February 1, 2022

A Holistic Transdisciplinary Approach to Equity: Dr. Kimberly George and Feminism School

Written by Jessi Knippel. PFF Fellow. Doctoral student, Religion, School of Arts and Humanities.

Over ten years ago in Seattle, WA I began my journey into Higher Education. It started with a rather new interdisciplinary program that was aimed at the integration of therapeutic modalities, religious and cultural studies (The Seattle School of Psychology and Theology). It was this interdisciplinary/intersecting structure that drew many to the program, myself included. I remember talking to my aunt about the program, since she knew others who had been through it before, and her saying if nothing else you will walk away intentionally transformed by this program.  

That transformation was definitely true, I would not be in my current PhD program doing the research I am doing had I not been through a program that engaged me holistically. The intentionality of this pedagogical model to holistic education is and was one of the unique elements of that program. We were not only learning academically about our research subject, in my case religion, art, and culture, but we were learning to become self-aware about our own connections and transferences with our subject matter. Asking questions like ‘What in my own experience, positionality, identities, and background draws me to this content and research?’ ‘ How might my work on this research become a means to not only help others but also to heal my own trauma and hurt or reframe the guiding narrative I tell about myself and who I am in the world?’  

This early exposure and training in an interdisciplinary holistic education model has readily informed my consecutive experiences in Higher Education and how I approach the space of teaching and education. Having a basis in a holistic education model leads me to think outside the traditional boxes as I participate and create within the space of Higher Education. It is also part of what draws me to my current work in the PFF program here at Claremont and the value of intersectional, accessible, ethical pedagogical models of  teaching. 

I can also see the way that contours of this experience have transformed another student of this program, my friend and feminsit scholar, Dr. Kimberly George. In the time since we left Seattle and this program Dr. George has gone on to several other graduate programs culminating in graduating from the University of California, San Diego with her PhD in Ethnic Studies, specifically focusing on black and intersectional feminism studies. During this final program she began to develop a digital educational program to present and share the study and research she has been engaging in since we met years ago. This program, Feminism School, is rooted in a notion of holistic accessible education. Through it Dr. George offers what she has learned through her years of experience and training, which includes therapeutic modalities, religious studies and history, feminist and queer studies and feminist history, as well as her experiences as an activist, mystic, and feminist living in the world.  

The values of the intersectional feminism that she has studied along with our early experience of a program that is seeking to be integrated, can be seen in the ways in which she has structured and leads this program. Feminism School  is a program that is intentional about transforming it’s students through its content, not just how they think linearly but how they engage with themselves, communities they are a part of and in the broader world space. For example many of the feminist histories and foremothers whom Dr. George teaches about, were able to create and be transformational within the world because of their communities and the mutual aid present in those communities. Figures like Anna Julia Cooper, Barbara and Beverly Smith and the other members of the Combahee River Collective, Audre Lorde, and Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua who edited “This Bridge Called My Back” all straddled the space of activism, education, and community building in their work and teaching.  

For these foremothers and feminist leaders, interdisciplinary holistic education was a key element of their pedagogy but it was also necessary. It was necessary because of their positionality and intersecting identities. Yet it also through their work highlights the importance and power of holistic modalities and education models that address and incorporate accessibility as central to the learning process and in a broader sense how we live in the world. By focusing on holistic intersectional accessible ethical pedagogical models and modalities within the educational space, educators invite their students to experience empathetic and social awareness as well as self-evaluative and critical awareness in addition to the cognitive content of the course whatever it may be. Which going back to Dr George and Feminist School is one of the ways that we can create more equitable communities and a more equitable world. 

This kind of intersectional accessible and holistically feminist based educational model and world seems even more important now with the various pushback against equality and equality. It offers educators a means to get a the root of the recent (and older) fear based legislation  against Critical Race Theory or New Hampshire’s education gag law and the emerging push through legislation to reinstate (these originate during the McCarthy era) or enact very problematic “loyalty” legislation for educators to limit diversity and critical engagement with the US’s history. Educators and programs, such as Dr George and Feminism School, not only challenge this backlash but also offer people the tools to build means of resistance to the movements who are seeking to destroy and silence diversity and equality.