MPS Art Therapy Faculty Highlight: Asilia Franklin-Phipps, Ph.D.

This year, MPS Art Therapy welcomed a new faculty member, Asilia Franklin-Phipps Ph.D., to co-teach the second-year course, Cultural and Social Issues. Asilia taught the course alongside Stephanie Gorski, ATR-BC, LCAT, who has been an SVA faculty member for many years. The course aims to examine the effects of culture and ethnicity in the therapeutic process. We are happy to welcome Asilia to the department! Read below to see our chat with her:

MPS Art Therapy: Tell us about your background and what brings you to SVA.

Asilia: My background is in Ethnic Studies and Education Studies but with a focus on culture. My Ph.D. is Critical Sociocultural Studies in Education. I’m really interested in education’s place in society both presently and historically. I’m interested in art, popular culture, music, and film as pedagogical, but also how those things help us understand the culture and what that culture produces. An example is that I used to teach a course called Schooling and Representation in Film at the University of Oregon. We watched films about school to talk about how dominant narratives about teachers, students, and education circulated through film. This is what I am really interested in exploring. How narratives circulate, become common sense, and are resisted. I’m also interested in how cultural concepts have effects on the social world like innocence, care, shame, humanity, teaching and learning. What do these things mean and why do they mean that instead of something else? That is what I continue to be engaged with in my work. 

MPS AT: As a non-art therapist, what has your experience been like teaching this course?

Asilia: My experience teaching this course was interesting. I was very aware of not being an art therapist so I really tried to always qualify the claims that I made. My expertise is in the social, historical, and cultural. There are many things that I do not know about art therapy, but I did have some prior familiarity as I have worked with art therapists in educational settings before. I think that familiarity helped a lot. In my own pedagogical approach I do lots of things with art in my classes and wrote a dissertation about arts practices and learning–so doing art to learn or explore a topic is something that I am very familiar with. But as a teacher I am focused on learning and knowledge, maybe the feeling of learning and knowledge, but that is a different purpose than art therapy. So while teaching the class I was very aware of the limits of my knowledge in that space. I learned a lot about processing in a group, I learned a lot more ways to do art in a classroom setting, and lots of new terms. I’m a teacher because I love learning, so in that way it was really a great experience for me. 

MPS AT: How, if at all, has this experience informed your practice as an educator?

Asilia: I think I might have already touched on this. In my field, I think that there is too much of a focus on the intellectual aspects of learning. I teach topics that are very emotional and have embodied responses, so my research is on the experience, affect, and feeling of learning difficult knowledge and then, what results from that knowledge. Teaching this course validated the work this work by reminding how important emotions are in teaching and learning. Teaching the course also gave me a lot of new ways to think about how to teach what Sara Ahmed calls “histories that hurt” in ways that account for the emotional aspects of learning about such things in a classroom context. I feel like that part is important. We might learn these things in our relationships, reading books, or talking with friends and family, but the experience of learning difficult and challenging knowledge in a space with people that you know only in a very specific way is different. I gained a  lot of insight into how important creative expression is in that classroom context. This was something that I knew, but seeing how so many students really needed to make art was an interesting experience for me. I am certain that there are many students in my other courses that need to make art but do not feel like that is welcomed in the space, so they suppress it. I think the experience really expanded how I am able to imagine what teaching and learning can look like and can become. 

MPS AT: What has been your favorite part of this class?

Asilia: My favorite part of the class has been watching young people develop new ways of seeing the world and doing so in ways that are noticeable and even sometimes shocking because of how quickly it happens. When people are open to new epistemological frames, they can take them on pretty quickly. More specifically, watching students apply those new frames to analyzing the world and express a curiosity and commitment to continuing to learn. I appreciated the vulnerability and the community that developed from such shared vulnerability. Relatedly,  I think also I enjoyed the ease of the class. We discussed some difficult topics and I felt that the space was very open for it. While I do not ever expect students to accept everything I say or agree with everything we read, I appreciated how open everyone was. I think that was my favorite part because that is very rare in my experience. 

MPS AT: What advice do you have for the students as the class ends and they finish their training, soon to venture out into the professional world?

Asilia: I think the advice I have for the students in the course is to keep going. When I was in my last year of graduate school writing my dissertation, I was on a panel with a senior scholar whom I admired greatly. After the panel, we were stuck in the elevator with a bunch of other people and were saying a rushed goodbye. Before she left the elevator she just said, keep going. Two years later, I remind myself to keep going. So I think that’s my main advice: keep going. Think about our work together as just a start and keep going, knowing that you will make mistakes, both big and small. Mistakes that keep you up at night and make you wonder if it’s worth it. My advice is that it is worth it to keep trying, to keep going. I think that the fear of those mistakes makes us less likely to engage in the world fully–to know different people, go new places, and become different in the world. When you keep going, keep learning, keep putting yourself in spaces that challenge your sense of yourself and others in the world, you can become more of the person that you want to be. This is also advice I give myself.

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