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Faculty Spotlight: Ali Shapiro on Inclusive Teaching

For many artists and designers, visual language comes more naturally than the written word. Luckily, Stamps students have Ali Shapiro to help them develop their ability to write clearly, confidently, and captivatingly in a variety of genres.

Shapiro teaches First Year Writing in Art and Design (ARTDES 129), a First Year Writing Requirement course specifically for Stamps students. This year, thanks to an Inclusive Teaching Grant, ARTDES 129 has a new course theme: Matters of Taste. Contrary to the aphorism “in matters of taste there can be no disputes,” Shapiro’s course asks students to interrogate where tastes come from, how they fit into particular times and places, and how they intersect with other aspects of identity such as race, class, gender, and sexuality.

“Some of the questions we explore include: what is considered “authentic” in different media? Who do certain trends “belong” to, and why? When are tastes political? What makes a piece of art “good,” or “bad,” or even SOBIG (so bad it’s good)?” Shapiro explains.

The Inclusive Teaching Grant allowed Shapiro to devote a significant amount of time to overhauling ARTDES 129 over the summer. “I was able to purchase research materials that not only informed the new syllabus, but helped me to feel more confident in my ability to facilitate discussions about DEI-related topics,” she says.

Shapiro emphasizes that inclusive teaching is a perpetual work in progress: “I’m always striving to improve the transparency, accessibility, and overall inclusivity of my class. I’m grateful for the Inclusive Teaching Grant because it offers meaningful, material support for folks who are committed to this hard, important work — work that might otherwise be invisible outside our own classrooms.”

Shapiro reports that one major shift that she’s noticed this term is an improvement in recognizing the through-lines in the assigned readings —and in students’ own lives.

“Right now we’re in the middle of Carl Wilson’s Let’s Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste, a book-length deep dive into the popularity of Celine Dion. In our conversations about this work, students are constantly referencing Susan Sontag’s Notes on Camp, which was the focus of a previous unit. Another intriguing connection they made was between Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of “cultural capital” and the idea of a subtle “flex” on social media.”

Shapiro hopes that by encouraging students to read, write and research about taste, she is demonstrating that taste is inextricable from questions of diversity, equity and inclusion. “And these questions are not separate from students’ development as artists," says Shapiro. "They’re foundational to the work of artists in society.”

Learn more about Inclusive Teaching Grants and about the DEI initiative at Stamps.