Discussion of privilege and intersectionality

In Critical Approaches to Law, I had the advantage of being able to draw on critical and feminist legal theory to offer a direct examination of questions of privilege and intersectional forms of discrimination. As a lot of this writing focuses on US or UK experiences, the writings of Crenshaw and others offered myself and the students a starting point to consider the application to the Irish context. In building on hooks’ exhortation not to lead others where I was unwilling to go myself, we started these discussions by asking to students to identify the ways in which I as a white male academic, may be privileged. This approach and some humour that ensued disarmed some of the potential awkwardness or divisiveness that may follow from these topics, and allowed the development of a conversation that enabled us to consider the diversity of lived experience of individuals who may at once experience privilege and discrimination, in educational settings, in legal settings, and in society more generally.

Use of technology

In previous years teaching this module I had noticed that discussion of challenging elements of injustice such as patriarchy, racism or discrimination resulted in a skewed form of participation. Consideration of more conservative viewpoints or expression of concern or unease with views within the literature or discussion were notable by their absence.  I was conscious of wanting to draw out the full parameters of the discussion from the class, while also respecting student choice to engage. The Teaching Enhancement Unit at DCU pointed me towards the Zeetings online platform which among other features allowed for anonymous contributions to word clouds, surveys and so on. Using the anonymous word clouds from student views on controversial topics allowed the discussion to capture a fuller range of views, and allow students to react to one anothers views with a reduced risk of inter-personal conflict. However the risk with overreliance on the tool was that it avoids agonistic and health forms of social debate, which would benefit students in articulating and co-authoring their views and as a group navigating difficult topics. I am keen to continue to develop strategies and language to help facilitate more engaged dialogue on challenging issues.

Use of E-Portfolio

Traditional Legal education engages students in the learning of rules of precedent, legislative interpretation and clarifying existing conceptions of rules applicable within a given legal system. It is typically positivist in nature, and separates out the existence of the law as one phenomenon and its relative justice or injustice as another separate consideration. Critical perspectives on law emphasise its capacity to be both a source of oppression and emancipation, and combine with feminist perspectives in emphasising the lived experience of those subjected to the law as a central site of academic inquiry. In assessing student engagement with critical perspectives to law in this course, I was keen to disrupt traditional legal education paradigms, which would relegate the personhood of students and emphasise their need to conform to existing rules, structures and approaches, in a “bank” model of education criticised by Freire. In assessing the course, I asked students to reflect on how their views of law and justice had changed throughout their first academic year and to articulate this using an eportfolio platform. The advantage of this platform was that it enabled use of both traditional academic sources (in legal education, cases, legislation, academic books and articles) but also contemporary sources and social media, (memes, tweets, Instagram posts etc). This approach enabled students to combine their first year of legal education with their own expression and reflection in social media contexts with which they may be more familiar. It sought to demystify questions of law and justice, and required students to understand their own view on these topics rather than regurgitate what they hoped was the lecturer’s expectations on the topic. This was the first year of adopting this assessment strategy and while there were some lessons learned in terms of the exercise (needing a clearer word count, and requiring a bibliography), these were worked out iteratively over the course of the assignment being completed with students. I believe this assignment approach offers a useful means to enable a focus on the lived experience of students as social justice actors. Rowan writes: “focus on the experiences of people involved in university contexts encourages, in turn, focus on what it feels like, what it actually, really, feels like to study within a university class- room. when we work for what is intended to be the public good, we must be constantly reflecting upon how this work impacts on not only the minds, but also the hearts, bodies, dreams, and aspirations of the people whom we work alongside.” (15)