Blog 55


image – Adrian A Smith (

Social Inequality and Teaching in the Academy

We live in an unequal world; these inequalities do not stop at the university classroom door.

In this five-part series, I consider some ways unjust inequalities are (re)produced in the classroom. These inequalities affect the pedagogical relationship. Moreover, critically investigating them matters if the university is to be a site for challenging, not reproducing, social inequalities.

Elaine Coburn, Glendon

Part V: “Imagine Otherwise” – Ways Forward

In Parts I through IV, I considered different ways that inequalities are reproduced in the university classroom. In this final contribution, in lieu of conclusions, I suggest some bases for moving towards university classrooms that challenge social inequalities.

My own arguments, following many others, point to the need for major, structural changes to the university. Institutional procedures cannot pretend to the neutral adjudication of professor-student disputes, but must stand firmly against racism, sexism, homophobia and other invidious distinctions made by (some) students, socialized into an unequal world, as well as by (some) professors. This requires universities, as institutions, to take into account empirical studies that demonstrate that student evaluations are, at best, problematic. Without a single explicit racist, sexist or heteronormative remark, student evaluations frequently condemn professors who do not fit with historical representations of authority as male, white and straight, among other characteristics.

Further, academic appointments must be secure if scholars are to truly practice intellectual freedom. The regularization of contract workers into secure employment is thus an important aspect of the struggle to transform pedagogy to reflect the whole range of the world’s voices and experiences.

We need to create new forms of solidarity, both inside and outside the classroom. This includes sharing our efforts to broaden the content of our syllabi to reflect knowledge that has too often been marginalized. Such sharing is rooted in an understanding that good teaching is never an individual accomplishment but realized collectively through collaborative efforts across departments and universities a whole. In addition, solidarity among colleagues includes hiring and then creating spaces for diversely marginalized professors to share, exchange and organize together.

The difficulties, challenges and inevitable opposition that will arise from powerful institutionalized actors who benefit from the status quo should not be underestimated. Nonetheless, it is worth emphasizing that the experience of transforming the pedagogical experience towards one of greater equality – for both students and professors  -- can be one of genuine excitement.

As University of British Columbia Professor and member of the Cherokee nation Daniel Heath Justice reminds us, we may exercise intellectual freedom by choosing to “imagine otherwise.” With institutional and collegial support, we may deliberately “make room for others to expand the possibilities of wonder and imagination in more diverse, more expansive, and more complex ways” in our classrooms, universities, writing and research (

In short, the struggle to transform the university, imaginatively and practically, to become a meaningful site for knowledge creation and sharing for each and all, is an enormous and difficult task. Yet it is a necessary one; and it may be understood, not only as a tremendous challenge, but as an opportunity.

Internet Resources

Citation Practices Challenge

Collegium of Black Women Philosophers

Honouring Indigenous Writers #HonouringIndigenousWriters

The International Association of Women Philosophers

Society for Disability Studies

Transgender Studies Quarterly

Internationalization of the Curriculum

Online Syllabi

*Thank-you to Professor Margaret Schotte

Decolonizing Science Reading List

Making the American Syllabus

Geographies of Peace: An Annotated Bibliography

Women’s Caucus of the History of Science Society

Occupy the Syllabus

(A radically incomplete and partial list of) references and resources

  • Andersen, Christine, and Brendan Hokowhitu. 2007. "Whiteness: Naivety, void and control." Junctures: The Journal for Thematic Dialogue 8Bannerji, Himani. 1995. Thinking Through: Essays on Feminism, Marxism and Anti- Racism. Toronto: Women’s Press.

    Bastien-Charlebois, Janik. My Coming Out: The Lingering Intersex Taboo.

    My coming out: The lingering intersex taboo

    Bavishi, Anish, Juan M. Madera, and Michelle R. Hebl. 2010. "The effect of professor ethnicity and gender on student evaluations: Judged before met." Journal of Diversity in Higher Education 3.4 (2010): 245.

    Collins, Patricia Hill. 2009. Black Feminist Epistemology. Chapter 11 in the Second edition of Black Feminist Thought. NY: Routledge.

    Connell, Raewyn. 2015. Meeting at the Edge of Fear: Theory on a World Scale. Feminist Theory. 15 (1):49-66.

    Fox, Catherine O. "Neither Bitch Nor Mother: Queering Safety in the Classroom." Socialist Studies/Études Socialistes 9.1 (2013).

    Greenbaum, Andrea. 2002. Emancipatory Movements in Composition: The Rhetoric of Possibility. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

    Harding, Sandra. G. 1991. Whose science? Whose knowledge? : Thinking from women's lives. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

    Heath Justice, D. 2001. "We're Not There Yet, Kemo Sabe: Posting a Future for American Indian Literary Studies." The American Indian Quarterly 25(2): 256-269.

    hooks, bell. 2000. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Centre. South end press classics. Second edition.

    Kamenetz, Anaya. 2016. January 25. Why Female Professors Get Lower Ratings. National Public Radio (NPR) Education. Retrieved from Last access: February 2, 2016.

    Lorde, Audre. 2007. Sister, Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Berkeley: Crossing Press.

    McCloskey, Deirdre. 2010/ “It’s Good to be a Don if You’re Going to be a Deidre: Gender Crossing in Academia”.

    Michalko, Rod. 2001. "Blindness enters the classroom." Disability & Society 16.3: 349-359.

    Monture, Patricia. “Race, gender and the university: Strategies for Survival” in States of Race: Critical Feminism in the 21st Century.

    Ng, Roxana. 1993. “ ‘A woman out of control’: Deconstructing Sexism and Racism in the university.” Canadian Journal of Education/Revue canadienne de l'education: 189-205.

    Ripley, Matthew, et al. 2012. Heteronormativity in the University Classroom: Novelty Attachment and Content Substitution among Gay-friendly Students. 85 (2):

    Sociology of Education Journal. 85 (2):

    Russ, Travis, Cheri Simonds, and Stephen Hunt. 2002. "Coming out in the classroom... An occupational hazard?: The influence of sexual orientation on teacher credibility and perceived student learning." Communication education 51(3): 311-324.

    Smith, Dorothy. 2004. Writing the Social: Critique, Theory and Investigations. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

    Times Higher Education. 2010. “Most Cited Papers in Sociology.”

    Ursacki-Bryant, Teri Jane. 2002. A Fine Line: Being an Out Transsexual Woman. Torquere: Journal of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Studies Association. 4-5: 177-79.

    Yancy, George, editor. 2010. The Centre Must Not Hold: White Women Philosophers on the Whiteness of Philosophy. Plymouth: Lexington Books.

    The other four parts of this series were published on the following dates:

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