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Elana “E.M.” Eisen-Markowitz is a 2021-22 Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching grantee researching “LGBTQ-inclusive education” at the University of Strathclyde. In this interview, fellow Fulbrighter and Distinguished Teacher, Dr. Mark Gudgel speaks to E.M. about her work and experience of the UK.
Tell me a bit about your work as a Fulbrighter
I was a Fulbright Distinguished Teacher in 2019-2020 and 2021-22. I had intended to be in Scotland from Jan 3-Aug 3 2020 but returned to the US in mid-March 2020 along with many other Fulbrighters around the world. Though I was officially considered an alumnae after those 2.5 months in 2020, I re-applied for a Distinguished Award in Teaching (DAT) to return to my research and questions about “LGBTQ-inclusive education” in Scotland.
My placement was with Professor Yvette Taylor at the University of Strathclyde School of Education. Between 2020 and 2022, Dr. Taylor and I kept in touch and she invited me to co-write a chapter with my former colleague in an edited collection called Queer Precarities in and out of Higher Education about the experiences of queer educators in educational institutions.
What's the best thing about the Fulbright program?
This four-month Fulbright DAT award March-July 2022 – and the chance to return to Glasgow a second time after being so abruptly and terrifyingly interrupted by Covid in March 2020 – allowed me remarkable spaciousness to learn, reflect and grow personally and professionally. This open-ended and funded fellowship in another country *during a global pandemic* has given me the truly unparalleled opportunity to explore, test my limits, and experience the present. My most meaningful and transferable learnings are confidence – trust in myself, my questions and even my uncertainty – and relationships – connections with people, places and histories that I could not have made if I was not here.
As a long-time high school teacher in the US I have rarely been trusted or respected as a professional enough to design my own curricula, follow my own curiosity, or set my own hours and schedule, and I learned through this project that I can trust my own creativity, and that, like my students, I deserve to have the space and capacity to create, and experiment and find my way. The micromanaging of my work (ie, submit daily lesson plans, get observed by someone who doesn’t know you, teach to a standardized test, etc) doesn’t motivate me as much as creative engagement with the questions I have about my own life and work. In doing this Inquiry Project (IP), I experienced what it’s like to create my own routines and rhythms and to be moved by relationship rather than obligation – and I will take this back with me. It will no doubt make me a stronger educator and sustain me in the long-term struggle for education justice.
Could you share one or more anecdotes from your time abroad?
The findings, discoveries and connections I’ve cultivated through the Fulbright DAT were only possible because of the time and space to be there and be present. Here are a few things I could have only done in the UK: meet with other queer Fulbrighters who work in queer archives, show up in person to connect with the owners of Ushi’s Coffee Corner and Category Is Bookstore, spend time around Scotland to witness and begin to understand the cultures (and accents) here, visit the former high school of my queer barber, meet participants of Queer Times School on a Tuesday and then visit the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art to see the Queer Times School Prints on Friday, host public gatherings in Glasgow to meet queer educators and parents face-to-face, create meaningful and lasting friendships with several Glaswegian educators.
Tell me about the work you're doing?
I started my 2021-22 Fulbright application with this quote from U.S.-based primary school teacher Dr. Carla Shalaby: “School as a place to practice freedom is both a radical idea and a common sense one.” The purpose of my Inquiry Project (IP) is to catalog these seeming contradictions – that school can be a place for queer people to “practice freedom” and also that it usually is very much not – from the perspectives and in the words of individual queer members of Scottish school communities. I came to Scotland specifically because in 2018, the Scottish Government announced itself to be a world leader in “LGBTI inclusive education” – but what does this mean to LGBTQIA+ and gender non conforming people at Scottish schools? Especially when many young LGBTQIA+ people say life in Scotland is worse now than in 2018, what does “LGBTI inclusive education” really look like and is “inclusion” even the goal? I started the Queer (at) School Archive to help answer this question.
The Queer (at) School Archive is a digital catalogue of survival, joy and connection from and for LGBTQIA+, gender non-conforming (gnc), and nonbinary students, educators and parent/careers in Scotland. The archive collects the stories and artifacts from queer individuals at Scottish primary and secondary schools to understand how they make it through the day, celebrate themselves and one another, resist cisheteronormativity and/or experience joy. The purpose of the Queer (at) School Archive is to carve out ever-shifting and open-sourced virtual space where LGBTQIA+ and gender nonconforming people across identities can anonymously share snapshots of our school experiences beyond or outside of what the government says "inclusivity” means. This is a free and publicly accessible website archive, a growing resource of primary sources from and for queer people that any/all of us can see and use. I designed and started this archive because, as a queer and gender nonconforming person and specifically a queer teacher, I need it. There is no one singular way to engage with this resource: maybe folks will use it to feel connected to one another, to teach a class, lead a Gender & Sexuality Alliance meeting, start a conversation with peers, talk to policy makers, and/or, maybe they reproduce this archive idea for their local community.
What's been the biggest challenge or obstacle in your time abroad? What do you hope comes of your work?
One of my most powerful learnings in the development of this Inquiry Project is that queer and marginalized people already know what keeps us safe(r) and how to navigate unjust (cisheteronormative) systems because we’re already doing it. Personally, I also see that because of my access to whiteness, class and education, I will always need to be especially careful that I am not inadvertently perpetuating a narrow or assimilationist message or strategy. One way to navigate this is to more intentionally center collaboration. This project has already been shaped by many people and legacies and I need to deepen and extend that ethic of collaboration – not just with archive contributors, but in ongoing relationships with folks to re-shape this into a collaborative project in its structure and design. I have used the time, energy, skills, money and access that this Fulbright has awarded me to develop the bones of a project that I know will be far more responsive and powerful when I’m no longer coordinating and curating it alone. A partner or team from the beginning of this inquiry project is what could have made it more meaningful. Where the project is right now is a good place to pause and rethink how to expand and be responsive to the extensive and diverse group of people that makes up the group of LGBTQIA+, nonbinary and gnc individuals at primary & secondary schools.
Besides what is already in the works from my fellowship time, what happens next with this IP is really centered on three questions that I do not yet have the answers to: 1) With whom and how will I collaborate on this archive? 2) How should this archive expand beyond Scotland? 3) Will queer people at schools find this archive useful and meaningful? How can it be more so?
Additionally, I am reflecting on some of the connections and relevance of this Scotland-focused IP to the US context. When I first travelled to Glasgow for the Fulbright DAT in 2020, it was the 20th anniversary of the repeal of Section 28 in Scotland, the law that forbid discussion of “same-sex” relationships in schools and prohibited the “acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family.” In the US, Florida just passed a remarkably similar “Don’t Say Gay” law, 20 states have proposed hateful transphobic laws, and “since the Supreme Court decision [in June 2022] overturning Roe v. Wade, anti-gay rhetoric and calls to roll back established L.G.B.T.Q. protections have grown bolder.” I first wanted to come to Scotland to study claims of “LGBTI-inclusive education” because I was both intrigued by and skeptical of Scotland’s familiar-feeling “homonationalism,” or the association between LGBTQIA+ rights and nationalist ideology (Puar, 2007). I have only ever lived in big east coast cities in the US (DC, NYC, Boston), where there is plenty of self-congratulatory (neo)liberalism inextricably tied up with racism, xenophobia and cisheteronormativity, including segregation of all kinds and deep class divides. In these ways, Glasgow is quite similar to the cities I’ve called home. The US and the UK have shared histories of liberal empire and a growing tide of fascism. In Scotland and the US, there are powerful, connected movements and legacies of questioning these stratified, rigidly oppressive systems. However, I had no idea that in the three years since I first proposed this cross-continental and cross-cultural investigation into “LGBTI inclusive education” there would be such a rapid rise in hateful homophobic and transphobic legislation in the United States. The United States needs the Queer (at) School Archive too – and so do I.
What did you miss most about the US while you were away?
My family, friends and dog. Understanding social cues, slang and historical context. Mexican food.
What do miss most now that you’ve returned home?
Time and space to follow my interests and curiosities. The city of Glasgow — especially its beautiful parks. More affordable fresh food with many, many fewer GMOs.
What would be your advice to someone who was considering applying for a Fulbright?
Pick a project that is personally meaningful to you. Approach the award, research and opportunity to travel with humility and curiosity.
E.M. Eisen-Markowitz is a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching alumnus researching “LGBTQ-inclusive education” in Scotland. She works as a school coach for Eskolta School Research and Design and lives in Malden, Massachusetts with her wife, Amanda, and their dog.
Dr. Mark Gudgel did a Fulbright DAT at the University of London in 2013. His research served as part of the foundation for his 2021 book, Think Higher Feel Deeper: Holocaust education in the secondary classroom from Teachers College Press. Presently, he serves as an assistant professor of education at the College of Saint Mary and advocates for teachers at every opportunity. His next book, The Rise of Napa Valley Wineries: How the Judgment of Paris put California Wine on the Map, will be released by The History Press in May of 2023. He lives in Omaha with his wife and children. www.markgudgel.com