Dr. Sasha Sanders Awarded Dwight L. Freshley Outstanding New Teacher Award by Southern States Communication Association (SSCA) | Communication Studies
February 28, 2024

Dr. Sasha Sanders Awarded Dwight L. Freshley Outstanding New Teacher Award by Southern States Communication Association (SSCA)

Congratulations to Dr. Sasha Sanders for her receipt of the 2024 "Dwight L. Freshley Outstanding New Teacher Award" from the Southern States Communication Association. This award seeks to honor faculty members who demonstrate teaching excellence early in their careers and who have taught for at least two, but no more than five years.

Dr. Sanders earned her PhD in Communication Studies from the University of South Florida in 2021 and joined our UNTCOMM faculty as a Performance Studies scholar/ pedagogue immediately in Fall 2021. In her first five semesters as an Assistant Professor, Dr. Sanders taught ten courses total, with nine being new course preparations, and eight entirely new courses that were designed by Dr. Sanders. The variety of courses that Dr. Sanders develops and teaches goes far beyond what is typically expected of fulltime faculty member, let alone an early career scholar. Dr. Sanders brings to these courses her research expertise in Black feminist thought, autoethnography, and performance activism. Dr. Suzanne Enck, Chair of the Department of Communication Studies at UNT, describes her classes in this way: "Assigning readings and projects that challenge whatever comfort zone her students may occupy, Dr. Sanders' classrooms are filled with frank conversations about race, sexuality, gender, and class that take seriously the importance of cultural context, location, and how one's embodied experiences of this world come to know and speak truth. Dr. Sanders is exceedingly adept at drawing upon her students' wide variation in political and co-cultural backgrounds to help build identification across divisions."

As a performance faculty member, Dr. Sanders draws upon smaller and larger scale creative activities within her classrooms. For example, Dr. Sanders often opens her classes by having students take 2 minutes to draw a self-portrait that reflects how they are feeling upon entering class that day. This exercise allows students to quietly reflect and situate themselves in the learning environment and immerse themselves into a creative mindset. Dr. Sanders' students are also encouraged to create multimedia projects, in addition to traditional research papers, through comics, art made through found objects, digital projects, storytelling, poetry, and other means, while "theorizing the everyday and sophisticated ways that power circulates and can be resisted," as Dr. Enck notes.

While her courses interrogate challenging material through projects and activities that students may not have encountered before, Dr. Sanders' students are well-equipped to mount these obstacles and are full of praise for her teaching. Dr. Sanders consistently earns high scores on her course evaluations, and regularly receives commendations about how she guides students through her courses with encouragement and vulnerability. As one student expressed, "This class allowed individuals who did not feel accepted to have an outlet. Dr. Sanders is a phenomenal professor who expresses her enthusiasm and love for her job and the students she teaches."

Dr. Sanders' influence goes beyond the classroom. In her capacity as a mentor, she has worked with multiple students who have already received top paper awards at regional and national communication association conferences, including Chrissy Stephenson, Laura Puentes, and Kinny Torre. Our department has greatly benefited by Dr. Sanders' commitments to her craft, her colleagues, and her classroom teaching. Dr. Enck says, "Dr. Sasha Sanders has brought new life and excitement to our department, inspiring her students and colleagues alike."

Dr. Sanders will receive a plaque at the 2024 SSCA annual convention lunch, this year hosted the first weekend in April just up the road in Frisco. Congratulations, Dr. Sanders! We are so grateful to have such an outstanding pedagogue, researcher, and colleague in our department.