peace-building through awareness and improvisation (one event past, one upcoming)

This post was written by Contributing Authors Heather Huggins and Aviva Geismar, collaborating professors at Queensborough Community College. 

peace-building through awareness and improvisation 

Part 1 

Friday, March 12, 2021 at 10:30 am 

Our program was a celebration of a participatory action research methodology known as Social Presencing Theater, a body-based approach for sensing and enacting change. It was also an invitation to engage with QCC’s student and alumni practice group, which began in April 2018.  

Social Presencing Theater (SPT) decolonizes learning by reclaiming the body as an equitable way of knowing and being. SPT centers first-person experience via an improvisational and cyclical process, inviting participants to perceive a larger present. Because SPT is practiced in community, it positions our relational spaces, and the distinct cultures that emerge from them, as worthy of reflection and development. The “theater” in SPT refers to a shared place where something of significance is made visible. 

The first virtual event was a webinar, co-presented with QCC’s Kupferberg Holocaust Center. Facilitators guided awareness and listening practices that participants were able to enact in a chair and with limited space if necessary. Attendees learned about a workshop on “empathy to action,” which CUNY students developed in partnership with the KHC last year. Facilitators also shared about their experiences integrating SPT in local and global contexts, reflecting on the potential of SPT to transform intransigent problems. 

Facilitators included members of QCC’s student and alumni practice group, including Jessica Kreisler and Yineng Ye, Global Citizenship Alliance alumni; Arawana Hayashi, creator of Social Presencing Theater; Uri Noy Meir, an artist-facilitator co-creating social art across borders;  and CUNY Faculty members: Heather Huggins, advanced practitioner of SPT and Assistant Professor of Theatre, and Aviva Geismar, Associate Professor of Dance.  

Here’s a video from a recent event at City University of New York (CUNY) – Queensborough Community College (QCC), peacebuilding through awareness and improvisation.

The program was facilitated by Arawana Hayashi, Uri Noy Meir, QCC faculty members Heather Huggins and Aviva Geismar, and members of QCC’s student and alumni practice group, including Jessica Kriesler, Yineng Ye, Joe Distl, Phylisha Louis, Geovanny Guzman, Kristopher Harris, and Justin Allen. The event was co-sponsored by the Harriet & Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Center at QCC and Transformative Learning in the Humanities at CUNY. 

Stay tuned for the second event in this mini series,  

peace building through awareness 

 Part 2

Saturday, April 24th 10:30 am – 12 noon.  

The second virtual event invites attendees to immerse in Social Presencing Theater, including group practices and ways to map the complexity of our educational system. Facilitators will share about the potential for body-based knowledge to transform structures, including SPT’s capacity to illuminate patterns from the personal to the systemic. Facilitators will also share how body-based practices offer wisdom for re-generating culture, transforming social dynamics from exclusion to inclusion and from violence to peace. 

Facilitators are members of QCC’s student and alumni practice group, including Jessica Kreisler and Yineng Ye, Global Citizenship Alliance alumni; Arawana Hayashi, creator of Social Presencing Theater; Manish Srivastava, a global facilitator whose projects include partnering with UN agencies and NGO sectors; Uri Noy Meir, an artist-facilitator co-creating social art across borders and CUNY Faculty members: Heather Huggins, advanced practitioner of SPT and Assistant Professor of Theatre, and Aviva Geismar, Associate Professor of Dance.

Heather Huggins is an interdisciplinary artist who aspires to reclaim the wisdom of the body through social practice and research. Her projects explore presence as a path for co-created social change.  Heather is an Assistant Professor of Theatre at CUNY-QCC where she facilitates a practice-based undergraduate research community which has presented in numerous forums for the CUNY community. She initiated a participatory action research (PAR) community at QCC in April 2018 which integrates an innovative social art form known as Social Presencing Theater (SPT); SPT embodies Theory U (Otto Scharmer, MIT) by “joining physical and spatial intelligence with emotional and cognitive intelligence”  (Arawana Hayashi, SPT). In Winter 2020, she traveled with students for a social arts residency in the Yucatán, collaborating with Mayan community members to co-create a performance celebrating the wisdom of youth; the group also presents findings on diversity, equity, and inclusion and co-facilitates workshops. She is a graduate of the Vakhtangov Theatre, an advanced practitioner of Social Presencing Theater at the Presencing Institute, and a social arts facilitator with ImaginAction.

Aviva Geismar is an Associate Professor in the Dance Program at QCC-CUNY. She is also Artistic Director of Drastic Action, a NYC-based contemporary dance company. Her dances have been performed in venues across North America and Germany, including DTW, Danspace Project, the Kennedy Center and Jacob’s Pillow. Many of her works focus on issues of social justice; for example, Dis/Location (Fort Tryon) (2016) explored the immigrant experience in the mostly immigrant neighborhood of Washington Heights. From 2006-2010, she led “Dancing to Connect,” a cultural exchange project with Germany, focusing on tolerance within the context and legacy of the Holocaust. She is currently collaborating with Heather Huggins and playwright, Kirk German, on a multi- installment, dance/theater project titled “Dis Place.” The project interrogates our national legacy of cultural and geographic displacement by examining the experiences of individuals impacted by slum clearance/urban renewal in NYC and beyond.  

Teaching Africana Women’s Responses to the Covid-19 Crisis (Event Reflection)

This post was written by Contributing Author Mariama Khan, an adjunct lecturer at Lehman College.

On March 23, 2021, I participated in the “Transformative Learning in the Humanities” workshop on “Teaching Africana Women’s Responses to the Covid-19 Crisis,” under the theme “Ubuntu Pedagogy in Pandemic Times.” The workshop was chaired by Professor Bertrade Ngo-Ngijol-Banoum, chair,  Africana Studies Department, Lehman College. Her discussion on the Ubuntu Pedagogy framework was followed by my presentation on dome-ndeye and badenya, Wollof and Mandinka concepts on interpersonal and communal solidarity. The two concepts were useful to how I personally responded to the Covid-19 pandemic. Some Lehman College students also made presentations during the workshop. 

I thought teaching Africana women’s responses to the Covid-19 crisis can be usefully done through experiential learning. What that meant  for me was to reflect on my pre-Covid-19 experiences in America vis-à-vis how I responded to the Covid-19 pandemic. As an immigrant, I will forever cherish the extraordinary kindness and generosity I have enjoyed in America from both people I knew and complete strangers. Without any exaggeration, I can write a whole book about the greatness of American compassion and kindness.  

However, as a single parent, by the time Covid-19 started, I experienced a series of unfathomable crisis with my two sons.  I list some of the experiences to highlight their severity.  

They include unknown intruder(s)  coming to our place and ransacking it while we were at school.  

My older son was taken to a laundromat where a man he was seeing for the first time, came and started punching him on the face, badly injuring him. A taxi-driver who was arranged to pick-me up intentionally sped and ramped his car into other cars in the traffic.  Thank God I survived that accident. My younger son was also robbed at the train station. Some person or persons submitted fraudulent applications in my name at the NYC HRA and the US Department of Homeland Security. There was also manipulated gas leaks in my apartment.  Unbelievably, two police detectives came to my apartment to search if I had a gun based on information they received. I thought I was having a nightmare as they spoke to me. They searched, found nothing and left.  

The Covid-19 pandemic found me navigating through unfathomable crisis upon crisis. It brought an additional uneasy layer to the sense of incomprehension I have been having. But more importantly, it heightened my awareness that there is a need to follow to the best of my abilities, expert advice on the pandemic, and to seek and share information on it. It reinforced my sense about the importance of family even if separated by many thousands and thousands of miles. The pandemic helped me to engage in deep introspection which has reinforced new ways of understanding the world, my purpose in it and the divine duty to love, care for and have genuine compassion towards other human beings even as I go through my own personal struggles, alone, but under God’s full watch. I went through the pandemic, like my crises, appreciating prayers, thoughtfulness, goodwill and good-faith.  

Mariama Khan is an adjunct lecturer at Lehman College Africana Studies Department. She is a Gambian scholar, poet, filmmaker and an advocate of culture. She is the author of The Gambia-Senegal Border, Issues in Regional Integration

Autoethnographic Pedagogy Zine

On March 17, CUNY Professors James Lowry, Nerve Macaspac, and Cynthia Tobar led a workshop on “Autoethnographic Pedagogy: Student Expertise and Learning in Community.”

CUNY serves a diverse student population, including first generation scholars, undocumented immigrants, students living below the poverty line and students from communities historically excluded from higher education. All CUNY students have unique lived experiences and knowledge, but our teaching does not always recognize and value the expertise already present in the classroom. At the same time, many opportunities for meaningful pedagogy are missed because of traditional delimitations around the classroom and the institution of the university.

This workshop invited CUNY’s teachers working in the arts, humanities and social sciences to consider how self and community can become sites of learning and sources of knowledge. The three CUNY faculty organizers presented examples of teaching practices that center students and their communities and then participants worked in breakout rooms to share or develop their own autoethnographic teaching methods, culminating in a crowdsourced handbook of teaching exercises that we proudly now share with CUNY and the wider community.

Read their zine, Autoethnographic Pedagogies, by clicking the link below:

The zine is a compilation of autoethnographic teaching methods for open access distribution, and it exemplifies the power of collaborating across CUNY campuses and disciplines.

James Lowry is an Assistant Professor of Information Studies at Queens College and the Director of the Archival Technologies Lab.

Nerve Macaspac is a geographer, film-maker, and an Assistant Professor at College of Staten Island and Graduate Faculty at the Graduate Center.

Cynthia Tobar is an artist, activist-scholar, oral historian, archivist, and an Assistant Professor and Head of Archives at Bronx Community College.

Nature-Based Learning in Higher Education (Event Recap)

This post was written by Contributing Author Nicole Kras, Ph.D., Program Coordinator and Assistant Professor of Human Services at Guttman Community College.

On Tuesday, April 13th, I organized a workshop that focused on various aspects of nature-based learning (NBL). NBL is described as follows:  

Nature-based learning, or learning through exposure to nature and nature-based activities, occurs in natural settings and where elements of nature have been brought into built environments, such as plants, animals, and water. It encompasses the acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, attitudes, and behaviors in realms including, but not limited to, academic achievement, personal development, and environmental stewardship. It includes learning about the natural world, but extends to engagement in any subject, skill or interest while in natural surroundings (Jordan & Chawla, 2019, p.2).  

We were fortunate to have Dr. Cathy Jordan as the key speaker. Dr. Jordan is a Professor of Pediatrics and the Director for Leadership and Education at the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota. Since 2013 she has also served as the consulting research director for a national nonprofit – the Children & Nature Network. Dr. Jordan provided workshop participants, both within and outside of CUNY, nationally and internationally, a solid foundation for understanding the research behind NBL. She also shared some of the identified benefits of NBL including increased concentration and engagement, stress reduction, and increased cognitive skills. Building off of Dr. Jordan’s presentation, I posed the idea that NBL, primarily researched in early childhood through high school settings, can also be beneficial in higher education. I shared some ways that I have piloted NBL experiences with my students at Guttman Community College to help support course and program learning outcomes. These NBL experiences included an eco-art workshop, an animal-assisted therapy workshop, and an educational program co-designed with the Central Park Zoo. This educational program focused on students learning about responsible and ethical habits of people at work using ethnographic data collection methods. Student feedback from these experiences were overwhelming positive and support the need for future research in this area. After the presentations, participants shared their thoughts and questions about NBL, as well as some nature-based ideas that they have implemented in their teaching. It is the hope that this workshop ignites further collaboration both inside and outside of CUNY on identifying the potential benefits that NBL can have for students in higher education.   

Nicole Kras, Ph.D., is Program Coordinator and Assistant Professor of Human Services at Guttman Community College. Her research focuses on human services program design, nature-based learning in higher education, and the influence of the natural environment on the lives of New England Island Residents.  

Considering Accessibility & Equity in Assessment Design

As educators with the City University of New York, we know that our learners come to our classrooms as unique individuals. They bring with them diverse experiences and backgrounds. 

Assessment and Learner Variability 

In learning environments, individual variability is the norm, not the exception.” UDL and Assessment | An Introduction to UDL and Assessment

In our role as educators, we use assessments to measure student understanding and progress. The purpose of an assessment is to measure what our students can do, or know.  If an assessment doesn’t accommodate the wide variability of our learners then they fail to do what they must by design: evaluate our students and provide us with vital information about their learning and our practice. 

 It is an essential part of our courses. It is therefore essential that assessments accommodate learner differences if they are to be effective. We must design our assessments with the diversity of our learner needs at the forefront. 

Equality vs Equity

Equality implies giving everyone the same thing, whereas equity implies giving everyone what they need.  How can we consider these needs when designing assessments for our courses and how can doing so support equity and access?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework that was developed by a US research group CAST that educators can use to design learning experiences to meet the diversity of needs for all of their learners.  

Some may perceive that the UDL approach applies to or only supports learners with special needs; however, as educators, we want to ensure that our teaching is accessible to all of our students. ‘So how can we support the needs of all learners and make learning equitable?’ 

The UDL framework suggests that educators provide learners with multiple means of engagement, representation, and action & expression in order to accommodate learner variability. In this way, they can meet the needs of all learners by giving each learner the things they need to be successful. 

Multiple Means of Engagement 

We support our learner’s persistence and motivation by making sure we are aware of and remove obstacles to our learner’s attention, and connection with content. 

We support our learner’s engagement by considering ways to provide learners with:

  • Autonomy 
  • Optimization of individual choice
  • Relatability/Relevance
  • Value
  • Authentic community

Students who find participation to be challenging often feel more secure contributing when they are able to share their thoughts and ideas anonymously. This example from AnswerGarden allows learners to build knowledge together about how they perceive history. Other tools used to support anonymous contribution to group discussion are Mentimeter or Nearpod

Allowing learners choice of topic supports engagement by optimizing choice and enhancing student’s sense of autonomy. John Spencer stated on his blog that, “research should feel like geeking out”. Invite your learners to feel excited about what they are learning.

Multiple Means of Representation

Attend to learners’ differing needs in how they perceive content by representing content in a variety of formats and emphasizing important features and relationships.

We support our learners by providing:

  • Multimedia representation
    • Audio
    • Video
    • Text
    • Illustrations
    • Modeling/Simulations  

Tools such as Padlet pictured on the right, allow us to share articles, infographics, podcasts, videos, and more for courses. Learners can comment and even contribute their own texts to the collection. Providing multiple representations for how learners access content that meets student needs.

Other ways to curate content with your learners and provide multi-media representations for course content are Wakelet, and Google Keep.

Content that clearly identifies and draws attention to important features and relationships using bolding, underlining, highlighting, bulleted, and/or numbered lists.

The presentation of this lesson provides learners with headings, bolded text, bulleted and numbered lists, and visual supports for each section. Formatting content in this way supports learners in understanding content and making connections

The presentation of this lesson provides learners with headings, bolded text, bulleted and numbered lists, and visual supports for each section. Formatting content in this way supports learners in understanding content and making connections. Mayer’s Multimedia Principles provides additional guidance on clearly representing content for learning.

Multiple Means of Action & Expression

How might we provide our learners with choice as to how they show what they know? 

We support our learners by providing:

  • Choice 
  • Support

For this assignment learners used a tool called Book Creator to represent their exploration of a topic of their choice within the theme of Language. Students were able to draw, write, add multilingual content, record their voices, and embed video and other multimedia to support their work.

 Assessments must be designed with the needs of all learners if they are to be effective.

Consider the principles of the Universal Design for Learning framework when creating assessments and design with the diversity of our learners in mind. 

Feel free to contribute your own ideas for how you design accessible and equitable assessments to this Padlet.

Moving Toward Dis/Comfort (Event Recap)

This post was written by Contributing Authors Karen Zaino (Secondary Education and Youth Services, Queens College), Azreen Hasan, Emily Ram, Maria Sultana, and Ahmad Zeidieh.

During this session, I worked with four Queens College undergraduate students to facilitate a workshop on “moving toward dis/comfort” in classroom conversations. We use the term “dis/comfort” to signal the importance of recognizing different positions and comfort levels within the classroom, where “comfort” and “discomfort” are shorthand for the affective experience of material injustice. For many students–particularly minoritized students–classrooms have long been “uncomfortable” places that dismiss, demean, or erase their ways of knowing and lived experiences. Therefore, this workshop focused on how we might critically consider the distribution of comfort in a classroom setting – who is comfortable? At whose expense? – and use a series of “talk moves” to shift the hegemonic distribution of comfort and discomfort. These moves were adapted from the recent book Classroom Talk for Social Change by Melissa Schieble, Amy Vetter, and Kahdeidra Monét Martin. 

Below, the other facilitators reflect on this experience: 

Azreen Hasan: I can firmly say that this has been one of the most insightful and interactive seminars I have attended (and I am not just saying that because I was a part of it!). As future educators, it is crucial that we are aware of the importance of having critical conversations in our classroom about current tensions such as race, immigration, sexual orientation, and so much more. My classmates and I were able to conduct a lesson discussing talk moves to foster conversations. Our audience members were educators, undergraduate students, student teachers, grad students, and professors, but we all had one thing in common. We all shared the common goal to encourage a deeper awareness of power and privilege, structural inequalities, and a desire to produce change. We shared our personal narratives, our experiences, and our emotions, and we gave each other hope. Although it can be difficult to navigate such conversations, it is not impossible. Through building knowledge about historical and contemporary nuances of inequality, questioning, inviting multiple perspectives, and creating a safe classroom environment, we can have meaningful and critical conversations with our students. 

Emily Ram: Being a part of an event that brings educators together in Moving Towards Dis/comfort was a privilege. I’ve learned a great deal on inquiry, inclusive, action and disruptive talk moves; myself exploring the definition of, implications and examples in using inquiry talk moves. I took away time management, the power that locating instances of power and privilege in the world around us can conquer, and the success in connecting student interest to lesson planning as truly impactful. Through critically thinking about pieces from research based articles and framing what works best for our workshop, our team was able to successfully put together a two-hour seminar that not only included rich information though also received extremely positive feedback.

Maria Sultana: Conducting a seminar that revolved around Moving Towards Dis/comfort by discussing types of Talk Moves was one that I did not realize how much I needed myself. As a future educator, I understand the importance of being there for my students, creating safe environments for them, and making sure my students’ voices are heard both in and outside of the school. Our classrooms will include students of all different backgrounds, and I learned that first hand when the audience shared their stories during the seminar. If there is one thing I took away from this event, it’s that there is so much power to storytelling. While reflecting on each other’s narratives, we all gained a new insight on so many issues that are often silenced. This event has taught me to speak my truth, allow my students to do the same, and most importantly how to conduct these conversations. This event was truly an experience I won’t forget. 

Ahmad Zeidieh: I had the honor to be alongside professor Zaino and my classmates to organize an inspirational event centered around Moving Toward Dis/comfort. We posed the question, “How can we foster critical conversations in our classrooms?” What I have learned from hearing the different perspectives of our diverse audience is that fostering a critical conversion in a classroom is beyond just asking close/open-ended questions; a teacher should also consider what to do prior, during, and after the questions to support critical conversations. Also, teachers should frame their teaching practices in response to the social and uneven times in which we live; meaning, to help students understand content from marginalized perspectives. Whether we are silent or we are silenced, change must come–now. We must help empower students’ voices; students must be seen, heard, supported, and affirmed in their unique identities and experiences. Most importantly, materials must be connected to their interests and to help students connect their studies to the world today. 

Voices of the Unheard: Afro Latinx Experiences, March 24, 2021 (Event Recap)

This post was written by Contributing Author S. Lenise Wallace, a motivational speaker, communication professional and college professor teaching communication courses at CUNY.

Where is “home”? Literally and figuratively? This was a theme that arose from the screening of the documentary Latinegras: The Journey of Self-Love through an Afro Latina Lens directed by Omilani Alarcon. The film screening and panel discussion that followed was moderated by Dr. Sonia Rodriguez and panelists were filmmaker Omilani Alarcon and CUNY professors Drs. Ryan Mann-Hamilton and S. Lenise Wallace.  

During the panel discussion, Omilani, Ryan and I addressed several questions, in addition to the theme. Watching the documentary, I could relate firsthand to Omilani’s experiences of searching for self-love and identity. As an Afro Latina, I have often felt that I was an anomaly. My parents migrated to the United States from Costa Rica for the same reasons so many immigrants do, for a different life. Although I was born here, there was still a duality to being born a Black Latina and American. In our home, there was Costa Rican culture, values and tradition passed down by my parents. Outside the home, I was a Black woman in all things American cultured. Inside our home, the only Black Latina I could identify with was Celia Cruz. La Reina. She was beautiful with a voice like no other—and she was the only Afro Latina I saw on television that looked like me and my family. Colorism within the Latino community and how we were invisible on Novellas on the Spanish stations were another issue. I remembered well that if one’s family was not from the U.S. you were either Jamaican or Puerto Rican—there was no in between. Thus, why I stated, I was an anomaly. Growing up, I came across so many people who never knew: 1. Where Costa Rica was; 2. Costa Ricans existed, and 3. That Black Latinos existed. I found myself constantly explaining my identity and lineage. I remember a Black American friend telling me once, “Oh, so you’re not Black Black” or, “which one of your parents are from the states?” It was exhausting explicating that, “yes, my parents’ first language is Spanish.” It was also sad that many people did not know about the African diaspora and how many enslaved Africans were shipped to many countries. My situation was complex and layered. After all, Costa Rica was not my home, I never lived there. Yet, in my actual home, Costa Rican culture and tradition was my home. Thanks to my loving parents who provided such a foundation for us as a family, when I did go outside of our home, I was enough. When I did visit Costa Rica, I was in awe of being able to put a face to the places my parents and my Tia Amanda shared with me. My mother always told me, “home is where YOU make it” and I never forgot that.  

Lastly, a goal of this event was to raise awareness of Afro Latinx experiences to our CUNY community. Nearly 100 people attended our virtual event. After the film screening and discussion there was an excellent question and answer dialogue between the participants and attendees. A student who attended the event said, “This was the first time in my life I learned about my culture. Hearing people who sound like my loved ones educate myself and others was beautiful humbling and tear jerking. Thank you for this !!!” This comment alone let us know that our goal was met, and we are thankful for that.  

​S. Lenise Wallace, Ph.D. is a motivational speaker, communication professional and college professor teaching communication courses at The City University of New York. She has over fifteen years of experience in public relations and image consulting. Her research interests include public relations, race and gender in mass media. She authored a chapter in the book, Demystifying the Big House: Exploring Prison Experience and Media Representations. In addition, she co-authored a journal article, Women of Color in Academia and the Influence of Religious Culture on Self-Promotion: A Collaborative Autoethnography. Currently, she is writing her upcoming book, Who’s Reppin You? Being Your Best Rep: Personally, Professionally & Spiritually.  

“My Pandemic”: Centering CUNY Students’ Experiences Through Digital Autoethnography (Event Recap)

This post was written by Contributing Author Nerve V. Macaspac, Asst. Professor of Geography, College of Staten Island; Doctoral Faculty, Earth & Environmental Sciences, Graduate Center.

On March 11, 2021, I organized a film screening of “My Pandemic” (2020, 6:55) and a conversation among students from different CUNY campuses centering on student experiences of the pandemic. This day was significant as it was also the 1st-year anniversary since New York City went on lockdown and CUNY transitioned to online learning in response to global COVID-19 pandemic. Over 65 participants including students, faculty and HEOs from CSI, BMCC, Hunter College, John Jay College, Queens College, and St. John’s University attended the event. 

“My Pandemic” is a short autoethnographic film that captures a day-in-a-life of the students and reveals their unique and shared experiences across the uneven geographies of the pandemic. The film was co-produced by my students and myself in my Urban Geography course at CSI in Fall 2020. As part of their fieldwork project, students were asked to capture a 1-minute autoethnographic video of their daily lives shot on the same day. Each student was then asked for consent to include their submissions in the short film and sharing of the film for educational purposes.  From staying at home, helping family members with remote learning, packing 3D-printed hand sanitizer containers for shipping, or walking through the rain to start a work shift at a homeless shelter, the autoethnographic vignettes in the film highlight the shared and unique experiences of the students during the pandemic.  

Click below to watch the film:  

After the film screening, a student panel consisting of Leyla Matkarimova (Science, Letters & Society), Kamelea Torres (Liberal Arts), Isidro Zacarias (Liberal Arts) who participated in the film and Aurora Collado (Geography) who participated in the previous cohort of the Urban Geography course in Fall 2019 started the conversation with their personal reflections. I also circulated a few open-ended questions to ask participants to reflect on the film. Here are some of the responses: 

“It was truly an accurate description of the pandemic. It was very relatable in a sense that as a New Yorker in the middle of a pandemic I can show other non-New Yorkers that this was what my life was like.” 

“It really gives you a first-hand experience of different perspectives of the lockdown. I was able to see how people lived their lives during lockdown and view people’s opinions about the pandemic in ways that were different from mine.” 

“The online learning. The empty streets at night. The trapped-at-home kinda feeling.” 

“How one of the students had his job shut down and it was the same for me with an after school program.” 

“It feels good to talk about the pandemic. I feel a lot of professors do not talk about it as much as they should, especially with us still going through it at this moment. I felt better within myself because I felt like a bum not working or going out most days, but then I saw that almost everyone is doing the same because that’s all we can do right now. I learned a lot and really loved this zoom call.” 

“It was great. I love the CUNY community. I wish there were more inter-campus relationships.” 

“We all have different lives and perspectives. But we are all going through the lockdown together so we need to make sure that we understand each other.” 

As many CUNY students and their families and communities are some of the most impacted by the pandemic, there is a great need to better capture and understand the students’ individual and collective experiences. The film screening succeeded in creating a space and providing an opportunity for students across CUNY campuses to talk to one another about their shared and unique experiences.  


Thanks to the Transformative Learning in the Humanities (TLH), specifically to Dr. Shelly Eversley, Dr. Cathy Davidson, Dr. Christina Katopodis, and Khanh Le, for co-sponsoring the event. Special thanks to the student panelists, my students in Urban Geography at CSI, and everyone who joined us at the film screening and those who contributed their reflections of the film. 

To learn more about the film and GeospatialCSI, please visit https://geospatialcsi.commons.gc.cuny.edu/. Follow us on twitter, facebook or instagram @GeospatialCSI. For questions, please reach out to me at nerve.macaspac@csi.cuny.edu.

Exploring Untold Stories: Analyzing Family Primary Sources (Upcoming Event!)

 This post was written by Contributing Author Madeline Ruggiero, Assistant Professor at Queensborough Community College.

  This workshop takes a granular look at a portion of  a book chapter written by the speaker Madeline Rugiero entitled, “Untold Stories: An Introduction to Primary Sources,” to be released later this year in the book, The Community College Library Reference and Instruction, . This session focuses on a student centered assignment created to motivate and engage students to be active learners. Students are asked to locate and analyze family primary sources such as a document, letter, artifact, photo, or oral history/ interview.   

      Students form groups of three in an information literacy class and interact with the National Archives online worksheet on how to analyze primary sources. Groups formulate dialogues as they answer the worksheet questions and examine and discuss their materials. This worksheet activity is harnessed to enhance learning by widening students’ perspectives as they engage with their family sources. Group conversations and interactions with other students are encouraged for new ways of viewing and questioning their original materials and to promote collaboration.   

     To help teach students to understand historical thinking Madeline created a guide which provides students with open source information on how to analyze a story and verify historical events. This guide called “Queens History as World History,” contains links to information that reflect the different cultures within our diverse student body.   

      Participants will be placed into breakout rooms for ten minutes where they will discuss how to integrate primary sources to engage students. The National Archives worksheet and Queens guide will be used as a catalyst for ideas. By connecting students to valuable content that engages them in the learning process, instructors can create an assignment that allows students to make informed connections with history and/or their own lives.  

Queens History As World History  


Apply Historical Thinking Principles to Researching Family and Neighborhood Cultural Histories  

This guide is developed to allow students to be discerning users of and contributors to digital archives. Links are created to a combination of freely available globally and culturally relevant digital collections. These sources can be used as a catalyst to create assignments that encourage students to critically engage with digital archival materials, both as users and possible contributors. 

Madeline Ruggiero is an Assistant Professor at Queensborough Community College. She has a Masters degree in Art History from SUNY Stony Brook and a Masters of Library Science degree from Pratt Institute. She is a first generation Italian American college graduate.  

Performance as Narrative Medicine: Reflections on Virtual Performances (Event Recap)

This post was written by Contributing AuthorAlyse Keller, facilitator of the “Performance as Narrative Medicine” workshop held on March 19, 2021. 

For this Performance as Narrative Medicine Workshop participants are led through an active and participatory performance workshop. Narrative medicine, as conceived by Rita Charon at Columbia University, is a theory and practice that emerged as a way to teach physicians and medical professionals, “to practice with empathy, trustworthiness, and sensitivity toward individual patients.” Over time, narrative medicine has evolved in order to bring the “powerful narrative skills of radical listening and creativity from the humanities and the arts to address the needs of all who seek and deliver healthcare.” Merging the central tenets of narrative medicine with the fundamental principles of performance, this workshop allows participants to share, reflect, and heal through the creation and presentation of personal performances of health and illness—specifically as they relate to their experiences with Coronavirus 

Performance is a method, object of study, and practice that is accessible to all. Performance possesses the ability to educate, progress social-justice-oriented agendas, and communicate general awareness about the lived experiences of health, illness, and disability. In particular, this workshop provides an opportunity to come together and share personal experiences with illness and health. This workshop leads participants through a brief explanation of the concept of performance as narrative medicine, an applied breakout performance activity, and a discussion/feedback session at the end. The workshop promotes active learning through the hands-on, experiential process of crafting and sharing personal performance. 

The participant faces popped up on the screen, one after the other. Some looked tentative and others looked excited and ready. A small group of us gathered on a Friday afternoon to play, to share and to create. As the facilitator of the event, I was both excited and nervous as this was my first time testing out my method of “Performance as Narrative Medicine” in a group. Not only that, it was also the first time I would conduct a performance workshop virtually. Performance by nature is a visceral and embodied practice which doesn’t naturally lend itself to virtual spaces. It worried me that the individuals would walk away underwhelmed and lacking the embodied fulfillment of performance. It worried me that technical difficulties would take over and their performances would be interrupted. I had more questions than answers going into this workshop and as such I was forced to get creative with how I defined performance and what expectations I and the participants should have.    

After leading participants through performative ice breakers, a description of “performance as narrative medicine” and then some vocal and body warm-ups, we began.  I asked the participants to write a story about their experiences with Covid. I modeled this by writing my own and performing it for them. I performed my own personal story to give the participants one idea of how to perform virtually, but especially to make them feel comfortable with performing their own stories. Once the participants wrote their “Covid stories” they all jumped right in and began rehearsing and then performing their stories in small breakout groups with each other. All participants were willing to actively engage in the workshop and added performative elements to their own storytelling. I was thrilled to see the level of engagement amongst participants. Some moved away from the camera to perform, others included props to engage their audience and others played with vocal variety to create scene and character.  

After sharing their performances, I held a feedback session and asked individuals to share their experiences. Some of the feedback I received included: 

“In these times of Covid, when we do not yet understand the effects of prolonged isolation on the psyche, performance is a mode of expression and a mode of receiving feedback from human intellects, in other words, creating meaning out of our existence.” 

“There is definitely a therapeutic effect of performing for others, a huge sense of relief coming out of exposing one’s vulnerability to a friendly and non-judgmental small group. As for the instructional side of it, absolutely, I did not really know much about “performance as narrative medicine” before so this has been very informative.” 

In the end, conducting this workshop was a productive and challenging experience. To be able to share this method and event with other individuals who were interested in how performance might work medicinally and pedagogically for them, was beyond rewarding. I look forward to growing this workshop and offering an evolved version again at some point—maybe when we can gather in face-to-face spaces! 

 I end my post with this quote one of the participants left me with: 

“To quote Audre Lorde: ‘When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed, but when we are silent we are still afraid, so it is better to speak.”  

Alyse Keller, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at CUNY Kingsborough in Brooklyn, where she teaches in the Department of Communications & Performing Arts. Her research looks at the intersection of performance and narrative and specifically focuses on her family’s experience with maternal multiple sclerosis.