Organized by Glenn McMillan (Medgar Evers College) with his students.
In this recorded forum, students discussed an opera arranged by Professor McMillan and the importance of black music around the world, especially for nonmusic majors and lovers. McMillan led a discussion about why Negro Spirituals were so important to the founding of jazz, gospel, and hip hop, and music’s important role in the Civil Rights movement. The forum highlighted student projects on “Soul Train,” “Women in Jazz,” and “Has Gospel Music Changed?” and concluded with some closing remarks on “Four Little Spirits,” and then students were given an opportunity to ask Prof. McMillan about his work.
Glenn shares on the project, “Stressing unity between the sacred and the profane allowed the students him to embrace all aspects of African American culture, and jazz, blues, and gospel performers. These student based projects combine the music of today with the historical significance of the Middle Passage. Students share their academic experiences from the global community representing all aspects of musical life.”
On June 7th TLH held its Summer Institute with the 2022-2023 Faculty Fellows.
Grace Handy (TLH Research Assistant and Librarian) kicked off the institute by introducing TLH leadership with one fun fact about each. You can read more about TLH staff here. Faculty Co-Directors Shelly Eversley and Matt Brim then shared their pedagogical biographies—how and why they arrived here as teachers. This is a great warm up exercise for students, who can submit answers to the prompt “How and Why Did You Come to Be Here?” on a Padlet for all to see and read or in conversation with peers on the first day of class (see example from one of Matt’s class). In addition to sharing their stories about why they became teachers—Matt learning how to teach vis a vis Poor Queer Studies and Shelly embracing love in her classroom to teach with “radical openness”—and what it has been like to teach at CUNY during the pandemic, Shelly emphasized that to choose to love one’s students is a political act and fosters an environment of belonging, value, and care in which the best kind of learning can be made possible.
Next, it was the Faculty Fellows’ turn to share in a low-stakes collaborative, community building exercise facilitated by Christina Katopodis (Associate Director of TLH) using Mentimeter. Shelly and Matt asked the fellows to share their visions inspired by the “ecstasy” and “teaching and learning without limits” bell hooks discusses in Teaching to Transgress (pp. 201-208). The prompt for the entry ticket was, “In your classes, what makes possibilities happen?” to which the fellows could respond up to 5 times each. Below is the word cloud of their responses.
This transitioned into a deep listening exercise led by Pedagogy Co-Leader Jason Hendrickson: the fellows were put into breakout rooms with 2-3 people and took turns speaking without interruption for 2 minutes (with a timer set). While one fellow spoke, the other(s) focused on being silent but active listeners. The prompt was, “What is your educational/pedagogical biography or genealogy? How did you get here—how did you arrive here as a teacher?” Following this deep listening exercise, the fellows reflected on the experience of deep listening in a metacognitive activity using Jamboard:
Fellows also reflected on the exercise in the Zoom chat, some sharing it was too short as they had more to share and connect on with their partners. Next, Jason talked about why deep listening matters and reflection as a means to self-discovery. Then we stopped for a 10-minute break. Meanwhile, Grace played part of a podcast on (Re)Mapping Knowledge created by some of the Spring 2022 Faculty Fellows as their public knowledge project.
After the break, Jason led us in a Creative DNA exercise inspired by Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit, asking us, “How do we find and bring our creativity into our work and life?” Jason shared a clip from The Five Heartbeats and his own creative process: he often finds “valuable thoughts from music, movies and the trash,” which he then can put together and revise. Then we all engaged in five minutes of writing practice, responding to these prompts:
Describe your first creative successful act.
When you work, do you love the process or the result?
Who regularly inspires you? (And why?)
These reflections were just for the Fellows to have for themselves. Next, Shelly shared the reason why we choose these particular books for this year’s TLH curriculum, “to creatively think about how we teach,” and introduced the fellows to Bruce Mau’s 5-Minute Manifesto exercise adapted for teaching at CUNY with the vision of transforming CUNY and higher ed more generally. The fellows worked in a collaborative Google Doc in batches to respond to various writing prompts and begin to construct a collaborative manifesto—one that we will return to at the beginning of the seminars in the 2022-2023 academic year. One fellow described it: “The interface looks kind of like a bunch of worker bees collaboratively/concurrently building a rainbow colored colony!”
Afterwards, Shelly and Matt reflected on the activity and TLH’s mission for the coming year and beyond. Shelly has used this manifesto activity with her students, and fellows in the 2021-2022 cohorts likewise used this activity in their classrooms (read an example collaborative manifesto project here). Some fellows also shared their thoughts and contributions aloud:
Trusting students is most important
We can lead our students to do the same thing to share their thoughts
Revision means to see it again, re-doing and re-learning is important to our students and ourselves
We are learners and always learning
Instead of talking about success and failure, we should rethink the meaning and process of learning itself
We could think more about how to inspire students to believe themselves rather than focus on their grades and homework
During the break, Grace shared two slides about TLH’s impact at CUNY and beyond in the first two years of the grant.
We then played a short, inspiring video by Cathy N. Davidson (Founding Faculty Co-Director of TLH) who talked about the efficacy of active learning in the classroom and her reasons for starting with pedagogy, especially why she uses an anti-hierarchical model in her classroom: to make higher ed more equitable, just, and inclusive. Christina then led a follow-up activity, asking fellows to respond to this question in the chat: “What language do you use to introduce students to anti-hierarchical teaching methods? How are you thinking about upending hierarchies in your own classrooms?” Some responses included:
Co-production of knowledge
Understanding the classroom as a community
Students’ own grading of their performance
I use language influenced by Freire, hooks, and Zinn, as examples
I ask my students to create a Community Agreement and then ask them for help to improve the whole class
Talking with students about standardized English in classrooms and academia — and how languages are hierarchized in these contexts
I like to start with a literacy map that traces their important literacy events in life. Then we reflect and discuss them. A question I pose is – did your map reflect standardized testing or a grade?
One of the first things I do to show (if not explicitly tell) is to respond to the same introductory discussion prompt I give them (thinking of hooks here — “I do not expect to…share in any way that I would not share” p. 21)
Developing own questions and converting them into students’ own assignment
I begin by telling them that no person is illegal
Peer revision, students teaching one another
I have students do three reflections. In the first, they answer the question “How do you define history.” They return to the question at the midterm and the final. There is not a right or wrong answer—they track how their own ideas develop.
Tying the learning/knowledge to our everyday lives and critically interrogating our own positionalities
Before breaking into small groups to begin brainstorming potential public knowledge projects inspired by anti-hierarchical transformative teaching methods, Christina introduced some of the logistics about how the projects work. Examples of prior projects on TLH blog: https://transform.commons.gc.cuny.edu/ The fellows then broke out into their public knowledge project groups and worked collaboratively on Jamboard.
Jessica Murray (TLH Director of Digital Communications) followed this activity with an explanation of how TLH uses CUNY Academic Commons groups to facilitate communications between fellows and their cohorts. The main site is Transformative Learning in the Humanities. Grace then shared an example CUNY commons website that one Spring 2022 fellows group created with their students as their public knowledge project—a good example of the versatility of the platform and how it supports collaboration. After Christina answered some questions about the public knowledge projects, the fellows went back into their groups to share syllabus and teaching ideas and discuss how they can practice student-centered, empowered teaching and learning in the coming academic year.
Incoming Pedagogy Co-Leader Virginia Diaz made several announcements about upcoming events in TLH events. The institute was a great opportunity for the Fellows to meet and connect, and begin thinking through their collaborations on transformative teaching and active learning.
Organized by Sarah Bishop (Baruch College), Susan Kuhn (Queens College); Victoria Perez-Rios (John Jay College), and Amy Traver (Queensborough Community College).
Unconscious bias is a human reflex to make assumptions about people that aren’t necessarily true. This tendency affects society as a whole, limits our understanding of others, and holds us back from achieving the best possible outcomes across all fields of discipline, ranging from business to sociology, communication to criminal justice. As educators in the liberal arts, the four of us were interested not only in the effect of this phenomenon in our respective fields, but also how it affects our classrooms, our students, and our communities. We wanted to study this in partnership with our students, in the hope and belief that real change is possible when deeply rooted in thoughtful and inclusive educational practices.
As teachers, we recognize that true learning takes place when knowledge is absorbed, engaged with, and applied. We undertook this process together with our students through a series of structured, scaffolded learning opportunities. On April 1, we attended a book talk via Zoom, sponsored by the University of Buffalo Gender Institute, featuring Jessica Nordell, author of The End of Bias: A Beginning – The Science and Practice of Overcoming Unconscious Bias. In our individual classrooms, we continued the discussion as it pertained to our disciplines, and then invited students to produce short videos of themselves sharing some of their unconscious bias experiences or learning outcomes. Our ultimate project was a one-hour, student-led live panel discussion on this topic, with a supporting student audience, held at John Jay College on Thursday, April 21.
The local television show presented here represents a compilation of the taped student panel discussion (including audience participation) and the video uploads. The content is entirely driven by the concerns and voices of our students at Baruch, Queens, QCC and John Jay. They share personal stories and reflect on how unconscious bias affects them in their families, neighborhoods and perspective careers. The show was edited, produced and directed by John Jay graduate student Masha Wickramasinghe. We professors, having ignited the discussion, are now audience members learning from our students.
Our CUNY motto states “The education of free people is the hope of humanity.” All of us involved in this project have learned a great deal about unconscious bias, and we believe the conversation has only started. We hope you enjoy learning more about this too, and that from this hope blooms change. Enjoy the show!
*A link to view the TV Show is forthcoming, it will be added to this blog post this June!
Organized by Kimberley D. McKinson (John Jay College of Criminal Justice), Tatiana Nuñez (Graduate Center and City College) Micheal Rumore (Baruch College) and Stefanie Wess (Lehman College, Hunter College and Queensborough Community College).
(Re)Mapping Knowledge is a student-faculty collaborative podcast project that showcases the creative scholarship of CUNY students and also serves as a critical pedagogical tool for the wider CUNY community. Featuring the creative scholarship and storytelling of CUNY undergraduate students, this four-episode podcast series highlights innovative and radical pedagogical approaches as well as the possibilities that emerge from incorporating student-produced and student-centered knowledge in the classroom.
Drawing on the writing and research of student-scholars, episodes 1-3 of the project highlight different pedagogical approaches to (re)mapping knowledge in the classroom. Episode 1 interrogates the relationship between self, community, language, and textuality. Episode 2 discusses classroom strategies for confronting the coloniality of literary traditions. Episode 3 uses student autoethnography to center embodied knowledge as decolonial pedagogy. Episode 4 of the project features a moderated conversation between the three Faculty Fellows on the themes, teaching tools, and strategies illuminated in Episodes 1-3. In this way, Episode 4 not only serves to frame Episodes 1-3 but also serves as an accompanying teaching tool in its own right, including a discussion of innovative approaches to teaching and reading canonical texts.
(Re)Mapping Knowledge provides CUNY students and teachers the opportunity to problematize the notion of the canon and also allow for meditations on the radical ways in which knowledge can be produced by students in the classroom. The episodes capture student scholarship in a rich way. As a pedagogical tool, (Re)Mapping Knowledge provides an example of how faculty can embrace podcasts as a means by which to embrace different sensorial teaching tools that can complement more traditional written texts.
For our TLH community-facing project, we created a shared site for our classes on the CUNY Academic Commons, centered around the concept of “writing with and for a community.” Each of our courses has a two sub-page on the site: one of which gives an overview of the course and some background, and another of which has blog posts by students, usually with contextualization by faculty members. Then students from other classes read these blog posts and commented on them, sometimes even creating new imagery or artwork in response. In this way, we hoped to foster an intercampus conversation about space and place.
Notions of audience, place, and identity–as well as the use of images–are woven through our courses. Carrie Hall’s Composition II course (NYCCT) focused on how students can best choose and produce in a genre to reach a particular audience. Marta Cabral’s class, Art in Elementary School Education (CSI) learned how to teach art to third and fourth graders. Erica Richardson’s students in Literatures of the Harlem Renaissance (Baruch) blogged about a trip to the Met. In Belinda Linn Rincon’s class, Latinx Street Literatures (John Jay) students watched and blogged about the film La Ciudad, often including images in their blogs. Dominique Zino’s class, Cultural Identity in American Literature (LaGuardia), read literature that address issues of dislocation/relocation, identity formation, and alienation and wrote blog posts about space and power.
The project was, in many ways, a success: students gained a great deal from seeing what is happening on other campuses, and it made their projects feel more real to have a live audience for their blog posts. Carrie Hall’s class had the option of writing a unit with a fourth grade audience in mind, and the respondents, Marta Cabral’s class, were in training to be fourth grade teachers which allowed for vibrant visual feedback. It was also a great benefit also to have a variety of course levels so that beginning writers could see what upper level students are doing, and upper level students could take on a mentorship role and reflect upon how far they’ve come. That said, we did also have our struggles. Much of these had to do with scheduling and planning; we struggled to find anyone to assist with web design and needed to do it ourselves. Also, because we didn’t have our project in play until well into the semester, we didn’t have time to seamlessly plan in a way that would best benefit the project and the students. That said, this is the type of project all of us would be happy to do again with the benefit of experience.
While the public-facing project is mostly the website itself, we will culminate the project early next week with a brief online discussion between the five of us about the website and the benefits and difficulties of intercampus collaboration.
I have been working on a Creative Collaboration with four other faculty members on a project. We created an Instagram account where we can showcase our students’ ideas about money, power, respect, and education. The account handle is @money_power_respect_cuny.
Students are awarded modest TLH student scholarships for producing related scholarship selected for inclusion on the @money_power_respect_cuny Instagram account. Content included on Instagram relates to the topics: money, power, and respect in relationship to education. We encouraged participants to be as creative as they like. The content could be a picture, video, visual representation, or personal reflection about money, power, respect, education. The content could be specifically about one of these topics, some of the topics, or all the topics.
Some guiding questions for students’ content creation:
• What does money, power, and respect mean to you? • What does money, power, and respect look like, sound like, feel like? • How does education lead to having or losing money, power, or respect? • What do you want to teach our followers about money, power, or respect? • What do you want to teach them about CUNY?
Reflections on the Project
Working with my colleagues from across CUNY campuses was so rewarding. While we didn’t have as much student participation as we hoped for, it was still a great experience to brainstorm and come up with a way to engage students with a topic they find interesting. Initially I posed the invitation to students in my class and only got one student to participate. The instructions were sent via email and posted in Announcements on the EDU280 class Blackboard. I opened the invitation to the entire SEEK population and got another submission from a student who was not enrolled in my class. Both submissions were included on the Instagram account. I believe there was little participation because students were working on midterms and then went on Spring Break. Moving forward, I’ll propose a similar project in my courses but will work on it in class as a community.
On 11 May 2022, Emily Ripley (Queens College), Abby Anderton (Baruch College), Nerve V. Macaspac (College of Staten Island/Graduate Center), Oriana Mejías Martínez (LaGuardia Community College), and Lisa Marie Anderson (Hunter College) shared their experiences of transformative moments in their classroom. They presented examples of active learning from their courses, sharing the work of their students and engaging recentering student voices inside/within the classroom.
IMAGE ABOVE: Students exploring material culture objects from the Queens College Fashion and Textiles Collection in their History of Fashion course. IMAGE SOURCE: Emily Ripley.
With the words and concepts of Audre Lorde and Felcia Rose Chavez in hand, Ripley began the process of reimagining the traditional history of fashion lecture course. The goals were to work towards creating a fully active learning environment, to disrupt the Eurocentric focus of the History of Fashion in the West, and to allow the class to take part in an upgrading project. Across the semester she cracked open the professor/student barrier by establishing an open dialogue with her class, interspersed with regular group think-pair-share moments to involve everyone. A method of investigating material culture objects was refined within the classroom. Students also gained agency by writing questions for the test, and many experienced a new, revelatory understanding of their own learning processes. The professor learned firsthand what particular testing methods were most accessible for her students with learning disabilities, and through discussions with her class, developed a new way to flip the structure of this traditionally formatted course.
IMAGE ABOVE: One student project focused on Florence Price, a Black female composer whose work is receiving renewed interest in concert programs across the US. By exploring her work for String Quartet, the student analyzed Prices’ unique musical idiom and some contemporary performances of her work. IMAGE SOURCE: Abby Anderton
Anderton discussed various digital story-telling tools, including ReadyMag and StoryMaps as a way of making less well-known historical figures audible. She shared her students’ work on composers like Florence Price, Clara Schumann, Alma Mahler, and Charles Ives. Digital story-telling platforms empower students to tell the narratives that are important to them.
IMAGE ABOVE: Students of Urban Geography at CSI used mapping, photo typology, and virtual reality (VR) during field work at the North Shore of Staten Island in examining the differential politics of memorialization, public space and gentrification, and rules of place in New York City’s “Forgotten Borough.” IMAGE SOURCE: Nerve Macaspac
Macaspac presented student-centered projects that activate the students’ sense of place through mapping and spatial ethnography of parts of New York City using a combination of analog (i.e., hand-drawn maps, mixed media, etc.) and digital technology (i.e., virtual reality, video, sound recordings, etc.).
IMAGE ABOVE: Clockwise, the first shows a picture from Madres de Plaza de Mayo; a community and political movement asking for the disappeared-detained people from the Dirty War. Second picture shows a Central American map and pictures of flooded terrain and drought force people from those lands to migrate. Third picture shows an image from La Masacre de Ponce; people are running/escaping. Fourth picture show five images of women from Colombia, three of them on the top; political figures, and two at the bottom; socio political movements made of women against feminicide and supporting abortion rights. IMAGE SOURCE: Oriana Mejías Martínez
Mejías Martínez presented about the opportunities that recentering students’ knowledge in the classroom brings to the class content and experience.
She follows Professor Ofelia García’s scholarship on translanguaging due to broader experiences that these practices foster and develop on language integration and safe space in the classroom. As a result, students were able to choose and work on oral presentations about relatable issues that make historical events even more present at this moment.
IMAGES ABOVE: Top: Some of the artists from Prof. Anderson’s class playlist of music with German lyrics. Below: When reviewing difficult grammar topics, peer instruction led most students to choose the best answer. IMAGE SOURCE: Lisa Marie Anderson.
Lisa Marie Anderson talked about three transformative moments that helped to build community in a first-semester German course. (1) Compiling a course playlist of music with German lyrics introduced students to vocabulary and culture, and also helped them appreciate how much they had learned to understand in just a few weeks. (2) A semester-long virtual study abroad project showed students that they could already use German websites to do things like find a place to live, shop online, and navigate a new campus and a new city. (3) Using metimeter.com and peer instruction to review the midterm exam gave students a low-stakes, anonymous, collaborative way to engage in self-reflection and self-correction.
TLH Faculty Fellows
Emily Ripley (Queens College) is an artist and a fashion historian, director of the Fashion and Textiles Program, and curator of the Queens College Fashion and Textiles Collection. She teaches courses in the history of fashion, fashion and material culture, contemporary dress experiences, fashion and film, and fashion sketching.
Abby Anderton (Baruch College) is a musicologist who teaches topics in music history from Classicism to New Music.
Nerve V. Macaspac (College of Staten Island/Graduate Center) is a political geographer, cartographer, and filmmaker. He teaches courses in Urban Geography and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). His classroom projects can be viewed here: https://geospatialcsi.commons.gc.cuny.edu/
Oriana Mejías Martínez (LaGuardia Community College) is an Adjunct lecturer and teaches Spanish language and culture. Currently a PhD. Candidate at Latin American, Iberian and Latino Cultures program at the Graduate Center.
Lisa Marie Anderson (Hunter College) teaches German language, literature, and culture at all undergraduate levels. She is also a co-founder of ACERT, Hunter’s center for teaching and learning.
One of the spring Fellows public knowledge projects was a podcast and manifesto, organized by Michael L. J. Greer (Brooklyn College), Gisele Regatao (Baruch College), Rebecca L. Salois, (Baruch College) and Casandra Silva Sibilin (York College). The Fellows were joined by twenty students in a conversational podcast on ungrading. The conversation revolved around the following key questions: How does/could/should grading work at CUNY? What does grading mean to students? How do they perceive the concept of ungrading? What do they think of the ungrading practices they have experienced so far? Eight of the students asked questions and engaged in the conversation verbally, and the remaining twelve students participated in the written manifesto after reflecting on the conversation that took place during the podcast recording. The result is an engaging recording where students and professors discuss their experiences of ungrading, and explore the function that grades have played in their own lives. Students think about the virtues and potential downsides of ungrading at CUNY, discussing their fears, hopes, joys, and frustrations. The professors weigh in on questions students have around the value of ungrading, and the podcast ends with a brainstorm on how students might participate in creating a CUNY without grades. The collective manifesto that accompanies the podcast declares a vision for what a CUNY without grades would look and feel like. The podcast, manifesto, and a list of resources on ungrading are compiled in the website Imagining a CUNY Without Grades.
During this interactive roundtable event, five TLH Faculty Fellows – Jennifer Corby (Kingsborough Community College), Nicole Kras (Guttman Community College), Grace Pai (Guttman Community College), Dusana Podlucka (LaGuardia Community College), and Midori Yamamura (Kingsborough Community College) – shared their experiences of implementing ungrading in their courses. They were joined by 10 of their students who discussed how ungrading has helped and/or hindered their learning process.
The event, which was attended by 84 participants, began with an introduction to how ungrading is a student-driven approach that emphasizes feedback, assessment and reflection of the learning process over scores, mastery of skills, or standardized outcomes. The fellows collected student definitions, opinions and reflections of ungrading through a survey form taken by 52 students (see slides and booklet of student reflections).
The five Fellows then shared examples of ungrading across various disciplines. Professor Corby shared how she gave options for “choose-your-own adventure” activities and had students complete self-assessments in her Introduction to U.S. Government & Politics course. Professor Yamamura’s Global Contemporary Art students attended 8 asynchronous events that were part of the UnHomeless NYC exhibition she organized; students worked on group reflections and held consultations with her to help them incorporate their reflection of ungrading in their final papers. For her Civic Engagement in a Global Society first year experience (FYE) course, Professor Pai implemented a system of self grading, peer grading, monthly learning journal entries, an end-of-semester individual grade conference, and most importantly – student-created rubrics on major assignments where students discussed what makes for a quality assignment submission before creating a rubric with definitions and points for weighted categories as a class. Students in Professor Kras’ Human Services Fieldwork and Integrative Seminar course submitted weekly written, audio, video, or visual art reflections – alongside creating their own self-grading criteria connected to the purpose of the assignment. Finally, Professor Podlucka discussed how she focused more on providing student feedback on weekly reading responses, in addition to feedback on the process of writing a staged research paper for her Social Psychology course.
Ten student panelists (listed below) then shared their experiences and perceptions of being ungraded. Following are some examples of student responses.
What I liked is how we get to speak about this with the professor during her office hours. It was such a good feedback experience. We could talk about our assignments. We could talk about what we are doing right, which way is the right way, which way is the wrong way. That was a new way of learning. The grading system, when you get a good grade, you don’t exactly know why. When you don’t get a good grade, we still can’t ask why. We just know we didn’t do good and that’s it. In this, we literally had a step-by-step guide from the professor where we are going wrong and what we have to do. It was less pressure for both the professor and the students. Learning was fun with this system.
I would say it helped my learning process because it enabled me to reconsider power dynamics in the classroom. Something to consider in grading is like why is the professor doing the grading, why doesn’t my input matter? I feel like ungrading tackled that and empowered me to seek out feedback, using it more effectively, prioritizing it so I can learn from it and improve. So that’s one of the biggest outcomes I’ve retained and I’m really thankful for it.
We’ve done projects before like based in math which isn’t my strong suit, but when it comes to ungrading, we actually made the rubric for it. We could say my strong suit is this, may not be this but I need to put effort towards it. It was a give and take relationship where we could say what we wanted to put effort in, what we thought was important. The might seem small in the eyes of a teacher but whatever you think is important, you can say I want this to reflect in my project. You don’t really see that in my other classes. It’s invigorating. Maybe you spent hours on one small thing and you are finally getting recognition for it.
While students overwhelmingly expressed positive experiences with “ungrading,” there were also identified challenges and concerns noted from both faculty and students. One student shared, “I also don’t really like grading myself because I feel as though there’s always room for improvement. I feel like who do you think you are?” Faculty and participants in the chat shared concerns with implementing this approach in larger courses, on how to communicate this novel way of thinking about grading to students and colleagues, and how to align this practice with university grading requirements.
In her workshop on April 5th, Dr. Jamila Lyiscott, aka, Dr. J, began by thanking all those who made this event happen, as the quest towards justice cannot be taken for granted. We were then put into breakout rooms for a short activity, with the following instructions:
1. Choose a ‘whistle-blower’
2. Answer the question, “should multiple literacies be allowed in classrooms?”
3. You are only allowed to use two syllables or less for the duration of the conversation
4. If this rule is broken, the ‘whistle-blower’ should make an obnoxious sound
In the reflection afterwards participants discussed how the limitations robbed their motivation to speak, but not because they had nothing to say. Dr. J shared how this exercise helps to reveal how harmful education spaces can be: enforcement of “standard” language norms turns faculty into “whistle blowers” robbing students’ motivation, while also preventing enforcers from hearing students. To combat these linguistic constraints, Dr. J pointed to the liberatory capacity of languages and the cultural practices of people of color in particular. She noted how she includes a unit in all of her classes on the cipher, sharing a poem of her own, “The Art of the Cipher,” on bringing liberatory practices into the classroom, asking at one point, “how many students do we label illiterate by societal standards?”
Dr. J discussed code-switching as a continuation of colonial violence, requiring a certain language in order to be validated within the classroom and other institutions. She referenced the work of Dr. Geneva Smitherman and Dr. April Baker Bell who both highlight language as a site of cultural struggle, a marker of social mobility.
Dr. J then played a clip from Glamour, “Uzo Aduba Never Liked Her Name,” where Uzo explains she asked her mother to call her Zoe because no one can say Uzoamaka, and her mother replied that if they can say other names (e.g.,Tchaikovsky, Michelangelo, Dostoyevsky), they can pronounce yours. Here Dr. J emphasized how our classrooms are not neutral spaces, and if we don’t intentionally work toward racial equity and healing, we are holding up social injustice.
Dr. J asked participants to reflect on the complicity they have in the institutional rewarding of Eurocentric knowledge and language practices. She outlined how liberation is different from inclusion in that it is about systemic change, breaking down oppressive logics, not reforming a broken system, not just having people of color doing the same work that upholds oppression. She discussed how the case of George Floyd and the media’s focus on underlying health conditions and intoxicants is another example of racist literacy practices; sharing literacies and language is not just about words — they contain cultures and histories.
She continued with suggestions on how to put liberation literacies into practice, including challenging paradigm principles, divesting from racist logics, and demanding participatory action and institutional alteration. It means pushing back against impulses to demand students of color perform whiteness to gain success: “Standard language is the language of people in power, it is not the language of power.”
Dr. J read the poem “(Untitled)” by Brian Yoo, written in response to Texan lawmakers suggesting Asian people adopt easier names. The event then moved to a lively Q & A portion, with discussions on how to best support students so they can develop their voices and identities while being honest about how the world and the university institution operates, while working collectively to dismantle it.