As COVID-19 shifted her classroom from on-campus to online, Professor Amanda Paxton set up online courses and supportive message boards for her English Literature students at Trent University Durham GTA. Most notably for her students, she wrote a compelling letter to those in her Queer Lit course, expressing hope for a new narrative as a means of celebrating diverse human relationships like never before.
“Queer Lit is an immensely powerful class,” states Professor Paxton. “My goal has been to situate our current moment in relation to the much longer story of shifting relationships to sexuality and identity. Now, when a virus has imposed unprecedented levels of physical separation, the pain of isolation is felt worldwide. Within it, is a shared suffering that can be a powerful source of change.”
Within the poignant letter to students, she connected the relevance of their studies to this tough pandemic experience. She also envisioned much more.
“Maybe this will be a moment when history is queered, when human relationships in all their diversity become something we value not because they conform to one arbitrary type or social function, but because they make us who we are, and they make this life worth living,” the letter read.
Reflecting on the letter and his own experiences inside the classroom and beyond, Nathan Barnett, a fourth-year Sociology student stated, “If people have this chance to realize the importance of human connection, perhaps they will realize that gender should not matter, but connection should be celebrated.”
“The value of studying the humanities is that we gain insight into ourselves by learning about others; the pandemic has brought that truth into acute focus,” summarized Prof. Paxton.
Prof. Paxton is a recipient of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) Award for Teaching Excellence. She jokes that her job pays her to force people to read books that she loves with her.
“Learning from Professor Paxton has truly been a privilege.” said Mr. Barnett.
Prof. Paxton concludes, “Studying literature means studying ourselves through the narratives that shape us. The journey is never complete but always rewarding.”
From literature to life
Through works including Plato’s Symposium, Prof. Paxton led discussions on homophobia, oppression and isolation.
“A lot of the connections we made in class, and online were about giving queer people humanity,” said Mr. Barnett.