In addition to planning the syllabus and outlining the first day, I spent plenty of time thinking about what I would wear. I mused about what kind of vibe I wanted to set for the Introduction to Anthropology course I’ll be teaching, but fell asleep before I could figure it out.
The next morning, I woke up and decided I wasn’t going to go the dress pants, button-down route. I figured I would take advantage of being in a relaxed academic space and wear something that was much more comfortable and representative of my everyday look.
The outfit turned out to be quite the conversation piece as we talked about what it means to have a “culture” and how it’s reflected. After students shared, I brought up my outfit and what it reflects in regards to things I hold dear.
I absolutely love this graphic “I Love Beeing Black” tee. One of the reasons is the outline of the African continent in the heart. The continent is part of my identity — a choice I’ve made about my identity and it’s relation to the world. I am a woman who values being a member of the black diaspora.
I spoke to my class that first day about how locating myself in the diaspora, and not just America, is significant to how I see the world, power relations and social justice work. It was a great conversation starter.
Students began discussing how they see themselves located in seemingly multiple cultures and what that means in terms of displaying and performing who they are in different contexts. I explained that, yes, I love quirky fashion and challenging ideas of what makes “good fashion.” In the classroom, I used both things to open up a conversation about the way we think about ourselves, our surroundings and what defines us.
What I set out to accomplish for the first class was:
1. Disrupt any preconceived ideas of what a professor “should look like.”
2. Set the tone for a course in which I hope students will constantly evaluate stereotypes, assumptions and long held beliefs.
3. Have a dynamic conversation to get students thinking about important themes for the course.
After a GREAT first class, I’d say mission accomplished.
I’m lucky to work in an environment where I can play around with professional dress norms. I hope you’re encouraged to push the boundaries and show as much personality and individuality in your work life as you do in your personal life.
Ashanté Reese is a doctoral student in anthropology at American University in Washington, D.C. and a National Science Foundation Fellow.