by Kelsey Milian Lopez
This recap was originally published on the Futures Initiative blog.
On Wednesday, September 7th at 3:00 pm, CUNY and collegiate-wide affiliated participants gathered at CUNY Graduate Center’s Skylight room to discuss Cathy N. Davidson and Christina Katopodis’s new book The New College Classroom. In-person tickets were sold out. With nearly 400 attendees over zoom, this turned out to be one of CUNY’s biggest in-person events since the beginning of the pandemic. Both the CUNY Chancellor and GC Provost stayed for the entire event.
Chancellor Felix Matos gave a few words at the beginning of the event and noted the significant changes in the university environment since the Covid 19 pandemic began. Chancellor Matos expressed his gratitude to Davidson and Katopodis and the Futures Initiative team. He reflected upon his own graduate student journey post-Ph.D. as he faced the nuances and challenges of not having a teaching background while starting off as an adjunct and reaching out to university teaching resources for help. He encouraged the audience to think about ways we as educators can become “agents” to college students in achieving their goals, feel empowered, and continue to learn. Chancellor Matos highlighted his position as a “learner”. Ideas that ring true to our community of graduate students, educators, mentors, leaders, and community members.
GC Provost Steve Everett followed with his remarks on the book by noting ways The New College Classroom asks its readers how we can inspire transformation. We are brought into a space where ideas of antiquated academia solely operate on old methodologies. Provost Everett shined a light on the book as these ideas of the classroom stem from 19th-century productivity, standardization, and automation. The New College Classroom highlights these industrial age origins, and provides current pedagogy that not only encourages active learning in the classroom but also asks educators to make changes within themselves, in the classroom, and the world in order to incite learning! We can ultimately reimagine the classroom experience as actively participating citizens in our communities.
Davidson and Katopodis began with a quote from activist and poet Audre Lorde: “The learning process is something you can incite, really incite, like a riot.” This is exactly the takeaway from both authors’ desires for listeners, readers, and attendees. The New College Classroom encourages transformative change—from ourselves, our classrooms, and the world as active citizens. Throughout the presentation, Davidson and Katopodis uniquely incorporated interactive components for the audience and viewers that mimic the very pedagogy of active learning found in the book. I appreciated the three interactive segments, especially when we were asked to Think, Pair, and Share what we liked most about teaching. Attendees were encouraged to turn to a partner and discuss their answers. As the room erupted in conversation, I reflected on my own ideas of teaching. What do I love most? Getting to hear students share their experiences with the content I am teaching. Having them relate to ideas or moments in their lives that allow them to make connections. Davidson reaffirms the collective audience’s shared ideas of hearing what students have to say. That is where the book comes in and highlights possible avenues to have students engage more and share what they want to say in the classroom.
Diving into ideas of “Metacognition” where we think about the course content, why we are learning, and how we are learning, Davidson and Katopodis invited us to ask the following questions: What do people think about the syllabi we create? What do students need from teaching?
The structures of education we operate within now are based on a 19th-century foundation of productivity: a system based on rewards and consequences. We have to start asking why we teach what we do. Why are our professions important? We get so caught up in our specializations that we forget how to actually educate our students. Davidson and Katopodis asked us who our students are. A question that rings true in my head. Do institutions actually know the complex identities, living circumstances, and home experiences of their students? The traditional and conventional persona of a college student that is full-time, living on campus, and participating in extracurricular activities, is a myth. We must know our students.
Changing Our Classrooms
Davidson and Katopodis shared that in order to change our classrooms, we have to be putting care forward and creating an environment that supports learning. Why are students afraid to ask questions? This means creating spaces and sentiments where students can feel empowered in understanding school content. A collective agency of thought. Mentorship that looks beyond teaching a course, but provides ideas and advice on career opportunities. Understanding the systematic racism, sexism, and ableism have been built into the place. This requires a lot of deconstruction. Lastly, ask students what they want to learn and get out of these courses. How is it going to change our lives?
Changing the World
Both authors encouraged educators and mentors to become co-learners alongside their students. Rather than understanding what works best for every single student, ask our students what works best for them and create opportunities where they can have more than one option to excel and learn.
The authors ended their presentation with an inspiring manifesto from architect and designer Bruce Mau. In the exercise, students are encouraged to write down what they want to do with the rest of their lives. This reveals “that people know their future; they just haven’t been asked”. This call to action invites all of us to consider a world where students in academia feel safe and eager to share their lives in the classroom setting.
Davidson and Katopodis will donate proceeds from The New College Classroom to scholarships geared towards helping CUNY students. This is a reflection of the dedication both authors have towards creating spaces where all students can learn and have equitable opportunities as we go through this transformational change.
As an educator and graduate student, I found The New College Classroom to be a sign of hope for the future of academia. What rings true to me is the importance of knowing “who our students are” as educators and as an institution. We are lucky to live in a society where all of our students are not the same, We can encourage critical thought and empowerment in the lives of scholars and citizens. The New College Classroom gives me that sense of hope which was once dormant during the pandemic. I cannot wait to dive in, get ideas, and go through my own transformational change as an educator and student.