Two historians win graduate teaching awards

Geoffrey Reaume and Marc Stein have won Faculty of Graduate Studies Teaching Awards this year.

For both, this is their first teaching award, though not their first nomination. Both are popular teachers covering new ground and challenging old biases – Reaume in disability history and Stein in the history of sexuality. Both have supervised a higher-than-average number of grad students, demonstrating an unwavering commitment that is clearly appreciated. For some, these professors have changed their lives.

Reaume was nominated by Isabel Killoran, Critical Disabilities Studies Graduate Program director. Stein was nominated by Women's Studies Graduate Program director David Murray and doctoral student Healy Thompson (MA ’09).

Reaume will receive his award on May 6 at the Faculty of Graduate Studies Council meeting. Stein, leaving soon on sabbatical, will receive his award in January or February.

Right: Geoffrey Reaume

Reaume joined York’s Faculty of Health in 2004 and helped set up the Graduate Program in Critical Disability Studies, the first of its kind in Canada. Of several signature courses he developed, perhaps the most popular is Mad People’s History. In her  letter of nomination, Killoran writes that one faculty member maintains that “there is not a single student who has taken this course who would not say it is among their top choices as the best and most stimulating course they have taken in their university career.”

Students said Reaume’s courses were “amazing” and provided a “safe place to talk” about difficult issues. He challenged them academically and personally by questioning long-held biases and moving beyond the familiar and comfortable. Many were struck by his respect for humanity and his selfless mentoring of so many students. Students called him a role model and an inspiration, and Killoran ended her nomination with these words from one student: “Geoffrey is the kind of teacher who quietly opens minds and changes lives.”

Winning the award is “very gratifying”, says the soft-spoken Reaume. “To me the greatest reward is the support of my students and colleagues.” The author of Remembrance of Patients Past, the groundbreaking and recently reissued (see YFile, April 19) book about life in the 19th-century Toronto Insane Asylum from the patients’ perspective, also considers this teaching award recognition of students and faculty in Critical Disabilities Studies who nominated him.

Stein, born and raised near New York City, joined York’s Department of History 12 years ago to teach US political history to undergraduates. By 2003, he was teaching graduate courses in history, social & political thought and women’s studies. In 2006, he became coordinator of the Sexuality Studies Program in the School of Women's Studies. According to his nominators, students rave about graduate courses he designed and taught on queer theory and the history of sexuality.

Left: Marc Stein

At the beginning of many classes, Stein invites each student to comment on the assigned reading and raise issues they would like to discuss. His nominators said students praised his “participatory, pedagogical style that encourages the exploration and cultivation of ideas, creates an equitable classroom environment, and ensures all students leave with a thorough and nuanced understanding of the material.” Students also welcomed his efforts to find “unique, innovative and provocative material” and appreciated his “substantial margin notes and detailed written comments” on classroom and major research papers. “His feedback helps his students develop stronger critical thinking and writing skills while also inspiring them to look at their work in new ways,” wrote the nominators.

Stein has participated in the supervision of over 60 graduate students, a remarkable number. His nominators wrote that students praised his dedication and passion, both in teaching and in advising, and treasured him as an exceptional supervisor, teacher, mentor, peer and friend.

"I'm incredibly honoured to win this award," says Stein. "Several people said to me that the nomination was the great thing and winning was just the icing on the cake. But I'm at mid-career point now and about to go on sabbatical and winning is incredibly energizing. It's also a little intimidating because now I have to live up to all the positive things students said about me!"

Stein says he loves graduate teaching. "We can assume a level of student interest and engagement. It keeps me current and on top of the new literature."

Stein leaves for the United States soon on a one-year sabbatical to begin work on a history of the gay and lesbian movement, intended for classroom use and published in a new Routledge series on US social movements. Meanwhile, his second book, Sexual Injustice: Supreme Court Decisions from Griswold to Roe, will be published by the University of North Carolina Press in the fall. In it, he examines a 1967 case in which the US Supreme Court upheld the deportation of homosexuals as aliens "afflicted with psychopathic personalities” and ordered a Canadian immigrant deported back to Canada.