Meet one of our affiliated faculty member and former director, Professor Suzanne Scott Constantine. She is a Term Professor at George Mason University in the School of Integrative Studies. She's also an artist where she uses a variety of contemporary art forms as well as popular culture to explore injustices related to race, gender, sexual orientation, and the planet. She is currently teaching a course on representations of race.
Tell us a little bit about your personal background and research interests.
I grew up in a progressive (but class-conscious) old southern family in North Carolina during the Jim Crow era. From a young age, I was acutely aware of the inequalities and injustices, especially between blacks and whites. That heritage has led to a life-long journey to understand my own blind spots regarding race and to understand and attempt to mitigate -- through my art, writing, and teaching -- the racial imbalances in power and privilege. Interestingly, an understanding of women’s and gender issues came later, because as progressive as my upbringing might have been in terms of race and class, I was still expected to “marry well” and to be taken care of by a husband. By the time my (now) wife and I had entered into a partnership in 1980, I had added gender to my list of “issues,” to become the trilogy race, class and gender.
How would you describe your teaching philosophy or approach to working with students?
My pedagogical heroes are bell hooks, Paulo Freire and John Dewey. I bring a certain level of expertise and scholarship to the classroom, but students bring their knowledge and experiences also. Although that does not mean that all opinions on the subject have equal value and weight, it does definitely mean that we are co-learners together. Through facilitated discussions, we interrogate common texts and grapple with difficult and controversial concepts. All of my courses deal with marginalized populations and the ways those identities experience intersecting oppressions. I do not feel compelled to retell the master narratives of non-marginalized people because those stories are dominant and omnipresent. I do feel compelled to provide space for narratives from unheard voices, to add balance to the main narratives we all know quite well.
Why Women and Gender Studies matters?
Most of what we know about the world we live in has been presented to us from the male/masculine perspective. We don’t need to do away with that perspective, but we have a responsibility to understand the world from multiple perspectives and identities. Through the study of women’s and gender issues, we are allowed to see the ways in which multiple identities and oppressions intersect to create intolerable injustices and inequalities. No matter what our goals or intellectual fields of interest, these studies prepare us to be better employees, better spouses or partners, better parents and better human beings. Through these studies, we develop empathy and understanding that ripple out into actions large and small.
What is something students would be surprised to know about you?
I have not always been a teacher, in a formal sense. I have probably always been a teacher, a writer, and an artist, but I have had multiple careers, which are all connected and are a valuable resource to me as a teacher. I began my career in the mid-1960s as a radio and TV continuity writer. For several years, I worked as a freelance writer. And I was a writer for a mental health corporate office for several years. Later, my wife and I formed a small business as writers and communications consultants, which we operated for 16 years. All the while, I have also been an interdisciplinary artist, with studios in Arlington and more recently at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton. I only returned to teaching at Mason in 2000. I think all of that would surprise my students!
March 23, 2018