Author Archives: Jessica Murray

About Jessica Murray

Jessica Murray received her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology at The Graduate Center, CUNY in 2020. She is the Director of Digital Communications for Transformative Learning in the Humanities (TLH), a three-year initiative supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. She is also working on a web project with teaching materials about civil rights struggles in New York City, including disability rights history. She advocates for improving public transit accessibility in New York City for people with disabilities and chairs the Advisory Committee for Transit Accessibility for New York City Transit.

Call for Proposals: Student Summit on the Role of Humanities in a Just Society

May 5, 2023 @ 9 AM-5 PM ET (Zoom)

What is the university you want? Transformative Learning in the Humanities (TLH) calls for creative, multimodal presentations from 50 CUNY students. Accepted applicants will receive a financial aid scholarship of $300 and a tablet. Applications are due Friday, March 3, 2023. 

We invite you to think about what your college community needs most to better support its students, and to imagine resources that would improve your social learning experience and academic life. To dream of safe spaces where respect, communication, and transparency are valued. To envision a stripped-down version of the faculty-student relationship, where faculty are better resourced themselves to be able to put students’ needs first. To conceive of concrete ways in which CUNY administration can better respond to issues raised by students. For the Spring 2023 Student Summit, a one-day virtual gathering, CUNY’s TLH program will provide a platform upon which students from all backgrounds can speak freely about what their institution is missing, and can talk back to their university.

The summit is being organized by a student-led Advisory Board. The Board encourages CUNY students to speak about real and tangible student needs, including mental health and childcare resources; issues faced by commuters, students on academic probation, and nontraditional aged students; racial equality, diversity, and representation; accessibility; community and belonging; and more quiet, reflective spaces provided for spirituality and self-care. A student-centered vision and student-run summit (a gathering to share creative works, reflections, manifestos), the Summit will allow you to take back the power and find your voice within the university to call for an answer to these unmet needs. The Summit will engage students, faculty, and staff in conversation to find common interests and begin transforming the larger institution to be more just, equitable, and student-centered. To remind CUNY administration that we are here, first and foremost, to learn and improve ourselves, and that we need a community that cares for us. 

The summit will utilize transformative, active learning methods, sparking a collaborative space of brainstorming and free thought with workshops, anonymous idea boxes, open discussions, presentations, and more. The Student Summit accepts applications in any form for 10-minute individual presentations or 1-hour panels (4 or more presentations to be delivered together in the same session), on Friday, May 5, including but not limited to:

  • A manifesto, call to action, or persuasive speech
  • An interactive activity
  • A poem or spoken word
  • A video you plan to make (or have already made) yourself
  • A performance (with or without co-performers, or an invitation to the audience to perform a script or interactive activity with you)
  • A work of visual art
  • A podcast, recorded interview (with permission to share), or sound recording
  • A dream syllabus or assignment for a class that does not yet exist
  • A modified syllabus or assignment for an existing class

The Student Summit invites students to respond to one question below or to another question of their own making:

  • How does a professor’s way of teaching influence the way you learn?
  • How can students or faculty incorporate social justice in the classroom? 
  • What do antiracist teaching methods look/feel/sound like?
  • If you could build your own syllabus/develop your own curriculum, what would it look/feel/sound like? 
  • Describe your university experience; what are some extraordinary experiences you’ve had in and out of the classroom?
  • How can you incorporate student advocacy in the classroom and beyond?
  • How has transformative learning affected the way you learn in class and beyond?
  • How can faculty better respond to issues raised by students in class and beyond?
  • How can we move beyond inclusivity to actual antiracist praxis in the university?
  • What could the university do to…
    • Be more environmentally aware?
    • Increase LGBTQI+ equality?
    • Be more accessible?
    • Make education more affordable?
  • What on-campus resources do we need right now?

Proposals from all CUNY students taking courses for credit in the Spring 2023 semester will be considered, including those on academic probation, those studying part-time, and those commuting to campus. 

If you would like to apply, please fill out this Google Form. If you have any questions about the application process, please direct them to Yuma Carpenter-New, Student Summit Coordinator, at yuma.carpenter-new@cuny.edu. Yuma will also hold open office hours, during which you can speak about ideas for proposals and the application process together. 

Definition of Ableism by Talila Lewis

Resources for Practicing Anti-Ableist Pedagogy

On Saturday, November 5, 2022, I had the privilege of conducting a pedagogy workshop at the American Studies Association conference, with my esteemed TLH colleagues and mentors, Cathy Davidson, Shelly Eversley, Christina Katopodis, Javiela Evengelista, and Jason Hendrickson. 

Anti-ableist pedagogy is a topic we’ve taken up in our TLH seminars over the past two years as another way to promote equity in the classroom. Anti-ableist pedagogy isn’t just about accessibility—making sure that all of your students can access and understand materials you use for teaching and that they can participate equally in the classroom—it’s also about recognizing and critiquing the harms caused by ableism in society and in our educational systems. It’s about accepting disability as part of human diversity and a positive identity marker, as opposed to a deficit, a reason for pity, or a justification for low expectations. Anti-ableist pedagogy is about radical acceptance of intersectional identities, unconditional respect, and a commitment to making everyone feel that their contributions are valuable. 

In the workshop, we borrowed an exercise from Dr. Jamila Lyiscot, who led a TLH workshop last year. The rules of the exercise were to first choose a whistle-blower or gatekeeper to enforce the requirement to only speak with words that have 2 syllables or less. The question was, “please describe your research (or work).” One of our participants reported being so preoccupied with following the rules that they completely missed out on the content. This simple yet powerful exercise can demonstrate how people who learn differently or English language learners might be missing the most important parts of the conversation. 

Turning to theory as another entry point into understanding ableism, we also explored models of disability, or the way that we conceptualize disability. The most commonly cited models are the medical model (defining disability as an impairment in the body in need of a cure) and the social model (defining disability as a social construction due to society’s failure to adapt to disabled bodyminds). While these models are necessarily at odds with each other, a universal model acknowledges that we have to acknowledge and accept different forms of impairment as a part of the human experience, while reforming the way that society responds to disabled people. Part of undoing the long history of oppression of disabled people starts with considering that disability is not unusual and it’s not a fixed state of being (anyone can become disabled at any time). Instead of creating separate spaces and policies for “accommodating” people with disabilities, we should be working to adapt our social environment to include everyone.

From there, we turned to defining ableism. For me, the dictionary definition falls short in describing the range of insidious behaviors towards disabled people that have been normalized by society, or the use of ability itself to undermine people based on other parts of their identities. Here, I turn to the work of activist, Talila Lewis, who concisely defines the term: 

“A system that places value on people’s bodies and minds based on societally constructed ideas of normality, intelligence, excellence, desirability, and productivity. These constructed ideas are deeply rooted in anti-Blackness, eugenics, misogyny, colonialism, imperialism and capitalism.

This form of systemic oppression leads to people and society determining who is valuable and worthy based on a person’s language, appearance, religion and/or their ability to satisfactorily [re]produce, excel and “behave.”

You do not have to be disabled to experience ableism.”

a working definition by Talila “TL” Lewis*; updated January 2021

In taking a critical look at our built and social environments, it’s not hard to find areas where this system of placing value on individuals has been used to create structural inequalities for disabled people in our society, a fact that is especially apparent in our education systems. This can be taken literally when looking at architectural barriers or information barriers, or figuratively, when considering policies and rules that subtly (or not so subtly) discourage disabled students from succeeding.

In addition to talking about how disability is defined and the harms of ableism, we ended with some ways to practice anti-ableist pedagogy:

  • Learn more about disability history and ongoing struggles for access to all parts of society. For example, much of the built world has been improved by disabled activists through what is known as the curb cut effect
  • Voice your support within your institution for spending money on structural access and information access. Accessibility is often an afterthought, given attention only when it becomes a problem, and deprioritized in budgets. 
  • Strive to create accessible learning environments through Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
    • Understand that accessibility is often a negotiation between competing needs and therefore a process. Strive for an adaptable environment that can accommodate the people in your classroom.  
    • Consider giving everyone the most commonly requested accommodations (usually extra time for assignments and tests). This takes away the stigma associated with requesting disability accommodations and helps all students.
    • Work with your campus accessibility office to make sure your course materials are accessible (text that is computer-readable is also flexible to accommodate people with a variety of vision disabilities and can be used with annotation tools that benefit neurodiverse students as well).
    • Add an accessibility statement to your syllabus to signal to students that they can talk directly to you about their access needs. Be open to suggestions for improvement. Talk about disability and access as a normal part of the college experience.  
  • “Crip” the curriculum, or incorporate disability into readings and course content. Question ableism in literature and media, social policies, or other topics. 
  • Most importantly, practice “radical acceptance” of everyone for who they are (and meet them where they are). 

Other resources from the session: 

Our slides

Padlet asking participants WHY and HOW can the classroom be a radical space for antiracist action? 

Small Axe/Acts (brainstormed with session participants) 

Additional Suggested Readings on Anti-Ableist Pedagogy:

Articles:

Transformative Anti-Ableist Pedagogy for Social Justice, by 2021-2022 TLH Faculty Fellow, Dusana Podlucka

Anti-ableist pedagogies in higher education: A systems approach, by Juuso Nieminen and Henri Pesonen 

Books:

For a good primer on disability, I recommend Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to Be an Ally by Emily Ladau.

For more theoretical approaches to disability and intersectionality, see Disabled Futures: A Framework for Radical Inclusion by Milo W. Obourn and The Minority Body: A Theory of Disability by Elizabeth Barnes

Teaching Resources from TLH Fellows Asrat Amnie and Anita Cheng

TLH Fellows work to foster equitable, creative, student-centered pedagogical methods throughout CUNY. We’re delighted to share these resources developed by fellows, Asrat Amnie (Hostos Community College, Fall ’22) and Anita Cheng (Hunter College & Brooklyn College, Fall ’21) that address the use of educational technology in the classroom.

Universal Design for Learning: Fostering Neurodiversity, Equity, and Inclusivity Through Educational Technology

Pulling Distance Learning Tools Into In-Person Classes

New College Classroom: Changing Ourselves, Changing Our Classroom, Changing the World! (Event Recap)

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.

Left to Right: Cathy N Davidson, Chancellor Felix Matos, Christina Katopodis, GC Provost Steve Everett.

You can watch the full event recording here and view slides here

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Reflections on Women Rewrite America: Transformative Learning in the Humanities Series

This post was written by Sarah L. Hoiland, Associate Professor of Sociology, Hostos Community College, María Julia Rossi, Associate Professor of Modern Languages and Literature, John Jay College, and Ria Banerjee, Associate Professor of English, Guttman Community College

Introduction

In late May 2021, our Women Rewrite America series ended and we wanted to provide a way for our participants to contribute to the Transforming Learning in the Humanities (TLH) Blog. What did our fellow readers get out of reading three novels in the last three months of an exhausting academic year? One would have to be crazy to volunteer to write a reflection in the summer, but several of our participants enthusiastically did just that and submitted their reflections.

Gita Pai points out the importance of “hearing voices” as a form of authorial activism common to authors Yaa Gyasi, Valeria Luiselli, and Kiley Reid, and one that is critical to a peoples’ history. For Anne Connor, the experience was personal, and provided space to “read emotionally,” something not often afforded to academics. Astrid Lorena Ochoa Campo pointed out the fun and refreshing aspects of reading and discussing at the end of her first year in a tenure-track position. Doctoral candidate Sonia Adams submitted pedagogical materials including one activity that examines Homegoing within the context of the global #BlackLivesMatters Timeline on her campus.

Book cover, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi Book cover - Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli Book cover - Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

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Website screenshot showing five student group projects

The Museum of Us: Student Projects from Arts in NYC at Baruch College

TLH Faculty Fellow Cheryl Smith (English, Baruch College) teaches a course called, Arts in NYC, which is a humanities seminar for first-year students. The final project for the course was a group curation project of an online exhibit around a theme of their choice. Their exhibits are gathered together in what the students chose to call “The Museum of Us.”

Professor Smith tells us,

“This project was profoundly shaped by our work together in the TLH Seminar—our discussions and readings. I see the focus on empathy, care, creativity, voice, and representation emerge in these projects. I’m proud of the work my students did and grateful I could provide a space for nurturing it; I think they were genuinely proud of their work, too. It’s been a long, hard semester for many of us, and it’s so nice to end on this kind of positive note.”

You can view the student group projects on their website (opens in a new window). Projects are titled, “Plugged In: The Playlists of the Pandemic,” ‘“I”dentity,’ “Baruch 25 Student Journal: New Beginnings,” “Pandemic-Centric Inclusivity,” and “Tranquility in a City that Never Sleeps.” Thank you, Dr. Smith and students for sharing your impressive work from the semester!

Community Access and Equity in Health Education – Video from Student Projects

How do we define health? How do we access resources to maintain and promote healthy lives in our communities? This project explores these questions through community maps created by Urban Community Health students from Guttman Community College CUNY, which explore both resources and barriers to health in their home communities around the city. Challenging the model of individual responsibility and behavior change often prevalent in public health approaches, the maps provide a more equitable approach to health understandings and health education.

The opening event premiered this video featuring the students’ narration of their maps, in addition to a display of the maps themselves, both video and exhibit invite consideration of intertwined issues between political, educational, and media environments. We are evolving design for displays of information to facilitate dialogue and understanding between policy makers and stakeholders, to educate about inequities in health resources around the city, and expand ideas of how we might define and promote health more holistically in all communities.

08 community health mapping

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Thank you to TLH Faculty Fellows, Kristina Baines (Social Sciences and Anthropology, Guttman Community College), Anita Cheng (Film & Media, Art, Hunter College and Brooklyn College), Helen Chang (Behavioral and Social Sciences, Hostos Community College) and Kathleen Tamayo Ales (English, Queensborough Community College) for sharing the potential of community mapping for teaching about social structures that impact our health and wellbeing.

A whiteboard and video display showing student community mapping projects A video display screen showing the video linked in this blog post. Several people are in the background. Visitors to the exhibit view the student community health mapping projects Students from the class pose in front of their presentations Dr. Anita Chang stands next to the video display monitor and speaks with her arms outstretched. She is wearing a face mask and winter coat. Several students for the class pose for a photo. They are all wearing face masks and winter coats. A student poses in front of the video monitor, where they are also on the screen.

Exploring Bravery in the Classroom

Bravery is not often discussed in the classroom, but it takes a certain amount of bravery to overcome fears that students and teachers may feel. How are supportive and inviting classrooms cultivated to help students overcome their hesitation to participate?

On December 2, 2021, TLH hosted this 1-hour interactive panel discussion with four Mellon TLH Faculty Fellows, Heather Huggins (Queensborough Community College), Alyse Keller (Kingsborough Community College), Susan Phillip (New York City College of Technology), and Tom Zlabinger (York College). In the first part of the event, each panelist shared their unique experiences and expertise cultivating bravery in the classroom followed by open dialogue with attendees, which was not recorded.

The presentations incorporate feedback on the topic from Huggins, Keller, Zlabinger, and Phillips’ students, and provide a breadth of perspectives and ideas for how to encourage courage. Thank you all for organizing this thoughtful and thought-provoking event.

Bravery in the Classroom

On December 2, 2021, Transformative Learning in the Humanities hosted this 1-hour interactive panel discussion with four Mellon TLH Faculty Fellows, Heather …

Video screen grab showing a student's essay and illustration of a tree in the palm of a hand and the title, Change Within"

Engaging students in the larger conversation

The team at TLH was thrilled to receive an email from Faculty Fellow Lara Saguisag (College of Staten Island, English), who wanted to share her students projects from the semester. Connecting the work in the classroom to what’s going on in the outside world had a big impact on her students, who completed their final projects with passion and excitement. Dr. Saguisag co-led the recent event, Creating Communities of Care in our Classrooms, a must-see presentation and conversation with TLH Faculty Fellows Jason Hendrickson (LaGuardia Community College), Reiko Tahara (Hunter College), and Cheryl C. Smith (Baruch College) and students about building community to support student success.

The theme of her ENL 323 section was was Narratives of Adolescence and Environmental Justice. Students produced a website that aims to engage young people in environmental justice. It includes reviews of books/films, profiles of youth activists, environmental justice actions young people can take, and much more. Check out the website, titled Call for Change (opens in a new window).

Her ENH 209 course theme was Literatures, Technologies, and Environments. For their final project, students had a public reading of poems, letters, and research projects which you can view here:

Public Reading: ENH 209 Culminating Activity

Final projects by the students of ENH 209: Literatures and Global Cultures (Fall 2021), College of Staten Island-City University of New York. These presentat…

She writes:

“Being part of TLH has really transformed my teaching and helped me think about designing assignments that allow students to become part of larger conversations. My students drew from their experiences and knowledges and were very passionate and excited about these projects. I just wanted to share these links with you as a way of thanking you for everything you do, for all you do to advocate for transformative learning.”

Thank you, Lara, for transforming your classes!

Imperialism, Education, and Resistance: Experiences from Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and the Dominican Republic

This interdisciplinary discussion with poets, cultural scholars, human rights activists, and historians explored the history and current presence of US imperialism in the Caribbean and the Philippines. Central themes included (neo/post) colonialism, its legacies and current experiences, expulsions, racialization, and climate change. Participants also discussed the role of education in resistance and proposed practical applications in educational settings. Raquel Salas Rivera from Puerto Rico discussed and presented queer anti-colonial poetry and spoke about the initiative The Puerto Rican Literature Project that consolidates, reflects and responds to community exchanges of Puerto Rican poets across all regions. Jody Blanco talked about how race and capitalism influenced how Filipino mestizo revolutionary leaders viewed (and invited) US intervention as a transitional force against Spanish colonial rule, with disastrous consequences after the Americans imposed their own imperial designs. Ana María Belique, from the Dominican Republic, discussed the fight against statelessness after ruling 168/13 of the constitutional court that revoked the citizenship of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent in 2013.

This event was organized by CUNY professors Fidelito Cortes, Javiela Evangelista, Niberca (Gigi) Polo and Rojo Robles. Student leaders participated as moderators of the final conversation.

Watch a video of the event (captions in English and Spanish)
Vea un video del evento (subtítulos en inglés y español)

Imperialism, Education, and Resistance: Experiences from Puerto Rico, The Philippines, and The DR

This interdisciplinary discussion with poets, cultural scholars, human rights activists, and historians, explores the shared history and ongoing presence of …

Imperialismo, educación y resistencia: experiencias de Puerto Rico, Filipinas y República Dominicana

Esta discusión interdisciplinaria con poetas, estudiosos de la cultura, activistas de derechos humanos e historiadores exploró la historia y la presencia actual del imperialismo estadounidense en el Caribe y Filipinas. Los temas centrales incluyeron (neo/post) colonialismo, sus legados y experiencias actuales, expulsiones, racialización y cambio climático. Los participantes también discutieron el papel de la educación en la resistencia y propusieron aplicaciones prácticas en entornos educativos. Raquel Salas Rivera de Puerto Rico discutió y presentó poesía queer anticolonial y habló sobre la iniciativa El Proyecto de Literatura Puertorriqueña que consolida, refleja y responde a los intercambios comunitarios de poetas puertorriqueños en todas las regiones. Jody Blanco habló sobre cómo la raza y el capitalismo influyeron en cómo los líderes revolucionarios mestizos filipinos vieron (e invitaron) la intervención de los EE. UU. como una fuerza de transición contra el dominio colonial español, con consecuencias desastrosas después de que los estadounidenses impusieran sus propios diseños imperiales. Ana María Belique, de República Dominicana, habló sobre la lucha contra la apatridia luego de la sentencia 168/13 de la corte constitucional que revocó la ciudadanía de miles de dominicanos de ascendencia haitiana en 2013.

Este evento fue organizado por los profesores de CUNY Fidelito Cortés, Javiela Evangelista, Niberca (Gigi) Polo y Rojo Robles. Los líderes estudiantiles participaron como moderadores del conversatorio final.