Category Archives: Events & Notes

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Toni Cade Bambara’s Pedagogical Practices for Learner-Centered Communities

This post was written by Contributing Author Sonia Adams, a PhD candidate at St. John’s University who organized an event in TLH’s Spring 2021 series on active learning.

Toni Cade Bambara has greatly impacted my work as an educator and curriculum developer. I admire her commitment to literacy education, creativity, multiculturalism, and social justice. During my undergraduate studies in English, I was fortunate to take literature classes and seminars that exposed me to writers of color from the United States and abroad. However, I noticed a trajectory within many of the required, standardized, and special topic English courses, which privileged White male authors and texts. The western literary canon perpetuates an aesthetic that Bambara referred to as the “Anglo-Saxon tradition” that limited entryway for women and ethnic writers to enter the English curriculum (Bambara, “Summer 1968 SEEK Report). Although there were some gains made in late 1960s and early 1970s in making the curriculum more inclusive, there were some women and ethnic authors who served as ‘minority representatives’. In other words, their writings were deemed the standard for the racial, gender, and/or cultural group which they derived from. Bambara foresaw the implications of white patriarchal privileging and minority representation and sought to challenge them as an English Professor, writer, editor, and activist.  

In developing the TLH workshop, “Toni Cade Bambara’s Transformative Praxis for Learner-Centered Communities”, I wanted to establish a critical dialogue between CUNY campuses and the general public on current topics synonymous with ideas and values evoked in Bambara’s instructional work. I also wanted to show how Bambara’s lived experiences in community activism, higher education, and cultural work informed her pedagogical practices for creating and navigating learner-centered communities. Bringing this workshop into fruition encompassed the following criteria: creating an organizing principle, centering Bambara’s transformative praxis for learner-centered communities, and establishing critical dialogue through modes of multimodal learning.  

Organizing Principle: 

The principle for organizing the workshop is centered on engaged dialogue and a shared interest in building and sustaining community. In the registration evite for workshop, I emphasized the importance of following this principle: 

“Facilitator Sonia Adams has designed this workshop for CUNY campuses to collaborate with public service workers, organization leaders, and members of local communities to foster a trajectory of transformative learning. This learning propels one to seek a deeper awareness of self and society.” 

Transformative learning takes place when community members discuss issues that are relevant to their lives and collaborate on ideas for posing recommendations and/or solutions. 

I decided to begin the workshop by presenting the following writing prompt to the participants: 

“What do you consider to be a learner-centered community? What values and/or customs should be practiced within a learner-centered community” (Adams, “Toni Cade Bambara’s Transformative Praxis” slide 2)? 

The workshop participants are encouraged to offer their perspective on what encompasses an ideal learner-centered community. This writing prompt purports personal reflection on past and/or present learning experiences and a level of autonomy in making intervention(s) within the education system.  

Bambara’s Transformative Praxis for Learner-Centered Communities: 

Bambara evoked a Transformative Praxis for establishing and sustaining learner-centered communities within and apart from academic institutions. During my research in Bambara’s archived papers and published writings,  I came to the realization that she employed diverse pedagogical practices for centering learner-centered communities through conference panels, prisons, work groups, creative arts groups, community centers, public author events, academic service learning projects, and education support programs.  

During Bambara’s tenure as an English Instructor at City College’s Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge Program (SEEK), she collaborated with her students to design their summer English class by preparing the required course reading list with core themes and formal assignments “that would fulfill their needs” and interests (Bambara, “Summer 1968 SEEK Report” 1). Many of the students in the SEEK Program derive from low-income and ethnically diverse backgrounds. Bambara deemed it imperative that the SEEK students read and write about texts that explored issues of colonialism, race relations, class disparities, grassroots activism, racism, and sexism that directly impacted their lives. Bambara created a learner-centered community within the classroom space where ongoing collaboration, critical dialogue, and critical reading and generative writing processes would flourish.  

Bambara’s expanded on her Transformative Praxis through encouraging her students at City and Livingston Colleges to create work groups to produce position papers and adapt western nursery rhymes for publication. In Bambara’s first publication, The Black Woman: An Anthology, some of her students published position papers like “Ebony Minds, Black Voices” by Adele Jones and Group and “Poor Black Women’s Study Papers by Poor Black Women of Mount Vernon” by Pat Robinson and Group. In Bambara’s second anthology, Tales and Stories for Black Folks, she assigned some of her students to offer a retelling of Eurocentric nursery through a contemporary Black culturally relevant context. Bambara and Geneva Powell created the tale “The Three Little Panthers”, which is a retelling of “The Three Little Pigs” and Wayne Figueroa’s tale “Little Black Riding Hood” is an adaption of “Little Red Riding Hood”. Bambara and her students evoked African American Vernacular Expression (AAVE), an urban community setting, and Black cultural references and imagery as strategies for writing against fixed literary aesthetics and genre conventions synonymous with white western literary texts. In addition to the adapted tales in Tales and Stories for Black Folks, Bambara also included short stories by established African American writers like Alice Walker and Ernest J. Gaines. Her work in organizing student work groups and creative writing projects align to what schools today refer to as academic service-learning projects. The projects that Bambara assigned to her students were geared towards dismantling the literary canon standards and reforming standardized English curriculum at City College and beyond. 

Identifying Bambara’s Critical Pedagogies: 

In “Realizing the Dream of a Black University”, Bambara offers a diverse array of critical pedagogical practices along with a listing of recommended courses that would attract both students and local residents and elders to collaborate on and facilitate. As I examined this document more deeply, I reached the epiphany that some critical pedagogies that educators have created or expounded upon were utilized by Bambara. I would like to offer a brief outline of Bambara’s pedagogies highlighted during the workshop. 

Culturally Relevant & Sustaining Pedagogies 

  • Multiculturalism 
  • Latinx heritage 
  • Pan Africanism 
  • African-American heritage 
  • Vernacular Speeches 
  • African American Vernacular Express (AAVE) 
  • Spanglish 
  • Cultural Aesthetics 
  • Folklore- storytelling 
  • Folk customs & values (ex. Kwanza) 

Feminist Pedagogies 

  • Black Feminism 
  • Multicultural Feminism 

Social Justice Pedagogy 

  • Anti-racism 
  • Anti-sexism 
  • College campus rights 

Learner-Centered Pedagogy 

  • Countering Banking Method of Education (theorist Paulo Freire) 
  • Teacher and Students collaborate on instruction and learning within the classroom.  
  • Academic Service-Learning  
  • Curricular Reform Initiatives  
  • Students publish writings in The Black Woman and Tales and Stories for Black Folks 

Critical Dialogue through Modes of Multimodal Learning: 

For the Group Rap Session of the workshop, I created six discussion prompts where workshop members would be placed into breakout rooms to discuss them. I provided a link to the Google Docs folder that included the PowerPoint presentation with the discussion prompt slides. Each prompt offers commentary on Bambara’s pedagogical principle(s) to contextualize the assigned group topic and open-ended discussion questions. I employed a multimodal approach in preparing the group discussion slides by including public images, YouTube video, newspaper headlines, and excerpts from a social media post, poem, police transcript, news media platforms, and Bambara’s essay “On the Issue of Roles”. I wanted to make the discussion prompts interactive in order to make the reading and discussion processes more interesting. Below is a listing of the group discussion prompts: 

  • Group 1- “Migrant Family in Pursuit of a Better Life” 
  • Group 2- “Racism and its Discontents” 
  • Group 3- “Claiming Children’s Rights” 
  • Group 4- “#IAMNOTAVIRUS Campaign” 
  • Group 5- “Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman” 
  • Group 6- “Gender in the Imaginary” 

Employing the multimodal approach for the Group Rap Session created space for the groups to evoke media literacy skills. In Bambara’s teaching practice, she fostered students’ critical thinking and media literacy skills through uncovering ‘language manipulation’, ‘myths’, ‘brainwashing’, and ‘credibility gaps’. Language manipulation refers to official or formal language used by scholars, critics, journalists, and other people of authority that manipulates facts or conceals truths. Bambara created spaces for sharpening her students’ critical thinking skills in revealing and confronting myths or false narratives that perpetuate stereotypes and other fallacies often found in news reports. Bambara wanted her students to learn that they shouldn’t simply accept official media reports generated to the public. Several of these official version of news reportage of happenings in local inner city communities because they perpetuate credibility gaps that vilify its Black and Brown residents as criminals, delinquents, disadvantaged folks. Bambara charged her students to examine credibility gaps by posing critical questions, checking factual information, and conducting research on issues presented in the media reports. Bambara set the precipice of academic service-learning, media literacy skills, and college success skills that her students in the SEEK Program would build on during their tenure at City College.  

Continued Engagement with Bambara 

TLH Executive Director Christina Katopodis and I created a Google Doc folder with includes the PowerPoint presentation for the workshop, a copy of Tales and Stories for Black Folks and selected short stories, essays, and pedagogical texts by Bambara. In addition, there is a “Toni Cade Bambara Playlist” and a selection short stories by international authors Patricia Grace, Olive Senior, and Andrea Levy. These authors’ stories serve as fascinating companion readings to Bambara’s fiction.  

Click here to access the Google Folder (opens in new window). 

I created a follow-up activity for the workshop entitled Legacy of Voices: A Community Zine. This activity “is a gesture of gratitude for Bambara’s contributions to the world, as an endeavor to create partnerships for community-based education” (Adams, “Legacy of Voices” 1). For the activity, I invited participants to contribute a writing piece inspired by Bambara’s work in empowering students and learning communities. 

I hope that CUNY community and the public will peruse the resources in the Google Doc folder and submit writing to the Legacy of Voices: A Community Zine

Sonia Adams is an educator, writer, curriculum consultant, and PhD candidate at St. John’s University. Her scholarship centers on Contemporary American Multiethnic and Global Literatures, Multiculturalism, and English Instructional Design and Curriculum Development. Sonia is currently at work on her dissertation which examines Black Diasporic Feminist Literature from England, Canada, Australia, and the United States. When Sonia’s not pursing professional endeavors, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, attending cultural events, and reading great works of literature.

Image credit: Carlton Jones

A Free Printable Bookmark from the “Philosophy for Children Workshop: Anti-Racist Conversations at Any Age”

At the Philosophy for Children Workshop on Thursday, April 22, Prof. Cheri Carr (LaGuardia Community College) with her students Jesus Benitez and David Ortiz, talked about how inclusive thinking begins with how we treat our children. Between ages 2-5, children internalize racial bias and display attitudes similar to adults. By age 12, many children become set in their beliefs. Caring and invested educators and parents can unintentionally perpetuate anti-Black racism by promoting a colorblind approach to race stemming from their discomfort navigating conversations on race. Not talking about race reinforces racism in young children; talking about it encourages the development of positive attitudes and skills needed to advocate for racial justice.

This is why the Philosophy for Children initiative at LaGuardia Community College partnered with the CUNY Fatherhood Academy and Transformative Learning in the Humanities to create an interactive workshop for CUNY parents and educators of young children that centers issues of race. Workshoppers engaged in an open, supportive conversation about how we can foster racial justice through our relationships with children. Engaging in philosophical inquiry is a powerful way to give children the space they need to ask difficult questions and process complex ideas. And it’s up to us to create those spaces for them.

Prof. Carr, along with her co-organizers Benitez and Ortiz, created a printable book mark so parents and educators could have a little reminder of some of the basic principles of this pedagogy.

This free, printable bookmark is shared with permission from Prof. Carr, who is Associate Professor & Philosophy for Children Internship Director, in the Humanities Department at LaGuardia Community College.

Continuity and Change: Reflections on “Women Rewrite America,” a Three-Part Reading and Discussion Series

by Ria Banerjee, Sarah Hoiland, and María Julia Rossi

As educators, we are typically impelled to produce content–course plans, public lectures, writing and speaking in various registers is central to what we routinely do. It is rarer for us to get opportunities to “fill the well,” so to speak, and a TLH grant provided us a forum to develop our understanding of contemporary fiction that is outside our disciplinary subfields but aligns with our interests. After discussion among a core group of five planning faculty (Julia, Ria, and Sarah are the names on record for this group of CUNY friends), we decided on some ideal parameters for our planned event: we wanted to read recent novels by women of color, intentionally working against the Anglophone publishing industry’s bias, and we chose works focused on the US with an eye on global interconnectivity. We wanted to attract participants from a range of work and professional experiences, as having only educators might narrow our conversation. Finally, we wanted to give space to student voices in designing and leading our discussions, again to foster a broad conversation that would not be possible at, say, a disciplinary conference. We settled on three particularly timely novels. 

In distinct ways, Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing (2016), Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive (2019), and Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age (2019) speak to the stresses and challenges of US citizenship in transatlantic, continental, and transcultural terms. They are carefully crafted novels, widely recognized for their literary qualities. And, they are social novels as well as philosophical and historical ones. We agreed that it would be useful to read these novels carefully, as some of us intend to incorporate them into the courses we teach in future. But even more importantly, all three novels looked fun, intellectually and emotionally stimulating in a pandemic semester when most of our colleagues, students, and friends are working under very strained conditions. 

The primacy of storytelling in both Homegoing and Lost Children Archive weaves history into contemporary journeys of what it means for characters to return home and what even constitutes our ideas of “home”. Our third meeting will take place at the end of May, but the first two novels’ shared interest in historical contexts and their desire to archive public and personal recollections allowed our reading and discussion group to make connections across these very different texts. Both authored by young women of color, the novels pushed us to consider the authors as allies or fellow travelers with deeply personal connections of their own to the subjects raised in their writing: the transatlantic slave trade in Gyasi’s writing and the migrant crisis at the US southern border in Luiselli’s. 

In Homegoing, Gyasi materializes intergenerational trauma through two necklaces that are passed down from mother to daughter, one that remains in the family and another that is lost when a young woman is sold into slavery. In Lost Children Archive, Luiselli creates fictional archives that are literally and symbolically unpacked on a family’s cross-country journey to record the echoes of our past and to retrace migrant children who are lost. By tracking the development of narrative objects as symbols, and of shared textual tropes like motherhood and the inheritance of intergenerational trauma, our reading group has come to understand each work as a stop on a longer textual journey that we are taking together. 

In addition to one faculty leader for each session, Hostos and Kingsborough Community College alumna (subsequently at Hunter, Baruch, Brooklyn and the GC), have served as co-facilitators for each session. Isatou Batchilly, Denise Herrera, and Jozette Belmont have had deeply personal reactions to the novels, and offered complementary discussions of identity politics that restored a certain immediacy to our sessions. We did not intend to have purely academic discussions, and our co-discussants add their perspectives as political campaigners and social workers whose professional lives intersect with textual content. Through interactive icebreaker activities drawn from questions raised by the novels, the 40 participants in Women Rewrite America were asked to co-create a digital archive of our experience of reading together. These introductory activities proved to be effective for a large group of strangers coming from all over the US and a variety of academic and nonacademic roles, united only by an interest in the reading material. For faculty participants, this translates into an activity that can be easily adapted for the classroom. TLH made it possible for us to invite one of the authors, Valeria Luiselli, to attend a session, adding fresh depth to her personal and political involvement with issues that are important in our own intellectual and work lives. 

It is difficult to provide culminating thoughts on our experience because, well, the series ends at the end of this month. But aside from logistical reasons, coming to a quick summative response is contrary to our purpose when planning this 3-part, 3-month event. In the past few years, there have been several strong arguments put forward by philosophers, psychologists, and economists embracing slow thinking or “doing nothing.” Vincenzo Di Nicola compares Slow Thought to the Slow Food movement, arguing that slow thinking “is preservative rather than conservative,” and “founds a kind of contemporary commune” in which participants might respond to their own time and place while also “spreading organically as communities assert their particular needs for belonging and continuity against the onslaught of faceless government bureaucracy and multinational interests.” Writing more recently from the middle of the pandemic, Apoorva Tadepalli asks us to resist the urge to always be doing something. Do nothing, she urges; consider the pandemic “an opportunity not to ‘get your life back on track,’… but to experiment with nothingness, with a failure of productivity.” 

Breaking away from the relentlessly positive self-help rhetoric that saturates US popular media (and also perhaps US academia!), Tadepalli recommends that we “do nothing” except take time to try and find our own humanity, “tell and listen to stories.” This is no easy task in itself, as many who are working from home will attest. Still, both Di Nicola and Tadepalli speak to a tacit purpose behind our reading and discussion series to create time and space to just read and interact. What the fruits of such an exercise will be remains, happily, to be determined.   

Ria Banerjee is an Associate Professor of English at Guttman Community College. 

Sarah Hoiland is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Hostos Community College. 

María Julia Rossi is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Modern Languages at John Jay College.

From Page to Stage: Engaging with QCC Writers Live Event

by Raquel Corona and Susan Lago

On May 13, 2021, Raquel Corona and Susan Lago will host a live interactive literary event on Zoom, featuring Queensborough Community College English Department faculty, including Irvin Weathersby Jr. and Manny Martinez, along with three QCC students nominated to read by the English Department Creative Writing Committee. Attendees will actively participate by collaborating on a group poem, posing questions, and meeting with the writers for intimate break-out room sessions. The event will conclude with an open mic where attendees have the opportunity to volunteer to share their own creative work with the audience. In this way, attendees will have the experience of participating in a live literary event that invites the audience to engage directly with writers of various levels of experience to ask questions about their process or what inspires their creative work. Attendees will gather an understanding of the interactive nature between literature and audience in a venue that takes literature out of the classroom and places it in a collaborative virtual space.

 In May 2019, the Queensborough Community College English Department Creative Writing Committee held its first annual QCC Writers’ Showcase. Faculty writers from across the disciplines were invited to read from their published creative work, including poetry, fiction, memoir, drama, hybrid, cross-genre, or graphic novels. The purpose of the event was to provide an opportunity for writers to share their writing experiences with students and the QCC community. The event featured three faculty members and two students who were recommended by the Creative Writing Committee. The first hour was devoted to writers reading from their work and was followed by a 45-minute Q&A. Having students and faculty read together at a live literary performance was a unique way for the QCC community to engage directly with writers and helped to facilitate the understanding that writing is an active process of creative expression and communication that also happens outside of the classroom.

In May 2020, the live event was canceled due to COVID-19. Faculty and student readers, however, created videos of themselves reading their works, which were shared with the QCC campus community. Showcasing creative works virtually thus became a way to demonstrate the power of creative expression even in times of crisis. While faculty read from previously published works, students contributed spoken word and poetry having to do with the pandemic.

This year, we wanted to make the program more interactive on a virtual platform. When we heard about the Transformative Learning in the Humanities Grant, we came up with a proposal to utilize the functions of Zoom to create a unique collaborative, interactive space that celebrates spoken and written creative expression. We thought it would be wonderful if we could use the digital platform to give the audience that intimate experience with the writers so they could feel more comfortable engaging in conversation with them about their work. Our goal is to split the audience in two separate break-out rooms and then facilitate discussion within that space so the audience feels comfortable commenting on or asking any questions they may have of the writers.

We also wanted the audience to have the opportunity to engage in writing and perform as well. What better way to truly showcase creativity than to have the audience exercise their own? We plan to start the entire event with a poetry writing exercise where participants are given a prompt, and they reply in the chat feature of Zoom. We will compile what everyone puts in the chat and read it out loud at the end so they can see how we all came together to construct a poem virtually. Finally, we will invite attendees to perform their own poetry or creative work for a few minutes at the end. We have been working with our colleagues on the Creative Writing Committee to see if we can have a few of their students attend and perform in case participants are initially too shy. We hope being able to see one or two other people volunteer will provide others some courage to read their work.

Because our event has not yet occurred we cannot discuss in more detail or provide images of anything that happens at the event. However, we wanted to make sure to include in this blog post the line-up of the writers showcased in our event. They are truly a diverse set of individuals who we are so excited to bring together. Below you will find a photo and brief description of who they are and what they intend to read at the event.

Author Bios

Susan Lago is a Lecturer in the English Department at CUNY / Queensborough Community College. Her creative work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in publications such as Noctua Review, Adelaide Magazine, Pank Magazine, The Smart SetMonkeybicycle and Prime Number. She is currently at work on a collection of connected short stories. Visit her website at http://SusanLago.wix.com/susanlago or follow her on Twitter: @SusanLago).

Raquel Corona is a Lecturer in the English Department at Queensborough Community College (CUNY) and has just recently completed her Ph.D. in English from St. John’s University (yay for Class of 2021). Her dissertation is a rhetorical exploration of how transnationalism affects the circulation of stories about the Latinx woman’s body and sex. It examines various texts and the digital realm to consider the ways Latinx women are resisting against the dominant and oppressive forces in their lives to cull an alternative way of expressing and exploring their sexuality and sexual desire.

Strategies for Publishing Articles and Preparing your Future Book

Strategies for Publishing Articles and Preparing your Future Book was a workshop led by Prof. Araceli Tinajero (The City College of NY) on April 9, 2021, from 5:00 to 6:30 pm. The event was sponsored by Transformative Learning in the Humanities. Graduate students and an Assistant Professor were present. I had encouraged the participants to hand in a 150-word abstract (or summary) of the paper, dissertation, or collection that they would like to publish so they could share it with other audience members. No one brought their abstract/summary; however, when the attendees were in the breakout rooms, they carried out very interesting discussions.

The workshop was aimed to provide basic examples. Since I am a professor of literature, I furnished examples of how to begin publishing in the Humanities (I gave examples of journals at CUNY).  Below is the outline of what I presented. We had excellent discussions and promised to follow up via email to continue the dialogue.

Transforming papers into articles:

  1. If you don’t want your professor’s advice, find a professor outside your college and have her/him read your paper.
  2. If you are still not convinced, ask a friend you can trust.
  3. Don’t be afraid of criticism.
  4. Remember, you don’t have to change everything the reader asks you to change.
  5. You can combine 2 papers: one from one class with another from another class.

Preparing your abstract or summary:

  1. Be coherent and clear. Imagine that your reader doesn’t know anything about your topic. Even your theoretical framework has to be clear.

Publishing articles:

Stop! Before you send a paper to be considered, you must be familiar with the journal. Example: Ciberletras http://www.lehman.cuny.edu/ciberletras

  1. Your professors are the experts in their field. Ask them for a list of peer-reviewed journals.
  2. When an author submits an article, the editors of the peer-reviewed journal will contact two readers experts in the field. Each reader will evaluate your article. The editor will get back to you with suggested revisions or, if the readers reject your paper, you have to approach another journal.
  3. Not ready to publish in a peer-reviewed journal? There are several prestigious journals and magazines. Many are published by university departments:

Fiction – English department @  CCNY:

Fiction – Facebook

Promethean – Facebook

On-line Journals:

    • Cervantes– Official journal of the Cervantes Society of America
    • CiberLetras– Journal of literary criticism and culture
    • Dieciocho– Eighteenth-century studies in Spain and Latin America
    • Espéculo– Electronic journal of literary studies
    • Enclave– Journal dedicated to sharing the work of Spanish literary work from CUNY and New York.
    • Hispanista– Primera revista electrónica de los hispanistas de Brazil.
    • Laberinto– Spanish and Spanish-American texts from the early modern period, 1450-1750
    • Lemir– Journal dedicated to Spanish Medieval and Renaissance Literature
    • LLJournal– Journal of the Students of The Ph.D. Program in Hispanic & Luso-Brazilian Literatures and Languages, The Graduate Center
  1. Not ready to publish an article? Try writing a book review.

Publishing your dissertation:

  1. Think big & plan ahead. This book is a must
  2. You must focus. Don’t compromise with anything that is outside of the topic that you are writing.
  3. Again, ask your professors about the publishers.
  4. Study the publications, the editorial board, and their expectations.University presses = demanding and can be slow

    You can find a list of academic publishers here: https://humanitiesjournals.fandom.com/wiki/university_presses_/academic_publishers

  1. Study thoroughly the guidelines and submit them on time

Publishing a book outside your discipline:

  1. Look for the experts on your campus or approach professors from other institutions.
  2. For example, I want to write a biography…. do you know that there is a biography and memoir program at the graduate center? The experts are there. Ask them.
  3. Do you want to write children’s books? Get in touch with the English department and ask the chair if someone is teaching about children’s literature. Get in touch with the professor.

 

The Practice of Publishing: An Evening with Morgan Jerkins

by Emily Raboteau

This event was sponsored by a grant from Transformative Learning in the Humanities at the City University of New York and designed for emerging creative writers interested in learning more about the business of publication. It was conducted as a conversation between myself and author / editor Morgan Jerkins about her own path to publication, insight as an editor, use of social media as a networking tool, overview of the publishing landscape and tips on querying literary agents fo representation. The audience consisted of MFA students from CUNY and was open to the public.

I started the program by welcoming the audience: “Many of you are in MFA programs and have been working hard on your craft in writing workshop, honoring your ambition to be a published writer. Others of you have been working independently on your writing, with the same goal. But when do you know your work is ready to be published? How and where should you submit? Which are the right venues for your voice? Who are your potential readers? What is the best way to query an agent or an editor? How much can you expect to be paid for your creative writing? Why does understanding the publishing marketplace matter? You’re here to learn from the talented writer and editor, Morgan Jerkins in conversation me, writer and City College creative writing professor, Emily Raboteau, in a nuts and bolts conversation about the professional practice of writing.”

I then introduced our guest speaker: “Morgan Jerkins is a New York Times bestselling author and Senior Editor at ESPN’s “The Undefeated” for its Culture Vertical. Her books include This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America, which was longlisted for PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay and a Barnes & Noble Discover Pick, and Wandering In Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots. Her amazing third book, Caul Baby: A Novel comes out from Harper Books this spring. Morgan, one of the things I admire about your career is that you’ve worked in more than one genre, and also served so many writers as an editor, including myself, in your capacity as an editor at Zora Magazine. Walk us through your path from MFA to where you are now, including your influences as a writer.”

Morgan spoke for 25 minutes about her journey to publication, starting as an undergraduate student, including the ups and downs, the rejections, and her discovery of her voice and place as a culture maker starting in 2015 on social media, citing Roxane Gay as having opened the door for her, and finishing with a recap of her first national book tour.

I then asked her a series of questions, which I had gathered from the audience in advance. These centered around the pros and cons of self publishing, independent publishing, the role of an agent and the process of acquiring one, pointers for successful query letters, establishing voice, dealing with editorial conflicts, networking, publishing resources, and authorial “branding.”

Morgan insightfully answered these questions, sharing resources via the chat.


Emily Raboteau is the 2020-2021 Stuart Z. Katz Professor of Humanities and Arts at the City College of New York.

“The Power of Reading and Writing: How English Courses Paved Career Paths,” a TLH Alumni Talk event

This blog was written by Contributing Authors Ilse Schrynemakers and Beth Counihan, collaborating professors at Queensborough Community College.

An alumni talk, “The Power of Reading and Writing: How English Courses Paved Career Paths” was hosted by Drs. Ilse Schrynemakers and Beth Counihan (English department, Queensborough Community College).  Over 30 attendees listened to the stories of courage, determination, and success from the QCC alumni panelists. A general overview of the challenges faced by current undergraduates during this pandemic, and the need for connection with those “who have been in their shoes,” began the talk. This was followed by the host conveying various panelists’ anecdotes about life and work. These anecdotes—such as once working as an au pair in France–were a way to break the ice as well as underscore that not all career paths go in a straight line.  In fact, sources of inspiration are all around us.

The first panelist Jully Vanegas, who is now pursuing in a bachelor’s program (in Health Sciences) at Stony Brook, graduated during the pandemic. Jully emphasized the gradual steps towards her goals. Jully explained how each English course made her more empowered to tackle another academic challenge. As an adult learner, who is raising a family far from her native country, Jully credits success to seeking assistance, whether by talking with professors or using the tutoring services. Jully lost family members from COVID, and attendees were inspired by her courage, candor, and accomplishments.

The next panelist, Nadir Durrani, studying for his MA in English at Queen’s College, also works at Queensborough as a writing tutor for CUNY Start. He painted a picture of how his life has taken many turns and emphasized the power to reinvent ourselves with hard work and focus. Nadir coached students on “working smart” and encouraged them to seek out tutoring and other supports.

Our third panelist, Jessica Schuler, shared stories via video, since she started working as a bookkeeper on the same day as the talk. Like Jully, she credited the nurturing environment at QCC with making possible her present-day success. Jessica implored students to seek out campus opportunities, such as the QCC Fed Challenge Team, of which she was a part, while herself an evening student.

Our final alumni panelist, Christina E. Davis, spoke about the transformative powers of critical thinking, reading books, and sharing our ideas in writing. Christina is working towards a bachelor’s degree in Speech Therapy at Queens College, while being a full-time Mom. Christina’s staunch, enthusiastic devotion to her own education, and the possibilities available as a result, were important messages for our current students.

While the panelists shared their stories, attendees could read more about the alumni’s individual journeys:

Presentation slide: Meet Christina Davis along with some personal details. Presentation slide: Meet Jessica Schuler along with some personal details. Presentation slide: Meet Nadir Durrani along with some personal details. Presentation slide: Meet Jully Vanegas along with some personal details.

Lastly, QCC’s College Transfer Resource Center team, Renee Rhodd and Susan Madera (herself a Queensborough graduate) then shared the basics of the transfer process for current Queensborough students. The event concluded with their timely practical steps for realizing dreams, and the panelists all attested to their helpful guidance.

Even though we were all separated from each other, in our little Zoom tiles, the panelists lifted everyone’s pandemic-weary spirits.  Their persistence, resourcefulness and love of learning shine a bright light on the whole purpose of higher education: to develop the skills and tools to choose one’s life path, and as panelist Christina Davis said, to reveal the “true interconnections with humanity.”


Drs. Ilse Schrynemakers, an assistant professor, and Beth Counihan, an associate professor, both teach in the English department at Queensborough Community College.

Understanding and Building Collective Efficacy

This post was written by Contributing Authors Tim Leonard and Leigh Somerville

The purpose of this blog post is to provide a brief overview of the concept of collective efficacy and share some practical examples of what it can look like in the classroom setting. As well, we provide several open-source documents that may be helpful in reflection and instructional planning. 

What is collective efficacy? In short, it is when a team of individuals share the belief that, through their combined efforts, they can overcome challenges and positively impact student achievement and success.

Collective Efficacy Overview:

Collective self-efficacy “represents a group’s shared belief in its joint capabilities to organize and execute courses of action required to provide given levels of attainment” (Bandura, 1997, p. 477)

“Collective efficacy is not simply the sum of the efficacy beliefs of individuals. Rather, it is an emergent group-level attribute that is the product of coordinative and interactive dynamics.” (Bandura, 1997, p. 477)

Collective efficacy often focuses on groups of teachers building the belief that they can work together to impact student achievement despite the challenges students may face in their lives inside and outside of school.

Collective Efficacy at Work: 

In our classes, we believe that we are part of a team with all of our students to work towards success for all. This can take place through the development of a community that supports a foundation of efficacy both directly and indirectly. 

What does this look like in practice? It can be different for each educator. In Professor Somerville’s classes, it means consistent group work in which each member has a stake in collective learning. For example,  It means including students in the writing process through class-generated editing sheets. It means asking students to self-generate lists of questions about the course in individual sessions and then creating a FAQ for the entire class. 

Collective efficacy includes the use of roles and assignments, individual meetings with students throughout the semester, and recognizing, highlighting, and activating the knowledge and life experience that each student brings to the classroom throughout the semester as tools of engagement.

In Prof. Leonard’s class, the first two sessions are integral in making connections. Aside from typical introductions, students are asked to consider sharing their stories ie. where have they been, where they are now, and where they are going. As well, rooted in the work of Richard Elmore and inspired by the process of instructional rounds, individual meetings are scheduled, and using this  Student Intake Form as a guide, student information is collected to help guide future interaction, deepen connections, and allow the instructor to make connections to areas of student interest and need. Regular group work with flexible grouping options also helps to build and maintain this community and fosters a shared sense of obligation to one another in order to help everyone find success.

We build the foundation that supports efficacy both directly and indirectly. One way we do this is through direct instruction in Motivational Theory and Growth Mindset. Through the study of motivational theory, students are able to reflect and clarify motivation, this allows them to understand what drives them so that they can leverage this for success in coursework. As well, in understanding motivation, they are able to also find value in coursework as it relates to their goals which contribute to the expanded conception for growth mindset as presented above. 

While much of the research on this topic has been conducted at the K-12 level, we believe that collective efficacy has great potential for implementation in post-secondary work, specifically at the community college level.  Building a sense of shared responsibility in the classroom can help students to feel a genuine sense of purpose. The principles of collective efficacy help students to feel more connected to their coursework, professors, peers, and the college community as a whole.

Tim Leonard holds a doctoral degree in Education with a concentration in Instructional Leadership. He has taught reading to students of varying ages and has engaged teachers in experiences to examine their instructional methodology. As an instructor of courses in literacy, reading, and critical thinking, Professor Leonard is focused on student growth while providing individualized experiences that students can leverage for success in future coursework. He is particularly interested in: fostering dynamic, student-centered learning communities, conceptions of motivation, student reading motivation, developing student autonomy, and student perceptions of success in college and beyond.

Leigh Somerville has taught at the college level for nearly 15 years. She teaches English as a Second Language, Critical Thinking, and Co-requisite classes. Prior to joining the faculty at BMCC, she taught at Queens College and Columbia University. She is particularly interested in finding new approaches to the editing process in academic writing, helping students to develop better reading habits outside of the classroom, and the use of collective efficacy within a higher education learning environment.

Further Reading:

The Power of Collective Efficacy

What Drives Collective Efficacy?

Collective Teacher Efficacy

Sources:

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.

Voicing Poverty Workshop and Information Session with TLH

by Jamie Warren and Mahatapa Palit

In this workshop, we began by inviting participants to turn their external scholarly gaze, at least for a moment, inward. Starting from the premise that, if our goal is to increase critical thought and knowledge among our students, we must first come to understand ourselves, we emphasized the necessity of engaging in the often discomforting analysis of our language, and our assumptions, our position, and perhaps most importantly what we mean we say words such as “I”, or “we.” What images of others do such utterances implicitly conjure for the mind? Who, exactly, inhabits the linguistic space, “You” or “them”? Moreover, how can this rather abstract process of self cataloging help us in our goal of bringing new knowledge on poverty to the center of our pedagogy?

Consider, the following three quotes, each produced in the mid-1980s, a period well remembered for it’s urban decay, Industrial fallout, and economic policies which sought to eliminate any remnants of the New Deal or the Great Society:

 “God is smiling on you, but he’s frowning too

Only God knows what you’ll go through.” Grandmaster Flash, “The Message,” 1982

“Born down in a dead man’s town, the first kick I took was when I hit the ground

You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much, spend half your life just covering up.”

Bruce Springsteen, “Born in the USA,” 1986

“Nobody was dreaming about me. Nobody was even studying me except as something to wipe out.” Audrey Lorde, in conversation with James Baldwin, 1984.

When I read these three artists along side one another, I am struck by an important difference in the words of Audre Lorde from those of the men. While all three artists are speaking directly on the suffering experienced by poor people in America, and two also point to the increased pain resulting from white supremacy, only one refrains from the using the word/idea “you.” In her articulation of the violence and symbolic erasure waged against the poor, importantly, Lorde used the word, “me.” Poverty is not elsewhere in her words. There is no universal, abstracted, and therefore meaningless “you” invoked so that we might perform a public display of our benevolence. There is no distance. Perhaps more importantly, when speaking to politics of knowledge and the dangerous epistemologies that undergird so much social policy on the poor, Audre Lorde offers no forgiveness. To study her is to destroy her. Thankfully, Lorde lived her life in careful diligence to own selfhood, self-naming, and protected above all else, her voice and her ability to say the word “I.”

As we each embark in the useful and important process of transforming our courses to increase our students understanding of the historical, structural, and political causes of poverty, it is crucial that we remember this lesson from Lorde. Put in very simple terms, when we teach on issues of poverty, we must find ways, both in method and in discourse, to resist placing the poor under the microscope, treating them as objects to be known. Given the fact that the vast majority of our students live daily through the very real pain and violence of being poor, we must teach them how to say “I”, to examine who constitutes their “we,” and to not think of themselves simply as things to be known, but as knowers. Only then can our classrooms become a place where those living in poverty can truly feel at home, and know on the deepest level, that our desire to eliminate poverty is not just different from, but actually at war with the desires Lorde named above—those which sought to wipe her out.

Summary of Jamie’s lecture & Mahatapa’s Assignment

My colleague, Jamie Warren, professor of history, presented at the workshop on Transformative Learning in the Humanities held at CUNY in March 2021, starting her lecture with this quote:” The act of doing history is fundamentally an act of empathy.” She used her own life story growing up white and poor to help destigmatize poverty and make the discussion of poverty and its roots natural and a way to interrogate the real problem of structural barriers. Through a close look at history, she discussed how she enabled her students understand how after slavery, during the reconstruction era, Blacks did well economically and in terms of social mobility, with progressive education, community activism, and learning about democracy. However, the Jim Crow era that followed led to great discrimination of Blacks and turned back the progress that had been achieved. Through the study of history, she questioned the myth that blacks were inherently low achievers because of legacies of slavery. Her goals for the TLH presentation were:

  1. To locate/understand students’ understanding of the causes of poverty.
  2. To explore how many of us unintentionally accept/reproduce biased and negative ideas about poor people.
  3. To help shift the focus toward structural barriers and the elite.
  4. To examine places in my own teaching/course design that unintentionally reproduced problematic myths about poverty.
  5. Relocate the position of the subject/knower.

As a business professor, my goal in attending Prof. Warren’s workshop on Voicing Poverty was to enable my students to look at business from a more humanistic perspective. My principal goal in teaching marketing is to help students understand the creative problem-solving process that underlies marketing practice. Typically, in my classes, I do not talk about poverty, nor the structural barriers that people in poverty face. My students like to apply the principles of marketing that they study in my class to solve consumer problems related to fitness, beauty, fashion, food, and the internet of things. However, is it not true that poverty is one of the biggest problems that society faces? Hasn’t the pandemic widened the gap between haves and have nots? Should we disregard it, and instead focus only on shiny objects? 

My students know poverty well. 67% of BMCC students received federal financial aid in 2109. 70% of community college students face a combination of food and housing insecurity. I wondered what their experience would be if they applied marketing principles to solve problems related to poverty in their own communities?

Inspired by Prof. Warren’s presentation, I decided to set two new goals for my marketing class. One, to build empathy in the classroom where poverty and life could be discussed in a more human way; and two, to encourage my students to look at creative ways to solve social problems emanating from poverty, yet being careful that we do not stigmatize these problems.

Goal 1: Building Empathy

While some people think of business as a way to make profit, I tend to take more of a view that business is a ‘force for the good of society’ that can help keep economies strong and citizens taken care of with resourcefulness and creativity. I would like my students as future business professionals learn to work collaboratively and with empathy. To set this new tone, I planned to start the class by taking two minutes on Zoom having students check in with each other responding to two questions: (1) What are we grateful for today? and, (2) What did not go well? Students would post their own response on the chat, and, also, respond to some of their fellow students. In addition to building empathy, I believe this would create a sense of belongingness and community in the classroom. 

Goal 2: Solving Social problems

My second adaptation would be for students to introspect on social problems they saw in their communities and choose to creatively problem-solve one that resonated most deeply with them.

I would like to set the stage by having my students look at the UN Sustainable Development Goals that focus on the world’s biggest problems and go over a few innovative solutions that organizations have developed to address these “wicked” problems. 

In this new semester-long project in my Introduction to Marketing class, students would:

  1. Discuss types of social problems related to poverty: Gun/Gang violence; Homelessness; Joblessness; Education-gap among new immigrants.
  2. Go on a community walk to observe problems that were manifest in their neighborhood. 
  3. Research the breadth and depth of the problem and explore databases such as Infoshare and local newspapers to understand the significance of the problem in their neighborhood. 
  4. Brainstorm potential solutions with their team. 
  5. Practice empathy as they learn the basics of design-thinking for solving social problems.
  6. Interview people wrestling with these problems in their neighborhood to understand their needs. 
  7. Build empathy maps based on the interviews and discuss what the interviewees said, felt, thought, and did. 
  8. Check whether the assumptions that they had ahead of the interview on the perceived roots of the problem were validated or if there were surprises.
  9. Unpack the insights that they received from the interviews and consider if this would require them to modify their initial solutions? 
  10. Watch, as a team, the documentary ‘The Line: Poverty in America’ by Linda Midgett (2014) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHyNBGIFYl8  and then discuss the structural issues that were at the root of the social problems that they were tackling.
  11. Create a social media campaign to advocate for change to solve the problem.
  12. Present their findings on the needs of their community and their plans for a social media campaign to their local community boards, taking on the role of citizen-researchers.

Even as I pilot the assignment in my class this semester, I have begun to notice a few positive outcomes. Sejlan (name changed), a student with accessibility needs came to speak to me at the start of this semester.  He was nervous. It was his first semester in college, and he was not sure if college was for him. He chose to work on a project focused on Homelessness. Sejilan had worked as a RA at a Homeless shelter and felt that the residents would be more likely to stay in the shelter if they had freedom to cook their own food, invite guests, have recreational facilities, and learn some trade such as culinary skills or graphic design that could help them get jobs. He went through the initial steps of his project meeting with me quite frequently and as he completed his interviews, I noticed a change in his voice. He was beginning to sound more confident as he discussed the pros and cons of his recommendations. As he finds his stride as a citizen-researcher with strong roots in his community, I hope that he will not only complete this class and get his associates degree, but that one day, perhaps, he will take on a managerial role in running a shelter.

Transformers – More than Meets the Eye in Africana Social Justice Curriculum & Instruction

This post was written by Contributing Author Dr. Crystal Leigh Endsley, Associate Professor of Africana Studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

When I first began discussing the development of this TLH event proposal with my collaborator and co-conspirator for social justice, Dr. Teresa A. Booker, we hoped to accomplish two things. First, we wanted to demonstrate the vibrant and robust contributions of our small department. Second, we wanted the event itself to model the techniques we would be featuring in the content; namely, collaborative work.

In 2018, our department was concerned about consistency and meeting the needs of our students who enrolled in one of the required courses for our minor, Introduction to Africana Studies. This course is a 100-level survey course, which is popular with students, so we run multiple sections of the course in order to meet that demand. Our students, like our faculty, are incredibly diverse with varying levels of engagement and expertise in the field. To regulate the entry-level content that would be taught across sections and to ensure that students were exposed to key theories, historic events, and important figures in Africana Studies, Dr. Booker and I coordinated the development of zero-cost syllabus. The entire full-time faculty (Dr. Jessica Gordon-Nembhard, Dr. C. Jama Adams, Dr. Charlotte Walker-Said, and Dr. I. Xerxes Malki) along with two dedicated adjuncts, Dr. Carl Paris and Patricia Johnson-Coxx, provided support and assistance. Each full-time faculty member developed two weeks’ worth of modules on their areas of scholarship. The modules included only OER resources so that the students would not be required to purchase exorbitantly priced textbooks. The modules also included lesson plans connected to learning objectives and suggested in-class activities. Our hope was to provide as much support as possible for our adjuncts and full-time folks who instruct the sections of this foundational course while ensuring that our students were not unduly burdened with extreme financial hardship. With the dedication of a librarian, Verlene Harrington, the online resources were coordinated into a website link for each section, which maximized ease of access for our students. Little did we know, back in 2018, that our efforts to provide completely online and minimal cost readings and materials for this course would prove invaluable with the strain and stress of the pandemic in 2020!

The collaborative nature of this AFR 140 project is reflected and expanded in the second example that will be featured in our event. In my 241 general education course, Poetic Justice, we concentrate on exploring, developing, and analyzing spoken word poetry as it relates to social issues. Each time I offer this course, I coordinate co-sponsorship with various offices such as the Women’s Center for Gender Justice and the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership to bring living poets to my students in order to train them in new techniques. Last semester was no exception, and I featured Dr. Tony Keith, Jr. (www.tonykeithjr.com) who is an award-winning scholar and poet. Our artistry and scholarship models one way that collaboration occurs within and beyond the academic world and into the broader community. Earlier in 2020, Dr. Keith and I published an article that showcased a research methodology he developed named “Blackout Poetic Transcription,” and he trained my students in the process. In turn, my Fall 2020 class used that technique to complete their own research projects and performed their poetic findings publicly, many of them for the first time. Because we build bridges between the community and the academy through poetry and performance, Dr. Keith and I are adamant and intentional about furthering disruptions of power and privilege within our traditional scholarship as well. Encouraging our students to forge connections between their lived experience and the traditional research methods they learn as undergraduates invites them to think critically about how accessibility and collaboration can be fostered in tangible ways.

We hope to highlight and emphasize the ways right relationship allows us to grow and shine together during the event we are hosting. The imperative of Africana Studies is that each bit of scholarship and research must be relevant beyond the academy. In other words, accessibility and cooperation are necessary for transformative social justice pedagogy.

Dr. Crystal Leigh Endsley is Associate Professor of Africana Studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, where she was honored with the 2016 and the 2021 Distinguished Teaching Award. Crystal Leigh is an internationally renowned spoken word artist. Her research focuses on arts and culture as activism and social justice pedagogy.