Class Notes: Capturing Composition through the Queer Media Lens
Channel writing instruction through whatever students are interested in – that's the rationale behind Marty Fink’s creation of the first-year English course, Queer New Media: Literature, Film, and Digital Cultures (ENG 1102).
“Writing is this really important skill you can actually teach through the lens of whatever affects students,” says Fink, who joined Tech’s School of Literature, Media, and Communication in fall 2013.
After teaching English I using the modality of comics and graphic novels in the fall, Fink, who taught gender and sexuality studies at her previous university, felt compelled to build an English class that not only engaged students using new media but also embraced those trying to find themselves – as well as others like them.
“I felt I needed to make a space at Tech where students could come and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m in this room full of other students who identify as queer, transgender, or as feminists, and this class can be a space to work through those issues in my life, in my school, and in my social circles – with others also interested in these issues.’”
Fink explained that because certain types of people don’t see themselves reflected in the media, the Queer New Media class is essential because it offers examples of marginalized identities as its central focus.
“There’s this norm out there we’re supposed to aspire to, but what if we don’t fit that norm? I think a lot of students can identify with that,” Fink says.
Exploring the unfamiliar
Something outside the norm – a different approach to writing instruction – was what Raksha Muthukumar was looking for when she signed up for Fink’s class.
“When I came to Tech, I wanted to explore things I’d not been exposed to,” said the first-year industrial engineering student. “I saw the topic as something I’d never sought out before in an English class or even on my own time necessarily. I think it was just the ‘it’s different’ aspect that attracted me to it.”
The fact that the class incorporated a video gaming component was also attractive to Muthukumar.
“Not having been previously exposed to the culture of video games, I really liked how Dr. Fink was able to tie that in,” Muthukumar said.
The spring 2014 semester included three projects: the first of which required students to build a digital video game based on a course reading. The exercise challenged them to find the central narrative elements of the reading and translate that into a video game, providing them the opportunity to examine the role of gaming in building communities and in telling stories not typically shared within mainstream gaming.
“I guess I always underestimated video games as a form of media to convey a point just because people have this impression of videogames as a huge time suck, or being only for a niche part of society, so you can miss how people could see and understand different things through that medium,” said Muthukumar. “Even though, initially, I had not thought of that particular type of media in this way, doing this gaming project really worked for me because it was so much more immersive than an article or brochure, for instance, would have been.”
In evaluating her overall experience of the class, Muthukumar says it definitely lived up to her expectations of “something different from what I’d done in other literature classes” – and then some.
She says a particularly key learning for her was grasping the importance of exploring the unfamiliar in order to gain a true understanding of and respect for it. She wishes that wisdom for all college students.
“Respecting people of different backgrounds is a really important thing to know; if you’re going to be an engineer, for example, functioning in the world with others, it’s critical to know how to interact respectfully with others, no matter what their background is. Some of what we learn in this class is just so crucial to know,” Muthukumar said. “That’s the main reason I’d recommend this class. You won’t get the opportunity to learn something like this in another English class; there’s nothing like it.”
Though it won’t be offered during the summer, the class has been proposed for the fall semester.