Coming back to teaching after so long felt like a risk. My uncertainty on day one felt overpowering. I’ve felt echoes of that uncertainty every Tuesday as our class time approaches. I remember wondering during the first session what kinds of thoughts, ideas, feelings, connections would emerge through the semester. If we would collectively do work that felt valuable, useful, interesting, joyful.
Now, as we wrap up, I feel the delight of having taken a worthwhile risk. I haven’t commented on your posts this week but I am sitting with each of them, savoring them. I have especially appreciated working with Matt—our mutual co-thinking process and his support and assurance—as I have learned, slowly, a little bit, to trust myself as a teacher.
I snapped this at Riis Beach with my kids this past weekend; it feels like a fitting image to hold onto as we close this semester. The affirming message etched in stone, the swirls of graffiti layered on top—it makes me think of the complex layers of thought and possibility and hope that this class collectively generated.
I think the thing that has most changed my thinking is to celebrate smallness, and not to discount the seemingly little actions we take. I’m reading Emergent Strategy now and am immensely grateful for that recommendation; adrienne maree brown puts into words so many things I haven’t known how to articulate, and things I sometimes haven’t known how to value.
Thank you, each of you, for being a part of this ephemeral community we call a class.
This week’s readings and assignments ask you (ask us) to look at higher education at a slant. Maybe mushrooms and spark birds have nothing to do with higher education, or maybe they do—but we’re not asking about mushrooms and birds, we’re asking about noticing.
Two underlying questions connect these pieces in my mind:
What preconditions make a certain reality possible?
How might we find delight in that reality?
Here’s more about my noticing for this week, and what it got me thinking about.
I’ve mentioned my walks in Green-Wood Cemetery as an important location for my own noticings. This week, though, I focused on Prospect Park. In particular, I thought about the original caretakers of the land; the ways the park is used now; the places of stillness and the places of joy and the places with barren earth and piles of garbage.
It is easy to notice the beauty of redbuds and dogwoods (and whatever the beautiful tree in the third picture is):
But what about the less obviously beautiful spots? I normally linger in the quiet, peaceful corners, but this time I paused somewhere different.
Here, I asked myself to pause and notice. It’s a still photo, so you can’t hear the sounds, but there was so much joy and vibrancy in the scene. I thought about the bare patches, the leftover garbage—spots where the landscape is not as well cared for, maybe, but also traces of gatherings and celebrations. In COVID times, these residues of outdoor joy are even sharper than usual, since parks are one of the few places we can safely gather.
I thought, too, about who is able to gather and celebrate freely, and who is more likely to have their parties surveilled and put to an end. I thought about whose joy is celebrated in parks, whose gatherings may be bittersweet.
So how does this connect to higher education? I think that these kinds of acts of noticing are necessary in order to have a clear picture of the landscape—to move beyond assumptions or received wisdom and really see what is working in an institution, what is harmful, what might have unintended consequences (good or bad). In higher ed there is so much that is taken as a given without much of a pause to ask why something is the case, and whether or not it is beneficial to the underlying goals. Like we talked about in an earlier week, there’s often a sharp disconnect between stated values (mission statements etc) and tacit values (the structures that govern how the institution functions)—and pausing to notice helps bring the tacit values into clearer focus so that change becomes possible.
In “Spark Bird,” City College professor Emily Raboteau applies this art of noticing to the murals in her neighborhood. From a starting point of murals on closed shop grates, Raboteau’s prose swirls through much bigger patterns.
The murals of the birds do not make these connections: Raboteau does, in her walking, wandering, photographing, thinking, writing. Noticing.
So, in class tomorrow I’ll ask what happens when you (or we) apply this kind of noticing to higher ed, to CUNY, to our departments? Where are there unexpected pockets of joy and delight? Matsutake only grow in pine forests that spring from areas of deforestation—human disturbance and destruction. They spring up on their own, but have never been successfully cultivated. Without the deforestation, the matsutake would not grow. As we consider our own imperfect ecosystems, where might we find the kinds of “patchy assemblanges” that Tsing describes in the ravaged landscapes that nonetheless foster life?
I’ll end with some terms I hope we talk about (in a word cloud, because a linear list doesn’t feel quite right):
One possible point of entry is the word “decolonizing” itself. How do the various authors of this week’s texts use the term? Consider a few examples:
“[D]ecolonization from settler colonialism in the US will require a repatriation of Indigenous land and abolition of slavery in all its forms” (Tuck and Yang xii)
“Decolonizing studies, when most centered in Indigenous philosophy, push back against assumptions about the linearity of history and the future, against teleological narratives of human development, and argue for renderings of time and place that exceed coloniality and conquest” (Tuck and Yang xiii)
“Decolonizing requires developing a critical consciousness about the realities of oppression and social iniquities for minoritized peoples. [. . .] We, all of us, must develop a critical discourse that explores the ways colonial relations are and continue to be perpetuated and maintained through relations of power and privilege.” (Styres 32)
“I do not know if decolonization is possible and it feels like the term has become a catchphrase. I see decolonization stickers on people’s computers and there’s an irony in that—a sign that our movement has been branded.” (Wilson and Laing, 136)
“There we have it. The politics of decolonization is not he same as the act of decolonizing. [. . .] I am concerned about how the terminology has started to evoke a practice of getting rid of colonial and imperialistic practices by the very same people who are not only operating fully under those practices but who also receive full financial benefit from them. Decolonizing and capitalism seem to be attached in a sticky situation[.]” (Rodríguez 11)
Another approach you might take to this week’s readings is to consider form, particularly in Clelia Rodríguez’s work. You might think about questions such as:
Why might Rodríguez make the structural/style choices that we see in the reading?
What are the effects on you, as a reader and as a person moving through academic spaces?
What do you make of these formal choices in conjunction with the images on the book’s cover (below)?
Does this reflection on form bring up any new thoughts for you regarding your final project?
Many thanks to Stephanie, Jess, and Lucien for putting these materials and questions together! I wanted to jot down some of my thinking before we gather for class.
CLAGS occupies an interesting space, institutionally speaking. It has a longstanding history at the GC, a solid national/international reputation, brings in renowned speakers, and many other markers that show it to be a successful intervention. However, and maybe others in the class know more about this than I do, I believe that it formerly had GC funding that has been terminated in recent years. What does it say that, on one hand, the GC benefits reputationally and intellectually from the work of CLAGS, and yet does not support that work materially?
I have similar thoughts on the $10M gift from Mellon. Why is it that the same programs that often face cuts during years of budgetary difficulty are also those that are supported by gifts like this one? This gift is a huge support for ethnic studies programs, as well as being a major prestige boost for CUNY. As with CLAGS, there’s an imbalance in reputation/prestige value and budgetary commitment. See for instance this piece in The Nation, esp this portion:
“Austerity at CUNY has devastated academic departments devoted to promoting scholars of color in particular. In 2016, Hunter College effectively closed its Asian Studies department by removing it from the School of Arts and Sciences and replacing it with a smaller institute managed by the provost’s office. The administration decided on this course of action without consulting students or faculty, which sparked controversy.
According to Daniel Vázquez Sanabria, a Brooklyn College student majoring in Puerto Rican and Latino Studies, moves like these direct resources away from entire areas of study. And departments identified as teaching ‘ethnic studies’—a homogenized grouping that students and faculty object to—are often the first to be cut.
’Departments like Puerto Rican [and Latino] studies, Africana Studies, Haitian Studies, and even Dominican Studies have been left to share their space with other departments in order to exist. It is also important to note that even with CUNY having a high percentage of Central American and Mexican students, as well as Asian and Southeast Asian students, it has yet to provide a complete set of courses that cover their histories,’ Sanabria explained. ‘Ethnic studies are highly played down because they are seen as departments that contribute only to the identity of students, rather than their academic life. This is true across all CUNY campuses—including community colleges.’”
Skanda Kadirgamar, “These Students Want to Know: Where’s Their Tuition Money Going?”, The Nation
Sara Ahmed, On Being Included (Intro, ch1) (optional: ch5)
Harris, Campbell, & Brophy, Slavery in the University (Intro)
Optional reading: Marc Bousquet, How the University Works (ch1)
As always, you are welcome to select one or more of these questions to use as a framework for your response, or you may wish to reflect on a different topic or question.
Think about Ahmed’s image of the brick wall. What are some examples of how you see this play out in your own educational experiences, or in the readings?
Consider a close-reading approach to Ahmed’s work. What does she do with specific words, like “stranger” or “passing”? How does her use of language affect the way you understand her argument?
Thinking methodologically for a moment, Ahmed advances her inquiry into institutional diversity by following paper around campus. What kind of method is this, and do you see ways to employ a similar approach in your intellectual work at the GC or in other institutions?
Today’s readings share an emphasis on how insidious white supremacy can be when it seems invisible—a false neutrality that privileges whiteness, for instance, or an illustrious image that glosses over a history of enslaved labor. Reflect on this matter of invisibility, perhaps considering how we see it in our own institutions.
The photo essays, poetry, infographics, and other kinds of responses have been wonderful; feel free to get creative!
Transformative Learning in the Humanities—a new CUNY program funded by the Mellon Foundation—is co-sponsoring events across CUNY all semester long. Events focus on pedagogy, equity, and the humanities. Check out their website for upcoming events, including the one featured in the image above. All events are free and open to the public.
As you read this week, consider questions such as:
How do you see two of these readings in conversation with each other?
What are some tensions (stated or unstated) you see within these readings?
How do you reconcile hope and frustration—within these readings, and within your experience?
What are some different ways of interpreting “low” in this week’s thematic title?
You may also wish to use some of the prompts from the week 2 assignment, or develop your own. Remember, you’re not limited to a text-based response. You are welcome to start exploring new formats—audio, visual, creative, pedagogical, something else.
Join the Futures Initiative and PublicsLab of the Graduate Center, CUNY for a free two-day conference and workshop: Graduate Education at Work in the World. The conference will bring together practitioners, students, faculty, and administrators to collectively imagine and redesign graduate education to support students, scholarship, and the public good.
This conference will focus on new approaches to graduate education in support of the public good, without losing sight of other key elements of higher education reform—including labor practices, student debt, efforts toward improving diversity and inclusion, shared governance, pedagogical training, and more. Participants will generate ideas, share best practices, consider difficult questions, and work toward new models for graduate education that support an array of creative, flexible career paths.