Transgressive learning communities: Transformative spaces for underprivileged, underserved, and historically underrepresented graduate students at their institutions

  • Leslie E. Drane Indiana University
  • Jordan Y. Lynton Indiana University
  • Yarí E. Cruz-Rios Indiana University
  • Elizabeth Watts Malouchos Indiana University
  • Katherine D. Kearns Indiana University
Keywords: underrepresented minorities, graduate students, learning communities, critical pedagogy, feminist pedagogy


In this article, we propose a new vision of educational development that reimagines how graduate instructors are socialized and professionalized in academic settings. We describe a transgressive learning community that empowers graduate instructors with tools to reveal, mitigate, and disrupt oppressive structures in higher education. Our learning community is founded on critical race and feminist conceptualizations of pedagogical inquiry in its design, implementation, and assessment to serve underprivileged, underserved, and historically underrepresented graduate students. We argue that the intersections of marginalized and graduate student identities create distinct experiences of discrimination, marginalization, tokenism, isolation, and impostor syndrome due to a lack of sustained teaching mentorship within the academy. The transgressive learning community model that we propose in this article functions to create spaces of transgressive and transformational pedagogical engagement for graduate students who exist at the intersections of these identities.

Author Biographies

Leslie E. Drane, Indiana University

Leslie E. Drane is an Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology and a Graduate Student Instructional Consultant for the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning at Indiana University, Bloomington. 

Jordan Y. Lynton, Indiana University

Jordan Y. Lynton is a socio-cultural Ph.D. student in the Department of Anthropology at Indiana University, Bloomington. 

Yarí E. Cruz-Rios, Indiana University

Yarí E. Crus-Rios is a Ph.D. student in the Department of American Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington. 

Elizabeth Watts Malouchos, Indiana University
Elizabeth Watts Malouchos is the Associate Research Scientist at the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology and a Ph.D. candidate in the Anthropology Department at Indiana University, Bloomington.
Katherine D. Kearns, Indiana University

Katherine Kearns is lead instructional consultant for Indiana University’s Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning and received a Ph.D. in Ecology from the University of Georgia.


Ahmed, S. (2017). Living a feminist life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Anzaldúa, G. E. (1987). Borderlands/La Frontera: The new Mestiza. San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute.

Anzaldúa, G. E. (2002). Now let us shift . . . the path of conocimiento . . . inner work, public acts. In G. E. Anzaldúa and A. Keating (Eds.), This bridge we call home: Radical visions for transformation (pp. 540-578. New York, NY: Routledge.

Arao, B., & Clemens, K. (2013). From safe spaces to brave spaces: A new way to frame dialogue around diversity and social justice. In L. M. Landreman (Ed.), The art of effective facilitation: Reflections from social justice educators (pp. 135-150). Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Banasik, M. D., & Dean, J. L. (2016). Non-tenure track faculty and learning communities: Bridging the divide to enhance teaching quality. Innovative Higher Education, 41(4), 333-342.

Cabrera, A. F., Nora, A., Terenzini, P. T., Pascarella, E., & Hagedorn, L. S. (1999). Campus racial climate and the adjustments of students to college: A comparison between white students and African-American students. Journal of Higher Education, 70(2), 134-160.

Clewell, B. C., & Ficklen, M. S. (1986). Improving minority retention in higher education: A search for effective institutional practices. ETS Research Report Series, 1986(1), i-157.

Coia, L., & Taylor, M. (2009). Co/autoethnography: Exploring our teaching selves collaboratively. In D. L. Tidwell, M. Heston, & L. Fitzgerald (Eds.), Research methods for the self-study of practice. Self-study of teaching and teacher education practices, 9 (pp. 3-16). Dordrecht: Springer.

Daly, C. J. (2011). Faculty learning communities: Addressing the professional development needs of faculty and the learning needs of students. Currents in Teaching and Learning, 4(1), 3-16. Retrieved from

Du Bois, W. E. B. (1903). The souls of black folk: Essays and sketches. Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co.

Dumas-Hines, F. A. (2001). Promoting diversity: Recommendations for recruitment and retention of minorities in higher education. College Student Journal, 35(3), 190-96.

Engin, M., & Atkinson, F. (2015). Faculty learning communities: A model for supporting curriculum changes in higher education. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 27(2), 164-174. Retrieved from

Foot, R., Crowe, A. R., Tollafield, K. A., & Allan, C. E. (2014). Exploring doctoral student identity developing using a self-study approach. Teaching and Learning Inquiry, 2(1), 103-118.

Freire, P. (2005). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th anniversary edition, M. B. Ramos, Trans.). New York: Continuum.

Gardner, S. K. (2008). Fitting the mold of graduate school: A qualitative study of socialization in doctoral education. Innovative Higher Education, 33(2), 125-138.

Grubb, A. (2006). The impact of a faculty learning community on teaching, learning, & assessment: The scholarship of teaching and learning in faculty professional development. Internal report, Georgia College & State University: unpublished. Retrieved from

Gullage, A. (2015). Fat lessons: Fatness, bodies and the politics of feminist classroom practice. In T. Penny Light, J. Nicholas, and R. Bondy (Eds.), Feminist pedagogy in higher education (pp. 113-126). Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

Gutiérrez y Muhs, G., Niemann, Y. F., González, G. G., & Harris, A. P. (Eds.) (2012). Presumed incompetent: The intersections of race and class for women in academia. Boulder, CO: Utah State University Press.

Harris, M., Sellers, S. L., Clerge, O., & Gooding, F. (Eds.) (2017). Stories from the front of the room: How higher education faculty of color overcome challenges and thrive in the academy. Lanham, MD: Roman and Littlefield.

Hoodfar, H. (1992). Feminist anthropology and critical pedagogy: The anthropology of classrooms’ excluded voices. Canadian Journal of Education / Revue canadienne de l’éducation, 17(3), 303-320. Retrieved from

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York, NY: Routledge.

hooks, b. (2003). Teaching community: A pedagogy of hope. New York, NY: Routledge.

Jessup‐Anger, J. E. (2015). Theoretical foundations of learning communities. New Directions for Student Services, 2015(149), 17-27.

Kabes, S., Lamb, D., & Engstrom, J. (2010). Graduate learning communities: Transforming educators. Journal of College Teaching and Learning, 7(5), 47-55.

Lave, J. (1991). Situating learning in communities of practice. In L. B. Resnick, J. M. Levine, & S. D. Teasley (Eds.), Perspectives on Socially Shared Cognition (pp. 63-82). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Lee, C. (1991). Achieving diversity. Issues in the recruitment and retention of underrepresented racial/ethnic students in higher education: A review of the literature. Alexandria, VA: National Association of College Admission Counselors.

Ong, M., Smith, J. M., & Ko, L.T. (2017). Counterspaces for women of color in STEM higher education: Marginal and central spaces for persistence and success. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 55(2), 206-245.

Remmik, M., Karm, M., Haamer, A., & Lepp, L. (2011). Early-career academics’ learning in academic communities. International Journal for Academic Development, 16(3), 187-199.

Richlin, L., & Cox, M. D. (2004). Developing scholarly teaching and the scholarship of teaching and learning through faculty learning communities. New directions for teaching and learning, 2004(97), 127-135.

Richlin, L., & Essington, A. (2004). Overview of faculty learning communities. New directions for teaching and learning, 2004(97), 25-39.

Seidman, A. (2005). Minority student retention: Resources for practitioners. New directions for Institutional Research, 2005(125), 7-24.

Smith, D. G. (1991). The challenge of diversity: Alienation in the academy and its implications for faculty. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 2, 129-137. Retrieved from

Solórzano, D., Ceja, M., & Yosso, T. J. (2000). Critical race theory, racial microaggressions, and campus racial climate: The experiences of African American college students. Journal of Negro Education, 69(1/2), 60-73.

Solórzano, D. G., & Villalpando, O. (1998). Critical race theory, marginality, and the experience of minority students in higher education. In C. A. Torres & T. R. Mitchell (Eds.), Sociology of education: Emerging perspectives (pp. 211-224). Albany: NY: State University of New York Press.

Solórzano, D. G. & Yosso, T. J. (2002). Critical race methodology: Counter-storytelling as an analytical framework for education research. Qualitative Inquiry, 8(1), 23-44.

Taylor, E., & Olswang, S. G. (1997). Crossing the color line: African Americans and predominantly white universities. College Student Journal, 31(1), 11-18.

Warhurst, R. P. (2006). “We really felt part of something”: Participatory learning among peers within a university teaching-development community of practice. International Journal for Academic Development, 11(2), 111-122.

How to Cite
DraneL. E., LyntonJ. Y., Cruz-RiosY. E., Watts MalouchosE., & KearnsK. D. (2019). Transgressive learning communities: Transformative spaces for underprivileged, underserved, and historically underrepresented graduate students at their institutions. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 7(2), 106-120.