Event Recap: Futures Initiative Spring Forum–“Publics, Politics, and Pedagogy: Remaking Higher Education for Turbulent Times”

Links: Video Recording of livestream – Coming soon! | #fight4edu

Note to readers: The Futures Initiative would like to extend our deepest admiration and thanks to Dr. Frances Tran, Postdoctoral Fellow and Interim Associate Director of the Futures Initiative. Frances worked tirelessly to craft and organize this forum, guide faculty members and students in shaping their sessions, coordinate all of the logistical details with our team, and see the event through to completion. The thorough and thoughtful recap that follows is just one example of her brilliant work on this complex and meaningful event. Thank you, Frances! —The FI Team

On Wednesday, March 28, 2018, the Futures Initiative hosted a daylong forum on “Publics, Politics, and Pedagogy: Remaking Higher Education for Turbulent Times.” Part of our University Worth Fighting For series, this event was an occasion to foster interdisciplinary conversation on the relationship between pedagogy, equity, and institutional change. It was also an opportunity for the people involved in the many areas of our program–from our graduate fellows and the students and faculty involved in F.I. team-taught courses to our undergraduate leadership fellows and colleagues in the Humanities Alliance–to share their knowledge and experiences in a public setting, to engage precisely the different publics our work serves. We were joined by faculty, staff, students, administrators, and activists both in person and online (via Twitter and livestream) from across CUNY, New York City, and beyond. During the event, we collectively contemplated the current state and stakes of higher education, the challenges of being both a teacher and student in today’s turbulent sociopolitical climate, and the possibilities that might arise from and through our pedagogy, creative work, political commitments, and public encounters, which the day’s activities and conversations only affirmed are not separate endeavors.

It was a pleasure for me to shape this event and then to watch it unfold, to listen and learn from old and new allies, and to revel in the ways that the Futures Initiative’s mission to advance innovation and equity in higher education resonated across the dialogues, workshops, presentations, and bodies assembled in the room. Below you will find a more detailed recap of the forum. 

9:30 – 9:45 | Welcome and Opening Remarks

Welcome by Founding Director, Cathy N. Davidson
Opening remarks by Provost Joy Connolly

Cathy Intro-min

Founding Director, Cathy N. Davidson kicked off the day’s events with a warm welcome to all those present. To illustrate the mission and core values of the Futures Initiative, she shared an anecdote about Samuel R. Delany’s first experience teaching a college course and the All-Hands-Raised activity he devised to combat the violence of silence in the classroom. You can read her blog describing this incredible teaching method, including Delany’s own words about the motivation behind this exercise, on the HASTAC website.

Davidson also expressed the program’s deep gratitude for the continued support of the GC Provost’s Office, CUNY Central, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the CUNY Humanities Alliance, the Teagle Foundation, HASTAC, and the many many students, staff members, and faculty who helped make this event and the work of the Futures Initiative possible. Davidson then introduced Provost Joy Connolly.

Joy Intro-min

Provost Connolly’s opening remarks captured the extraordinary accomplishments of the Futures Initiative, which is now in its fourth year. In particular, she noted how the program has risen to the challenge of not only doing interdisciplinary but inter-institutional work, through its team-taught courses and undergraduate leadership program, which reaches across the sprawling CUNY system. 

The Provost closed her remarks with an anecdote of her own. She described the frustrating questions she often receives from skeptics about the purpose (read: usefulness/ marketability) of doctoral education today, given the competitive nature of the job market. The responses she shared with us about how doctoral education trains specialists to be generalists, to engage in the project of understanding the world together–people capable of adapting to new, unpredictable environments, who are guided at every step by ideas and imagination, and who are willing to embrace impurity and innovation in a world that is complex, pluralistic, and often irrational–provided an invigorating introduction to the day.  

9:45 – 11:00 | Higher Education at a Crossroads

This faculty roundtable featured Gilda Barabino, who co-taught with Ann Kirschner, “Rethinking Higher Education for the Knowledge Economy,” Ofelia García and Rosario Torres-Guevara, who collaborated on the course, “Participatory Action Research in the Borderlands: Research and Pedagogy for the Americas,” and Ruth Milkman and Katherine Chen, who are co-teaching “Change and Crisis in Universities: Research, Education, and Equity in Uncertain Times” this spring. The faculty were joined by two graduate students, Sylvia Beltran and Michelle Gabay, from “Rethinking Higher Education” who shared their reflections as students in the class and led the Q&A session. The panel was moderated by Katina Rogers, F.I. Director of Programs and Administration.

Higher Ed at a Crossroads 4-min
From left to right: Katina Rogers (Director of Programs and Administration, The Futures Initiative); Gilda Barabino (City College, Grove School of Engineering); Ruth Milkman (The Graduate Center, Sociology); Katherine Chen (City College and The Graduate Center, Sociology); Rosario Torres-Guevara (Borough of Manhattan Community College, Academic Literacy and Linguistics); Ofelia García (The Graduate Center, Urban Education and Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Literatures and Languages)

In addition to sharing experiences from teaching their respective courses, Rogers invited the faculty to address three overarching questions:

  • What is the university? What is the role of the university? Who does the university serve?
  • How do political, economic, and global forces impact student learning, especially somewhere like CUNY?
  • What would an equitable system of higher education look like? What could be done differently?


Higher Ed at a Crossroads 5-min
Rosario Torres-Guevara (center) shares her thoughts on the importance of Participatory Action Research as a bridge between the classroom and the community.

Rather than trying to capture the nuanced exchanges between the faculty, I want to share a few quotes from the conversation that will hopefully give you a sense of the range of topics, perspectives, and questions that were introduced during the discussion:

“CUNY plays a very important role in granting access to students who might otherwise be unserved… So many alumni say if it were not for that education… they would not have had the careers that they have now, they would not have had the lives and the families that they are raising… Grove is the only school of engineering in our CUNY system and therefore we are the only school of engineering that offers public education for engineers. There is such an important role that the education plays… that we have to protect this type of system… because if that’s not there and it’s so much under attack, then there is so much of our population who is not going to be served.”

– Gilda Barabino

“‘Opening up the world’ means different things to different people… I think the student that teaches at Ross Community and her struggle to keep developmental education in hiring has to do with access… I do think the desire of people has to be acknowledged… I’m in a privileged position now and I can say the University is about knowledge building… but also I have to really realize the fact that the University for some people is just a ticket out of poverty and it has to be so how do we have a University that speaks to all of these desires and that is the issue.”

– Ofelia García

“Education is also about what happens outside of a classroom, outside of a school, in students’ communities, homes, families, etc…. So to reach an equitable education at the higher levels we must pay attention to what happens outside… from communities to the home, from the sociopolitical to the economical… With participatory action research (PAR) we have the potential to improve educational outcomes for students of color to include our students in the research and knowing what the problems are for their own realities… I believe we can be full researchers with the community, with the students, with our colleagues and, like I said before, co-construct and co-create knowledge, but all of these have to be incorporated through a creative process that ultimately commits to social justice.”

– Rosario Torres Guevara

“Specifically with CUNY what we are seeing is because of the lack of or declining investment by the state… the tuition has been changed right and it keeps going up… for our students it makes a huge difference these tuition increases… Many of them work long hours; it’s more typical for us to have working students so this impacts the kind of classes they can take, how long it might take them to graduate so they may eventually get the degree but it’s not within the four-year mark that you know most people consider to be the ideal amount of time for students to complete their degree. Some students start off at community colleges and transfer over to our four year colleges which is not the case at more elite institutions… There is also as we see in New York City increasing economic pressures in terms of housing… I teach undergraduates and invariably have a couple of students who are essentially the primary caregivers for a sick family member and it really reflects access to healthcare… so there are a number of pressures we see here that are not experienced at other kinds of universities.”

– Katherine Chen

“I did a little bit of research on the millennial generation and the social movements that it generated and that was made up overwhelmingly and not accidentally of college-educated young people. I’m thinking of Black Lives Matter, the movement against sexual assault which has now grown into the #MeToo movement… Occupy Wall Street… and the Dreamers… But what is really fascinating to me is that the leadership in all those movements is really made up of people who are confronting all the issues we have been talking about… the huge inequalities that they confront as young people trying to enter the labor market in whatever field, those jobs that college is supposed to prepare them for are disappearing and they know it so I think I mean we can’t organize them as professors… they are pretty good at organizing themselves but they are confronting in these social movements the very issues that… the society as a whole faces and that’s the only thing that really gives me hope in the Trump era are these young people who are really fighting for a different kind of world.”

– Ruth Milkman

Higher Ed at a Crossroads 8-min
Gilda Barabino answers an audience member’s question about the problem of retaining diverse faculty in the academy: “We spend so much attention on how do we fix that person and make that person fit more when we should be spending even more attention on how do we fix the systems and cultures and the environments so that people as they do come in they will actually be retained.”

11:00 – 12:00 | Rethinking the Future of Learning, Knowledge, & Career Pathways

This session featured students from the following F.I. team-taught courses: “Change and Crisis in Universities,” “Rethinking Higher Education for the Knowledge Economy,” and “Participatory Action Research in the Borderlands.” The panel was moderated by F.I. Graduate Fellows Christina Katopodis, Michelle Morales, and Mike Rifino.  

Future of Learning 1-min
From left to right: Samina Shahidi (The Graduate Center, Liberal Studies); Larry Ling-Hsuan Tung (York College, Media Studies); Oriana Elisa Gonzales (The Graduate Center, Liberal Studies); Sylvia Beltran (The Graduate Center, Liberal Studies); Khanh Le (The Graduate Center, Urban Education); Megan Moskop (The Graduate Center, Liberal Studies)

After the moderators led the audience in an interactive activity where we all wrote down three words describing learning, knowledge, and the university, the graduate students shared their initial expectations and experiences of participating in these co-taught classes. While many of them revealed that they didn’t know exactly what they were signing up for when they decided to take these courses, a notable thread among their reflections was an excitement about learning how to perceive themselves as experts in their own experiences and discovering strategies to bring their backgrounds, community work, and activism together as what fuels their research.

Following these remarks, students from each course shared a project that was developed out of their engagement with the broader thematic concerns, ideas, and questions they discussed in their respective classes.

Future of Learning 9-min

Khanh Le organized students from El Puente Middle School to do a multilingual spoken word performance on the importance of recognizing one’s bi- and multi-lingual identities both as a source of pride and strength and as a mode of collective resistance against labels and divisions.  

Future of Learning 6-min
The audience broke out into applause after the students’ moving performance.
Future of Learning 7-min
The students take a celebratory photo with their mentor Khanh Le and Professors Torres-Guevara and García.
Future of Learning 10-min
The students pose for a post-performance expression of pride and solidarity in their multilingual identities.

Sylvia Beltran and Michelle Gabay share the “Big Idea” project they developed, a website called “Reach the People,” which is animated by a mission to radically reimagine teacher preparation programs. Read more about the core values of this project here.

Future of Learning 3-min

Larry Ling-Hsuan Tung and Samina Shahidi share their thoughts on the corporatization of the university and the projects they developed about “Press Freedom on Campus” and the “Sanctuary Campus Movement,” to illustrate alternatives to oppressive neoliberal conditions.  

Future of Learning 2-min

12:00 – 1:30 | Public Art in the City + Lunch

During this lunch session, graduate students from the course “Public School: Art in the City” conducted a performance piece to highlight the value hierarchies that organize the academy. They rearranged the structure of the Skylight Room into different seating areas and used color-coded stickers to identify audience members according to institutional rank and payscale. By compelling attendees to sit in their designated areas, they forced us to recognize the sharp divisions within the university among administrators, faculty, and students as we tried to speak with our colleagues across the gaps dividing these defined spaces. At the same time, this social experiment demanded that we attend to those absent from the circles and seating areas as well, including restaurant workers and maintenance, A/V, and facilities staff members who helped organize and set up the room in the first place.

This collective performance captured the main concerns the “Public School” course grappled with around what constitutes “public” space, where one can claim a seat, and the hierarchies and divisions that structure our everyday lives. The session also featured a slideshow of the public Instagram account (TheRealPublicSchool) the class used to showcase the work they did during the Fall 2017 semester in various sites around New York City.

1:30 – 2:30 | Student-Centered Leadership and Pedagogy in Higher Education

Student Centered 11-min
From left to right: Kaysi Holman (Director of Programs and Administration, CUNY Humanities Alliance); Lauren Melendez (Undergraduate Peer Mentoring Director and Administrative Specialist, Futures Initiative); Kahdeidra Monét Martin (Humanities Alliance Teaching Fellow, The Graduate Center, Urban Education); Alison Walls (Humanities Alliance Teaching Fellow, The Graduate Center, Theatre); Jenny Bruno (Futures Initiative Undergraduate Leadership Liaison, City College, Biology); Alexis Paulin-Edwards (Futures Initiative Undergraduate Leadership Fellow, Hunter College, Political Science); Stefanie Sertich (Associate Professor and Program Director of the CUNY Humanities Alliance, LaGuardia Community College, Theatre)

This session featured students involved in the CUNY Undergraduate Leadership Program and the CUNY Humanities Alliance. It was facilitated by Lauren Melendez, F.I. Undergraduate Peer Mentoring Director and Administrative Specialist, and Kaysi Holman, Director of Programs and Administration of the CUNY Humanities Alliance.  

The session was comprised of a series of breakout stations led by student representatives from each program.

Station 1: Futures Initiative Leadership Fellows, Jenny Bruno and Alexis Paulin-Edwards, shared posters reflecting their experiences within the CUNY Undergraduate Leadership Program. A key focus of their presentations were the blog posts they have written about the challenges they encountered as CUNY students as well as how participating in this peer community helped them take control of their learning and realize their own self worth in the process.

Student Centered 14-min
Jenny Bruno shares how her experiences as a CUNY Undergraduate Leadership Liaison taught her how to speak up in class to advocate for a more flexible and understanding classroom dynamic.
Student Centered 16-min
Alexis Paulin-Edwards talks about how the CUNY Undergraduate Leadership program helped her find confidence in her identity and exposed her to the possibilities of graduate education.

Station 2: Humanities Alliance Fellow, Allison Walls, shared a word association activity that she uses in her teaching and methods to get students to stop thinking about institutional restrictions like grading that limit their creativity and their voices.

Student Centered 3-min

Station 3: Humanities Alliance Fellow, Kahdeidra Monét Martin, shared her teaching strategies, which rely on word clouds, tactile objects to introduce elements of the short story, and drawing exercises that invite students to embrace their own bodies and differences to produce a healthy self image.

Student Centered 4-min

Student Centered 7-min
A close up of the short story goodies that Kahdeidra shared with the audience.

Student Centered 20-min Student Centered 19-min Student Centered 18-min

Station 4: Kaysi Holman and Lauren Melendez answer questions about their respective programs.

Student Centered 10-min
Kaysi Holman discusses the motives behind the CUNY Humanities Alliance and its efforts to connect graduate education with community college teaching and learning.
Student Centered 1-min
Lauren Melendez discusses both the possibilities and challenges of directing a program like the CUNY Undergraduate Leadership Fellows, including her hopes of expanding its reach whiles also giving students a close-knit community for support and peer mentorship.

At the end of the session, the attendees crowd-sourced a word cloud based on what they learned from visiting each of the breakout sessions:

Screen Shot 2018-04-12 at 3.22.28 PM

2:45 – 4:00 | Pedagogies of Citizenship

This faculty roundtable featured Claire Bishop and Paul Ramírez Jonas, who co-taught “Public School: Art in the City,” Colette Daiute and David Caicedo, who collaborated on the course “Undocumented, Illegal, Citizen: The Politics and Psychology of Belonging in the United States,” Cathy N. Davidson and Shelly Eversley, who are co-teaching “Black Listed: African American Writers and the Cold War Politics of Integration, Surveillance, Censorship, and Publication,” and Wendy Luttrell and Amita Gupta, who are team-teaching “Critical Perspectives on Childhood Pedagogy” this spring.

Citizenship 2-min
From left to right: Paul Ramírez Jonas (Hunter College, Art); Claire Bishop (The Graduate Center, Art History); Colette Daiute (The Graduate Center, Psychology); David Caicedo (Borough of Manhattan Community College, Psychology – Social Sciences, Human Services)
Citizenship 1-min
From left to right: Shelly Eversley (Baruch College, English); Cathy N. Davidson (The Graduate Center, English and Founding Director of the Futures Initiative); Amita Gupta (City College, Teaching, Learning & Culture and Early Childhood Education); Wendy Luttrell (The Graduate Center, Urban Education, Critical Psychology, Sociology)

The panel opened with each faculty pair sharing a transformative moment in their teaching.

We saw a beautiful video edited by Paul Ramírez Jonas that captures the various journeys that he, Claire Bishop, and their students took all over the city, from the Bronx supreme court and the Queens Museum to the Park Avenue Armory and Times Square. We heard about the challenges they encountered in trying to find an adequate setting for their classes and their efforts to create space for learning in privately owned public spaces.

Citizenship 14-min
Claire Bishiop and Paul Ramírez Jonas share photos from the Instagram account (TheRealPublicSchool) their class used to document their adventures throughout New York City.
Citizenship 13-min
A viewing of the video Paul Ramírez Jonas created to capture the students’ final project: a manifesto on the meaning of public art.

We heard from Colette Daiute and David Caicedo how transformative it was to have representatives from the CUNY DREAMers visit their class, for their students to listen and learn from the stories these individuals shared about what it is like to be undocumented in the CUNY system, which raised the stakes of their discussions about sanctuary movements.

Citizenship 12-min
Colette Daiute discusses how she and David Caicedo brought the public into their classroom in a variety of ways: “One was with visitors from community organizations… But it also was to bring our own broader experiences into the issues of what it means to be a citizen, what it means to be undocumented, what it might mean to be illegal.”
Citizenship 11-min
A snapshot of a draft of David Caicedo’s PowerPoint presentation, which details a draft brochure the class created to bring awareness about how faculty and administrators can support immigrant students.

We learned from Cathy N. Davidson and Shelly Eversley how a classroom can be transformed if you let students take control of their education by crowdsourcing a syllabus and sharing the pedagogies they use in their undergraduate teaching. We heard Davidson and Eversley’s reflections on how much they learned from the activities, resources, and skills their students brought into the course.

Citizenship 5-min
Cathy N. Davidson discusses how she and Shelly Eversley let students co-create the course syllabus: “We put some basic information on the syllabus. First day of class we put up giant post-it notes that have the schedule for the class… and then we leave and the students make their syllabus… They never fail. It means students form groups, they decide what their topic is going to be, they shape the topic and decide who is going to take charge… And that’s — it’s been an amazing class.”
Citizenship 3-min
Shelly Eversley discusses how her understanding of scaffolding changed as a result of employing active pedagogy methods in this course: “I learned I have to trust my students way more than I do and I thought I trusted my students a lot before this… It’s a real effort in submitting to the learning process… and that idea of not thinking that you have to reproduce yourself and your students is one way of true liberation… I thought scaffolding was just kind of providing a reference guide… but it really is conversations, like in our class we are talking to students as they’re designing their workshops… I ask questions more than offer definitive advice and that works, getting back to the trust thing.”

We thought with Wendy Luttrell and Amita Gupta about the BIG questions their class has been grappling with, from the colonial legacies of education to the rigid constructions of adult-child relationships in the American school systems. We also reflected on the possibility of hybrid third spaces in classrooms and how they might be created and facilitated by socially engaged teaching practices.

Citizenship 10-min
Wendy Luttrell reads a moving anecdote about violence and inequality in public schools.
Citizenship 9-min
Amita Gupta shares a PowerPoint presentation that details the overarching questions that animate the class as well as students’ final project ideas.

Following each faculty pair’s presentations about their respective class, Davidson led the audience in a think-pair-share activity, inviting all of us to consider a transformative moment in our own education or teaching.

Citizenship 7-min
The entire audience breaks out into discussion to share their transformative educational or teaching moments.
Citizenship 6-min
The panel also participates in this think-pair-share activity.
Citizenship 8-min
The think-pair-share prompt encouraged deep, focused conversation in small groups. It was a perfect display of how total participation acknowledges all voices and perspectives.

4:00 – 5:00 | Belonging and Exclusion

This session featured students from the following F.I. team-taught courses: “Undocumented, Illegal, Citizen,” “Black Listed,” and “Critical Perspectives in Childhood and Pedagogy.” The panel was moderated by F.I. graduate fellows Kashema Hutchinson, Allison Guess, and Jessica Murray.

After general introductions, graduate students from each course shared a narrative, project, or activity that captured how their respective classes grappled with the broader themes of “Belonging” and “Exclusion.”

Aminata Diop, who took Colette Daiute and David Caicedo’s “Undocumented, Illegal, Citizen: The Politics and Psychology of Belonging and Exclusion” course, shared the story of an immigrant student. It was a moving narrative about a woman’s journey from Mexico. This story captured one person’s struggles with inequity, homelessness, and more, yet it was filled with hope and affirmation about the important role that education and student organizations have had in providing a source of comfort, community, and solidarity. 

Belonging 9-min

Daniel A. Carlson, Damele E. Collier, Flora de Tournay, Kayla F. Morse, Charlene Obernauer, and Luis Zambrano, from Cathy N. Davidson and Shelly Eversley’s “Black Listed” course, shared a video created by student and professional musician and videographer Daniel Carlson, with voice overs from other classmates. Dan used stop motion animation to detail the censorship of Chester Himes’s novel, Yesterday Will Make You Cry. Witnessing the blacking out of Himes’s writing, accompanied by the chilling sounds of erasure and the over-writing of his work underscores the violence of this process, which one student described as the effective removal of the soul of the novel. To follow the development of this course, check out the public group for “Black Listed” on the HASTAC website.

Belonging 7-min
Charlene Obernauer discusses the impact of discovering the enormous differences between the 1992 and 1998 versions of Himes’s novel.
Belonging 13-min
Daniel A. Carlson explains how he created the video using stop-motion animation.
Screen Shot 2018-04-13 at 10.02.53 AM
A close-up of the video created by Daniel A. Carlson, which features the literal blacking out of Chester Himes’s writing.

Francine Almash, Dahlia Constantine, Regina Crotser, Sudhashree Girmohanta, Jyoti Gupta, Doris Porto, and Ben Raphael, from the course “Critical Perspectives in Childhood and Pedagogy,” led the audience in an exercise on embodied learning that draws strategies from Theater of the Oppressed. After rearranging the room and encouraging attendees to get comfortable with moving through the space, the graduate students taught us to how create tableaus with our bodies; they then invited us to observe physical details and interpret the power dynamics on display. This exercise was a powerful example of engaged pedagogy that emphasizes total participation to assist us in recognizing racial/gender/generational hierarchies while also creating openings for us to think together about how we might unsettle, rearrange, and rehearse for social revolution.

Belonging 12-min
Doris Porto explains the inspiration behind this activity from the Theater of the Oppressed.
Belonging 6-min
Participants were encouraged to learn how to move together through the room and to get comfortable in this space.
Belonging 3-min
Collective interpretation of the power hierarchies in this tableau.
Belonging 10-min
An example of a tableau depicting the power relations embedded in child-adult relationships.
Belonging 1-min
Another example of a tableau depicting the hierarchies that structure adult-child relationships.

5:00 – 6:00 | Closing Remarks and Reception

The forum ended with closing remarks and thank you’s by Frances Tran, Postdoctoral Fellow and Interim Associate Director of the Futures Initiative, and a reception to celebrate the end of a long, generative day.  

Closing 1-min


The Futures Initiative
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10016-4309