Interview with LeeRay Costa

Dublin Core


Interview with LeeRay Costa


Women's studies; Teaching; Critical Pedagogy; Feminism; Anthropology; Minorities; Intersectionality


This is an interview with Dr. LeeRay Costa, professor of Anthropology and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Hollins University. Costa reflects upon her feminist and contemplative pedagogical approaches in the classroom.


Bonhomme, Isabel
Costa, LeeRay






Feminist and Queer Pedagogies Workshop, College of Wooster, funded by the Hewlett-Melon Foundation


Presented with permission from LeeRay Costa

In Copyright










Hollins University; Canada

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Bonhomme, Isabel


Costa, LeeRay


Virtual Interview; College of Wooster, Wooster, Ohio and Hollins University, Roanoke, Virginia


[00:00:03] IB: Hello everyone, so I am here with Dr. LeeRay Costa. My name is Isabel Bonhomme, I am a student at the College of Wooster who is majoring in Anthropology and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies. It is September 17th, 2018, um and once again I’m here with Dr. Costa from Hollins University. Hi Dr. Costa.

[00:00:21] LC: Hi!

[00:00:23] IB: Um, so I’ll just jump right in! First question, what is your primary area of study and also how do you incorporate a feminist or queer approach into your teaching?

[00:00:33] LC: Okay so um I’m actually trained as a feminist anthropologist, and I’ve been teaching for 18 years and I’ve sort of moved away from anthropology being my primary area of research and teaching, to really Gender and Women’s Studies, um I do that full time now. And so I’d say the thrust of my research focuses on that, and um historically it’s really been around issues of women’s activism, social movements, and non-governmental organizations, and currently my area of research focuses on the intersection of sort of feminist, and womanist, um, approaches, to, um, activism and spiritual activism, in particular, so how do we use spiritual approaches, um in the service of social justice and making social change.

[00:01:23] IB: I actually saw on your, um, website on Hollins’ website, that you did spiritual feminism and spiritual activism, I thought that was really interesting, I’d never really heard of that before so-

[00:01:32] LC: Yea!

[00:01:33] IB: -interesting. Um, so I also saw on the website that you teach about feminist and contemplative pedagogies?

[00:01:38] LC: Mm-hm.

[00:01:39] IB: I was wondering if you could speak to how that has impacted how you have approached teaching, um, since, um, including that into your classroom.

[00:01:46] LC: Mm-hm. Well so, um, I think- for a long time I-I’ve taken a feminist approach to my pedagogy. And, um, I’d say within- well, and, I think what I realized is when I discovered contemplative pedagogy I realized that I’d already been doing a lot of, um contemplative pedagogical approaches and didn’t really know it, um but then I became much more focused on exploring that and what does it look like to bring those, um approaches to a feminist classroom. So a lot of what this has to do with is creating spaciousness, um, for students, and their learning, and also to go deeper in their learning. So there’s a lot of self-reflection, um in, in the ways that I teach, and so that’s something I was already doing but now I think I’ve brought into that, um, some new techniques to enhance that. So, for example in many of my classes we begin each class with two or three minutes of silence and centering, focusing on our breathing and making sure that we’re actually in our bodies, because so often in academe we’re up here in out heads and we’re off somewhere else and you forget that we have to take care of this vessel, that allows us to do all that we do. So things like that and I also focus a lot um, on deep listening and- and practicing how to really listen to one another, because nobody really teaches us that. And um in terms of the kinds of things that we teach and learn about in Gender and Women’s Studies which often have to do with really difficult issues and conflict, um, oppression and inequality, actually listening to one another and each other’s experiences is really important, so, um, I’ve focused a lot on that as well. And then just, in terms of, kind of, self-exploration, uh self-reflection in the process of learning because when you come to Gender and Women’s Studies in particular, you often have to, um, kind of own up to the privileges that you have, um whatever they might be whether it’s around gender or sexuality or race, um and that can be a hard process for people, because it means that they’re actually having to confro- confront things that they haven’t had to in the- in the past. So that kind of deep self-reflection creates space for exploring that.

[00:03:56] IB: Alright, thank you. Um, so sort of going off of that, who or-

[00:04:00] LC: Mm-hm.

[00:04:00] IB: -what were some of your biggest influences in feminist and queer pedagogies?

[00:04:05] LC: Oh, wow. Well, um, some of the folks that I’ve been reading a lot, um, lately, that have been influencing this teaching I do around spiritual activism, um are Gloria Anzaldúa and AnaLouise Keating. AnaLouise Keating’s, um work really grows out of, um Gloria Anzaldúa’s work. Um, and, um people like bell hooks, for example. Um a lot of the work that inspires me is actually written by women of color. Um I think that they- that centering their work is really important, um in learning about- learning how to think differently about some of these issues, and how, um they speak from a perspective of really being able to see the complexities of the structures of power that we live within, that I think white, um feminists in particular don’t always see- can’t recognize because of the ways that we’ve been socialized into white supremacy. So um, those would be a few. Some other people would be Leela Fernández, um and Layli Mapa- Maparyan, um I’m not sure if I say her name correctly. Um, and also Becky Thompson. Those are probably some of the key figures that I’ve been reading and- and um really using their work.

[00:05:13] IB: Great. Um, and then when was a time where you saw queer or feminist pedagogy have a positive influence or work well within your classroom?

[00:05:23] LC: Oh, wow. That happens all the time! (laughs) Umm…ah, specific example. Um, well I- I will speak to-

[00:05:32] IB: [unintelligable]

[00:05:34] LC: What was that?

[00:05:35] IB: I was saying, if you can’t think of a specific example, maybe a technique that works well?

[00:05:38] LC: Yea, yea. So something that I’ve started doing over the past year and a half that I’ve used in both my undergraduate and graduate classes, is something called horizontal inquiry. And, um, and I got this concept from a professor of dance, um, from Canada. And, so basically what it is, is taking students outside, to lay on the grass, and inviting them to just rest and daydream. Maybe for 5 to 10 minutes- and really giving them no specific prompt, but letting them just sort of look at the sky, and the clouds, or the trees, or to just rest. And then, at, at the- at the close of that, sort of restfulness, um inviting them to do some reflective writing. And then coming back to the content of the class, and having a discussion. And each time that I’ve done this, we’ve had profound conversations, where students are so much more focused, on the topic of the class, they’re able to go deeper, they’re able to really listen to their classmates. Um, and we recently- we did this in my Spiritual Activism class, for example- and, um, the students were so tender with each other, when they were really grappling with this issue of how do we talk to someone who is different from us, who has a very different life experience? So there’s something about, again, creating that space, for restfulness, um, and centering and sort of clearing the mind that, um, allows for a more focused, um, and in-depth discussion. So that’s one of the things that I’ve done.

[00:07:05] IB: Yea. Um, and then what kind of challenges do you think that, um, professors such as yourselves face when bringing that kind of feminist and queer pedagogy into the classroom?

[00:07:17] LC: Um, well, first of all, um, it- sometimes it makes people uncomfortable. I think that’s the first thing- it’s, it’s sort of not, what’s typical. And, and also people have very different relationships to their bodies, to their breath, to the idea of what a classroom space is like, or should be like. And so, sometimes introducing these kinds of techniques can be unsettling. Um, and, so I try- I try to prime students for that by talking about, at the very beginning of the semester, you know, this is what these techniques are, this is why I’m teaching them to you, this is what some of the outcomes could potentially be- so they sort of know going in, why, you know, I’m using them. And then, once we begin to practice, I always have reflection, um, wri- reflective writing, and, so it’s a way for me to constantly be checking in to see where students are. So if they have individual particular challenges, I can address that with them individually. Um, and, for example, um, sometimes trauma, can be, an issue that comes up for individual people- especially in relationship to their bodies. So having, um, more knowledge on that and being able to check in with individual students when necessary, I think is helpful, because it can be, um, you know, it’s different, it can be unnerving for people until they start to begin to see what this practice is like, and how it actually enhances their learning.

[00:08:41] IB: And, I know you weren’t able to actually make it out to the workshop-

[00:08:44] LC: Oh I know, I’m so sad!

[00:08:46] IB: Um, what motivated you to want to participate in the workshop in the first place?

[00:08:50] LC: Oh my gosh. Well, um, I mean, I consider myself to be a lifelong learner, and I love to teach, and so I always want to be learning new approaches to teaching so that I can be the best teacher that I can be. And that whole idea of being, you know, at- at a conference, with a bunch of other teachers and scholars and learning from them, um, is just so attractive and inspiring, and I think, you know, because- again, people are coming to this from their different life experiences, they’re going to be thinking about and approaching things in a way very different from me, and that can, you know, help me recognize things I might have been missing, um and introduce me to new ways of approaching teaching. Um, and, um, so, that, I think that was the primary reason that I, you know, wanted to participate. And I’ve also, you know, um, Christa and I have been working together for a number of years, and so anything that she plans and organizes, I want to be a part of.

[00:09:47] IB: That’s awesome to hear. Well thank you, and is there anything else that we haven’t brought up in the interview, that you would just really like to talk about, or, ask about- anything like that.

[00:09:56] LC: Um, I guess I would just say, that, um, again when it comes to sort of looking at the intersections of feminist and contemplative pedagogy, what I’ve found is that, um it sort of freed students in a lot of ways to, um think about their own learning and the particular issues that they’re grappling with in new ways, so I hope that it is something that other faculty will consider engaging with and I hope that students will be more open to that because it really, um, the techniques that are used, are excellent for learning but they’re also things that you can take into your everyday life. And into, you know, your work, beyond the academy. So, that’s about it.

[00:10:33] IB: Well thank you so so much for participating in this interview, and, um, I wish you all the best with your teaching and with the storm, and everything like that. So, thank you once again.

[00:10:43] LC: Thank you, Isabel.

[00:10:45] IB: Bye.

Original Format






Bonhomme, Isabel and Costa, LeeRay, “Interview with LeeRay Costa,” WGSS at Wooster: Past, Present, and Future , accessed July 22, 2024,