Each year, graduate teaching fellows design and facilitate a workshop as part of their work with the OTLT Center for Teaching. In this Q&A, we feature Caroline Cheung, an English PhD candidate and graduate instructor.  

Caroline’s workshop, Teach as an Abolitionist, will be held from noon to 1 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 26. 

Why did you select this topic for your workshop?  

Bettina Love defines abolitionist teaching as teaching that “tries to restore humanity for kids in schools,” which requires critical race analyses, direct/collective actions, and cultivating joy in addition to (radical) love in community. I chose this topic so that we can collaboratively explore these approaches to addressing the punitive and carceral logics (such as hierarchies, abuse from illegitimate authorities, surveillance, policing, isolation, and anti-Blackness) that organize college classroom and curriculums in some ways. Education without the elements Love describes can be harmful to everyone and dehumanizing to marginalized students, including students of color, LGBTQ+ students, first-generation students, students with disabilities, undocumented students, and more.  

As a student, I've experienced how harmful teaching without abolitionist frameworks can be; as a teacher, I feel responsible to be as liberatory in my mindsets and praxis as possible. I have taught courses at the UI as well as at “men’s” and “women’s” prisons. For me, teaching at prisons highlighted the need for abolitionist teaching just to connect as people in healthy ways while in a toxic institution. Abolitionist teaching is a way for all of us to confront these issues and foster healing. Together, we can start difficult conversations and even change how we practice pedagogy so that it’s more just and liberating for students and educators.  

I’ve been an abolitionist for many years, and this summer, I witnessed our country get to a moment where we could say “abolition” and “abolish” in mainstream spaces. While that newfound popularity makes way for opportunity, it also raises the risk of co-optation and sanitization. I am excited to facilitate this workshop and discuss the meaning of abolition as it applies to educators and learners during a time when more people are seeking out abolitionist politics.  

What knowledge or skill do you hope participants gain?  

Participants will gain an understanding of the differences between social and emotional learning, anti-racist pedagogy, and specifically abolitionist teaching and learning. Participants will begin developing their own anti-racist and abolitionist frameworks. They will then know the values behind these frameworks and envision practicing those values in concrete ways.  

For example, when I teach literature, I teach about history and politics as well. When I teach about historical state violence, I incorporate activities and assignments in which students conduct research of activist organizations fighting that state violence. Students analyze best activist practices for their own context and then imagine how they could apply those practices in their communities. The combined efforts of political analysis, creativity/imagination, and collective action form abolitionist pedagogies. Participants will be encouraged to reflect on these efforts and how they can best employ them in their own roles and fields.  

Is there anything else you'd like people to know about the workshop?  

All people are welcome and encouraged to attend. This workshop may be uncomfortable in that it won't cater to positions or feelings of privilege. We will interrogate and criticize academia as a purveyor of violence that is part of the prison-industrial complex (the overlapping interests of government and institutions that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to sociopolitical and economic issues). We will push ourselves through difficult conversations and untangle some of our unconscious habits and biases together in the hopes of becoming more human.  

Register for Teach as an Abolitionist.