaden Smith who have queered masculinity, and the increased visibility and success of models like Hari Nef and Andreja Pejic, who are both trans women.

I developed and ran a seminar this year where we closely considered this tumblr_njpvzapt4r1qmfuk7o1_1280claim in relation to Hari Nef’s experiences as a model in the industry, reading a selection of her writing and looking at how she has been styled in shoots for Elle USA and Dazed magazines, to consider how ideas of femininity and transgender femininity are represented.

The students engaged really thoughtfully and, more generally, the idea that gender is performative always seems to make a lot of sense to them. Interestingly, it’s often students who have moved to London from parts of the UK or other countries that are less diverse than London who reflect upon the ways that gender is subtly and socially enforced where they come from, such as if young men are interested in fashion it’s assumed they’re gay, or that there are ways of dressing that are necessary at home that can be shed in London.


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