A Warm Farewell from 2023-2024 Faculty Scholar Julie Russo


Dear colleagues,

This is my final newsletter as Faculty Scholar, and first let me say what a generative, fulfilling and frankly fun experience this position has been. I teach because I love learning, so it was a treat to learn a lot this year. I’m not in a hurry to leave this role, so expect to hear more from me when I present my seminar project at a Summer Institute on August 27 and a fall faculty meeting.

For now, I want to leave you with some rather fanciful material I developed for a conference presentation back in March. I knew I’d be thinking about teaching all year, so when my friends said they wanted to do a panel on astrology at The Society for Cinema and Media Studies, I figured I’d have to make a connection somehow. I came up with “Classroom Inclusivity for Every Sign: Social Media Astrology as Pedagogical Lens” – and while this seemed like a pretty wacky idea initially, I ultimately convinced myself that it makes a lot of sense (you can judge for yourself if you check out my slides).

My primary sources were Christopher Joseph Lee’s “Solace in the Stars: Queer Astrology, Capitalism, and Colonialism” (QED vol. 9, no. 3 [2022]) and a book Lee cites, Postcolonial Astrology: Reading the Planets Through Capital, Power, and Labor by Alice Sparkly Kat (2021). Together they support the basic premise that popular astrology in the U.S. has taken on new contours in the post-2016 era of precarity, appealing particularly to trans and BIPOC youth who engage with it through social media. While Sparkly Kat argues that we can’t ignore astrology’s origins in Western classicism, they invite us into a critical decolonization of these ideas. For Sparkly Kat, astrology can be transformative for those who experience various forms of marginality because it provides a framework to step outside of the oppressive hierarchies we most often use to characterize our identities (race, gender, sexuality…) and step into a system where all differences are equal. Perhaps paradoxically, it is the way astrology emphasizes difference that enables enthusiasts to feel a sense of community while struggling to navigate a precarious world.

Well to me, this seemed to evoke Universal Design for Learning (as in CAST’s UDL guidelines matrix). A universal design approach asks us to set aside our assumptions that certain learning modes are normal, typical, or productive while others are abnormal, atypical, and unproductive and instead assume that our classrooms encompass individuals with a diverse range of equally valid cognitive styles. Rather than responding to accessibility needs with post-hoc adaptations, UDL offers tools to intentionally design inclusive experiences from the outset to benefit all students. UDL is especially well-suited to addressing neurodivergence, a concept that arose in the context of 1990s disability justice communities online.

While I am emphatically not drawing an equivalence between neurodivergence and astrology, Alice Sparkly Kat invites us to mobilize astrology as an analogy. Like astrology in its present social media guise, neurodivergence is a community-based model that rejects rigid definitions and operates as an individualized interpretative schema to embrace a wide range of commonalities and diversities among people. Educators are encouraged to adopt a strengths mindset in response, and neurodivergent conditions are often characterized in terms of both strengths and challenges that they present (resonating with how astrologers view signs and chart positions). Perhaps most convincingly, many of our students are attracted to astrological systems for these reasons, which could tell us something about how they understand their identities as learners. Attuning to how the generation/population common in our classes finds meaning, play, and healing in astrology might give faculty a lens for thinking about inclusion across difference.


Warm wishes for evaluation season,


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