Interview with Shana Agid, Ph.D. – “Making Possibilities as We Go”

Shana Agid is an artist, teacher, writer, and activist whose work focuses on relationships of power and difference, particularly regarding sexuality, race, and gender in visual and political cultures. In addition to serving as Director of the Parsons First Year program, Agid is an Assistant Professor of Arts, Media, and Communication where he teaches book arts, collaborative design, and service design. He has an MFA in Printmaking and Book Arts and an MA in Visual and Critical Studies from California College of the Arts, and a PhD in Design from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT). He is on the Editorial Board of Radical Teacher and a co-founder with Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani of Working With People, a curriculum and web-based resource on the complex contexts of partner-based and collaborative work in educational environments.

Agid was recently the recipient of the Award for Diversity and Social Justice Teaching, The New School’s annual honor recognizing a faculty member who uses pedagogies that promote inclusive learning environments, integrates theory and practice to support social justice learning and leadership skills in the context of teaching students from underrepresented groups, promotes reflection, builds community, facilitates organized action through teaching that goes beyond advocacy and promotes critical thinking and dialogue from diverse points of view.

Congratulations on your Award for Diversity and Social Justice Teaching! This is such an amazing level of inspiration to your students and peers!

Thank you! It’s an incredible honor. Mind-blowing and humbling.

How long have you been teaching at The New School?

I’ve worked at The New School for just over 10 years, and have been teaching 8 of those.

Where did your pedagogy path begin? Were there professors, activists, academic figures that inspired you?

I’ve been lucky to have been surrounded by smart, challenging, and caring teachers—and people who were not officially teachers, but from whom I learned so much—all my life. These were people who maybe more than anything believed in learning as much as teaching and were skilled in asking the right questions to push a person or group further, and people who were just generous with their knowledge and open to sharing their experiences.

Right now, my thinking about teaching is still deeply influenced by two of the greatest seminar teachers I’ve had, both of whom spoke sparingly (a skill I’m still working on) and guided complex conversations in class that pushed us as thinkers and as people in the world, where I always walked out having learned something, even if I wasn’t always comfortable in the process. It is also influenced by people with whom I’m working in collaboration: organizers at Critical Resistance, students and teachers at the Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS) and from a previous project with the Fortune Society, students from Parsons and The New School. And, I’m driven by and drawn to constant conversations—some out loud, many in my head—with thinkers, writers, designers, artists, activists whose work constitutes the learning I’m doing every day. These include people like Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Avery Gordon, Mabel O. Wilson, Ashley Hunt, Ann Light and Yoko Akama, Lucy Suchman, researchers at the Center for Codesign Research (CODE) at KADK in Denmark, researchers in Participatory Design, María Torre, Michelle Fine, and others at the Public Science Project, Susan Leigh Star, Stuart Hall, Thuy Tu, David Brody, Christine Gaspar and others at the Center for Urban Pedagogy and the Equity Collective, and many others who asking critical questions of art and design practice, of histories and systems of power, and of teaching practices.

Could you intersect the rewards and challenges of facilitating inclusive learning? 

I think that the longer I teach, the more I’m learning about making classrooms or other learning spaces into collective spaces. And this looks and feels different for different courses, types of classes, and groups of students. I’m taking “inclusive learning” to mean something at the intersection of collaborative learning or critical pedagogy and an anti-oppression approach, so something both widely inclusive of a range of sources, ideas, experiences, and critically oriented to the systemic production of exclusion and absence or the prioritization of dominant voices. In that sense, I think the rewards are striking, they are things like working with students and others to create spaces in which—at best—people feel “comfortable being uncomfortable” (an idea I’ve learned from students and teachers at WHEELS), and also feel free, and know that these are not only not mutually exclusive, but deeply linked. The rewards also include watching the making of a space in which students feel like they can make arguments, claims, and demands based on ideas and imagined possibilities informed both by what they know and what we’re learning together (from still other people, doing that, also). I also think that learning to be a stronger facilitator, a good mentor, and a better listener are all rewards of teaching this way. The challenges include facing my own limits, and creating a space with students and others in which we all can do that well. I think that at times it’s difficult to do it all in one semester, to set mutual agreements, build knowledge together, talk about, practice using, and get comfortable with fundamental concepts—whether in desig