Community Champion Professor S. Trimble
I generally go by my last name, so most people just call me T. I received my PhD in English and Cultural Studies from McMaster University in 2012 and, since then, I’ve been teaching at the Women and Gender Studies Institute (WGSI) at the University of Toronto. My research exposes the mechanisms of conservative storytelling—the deep cultural scripts that prompt us to see particular bodies and spaces as worthless, threatening, or both. I also “hack” these scripts, offering critically creative counter-readings that demonstrate, ultimately, what Humanities-based methods can do for a popular imaginary frighteningly constrained by neoliberal commonsense. My work has been published in journals including The Review of Education, Pedagogy and Cultural Studies and TOPIA, and my book on contemporary apocalypse films is currently under contract with Rutgers University Press.
In the nomination, the student describes you as “passionate and understanding in your approach to teaching, acknowledging that every student learns differently and providing endless support in making sure that students not only thrive in your class, but are happy.” The student also states that you “promote mental well-being by creating a comfortable class environment and by being accessible during office hours.” Could you tell us a bit more about how you accomplish this, and why it’s an important aspect of your approach to teaching?
My aim as a teacher is to help students explore the world-making force of storytelling—to provide them with the tools to interpret and reimagine the stories about the world that animate everything from policy documents to popular culture. And I encourage them to reflect, through this work, on the stories they tell themselves about who they are and where and how they belong. What this means is that I’m asking students to open themselves up to revising the stories they live by—stories that are, as my colleague Dina Georgis (2013) argues, technologies of survival, ways of holding a “self” together. So I understand the classroom as a space in which students are deeply, and differentially, vulnerable. In that context, all I can do is show them in as many concrete ways as possible that I respect them and they can trust me. So whether I’m responding to a question in class, answering an email, or chatting during office hours, I do my best to listen carefully and reflect back to students what I see as the “heart” of their question or contribution. And I try to meet them where they are, recognizing that for some students “success” is an A+ while, for others, just speaking once or twice in class is a huge win. In all honesty, I think I’ve become more comfortable with my own struggles and shortcomings over the last few years, which means that I can offer my students a generous interpretation of theirs. (Let’s face it: sometimes my lectures are wipeouts, sometimes I get defensive, sometimes I don’t understand dense theoretical work…) I don’t pretend to be perfect and I don’t expect my students to be perfect. But I give them my best effort from one week to the next and they know that, in turn, I expect the same from them.
Discussions about health are often related to concerns about healthy eating, physical activity, managing stress and sleep. We’d be interested to hear from you, your thoughts on the concept of a healthy campus and how it can be integrated into the classroom setting?
When I was a graduate student finishing my dissertation, I spent so much time sitting in the same position—legs stretched straight out in front of me, laptop in my lap—that I developed severe lower back pain. I realized then how important it is to balance thinking and writing with cooking, moving, rest, and play. This is partly a question of “healthy habits,” I guess, but at a more fundamental level I think it’s an issue of time: of taking the time to care for our bodies and minds when it often feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day. Being a “good” student takes time—preparing for class, studying for tests, writing and revising assignments—and often our students are also working multiple jobs, working in the community in various ways, and negotiating all kinds of personal challenges and crises. In the midst of all that juggling, it can be difficult to set aside the time to prepare a healthy meal or go for a walk. So conversations about the importance—and politics—of self-care, about unpaid and/or emotional labour, and about dominant discourses that imagine health as an entirely private issue are all built into my classes in various ways. We talk, for example, about students’ practices around social media and how much time and labour goes into their various forms of online engagement. And we talk about how much work goes into doing gender “right”—the hours (and dollars) spent on hair, makeup, and fitness trends. The point isn’t to suggest that investing in any of these things is “bad.” Rather, I assign readings that reflect on these issues so that students can become more self-reflexive and deliberate about their everyday practices. There’s nothing wrong with fighting the trolls on social media! But what would it mean to see this as a series of bounded, finite interventions rather than an endless influx of demands on their time? These conversations veer from the philosophical to the practical and back again as students do the work of making connections between key course concepts and their everyday lives.
In the nomination, the student states that you, “ensure all students are properly accommodated your classes,” in regards to, “extensions for papers, uploading lecture notes, or separate exam accommodations.” Furthermore, the student states that you, “give your all to your students and ensure that they are learning and gaining the most out of all your classes.” Please let us know what this nomination as a Healthy Campus Champion means to you personally and/or professionally?
This nomination is such a welcome affirmation! My partner deals with the ongoing, unpredictable difficulties of autoimmune disease, so I have an intimate understanding of how illness and/or caregiving duties can put pressure on our work lives. I also know that a bit of compassion, flexibility, or understanding can make an enormous difference in times of crisis. My own experiences with the rhythms of surgery and recovery, medical emergencies, hospital stays, and the everyday stresses of living with illness all inform how I respond to students who are dealing with difficult life circumstances. Sometimes all they need is a bit of extra time to work on an assignment. Sometimes they need more consultation opportunities than usual. And sometimes they just need me to believe them when they tell me it’s been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, week, or even term. In these moments I remind myself that my students’ lives, like mine, are complicated. And I think about what a huge relief it’s been, in my own times of stress, when those around me have responded well to my requests for help. In fact, on multiple occasions while I was completing my PhD, being a caregiver had to trump being a doctoral student. It was the flexibility and compassion of my supervisor, Dr. Sarah Brophy, that got me through those times. So this nomination means all the more to me because it feels like an affirmation that I’m becoming the kind of teacher my mentor would be proud of. Who doesn’t want that, right?