Profiles | 2 May 2024

Staff Profile: Kendra Dority


Dr. Kendra Dority is the Director for Graduate Student and Postdoc Professional Development at UC Santa Cruz’s Teaching and Learning Center. She leads professional development programs for graduate student educators and contributes to several faculty programs all of which center equity-minded teaching and course design. She also currently serves as Chair of the UC Teaching & Learning Center Consortium (2023-2024). Dr. Dority has partnered with THI in myriad ways over the last several years, including co-facilitating a yearly PhD+ workshop on “Preparing Your Teaching Statement and Portfolio,” and supporting several cohorts of THI Peer Mentors in our Graduate Student Success Program and Graduate Student Instructors in the Questions That Matter Teaching Program. She is also a UCSC alumna (PhD Literature 2016) and a former THI Year-Long Dissertation Fellow (2015-2016). In April, we sat down with Dr. Dority to discuss her educational development work on campus, her advice for graduate students interested in teaching and teaching-adjacent careers, and the relationship between community organizing and designing equity-minded programs that seek to inspire institutional change.

Kendra Dority (left) with TLC collaborators Noori Chai (middle) and Roxanna Villalobos (right). Photo by Robert Johnson III, the 2024 TLC Graduate Pedagogy Fellow from the Environmental Art & Social Practice department.

Hi Kendra! Thanks for chatting with us about completing your PhD, your transition to pedagogical programming, and your current work as the Director for Graduate Student and Postdoc Professional Development at UCSC’s Teaching & Learning Center

Thank you for this opportunity! UCSC’s Humanities Institute and the University of California Humanities Research Institute (UCHRI) both played a significant role in supporting my holistic success as a graduate student, including in helping me imagine career pathways post-PhD, so I’m honored to connect with you all in this space.

I’m wondering if you could talk a little about transitioning from your PhD program to working at UCSC’s Teaching & Learning Center. What drew you to work in teaching-focused professional development? 

During my time in the Literature PhD program, teaching was an important way to build community and engage in intellectual inquiry. As a Teaching Assistant (TA) for courses where we took intentional approaches to building a teaching team, I loved collaborating with faculty and fellow grads. Collectively, we would share lesson plan ideas for discussion sections, develop engaging activities for undergraduate students, and think creatively about non-traditional assignments that would help students draw from their own strengths and skillsets to connect with the literary and cultural texts we were studying. These collaborative structures were not just nurturing but also, importantly, labor-saving. A salient moment from my time in the PhD program was when a large group of Literature grads organized across cohorts to imagine more robust opportunities for teaching development: we strategized how we as a department might develop more structured spaces for sharing creative teaching ideas and therefore collectivizing some of our teaching labor, and for treating teaching as a site of intellectual inquiry on par with our scholarship. It was a critical moment to come together in this way, as the TA-to-student ratio had been increasing and we needed collective strategies to address these changing conditions.

College and university teaching centers bring educators together from across disciplines and modalities of instruction to build collective knowledge about effective teaching practices and to address institutional barriers to both student and instructor success.

Contributing to our teaching community also dovetailed with my dissertation research, which explored the productive tensions of both colonial and revolutionary histories of alphabetic literacy and education as represented in two literary traditions. These experiences with teaching and research, along with the classroom environment itself – learning from the creativity of UCSC undergraduate students – made joining a teaching center very appealing. The opportunity to shape programming for a recently founded center, like TLC (then CITL), was especially exciting, because I saw the possibility of growing community-centered pedagogical approaches that I had seen as a graduate student. College and university teaching centers bring educators together from across disciplines and modalities of instruction to build collective knowledge about effective teaching practices and to address institutional barriers to both student and instructor success. I draw upon what I learned from my teaching peers and mentors during my grad program to center graduate student belongingness and community-building in these efforts.

Can you tell us about one of the programs at the Teaching & Learning Center that you are particularly proud of? 

I’m most proud that our grad-facing programs seek to uplift graduate student educators as leaders and changemakers on our campus. We’ve been able to shine a light on the important role that graduate students play, both as TAs and as GSIs, in promoting educational equity for undergraduates at a campus that has been embracing its identity as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) and Asian American, Native American, and Pacific Islander Serving Institution (AANAPISI). Our programs also make the case that graduate students perform critical teaching labor on our campus, and that graduate-level professional development in teaching and mentoring is essential to the holistic development and thriving of graduate students as they navigate their identities as learners, scholars, and educators.

Graduate Pedagogy Fellows engage in active learning in the TLC Lab.

The Graduate Pedagogy Fellows program, now in its seventh year, always reminds me of the transformative potential of intentional, cross-disciplinary collaboration. I’m lucky to work with a facilitation team that has a deep well of strengths, diverse research and teaching experience, and a commitment to values-driven work. My colleague Dr. Noori Chai draws from her experiences organizing for equitable mentoring practices as a neuroscience PhD student at Stanford, her close collaborations with UCSC’s HSI Initiatives team, and her relationship-building with STEM equity programs on our campus. My colleague Dr. Roxanna Villalobos draws from her experiences teaching as a TA and GSI during her time as a Sociology and Latin American & Latino Studies PhD student at UCSC, her intentional work with several equity-focused mentoring programs and women of color-centric spaces on our campus, and her own completion of several TLC programs. The program also builds on the work of our TLC colleague Nandini Bhattacharya, a Continuing Lecturer in Mathematics who has been thinking progressively for years about how to collaborate with graduate students to center social justice-oriented teaching practices and close equity gaps in gateway math courses. Together, we center our commitments to equitable teaching and mentoring, both in the content and in how we structure the learning experiences themselves, to prioritize graduate students’ sense of belonging and a culture of care.

Our grad-facing programs seek to uplift graduate student educators as leaders and changemakers on our campus.

The Fellows themselves are significant collaborators and leaders in our campus endeavors to strengthen grad-focused teaching support. The program is designed for Fellows to create and implement teaching-related professional development in their own departments, so that support for new TAs in particular is informed by their unique teaching contexts. Each academic year, approximately 25 Fellows are designing and redesigning graduate-level pedagogy courses, creating teaching workshop series, developing departmental learning communities, and imagining new possibilities like pedagogy retreats and peer-to-peer teaching mentoring programs. We’ve collaborated with the Division of Graduate Studies to secure funding from campus leadership for these department-specific teaching programs, and each of these projects requires close collaboration with departments themselves. Current Fellows build upon previous Fellows’ work, building stronger webs of support with every iteration.

What advice would you give to graduate students who are interested in future careers or endeavors outside of tenure-track professorship positions?

My colleagues and I get to work with many graduate students who are interested in careers that will allow them to focus on teaching and education in some capacity, whether that’s in a formal teaching role, facilitating learning in a variety of settings, or engaging in research projects that focus on inclusive and equitable education. I have been inspired to see how they clarify the equity-minded values they want to center in their teaching, which helps them to identify the types of institutions or organizations they want to contribute to and the student populations they most want to serve. 

Kendra Dority (left) and Noori Chai (right) co-facilitate a Graduate Pedagogy Fellows session. Photo by Vernon Legakis.

The equity-minded values that grads center in their teaching can also readily translate to “teaching-adjacent” or “academic-adjacent” careers. A natural fit here is of course teaching center positions, which include a range of graduate student-, postdoc-, and faculty-facing work, from designing learning communities and workshops to consulting with instructors to redesign online and in-person courses. For these opportunities, grads will want to consider how they can talk about their values and strategies not only in teaching college-level courses, but also in working with fellow educators to advance equitable teaching practices in their departments or at other scales. My colleagues Noori and Roxanna and I are happy to connect with grads about this type of work, and we collaborate with our TLC colleagues to sustain opportunities for current grads to contribute to TLC projects so that they can gain experience for this type of career. Relatedly, we’ve also seen grads find success pursuing staff and postdoc positions within academic departments that focus on broader curriculum redesign interventions to promote more equitable pathways for students traditionally marginalized in academia. There are many ways that grads can engage intellectually to transform institutional inequities, both inside and outside of faculty roles.

You also have previous experience with community organizing, including co-facilitating trainings with a volunteer organization that was dedicated to developing a community network to combat racialized, anti-migrant harassment in Santa Cruz. Can you talk about how this kind of community work continues to inform your commitment to equity-minded program development, pedagogy, and course design?

Community organizing has taught me how to listen better to those I imagine myself to be serving, to prioritize trust-building and accountability.

I’ve learned so much from community members in these organizing spaces, especially those who are skillful at facilitating meetings and community-based learning experiences in ways that are non-hierarchical and anti-oppressive. I often draw from the many lessons I’ve received from these spaces, such as when I seek to improve my facilitation skills, reflect on how lived experiences and social positionality influence how groups collaborate, and strive to center relationship-building. This community engagement also taught me to turn to scholarship by social justice educators who have experience with community organizing, because they can teach us how to enact models of collaboration that can interrupt the status quo and result in more meaningful, community-driven solutions to institutional barriers. Finally, community organizing has taught me how to listen better to those I imagine myself to be serving, to prioritize trust-building and accountability. For example, when graduate students have taken the time to provide feedback on how our programs can better align with antiracist values, I’ve been able to listen better and respond with change. This is an ongoing process and I’m always learning.

Could you give us a general synopsis of your dissertation, “Deciding the Letter: Reading, Ethics, and Language Politics in Ancient Greek and Contemporary U.S. Latinx Literatures?”

I was drawn to the Literature program at UCSC because it’s a community that readily invites thinking beyond the traditional boundaries of literary studies. My dissertation was a comparative study of two traditions not often brought together: ancient Greek literature from the Second Sophistic (c. 60-230 CE) and post-1960s U.S. Latinx literature. Both literary traditions exhibit a heightened attention to the educational models and language hierarchies that shape readers into social and political subjects. In the Second Sophistic, Greek writers actively produced a “classical” heritage, as well as their own sociopolitical identities, through literary and linguistic training in an elite Greek dialect; this cultural education was entangled with legacies of Greek and Roman imperialism and conquest. The U.S.-based Latinx texts I studied are grappling with the colonial and the revolutionary legacies of alphabetic literacy in the Americas, especially the relationship between literate education (in a dominant, colonial language) and sociopolitical belonging. I was interested in how Latinx writers writing from the U.S. draw from these histories to contest the equation of an imagined, standardized English with U.S. sociopolitical belonging to summon a more inclusive, multilingual reading public. My dissertation ultimately wondered about how these literatures could help us ask critical questions about how we define, teach, and value literary reading in college classrooms today. 

Finally, what’s your favorite spot on UCSC’s campus? 

I make a practice of regularly visiting the fields (and the view) from below the Music Center and surrounding the bike path, as a way of paying attention to seasonal shifts. This time of year (spring), the fields are full of poppies, darting swallows, meandering coyotes, and students taking a break to bathe in the sun.

Banner Image: Sunset at the UCSC field next to the bike path. Photo by Nick Gonzales.