In my pedagogy, I have used inclusive teaching and active learning techniques to help underrepresented students feel part of a larger collective educational project. Research has shown that the more students feel they belong in the classroom, the better their learning of course materials. I learned this philosophy in walking tours with Indigenous elders and in field-based workshops in migrant neighborhoods in Chile (2014-2019). In this period and especially since I was formally trained in critical pedagogy in 2019, I have adapted it to the classroom and improved it based on student feedback. I have applied this pedagogy in the university classroom as a Teaching Assistant for “Introduction to Medical Anthropology” in 2016 and 2019. I have also since applied it as co-instructor for “Asylum: Knowledge, Politics, and Population.”

Asylum: Knowledge, Politics, and Population

This course, co-designed and co-taught with Angela Garcia at Stanford University in two separate occasions (2020 and 2021), is an advanced undergraduate seminar on the theme of “asylum,” broadly understood. Many students in both iterations of this course came from underrepresented immigrant backgrounds and had direct experiences with asylum. Using student papers to structure lectures and ensuing in-class discussions, students’ experiences were a starting point for thinking “asylum” beyond its contemporary usage as a political right and toward its deeper historical meaning as an institution and a metaphor that helps us understand the ways marginalized lives have been and may otherwise be cared for.

Drawing from ethnography, social and political theory, media and literature, it examines the role of asylum in the constitution of knowledge, politics, and populations. An ancient juridical concept, asylum has been used to describe (1) a fundamental political right; (2) medical and penal institutions; and (3) emergent spaces of care (refuge, sanctuary). This course invites students to think of critical issues associated with asylum, including: illness, trauma, violence, immigration, displacement, detention, sanctuary, and testimony. Readings in the course include texts by Hannah Arendt, Edward Said, Didier Fassin, Judith Butler, Valeria Luiselli, Kelly Lytle Hernández, Gloria Anzaldúa, Eithne Luibhéid, Michel Foucault, Angela Davis, Allen Feldman, Jean Franco, João Biehl, Guillermo Rosales, and others.

In both occasions that the course was taught, students evaluated the course’s content and pedagogical approach in enthusiastic and positive terms. Here are some selected student comments:

“I felt as though I was in an environment where even my immediate, still forming thoughts could be shared [. . .] The way in which the instructors managed to weave together seemingly unrelated topics [. . .] into a cohesive, coherent course made this class one to remember for the ages”

“The topic of this course was something that was completely out of my usual realm of study [. . .] I felt as though I learned a lot about a topic that I see coming up again and again in the news and in real life.”

“I found it very fruitful that there was no prescribed “end goal” [. . .] there was ample latitude to reach one’s own conclusions about the material. The most important thing I felt was that you two were learning along with us—both in how to instruct this course, and from our discussions [. . .]”

“It has been a tough year, but this has been one of the most thought provoking courses I’ve taken in my undergraduate career.”

“I feel that I have learned so much about something I really care about deeply.”