Dr. Aqdas Aftab introduces students to decolonization and queer theory (3/16/2023)
Dr. Aqdas Aftab started teaching at Loyola in 2021 after getting their PhD from University of Maryland. Since then, they have brought a new literary perspective focused on anti-racism, decolonization, and queer and transgender theory to our evolving English Department.
In the classroom, Dr. Aftab works collaboratively with their students to create a small decolonial world in which they can all learn and share their perspectives about dismantling oppressive systems.
“I tell my students that they co-create the classroom with me, so they need to bring in their authenticity, their ideas, their excitement, and their individuality,” they say. “I really want to hear their unique voices in terms of the content that I teach.”
Dr. Aftab decided to teach at Loyola in big part because of the diversity present in the city of Chicago, which is the same diversity they amplify in the classroom by providing students with texts they might never have read before.
“Often, my students of color comment on how they never knew that a literature class could reflect their own identity back to them,” they say. “Literature is one artistic medium to explore a larger social and political question. Literary analysis is not just about form devoid of politics, but everything that we study in terms of form, genre, and aesthetics has something to do with larger political and social ideas. So, everything that's happening in the world around my students, all the questions that they have… they can bring those into a literature classroom and explore them through literary and textual analysis.”
With all this in mind, Dr. Aftab says they want to work on integrating more experimental pedagogy in the classroom.
“I want to incorporate more play in my classroom, which I haven't been doing so far, but I think playfulness is so important to learning,” they say. “One of my graduate students also introduced me to the idea of leading class discussion through the format of Indigenous talking circles. I thought that was great and I'm really grateful to my student.”
Some of Dr. Aftab’ favorite books to engage with in the classroom are Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga and On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, through which they explore coloniality, decolonization, gender, and queerness.
When teaching Nervous Conditions, Dr. Aftab says, “I like to introduce students to what it means to actually read a non-queer text in a queer way, so a text doesn't have to be explicitly representing LGBT identity to be doing queer political and aesthetic work. By performing a certain kind of queer reading, I introduce students to different interpretive modes. And I think students are introduced to the idea that their interpretation is just as important as the author’s act of writing. I really want them to think of themselves as active readers.”
In their own work, Dr. Aftab is currently working on a book manuscript, focused on decolonial ways of reading global Anglophone trans literature.
“I'm arguing that we need to read texts about transness through the lens of interiority, so I'm really interested in different elements of interiority, like speculation and spirituality,” they say. “How would we understand trans identity differently if we foreground the spirituality of trans people of color? A lot of this also helps me show how trans identity is opaque and ultimately unknowable.”
Dr. Aftab also works in running a collective for transmasculine people of color to practice transformative justice, which is an abolitionist approach to dealing with harm without relying on institutions. Their work in it is focused on addressing interpersonal harm within trans and queer BIPOC communities. You can learn more by visiting their Instagram.