Event Recap: Community Inside and Outside of the Classroom

On Dec. 1, 2023, Transformative Learning in the Humanities (TLH) hosted a Zoom panel discussion on “Community Inside and Outside of the Classroom” featuring student perspectives on learning with TLH Faculty Fellows Sarah Pollack (College of Staten Island); Sharon Jordan (Lehman College); Joseph Cáceres (Graduate Center); and Lynn Lu (CUNY School of Law). Each faculty fellow shared methods they used during the semester to empower students to share ideas, work together, and facilitate conversation and mutual learning. Students from each course shared their perspectives on the meaning and value of community in relation to their classrooms.

In her courses Spanish for Heritage Speakers andthe Contemporary Spanish American Short Story, Pollack invited students to engage in the global community through online video dialogues with native Spanish speakers across Latin America. In class, she explained, “I tried to focus on establishing a safe and caring and open learning community by giving students tasks to get to know each other and me well and really feel comfortable opening up about themselves and their experiences.” One of the students, Jessica, said: “It was easier for us to relate to each other. I feel like our professor was open to us.  That made us be open to her and to our classmates.”

In Jordan’s online asynchronous course Public Art in the United States from the Civil War to the Present, ungraded discussion board prompts that foregrounded conversation and dialogue encouraged students to engage with differing opinions. One student, Mabel, explained: “When I started this class I immediately saw the difference between past classes where the professor’s focus is on discussion boards, but it is not really a way to communicate or relate with each other. That immediately surprised me, that it was highly encouraged to have a conversation. It showed me that it is okay to get out of your comfort zone and communicate with other people.”

Students in Cáceres’s Evolution and Expression of Racism classat Baruch Collegecollaborated to plan an imagined public protest on behalf of a literary figure whose internalization of systemic anti-Blackness and misogyny demanded action. A “major purpose [in] creating this campaign was having students do work in the classroom that is practical and useful in their every day lives, including how to advocate for themselves. Students learned that a powerful way to begin to solve and address problems is by building coalitions and solidarity for others.” According to one student, “This class as a whole got me to think about things we can do to change communities for the better …. The Bluest Eye [by] Toni Morrison … talks about how internalized racism can really impact and affect the most vulnerable person in society.”

Lu’s version of the required introductory Lawyering Seminar encourages students continually to reflect on how lawyers—and legal educators—can create and support alternate visions of community while learning the professional responsibilities attached to every effective attorney-client relationship. This requires a focus on people and a capacity for shared understanding.

Student Christopher Alford shared: “What I seek (from law school) is a community that is guided by more than just monetary gain. Law school should be a means of birthing individuals that are people-centered. Further, it should create a means of creating individuals that seek to better the world they participate in.”

The panel extends thanks to ASL Interpreters Dane Lentz and Amanda Shook and CART Captionist Joanna Kostappapas for their services.

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