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
“It’s not enough just to say that you’ve met the definition of an HSI if students don’t have a sense of belonging if the leadership doesn’t provide the support necessary to get to and through college completion,”
by Beatriz Ceja-Williams, Division Director at the U.S. Department of Education
In Rivera and Nadal’s chapter, I was prompted to think about the different structural symbols that are given to students. For example, if an LGBTQ+ center was located in a basement, inaccessible, what would this tell queer students? The chapter encouraged me to consider environmental and structural cues that can play a huge role in making schools genuinely inclusive. I first thought of this when the authors were describing how course offerings can send overt and covert messages about which fields “belong in the family,” or are relevant to queer studies. This made me reflect on two examples from my undergraduate institution.
First, I was a Psychology major, and while the issues of traditional psychology (therapy, personality theory) were what initially enticed me, I became exhausted by the lack of social context/political relevance taught in my courses. I eventually found out that the Human Development department taught courses on critical psychology and individuals in context. My eventual advisor was in the Human Development department, which houses the Education department, even though he has his PhD in Psychology. I found out later how problematic the Psychology department was, but it was wild to me how I had to leave my own department to study Psychology critically. I would have completely missed that if I stayed taking courses in my own hub. This makes me think about all of the queer and trans students and students of color who may have majored in Psychology who were systematically excluded from hearing their own narratives in class and were taught a “one sized fits all” model when talking about Psychology. I now fully realize the violence of this.
The second example is also from my college. Much of our student body majored in Economics – a lot of the student body was very wealthy, so it makes sense they may want to study finance. There were discussions I heard from my friends who were Economics majors, who were mostly studying things like global poverty, urban development, and neoliberalism, who were saying that there was a push in the Economics department to make two “tracks” in the major – one focused on Finance, and one focused on “Social Economics.” There was violence in this decision too – so many students studying economics would completely miss out on understanding how economic systems can perpetuate global poverty and systems of oppression.
This article in particular encouraged me to think about the signals we give students, while designing a course or a syllabus. I loved how the chapter ended by encouraging work to be interdisciplinary, showing that queer studies is truly relevant to all. There’s a place to speak critically about social issues in every discipline, and I’m curious in seeing how this can be done particularly outside of the Humanities, such as in STEM, where I see a lot of this hesitance.
Next week, we will look into how institutional models, both those with and without funding, have impacted CUNY. These may be considered non-traditional models, but because of its non-traditional manner are more students being impacted? Truly think about how programs at CUNY work, why they work, and what makes them a success. What do you wish you could see?
Below are the readings we will discuss, as well as some optional media if you’re interested:
David Rivera and Kevin Nadal -The Intersection of Queer Theory and Empirical Methods: Visions for the Center for LGBTQ Studies and Queer Studies (Link)
CUNY Digital History Archive (Take a look into the archives of CLAGS, Medgar Evers College, and Hostos Community College, or anything else that you like!)
Exploring College Students’ Identification with an Organizational Identity for Serving Latinx Students at a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) and an Emerging HSI” (Link)
(Highly Recommended) Optional: Lumina Podcast–”“Living up to the Designation” – Hispanic Serving Institutions” (Link)
Optional: Youtube Video: Understanding Hispanic Institutions: Background and Context for Serving Latinx Students (57:54-1:05:28) (Link)
CUNY Receives $10 Million Gift from Mellon Foundation to Boost Racial and Pandemic-Related Efforts (Link)
Optional: Stories of struggle: histories of childcare activism at CUNY (Link)
Consider the following questions:
What can we learn from these institutional and semi institutional models? Where are the failure points? Points of tension?
How has the CUNY community resisted or failed to resist the given institutionalism?
What does community control look like in the context of CUNY?
What importance does funding have in the non-traditional sense? Does it matter where funding originates?
In what ways have implemented programs supported or failed their students?
“What is the root of the dissatisfaction? Probably the variety of purposes teachers, students, administrators, feel a university has.” (Bambara, 14).
Reading this excerpt of Bambara’s work from 1969, I was struck by how relevant her thoughts and observations are today. We are still having conversations today about representation in academic disciplines. Students want to see their own experiences in the work they study because the assumption of the Western World and Canon relating to everyone is Supremacist– but I think the more insidious idea, that underscores traditional academia, is that it’s a space of objectivity: we do not dote on our personal experiences when engaged in discourse and analysis, and then you realize that’s the standard while concurrently a professor assigns Walden?
So why are we living in the age of Political Correctness now? The roots of “A Counter Culture” and the strength of youth protests go back to the 60s: The University as a source of political discourse in response to Vietnam. Or if you want to be schmaltzy, Barbara Streisand’s character in The Way We Were protesting against Franco’s fascist regime– or the Trotsky Stalinist debates of the 30s on City College’s campus? The end of the 50s, and push against your parent’s domesticity, challenging the nuclear family and the institution of marriage, all the way to the late 60s and the rise of the Black Panthers and Black Power movement show some roots of Identity Politic. Why are we only in the age of PCness now?
How would you date the start of modern-day PC culture and why are we so quick to label it this– especially when it’s the generation of 60s activists (Boomers to be reductive), who are the first to label modern-day critiques as purely “Identity politic”? At what point did we get to the type of discourse surrounding identity in the university, and has it ultimately has it led to progress?
What are the relationships between HBCUs and Bambara’s Black University?
I was fascinated to read this piece by Bambara exploring the idea of a Black University, a piece she wrote while teaching at SEEK in the immediate aftermath of the open admissions struggle. I have been reading everything I can find on the history of HBCUs and thus have thought a lot about what it means for a college or university to be Black. Far from being obvious that HBCUs are Black institutions, students at Howard University organized a campus occupation and conference in 1968 under the auspices of a Black University—this struggle is the genesis of Black Studies at Howard in its contemporary institutional form. This made me wonder whether Bambara was thinking with the Howard students as she wrote her piece two years later—in my very brief search of the web I was unable to find any suggestion that she attended the Howard conference, yet many people who she likely knew (such as Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, and Haki Madhubuti) were in attendance. Today her archive is housed at Spelman College, where her presence pushes the institution to realize the dream of a Black university.
“A student in Music 5 (an alternative to Music I) asked his instructor why the African and Afro-American traditions were not taught since they obviously influenced American music and so much of modern music throughout the world? He was told, “We only consider serious music in this course” (14)
Reading Bambara’s chapter, I think about how the Black University will be more inclusive of the international student, particularly students from the Caribbean. In the suggested courses, the Caribbean is included in terms of nutrition and root courses among others. I see the Caribbean in this sense being recognized for its link or contribution to African American culture which is sometimes overlooked when looking at American history. Incorporating the Caribbean in terms of what is taught is one thing but how can the Black University create a much-needed link for Caribbean immigrant and international students – a link of continuity and acceptance of their educational background?
From strictly looking at the title of Bambara article, I took it to mean what is generally referred to as an HBCU (historically black college or university). My general understanding of HBCUs is that they were founded for black high school graduates to have viable options for college since many traditional, predominantly white, colleges would not admit them. I even recall hearing that in some instances, the establishment of these HBCUs was encouraged by state governments to maintain segregation and avoid any conflicts that could arise with Blacks trying to attend white institutions. HBCUs are literally rooted in blackness and, as such, that blackness can permeate through all structural aspects of the institution – including curriculum.
After reading Bambara’s work, I now better understand what she meant by a Black University. In essence, all colleges and universities should be Black Universities – spaces where not only are Black cultural studies accessible, but ubiquitous. A Black University is a space where the contributions of Blacks to world and American culture are not overlooked, but uplifted. A Black University values more than just the academic experiences and learnings of the elite who hold PhDs and advanced degrees and gives credence to the depth of wisdom and knowledge that is gained from unique lived experiences. A Black University is as intentional, in any academic discipline, at appreciating the opinions and works of Blacks in that field as institutions and departments have historically been at dismissing those same things.
Moten and Harney critiqued the University in supporting a problematic society, to serve capital and the state. The university professionalizes students, converting them from social individuals to state agents, creating a labor force that serves the market and the state. Schools are ranked based on their ability to produce useful workers to the ends required by capitalism and the state. Rather than focus on a program’s intellectual quality, metrics are based on the universities ability to convert student’s into laborer in the market after graduating. The university is also a place for the social reproduction of denial, and like prisons, the reduction and command of the social individual.
“What is, so to speak, the object of abolition? Not so much the abolition of prisons but the abolition of a society that could have prisons, that could have slavery, that could have the wage, and therefore not abolition as the elimination of anything but abolition as the founding of a new society.” p 42
Foucault allowed an understanding of fundamental institutional structures; the clinic, the prison, the school. So it is not just the institution of prison, not just schools or clinics. A general abolition of all institutions is required for a new society.
“To be a critical academic in the university is to be against the university, and to be against the university is always to recognize it and be recognized by it. ”
The critical academic is constantly in antagonism with the university. If it’s not possible to extract the individual from the university, to subvert or rise above, what is the solution/alternative?