The CUNY Humanities Alliance (HA) seeks to empower students and instructors as agents for social change through the use of grounded critical pedagogy. Taking HA as a case study, this interactive symposium will:
(1) Highlight the importance of humanities education in developing community college students’ critical agency towards social, cultural, political and economic justice;
(2) Demonstrate the significance of providing doctoral students with robust training for teaching at community colleges; and
(3) Imagine diverse futures for doctoral education in the humanities. Panelists include community college faculty and students, research associates, current and former doctoral fellows, and administrators.
Community colleges are an increasingly vital sector of higher education, enrolling nearly half of all U.S. undergraduates, the majority of whom are students of color, first generation students, and low-wage precarious workers. With the rise of neoliberal policies and politics, community colleges are often reduced to workforce development or vocationalization (Ayers, 2011). Kim (2019) notes that such vocationalization subjectifies students as part of a profit-making strategy.
Humanities educators have an opportunity and responsibility to resist these neoliberal practices by implementing critical pedagogy that empowers students and guides instructors to overcome discordance between subject matter and students’ embodied realities. Instructors and students co-create learning experiences that deconstruct hierarchical relationships, enabling students to bring their experiences with class, culture, politics, and other positionalities into the classroom in a way that affirms, rather than marginalizes students’ lived realities.
About the Presenters
Dr. Garrison-Fletcher is an Associate Professor of Linguistics at LaGuardia Community College, CUNY. She has served as a faculty mentor for three HA fellows. Her research focuses on multilingual learners, language acquisition, and translanguaging. She leads a seminar at LaGuardia on teaching language across the curriculum, which aims to validate and build on the linguistic resources of all students—a form of linguistic social justice.
Kaysi Holman is the Director of Programs and Administration of CUNY HA. For 20 years, she has worked with nonprofits and educational organizations dedicated to equity and social justice. At CUNY, she supervises graduate teaching fellows, co-directs the LaGuardia Mellon Humanities Scholars program, plans professional development workshops for graduate and undergraduate students, and manages the online communications platform.
Dr. Kim is the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow of the Futures Initiative and the CUNY HA at the Graduate Center (here after GC), CUNY. She is an interdisciplinary scholar whose research addresses critical pedagogy in community colleges and in higher education more broadly. Her research interests are located at the intersection of class, race, power, subjectivity and citizenship, and how these conditions affect vulnerable community college students’ sense of institutional and social belonging.
Lauren Melendez is Director of the Futures Initiative Undergraduate Leadership Program and Administrative Specialist at the GC, CUNY. She directs and oversees 30 undergraduate students from 12 CUNY campuses. She helps them develop mentoring and leadership skills, and helps them learn how to navigate their education, postgraduate career paths, and life. Ms. Melendez also provides social emotional counseling and college and career pathway advisement to high school students, primarily from underrepresented communities within the New York City area.
Dr. Rogers co-directs the Futures Initiative, a partner program of the HA, and has been instrumental in the program’s development. Her research focuses on higher education reform, career development, public scholarship, and labor policies. Her forthcoming book, Putting the Humanities Ph.D. to Work: Theory, Practice, and Models for Thriving in and beyond the Classroom, is in production with Duke University Press for release in July 2020. Rogers holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Colorado.
Micheal Rumore is a doctoral candidate in English at the GC, CUNY and CUNY HA Fellow. His in-progress dissertation, “Black Water: Race and the Human Project in the Indian Ocean Imagination,” examines the Indian Ocean as an African diasporic site. His writing has appeared in venues such as Social Text Online and Studies in the Fantastic. In addition, he teaches literature and writing courses at LaGuardia Community College, Lehman College, and Queens College.
Juan Sebastian Sepulveda
Sebastian Sepulveda is a Film and TV undergraduate student at Lehman College. He is passionate about making documentaries, and he aims to become a film director, producer, and actor. He was part of the LaGuardia Mellon Humanities Scholars program, where he discussed with other scholars relevant topics that affect the immigrant community in the U.S.; especially, the Latino community. Sebastian’s main objective as an audiovisual artist is to change the misconceptions that exist about immigrants in the U.S.
Luis Henao Uribe
Dr. Henao Uribe is the Mellon Humanities Scholar in the Teaching and Learning Center at the GC, CUNY, where he creates professional development programming for graduate fellows. A graduate of the Ph.D. program in Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Cultures at the GC, his recent research explores literary and political representations in Colombian history, and the relationship between language, knowledge production, and citizenship.
Christina Valeros is a junior studying Human Biology and Public Policy at Hunter College. Her interests center urban food insecurity, health policy and gender equity. She is a second-year Futures Initiative Leadership and Democracy Fellow and a William R. Kenan Scholar. For two years, she facilitated health workshops for high school freshman with Peer Health Exchange. As a Leadership Council Member, she now supports the development and growth of a small group of health educators.
About the Session
I have had the pleasure of serving as a Humanities Alliance mentor for two cohorts of fellows, mentoring three fellows. My first cohort included two fellows with very different backgrounds – one was a Linguistics PhD student who had a lot of experience teaching community college students, though not in teaching an introductory Linguistics class. The other was a student in Luso-Brazilian Languages and Literature and had taught Spanish courses at a CUNY senior college, though was a relatively new teacher. The second cohort I had one fellow, who was in the French literature program but had a background and interest in linguistics, and had limited experience teaching French courses at a CUNY senior college. Working with fellows with such diverse backgrounds and interests helped me gain more insight and ideas for teaching and approaching the study of linguistics.
The opportunity to talk with others in the Humanities Alliance about my class, my students, and my pedagogy was invaluable. Having the fellows observing my class and then talking with them about what they saw gave me the opportunity to reflect on my teaching, my students, and my approach to teaching different areas of linguistics. I made a few significant changes to my course, rearranging the topics in my syllabus, and making more explicit to students why the course was organized as it was and making connections (starting with the discussion of what language is, then thinking about historical linguistics, and how language and society are related, then looking at the small details of what makes our languages systematic and how we acquire these facets of language). I had always followed the more “traditional” order of teaching, starting with the small details about what makes language systematic, but not thinking of big picture ideas until the end of the course. Taking the time to talk with the fellows, and to talk with the whole group in our monthly meetings, gave me the space, time, and permission to rethink my approach to the course. The fellows also helped me think about what approaches/activities worked best in certain situations and helped me think about ways to better engage all students. For instance, I had one class in which the students were very quiet. Having another person who knew the students and saw their classroom behavior to share ideas and concerns with was a great benefit of being part of the Humanities Alliance.
As teachers we are often isolated from others and if we don’t have classroom training (I did not, just like so many other professors), we may not always feel comfortable with our pedagogy and can often feel unsure of ourselves. The Humanities Alliance gave me more confidence as a teacher, and also made me more comfortable to share problems or insecurities.
Kaysi Holman and Sebastián Sepulveda
As the co-director and an alumni of the LaGuardia Mellon Humanities Scholars, Kaysi and Sebastián will be talking about how the program enriches LaGuardia students’ understanding of the Humanities, and helps them build academic and career pathways in the Humanities. Through biweekly meetings and additional humanities enrichment activities, the Humanities Scholars are exposed to modes of critical and creative thinking, various historical and cultural perspectives, and aesthetic appreciation. They will also further develop their skills in research, oral and written communication, collaboration, project management, and digital literacy.
Each Humanities Scholar designs and creates a year-long project that will be usable for the individual student and the college-wide community. With the student at the center, this group determines what they need to succeed to towards graduation and their future careers. They work in the program, their major courses, and humanities activities, and are advised by peers (vice-versa), graduate fellows, and faculty mentors to engage in a project that will advance them towards baccalaureate and graduate degrees as well as their future careers. In addition, they will work within student affairs to share their exploration with the LaGuardia community.
Sebastian was a LaGuardia Mellon Humanities Scholar in 2018-2019, and developed a short documentary film for his project. “Brote de Esperanza/Hope Bloom” is a documentary that narrates the story of a young undocumented Latino immigrant whose dream is to become a professional photographer. This documentary demonstrates how the Latino community is conformed by determined, self-driven, and hard-working individuals. The Story of Carlos Javier will definitely encourage immigrant and non-immigrant individuals to outdo themselves in a country where equality of opportunities is granted to those who decide to put their soul and heart in any of their projects. This documentary has been created to inspire those who believe that achieving their goals is impossible.
“You don’t know what you are capable of until you try it. Look at me, I do not have any legal documents in the US and I have been able to achieve amazing things. Imagine what you can accomplish if you just set a goal in your mind” – Carlos Alvarenga
You can view the documentary at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORkueA8r_ic&t=31s.
To see more information about the LaGuardia Mellon Humanities Scholars program and the year-end project Showcases at:
I will discuss the result of survey that was untaken after the 2018 Humanities Alliance Conference. In particular, I will focus on the ways to empower students, faculty and academic professionals and teaching and administrative practices working best in community college contexts.
First, as ways to empower students, instructors and academic professions, (a) listening to students and understanding who they are and their experiences;, (b) securing more agency and autonomy to students, instructors and academic professionals;, (c) valuing teaching and learning and making them more contextual;, (4) making tuition and housing more affordable or free, and (d) not to “make college a needless prerequisite for jobs/careers.” In particular to empower faculty, the respondents pointed out (a) to “establish mentor/mentee programs”;, and (b) to provide more professional development opportunities and resources. And, the respondents also indicated the significance of more democratic interactions between community colleges and 4-year institutions and among different employment levels. One of the respondents highlighted the significance of recognizing students, instructors and administrators as key stakeholders and value their opinions.
Regarding best teaching and administrative practices within community college contexts, the respondents highlighted (a) student-centered pedagogy;, (b) active learning; © transparent communication;, (d) interactive multidisciplinary dialogue and research;, (e) socially engaged in teaching;, (f) equal and democratic relationships between students and instructors;, and (d)stressing the value of humanities in the core curriculum for students. A respondent mentioned that “the push toward merging (or confusing) the mission of 2-year institutions with vocational/career training institutions makes this a priority.
Lauren Melendez and Christina Valeros
As the Co-Director and alumni of the Futures Initiative Leadership and Democracy Fellows, Lauren and Christina will discuss how the program impacts undergraduate students. The Futures Initiative’s Leadership and Peer Mentoring Program supports CUNY undergraduate students who are learning to be leaders within their colleges and within their communities. The program believes that great leadership means representing and responding to one’s peers in a way that supports everyone’s success.
In order to prepare and train diverse students to navigate college and prepare them for the workforce and the world beyond college, programs within higher education need to teach not just content but a range of skills often called “essential” skills that include collaboration, networking and leadership. One way to do this is by implementing leadership and mentoring programs designed to prepare our students for life inside and outside the classroom.
The Futures Initiative’s Undergraduate Leadership Program (FIULP) supports CUNY undergraduate students who are learning to be leaders within their colleges and within their communities. The program, directed by Lauren Melendez, Director of the Undergraduate Leadership Program and Administrative Specialist of the Futures Initiative, and Co-Director Kashema Hutchinson, Phd candidate in Urban Education, is dedicated to the idea that great leadership means representing and responding to one’s peers in a way that supports everyone’s success. Through innovative pedagogical skill shares, student-centered learning, and activities the Undergraduate Leadership Program combines in-person meetings with virtual activities where students decide on topics and “prompts” and then blog on the program’s website. This online interaction helps create an inclusive (and unique) experience across CUNY’s 25 campuses. This program structurally addresses the joint issues of equity, increasing diversity and preparing students for their present and future endeavors.
This year, for the 2019-2020 cohort, we are pleased to announce a new partnership with The Promise and Perils of Democracy Project supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. In addition to the focus on leadership and peer mentoring, we are addressing questions of democracy and informed public engagement. We started the Fall 2019 semester off with a session lead by guest speaker Professor Bianca Williams, a distinguished cultural anthropologist who works on Black feminist leadership, especially in education and in political movements such as Black Lives Matter. She helped to create Black Lives Matter Chapter 5280 on MLKDay and insistently asks our student leaders deep and provocative questions such as: “What do you imagine democracy to look like ?” “Are democracy and liberation synonymous?” “Will democracy lead to liberation for all?”
Addressing such questions, two of our Undergraduate Peer Leaders wrote blogs about democracy and leadership. Christina Valeros, a student at Hunter College and in CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College, wrote “Tell Me What Democracy Looks Like”: Liberation and Democracy’s Limits, capturing her views of democracy. Calvin Herman, a Macaulay Honors at Lehman College, wrote a post entitled: Democracy Reimagined: How to Fight for a Better Democracy.
Another topic that is covered each year in the ULP is social justice. A highlight from the Fall 2019 semester was a meet-up session that featured ULP alum Steven Pacheco, an undergraduate in his senior year at John Jay College. Mr. Pacheco is majoring in Social Justice for Cultural Change via the CUNY BA program. His work is focused on the cross-sections and intersections of culture, justice, and empowerment. He is dedicated to using his platform and voice to diversify the workforce and markets by re-enfranchising formerly incarcerated people and communities most vulnerable to the by-products of mass incarceration.
He lead a session on the effects of Mass Incarceration on communities of color which included policy touch points as it related to Higher education, voting, housing, and employment. Additional resources pertaining to Mass Incarceration can be found here: Location of Justice Series https://urbanomnibus.net/series/location-of-justice/ and New York Times Op-ed piece: Jay-z: “The Criminal Justice System Stalks Black People Like Meek Mill” by Jay-z https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/17/opinion/jay-z-meek-mill-probation.html
Leadership and Democracy Fellows publish monthly blog posts and respond to their peers’ posts. Past blog posts have focused on professional and personal development, various social justice topics, and reflections on democracy’s limits. Christina Valeros was a Leadership Fellow in 2018-2019 and a Leadership and Democracy Fellow in 2019-2020. A selection of her blog posts can be found here.
I developed “Visualizing Identity” and “Literary Listening” with the CUNY Humanities Alliance for LaGuardia Community College’s composition course, “Writing through Literature,” where I taught from Spring 2018 to Spring 2019. In planning these courses, I wanted to develop an accessible sequence of readings that engage the “politics of representation,” both literary and otherwise. I intended to forge a classroom culture in which students could reflect critically on the social positionings of race, class, and gender, while also taking their individual experiences seriously as topics of academic inquiry.
Both classes included multimodal writing assignments, including “visual” assignments (such as representing a “close reading” in comic book form) and “audible” assignments (such as organizing a personal narrative around a Spotify music playlist). Here, I wanted to expand the sense of “writing” as only involving text on a page, to instead think of writing as a social process. By incorporating “popular” forms such as comic books, and music videos in addition to more “traditional” literary texts, I hoped also to defamiliarize the haughty and often dispossessive sense of capital-L “Literature” that stands above student experience. I thus attempted to recast the “close reading” skills associated with literary study as a method for decoding social texts and exercising power.
I will discuss one particular assignment in detail: a comic book “Splash Page,” which asked students to representing passages from Claudia Rankine’s book-length poem Citizen visually in visual form. Students were asked to pick and choose concrete details from passages in Citizen and justify their choices analytically. Also, I wanted students to come out of this assignment reflecting—by visualizing scenes from the poem—on their own positionalities in relation to the scenes of racism depicted in Citizen. Reflecting major themes in Citizen, the work students produced spurred a continued discussion on white normativity and representational politics more broadly.
Luis Henao Uribe
Walking into my Contemporary Latin American literature class, I couldn’t help but wonder about the purpose of this disciplinary knowledge for my students, many of whom were recent arrivals from Latin American or the daughters and sons of Latinx migrants. I never took for granted that my discipline was a privilege that automatically would impact my student’s life for the better. I keep on questioning how learning Latin American literature can serve my students and contribute to their intellectual and professional journey and how can it affirm or harm the way how they see themselves and others as part of society.
From the beginning of the class, I wanted to make sure that students understood both key concepts not as foreign, or strange, but as part of who they are as individuals and intellectuals. I insisted on introducing Latin American debates about race, women’s rights, or the environment and highlighting how they directly affect the way students are perceived and treated in New York and how they inform their own identities. It was needed, I felt, to recognize the link between Delmira Agustini, an Uruguayan poet from the early 19th century, and New York’s Brides’ March, a movement that denounces domestic violence.
Students shouldn’t be asked to value a literary canon constructed a long time ago, in a far away land, just by the merits of its canonicity. Canon construction is in itself is a contested stage of political and symbolic representation, what prompted students to reflect about how they -and their communities- are represented in society. “Literature” stopped being about “books,” “writers,” and “texts” but about the relation between the production and reproduction of these cultural artifacts. We learned to look for the “cultural artifacts” that students use in their daily life and to acquire the tools to critically engage with “texts” such as news stories, documentaries, and music videos.
It made sense to develop culturally relevant projects addressing student’s intellectual inquiries and professional goals. Students chose topics that were outside my own training and comfort, promptly a communal discovery of sources. We designed alternatives to traditional papers, such a lesson plans for students who are preparing themselves to teach. Assessing performance, knowledge-acquisition, and engagement in non-traditional formats required me to adjust my teaching practices.
About Our Programs
CUNY Humanities Alliance
The Graduate Center and LaGuardia Community College of the City University of New York (CUNY), with generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, created the CUNY Humanities Alliance, an ambitious partnership dedicated to preparing Ph.D. students in the most successful methods for teaching humanities courses in some of the country’s most diverse undergraduate classrooms, while simultaneously broadening and strengthening access to and engagement in the humanities for community college students. Graduate Center doctoral students train with LaGuardia Community College master faculty and receive robust professional development from faculty and administrators at both institutions, before implementing their newly-acquired skills to teach their own classes at LaGuardia. The LaGuardia students in our humanities courses and LaGuardia Mellon Humanities Scholars program are given new opportunities and enrichment activities to improve their understanding of the humanities and the pathways that lead to completion of their degrees. For more information about the CUNY Humanities Alliance, visit cunyhumanitiesalliance.org.
The Futures Initiative advocates greater equity and innovation in higher education at every level of the university. Housed at the Graduate Center and reaching throughout the CUNY community, the Futures Initiative empowers the next generation of intellectual leaders with bold, public, and engaged teaching and learning. With an emphasis on student-centered practices, the Futures Initiative redefines graduate preparation to include translation of specialized research into the best undergraduate teaching, including for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Futures Initiative also fosters greater understanding of the complexities of the higher education landscape by spearheading data-driven research in areas critical to institutional change. Through the online network HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory), the Futures Initiative extends its collaborative peer-to-peer practices across institutions, disciplines, national boundaries, and economic and social disparities, promoting reinvestment in higher education as a public good.
Teaching Resources and Information
The Teach@CUNY Handbook by The GC Teaching and Learning Center
It offers practical guidance to both beginning and experienced instructors across teaching at the City University of New York and beyond.
It is a platform for discussions about teaching and learning at CUNY. It is edited by the staff of the Graduate Center’s Teaching and Learning Center, but is authored by members of the CUNY community.
“Visualizing Identity” course website and examples of student “Splash Page” work: http://cunyhumanitiesalliance.org/visualizingidentityf18/2018/10/19/splash-page-presentation-sign-up/
Assignment for Introduction to Language paper on language attitudes : https://academicworks.cuny.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1016&context=lg_oers
The responses on “Exit tickets” from the session will be added after the session.