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Campus Profile: Andrea Houston, Queer Media Professor

Andrea Houston is a Toronto journalist with extensive experience reporting on the LGBTQ rights beat. She is also a human rights advocate, and happens to teach Queer Media at Ryerson, an open elective offered by the Ryerson School of Journalism exploring how queer identities are represented in the media. Her Campus at Ryerson was lucky to sit down for a chat with Houston about the class and her career.

We can start easy: just introduce yourself with your name, professor status, and pronouns.

I'm Andrea Houston, and I use she/her pronouns. Also, I am an instructor in the Journalism program at Ryerson University so I teach Queer Media here. I developed it as well and I have been teaching it for the last three years, the same amount of time that I have been at Ryerson. It's technically an FCAD.

As a person teaching Queer Media, how do you feel that course fits into the Ryerson?

I think it's a perfect fit. As an activist, Ryerson is a scrappy university putting out fierce graduates even though it is polytechnic with programs that are at the cutting edge of technology and information, and I think going to school for journalism is important since it's a trade and you need to study it. [The course being activism heavy] means that Ryerson's location being minutes away from important political venues is a wonderful benefit to the journalists going here.

Since introducing this class three years ago and developing it with the university and the Journalism program, how have other professors and your peers reacted to this course?

I have had great feedback; a lot of the older community members and activists that I interact with wish they had this class when they were in school and a journalism student right now. I mean, honestly, it's a class that I wish I could take, and so I made the class I wanted to have— so this is a gift to the next generation of journalism students. My colleagues at Ryerson have made me feel so thankful for their support and I have been able to speak in many classes about queer issues and talk about my class some have heard me talk and came to the class because of that, it's an honour to teach and watch grow.

When you were developing the class, what was the process and idea you had going in? What specific lessons did you want to cover and where did you pull this from?

Actually, going in there was not a lot of resources to pull from— I looked around internationally and there was some, but nothing like this. Or if there were, it was mixed in with other subjects such as marginalized communities. I believe at Carleton University, there was a similar course, but it wasn't political, more pop culture and entertainment-based, which I love, but I wanted an activist topic about queer media-- not just for activists who want to be journalists, but also journalists that want to become activists and bridge the gap as I did. I want the students to become advocacy journalists that push for laws to change, and social change. However, there was not anything like that, and began as an idea and I wanted to cover so much in this class with LGBTQ+ history in the last 40 years. I had to make every class a key issue for that to work and so we start broad, and then get more specific.

So, what about feedback from students asking about certain topics or ideas they would love covered in class? Is that sort of work possible? That is to say, is this class malleable for the student?

100 per cent. The feedback is incredible and the course surveys every year move me to tears, and I am really touched by the positive feedback. Students are not getting this information from anywhere else, [it can be frustrating], this information has been sought out by them and it is so beneficial to them in their lives, work, and other classes. It feels like a gift. But, yes, I do encourage students to bring their issues to class or e-mail it to me, so we can have a discussion about it. If I have not read it, I can bring myself up to speed since I do not know everything, and I tried to put in a lot— but some of it is a reflection of my passions, and that can be different. It can be outside the project too, so please bring it to me.

Have there been any issues you have gotten within the school from teaching Queer Media? Any pushback or resilience or in-class tension?

Surprisingly, no. That has really surprised me, especially as we get more into the touchier topics [BLM], of course, we have spirited debates but nothing offensive— it's all highly intellectual and respectful discussion.

As a person who works with Queer Media in an academic context but also in a journalist medium, what was the message you wanted to send to other programs in the school, or other schools?

I would love to see this taught in high school and it’s kind of wild that year-after-year, the students don’t know basic queer history. I mean I get it, maybe the bathhouse raids are a bit intense, but body politics and stonewall at least can be learned. I don’t know why it isn’t, perhaps the high school administration believe because it’s queer, that means it’s sexual. That is where I would like to see changes, but I agree, a student last year wanted this class opened up to Politics students, and that would be fine, but I’m not sure the class would work in a lecture hall since I love the discussion.

A spin-off of that question is, if this class is open to Ryerson, what would you like to do to make it more historical or political or sociological?

I think it’s like that now and honestly sometimes I have to pull it back from being too historical because I could go on and on about history, I need to remind myself this is a journalism class. I could, however, fit this into many other academic contexts, as you mentioned it would work well. I would love to open this class to artists, I’m usually open to film and television, but visual art would be great too!

Do you think this should be a required class for journalism students?

That’s a great question. I had a moment that I thought Ryerson University would ask me but no, because then there would be more push-back, and I got some feedback about it from other instructors who told me that I would get more MRA types who want to challenge me on radical activist topics. I was prepared for it, and I had curriculum and debate ready to offer, but I was not getting into the weeds such as the queer or women legitimacy— but we can talk about the concepts of MRA and it never came up. The class is called Queer Media so students know what they are getting into, but if it was open, then I [would] need to rethink that stuff. Plus, I want to be teaching and I don’t have an MA, and since that is the case; if it opens up, it probably won’t be me teaching the class and I [don’t] want that.

As a professor at Ryerson University teaching Queer Media, do you have any advice for people at Her Campus to bring in more queer talent?

I don’t know if I do, personally, I don’t think anything is wrong with walking up to people and asking people how they identify. I think the best thing is to go to events and queer spaces. It’s safe to say that the people there identify as queer and if you are recruiting people, than it is fine to approach someone about the identity they feel closest too.

You can find Andrea on Twitter @dreahouston and @RainbowRailroad.

Zaria Cornwall is a fourth year English student at Ryerson University. She identifies as a 'she' and uses she/her/they pronouns. She considers herself a woman of colour with varied identity minors and is interested in such topics dealing with these ideas. You will see her write articles on: queerness, racialized identity, mental health, body positivity, and school life. She also happens to love international music, so, maybe an article on that too. Follow her on twitter at @rsuzaria.
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