Empowering Students & Creating Social Change through the Humanities

Result of the Humanities Alliance Postconference Survey

** This essay is also cross-posted on the Humanities Alliance and the HASTAC websites.

The Fall 2018 Humanities Alliance conference offered a unique opportunity to assess nationwide opinions about community college teaching and humanities education. The conference,  “Community Colleges and the Future of Humanities,” was held by the LaGuardia Community College and the Graduate Center of City University of New York. To learn more about participants’ views, I developed an online survey for conference attendees. The conference planning team sent survey questions via email to all conference attendees. We had 46 responses in total. Among the 46 respondents, 69.6%  were affiliated with community colleges or 2-year institutions, 28.3% with 4-year institutions. The remaining respondents were affiliated with a nonprofit academic organization, another nonprofit organization and the Graduate Center. Among the 46 responses, 17.4% were students.

Forms response chart. Question title: Please tell us about yourself. What type of institution are you affiliated with? . Number of responses: 46 responses.
Forms response chart. Question title: Are you a student?. Number of responses: 46 responses.

Among the 46 respondents, 66.7% indicated they were faculty members. Among the faculty members, 48.9% were tenured or tenure-track faculty members and 17.8% were non-tenure or adjunct faculty members. All were in the departments of the humanities and humanistic social sciences. Also, 29.8% of respondents answered they were administrators and staff members in colleges or universities. Their positions were diverse and included members affiliated with the Futures Initiative and Humanities Alliance, researchers, student advisors, a coordinator of cultural affairs, etc.

Forms response chart. Question title: Are you a faculty member?. Number of responses: 45 responses.
Forms response chart. Question title: Are you an administrator or staff member in a college or university?. Number of responses: 46 responses.

In this essay, I will share my analysis of the survey results. The six questions were as follows:

  1. Why are you interested in this conference?
  2. Do you think it is important to develop deeper engagements in the humanities in community colleges? If so, why?
  3. What kind of teaching/administrative practices do you think work best in a community college context, and why? What might you try in your own classroom (as a student or an instructor) or workplace? 
  4. What do you think are the best way to empower students, faculty, and staff? 
  5. What are your most important takeaways from this conference? 
  6. If we were to host another conference on this topic, what would you like to learn more about? 

My analysis suggests that some of the most significant themes among conference attendees were (1) the significance of humanities and humanistic social sciences in community college education to empower students as critical and active democratic citizens and community colleges as leading institutions for social changes, (2) the necessity to design and/or to share student-centered critical pedagogy of humanities and humanistic social sciences at community colleges,  (3) collaborations among institutions, and students and institutional personnel including community college and doctoral students, faculty and administrators/staff, and (4) the conference as an arena of critical public pedagogy. I will develop these and other themes in more detail below.

Question 1. Why are you interested in this conference? 

To the question asking why the participants were interested in the Humanities Alliance conference, 19 people responded it was because the conference was focused on the humanities and/or community colleges, and that focus matched their interests.

Interested in humanities and community colleges.One participant mentioned, “I think the Humanities are important, and I wanted to see what other programs were doing for community colleges, having come from one and gone through a program myself.”  Like this participant, other respondents expressed their interest in learning more about the humanities in the community college context. Another participant looked forward to “hearing about liberal arts in CC [community college], as opposed to the idea that CCs [community colleges] are meant for job training.” This participant pointed out that the dominant trend identifying community colleges as simply job training centers overlooks the more comprehensive community college education and services and addresses more diverse needs and goals the students have. Another participant described, “I’m starting a permanent job at a CUNY 2-year college having come from an elite private school in the area. I’m passionate about social change and about CCs [community colleges] as a locus for the future of the humanities, so this conference perfect.” This participant envisions the importance of the link between the community college and social change. And, another response indicated an interest to “view the Future of the Humanities.” 

Learning more about student-centered pedagogy, curriculum and classroom activities.Twelve respondents indicated they wanted to learn more about student-centered pedagogy, curricula, and classroom activities. One respondent answered, “I’m interested in progressive, student-centered pedagogies and the Humanities have a lot to offer in that regard.” The attendee pointed out the further possibility that the humanities can provide significant insights to advance student-centered pedagogies. Another attendee also mentioned she was interested in learning more about “student-centered pedagogies and how they play out in community colleges.” The answer underlines the differences in which student-centered pedagogies can be employed according to specific institutional settings. This comment echoes other responses introduced above that highlight the possibilities of community colleges as leading institutions for social changes, the significance of the liberal arts to redirect community colleges from serving merely for workforce development. Many respondents indicated their desire to learn more about innovative and concrete teaching, and learning strategies and methods. One respondent expressed an interest how to create “innovation in humanities and re-writing curriculum”. 

How to help students transfer to 4-year institutions.Three respondents indicated the significance of the issue of community college students transferring to 4-year institutions.  One of them mentioned, “I partnered in PATH which is a transfer program designed to help students transfer from a community college to a 4-year university, and which was presented at the conference. Furthermore, I was intrigued to see and hear how other schools and faculty were approaching this subject.” Another expressed an interest in having “guided pathways discussions with respect to the humanities.” 

Discussing the most urgent issues, networking, and as Mellon granteesIn addition, 13 people indicated that they were interested in the conference as they are involved in Mellon-funded programs. And, three other people, who are not Mellon grantees,  answered they were interested in the project. One participant was interested in the conference because it offered an opportunity to present with an undergraduate student. Another participant wanted to discuss one of the most urgent issues in the Trump era with other faculty members, that is, the effect of the current anti-intellectual wave and the anti-immigrant wave in U.S. political and popular discourse. The respondent said, “I wanted to meet with other faculty members who are experiencing the results of the current anti-intellectual wave—preceded by the anti-Mexican/anti-immigrant wave.” This comment points out the significance of the conference in terms of not only sharing our updated knowledge, experiences, and perspectives, but also it as a critical public space where students, faculty members, administrators, and other supporting staff working at community colleges can discuss and act upon the most urgent issues to build solidarity in supporting one another. 

Question 2. Do you think it is important to develop deeper engagements in the humanities in community colleges? If so, why?

This question asking the significance of the development of in-depth engagements in the humanities in community colleges is one of the most fundamental and crucial questions to determine what the majority of the conference attendees wanted to ask and/or to develop responses. Twenty-nine respondents highlighted the significance of developing deeper engagements in the humanities as a critical force for social change and students’ critical citizenship and agency.

For social change.Regarding the link between the social changes and community colleges, one respondent mentioned, “I believe the humanities is a bridge from education to understanding and being involved in our world and communities, making positive change for all.”  This comment points out that humanities is one of a critical channels that leads students to develop their comprehensive understanding and engagement in communities and the world. 

For embodied knowledge. Seven respondents mentioned the humanities are the key to cultivating informed critical active citizenship. A respondent wrote about the significance for students to deepen their understanding of humanity and their role as social members. 

“More and more community colleges are substitutes for general education. Having engaged the humanities as part of that important experience deepens the community college experience, prepares students who want to transfer to 4-year colleges, and helps students both to be more eloquent about their own role in life and to contribute to a society where the key humanities questions—that is, what it means to be human—are crucial and motivational.” 

Another participant also mentioned, “The participants denote the community colleges are emerging as a critical institution for general education as an increasingly large number of undergraduate student populations start their college education at community colleges.”

Similarly, one participant also answered, “…the humanities make it explicit that learning is inextricably linked to the human condition; that learning is about connecting with the human experience, not about transmitting information and training for skills.” In other words, “The humanities are necessary to develop a person with a greater sense of self and of the community.”In this vein, another participant noted, 

“Deeper humanities can captivate students, facilitate inquiry and lead them to discovery. The scenes from Sophocles’ Electra demonstrated students had researched the historical context and made modern connections, which promoted sympathy for the characters and people they encountered in life.”

The observer’s narrative also underscores that a curriculum including the humanities is comprised not only of official humanities courses, but also the extracurricular activities related to the humanities, and the significance of the humanities-grounded extracurricular activities in students’ in-depth, engaged learning that involves their sympathy and people’s real lives.

This also implies the significance of developing embodied knowledgeconstituted not only by logic and rationalities, but also by emotions such as “empathy…kindness” in one respondent’s opinion. Advancing and/or appreciating not only logic or information, but also emotions are important components of the goals of teaching and learning humanities, because students can develop more in-depth connections and understanding of themselves and with people in the present time; it’s not fossilized knowledge conserved on the shelves of our memorized information that will be buried in the dust of the time, but active knowledge which pertains to the people and the realities that we encounter today as well as in the future or have in the past. A respondent noted, “…Especially in these times, an inability to contextualize learning and its relevance in the broader human experience renders us vulnerable, as individuals and as a society.” The comment pointed to the significance of the humanities in empowering people to penetrate unjust macro and microsocial structures and mechanisms, to resist them, and to change them. One attendee also commented, “I believe it [the humanities] is important because it allows people to extend their interest not only in their major, but also in their passions,” which go beyond “careers” and “graduation”. 

Locating students at the very center of humanities curricula and institutional practices.Keeping the significance of students’ development of embodied knowledge in mind, some respondents reminded us that students must be located at the center in the diverse forms of institutional administrations and practices regarding their wholeness. A commenter mentioned,

“…because in the midst of all the assignments, responsibilities, and bureaucracy, it is easy to forget there are people going through this experience. If the policies, requirements, and organization of the institution don’t take the human experience into consideration, then the overall mission will be lost. “

This response is also related to another discussion “…There are more and more students completing their general education courses at community colleges each year; they need as many chances as possible in their first 2 years to think critically, read challenging texts, and write.”  These two responses emphasize the importance to educate students as critical and active social members who are not passively consuming or imposed information and skills, but who are re-contextualizing and re-articulating the texts, and that their experiences need to be grounded on an in-depth understanding of the humanities and the complicated multilayered diverse dimensions and mechanisms of the communities, nation-state societies and the world. This is the way in which “making them (the humanities) relevant to students’ lives.

Another significant way of locating students at the center of the humanities curricula is to address their diverse needs as four respondents indicated. Regarding this, one mentioned that the humanities are “the foundation of learning and living,” and another mentioned, “multiple dimensions of our students’ lives benefit from exposure to the humanities.” These comments highlight the significance of the humanities for students lives as well as their learning. 

For students’ transferring to 4-year institutions and further careers. Six respondents pointed out that the humanities are important, especially for students who transfer to 4-year institutions and then go on to pursue their careers. A participant discussed that although community colleges are “often framed as vocational institutions,” they also “educate most transfer students.” Another respondent mentioned, “their interests exist and need deeper development to increase the number of humanities student transfers.” Furthermore, the humanities are perceived as preparation for students to transfer to 4-year colleges and universities and professions. One participant commented, “…not only do the humanities make for a more well-rounded individual, but they provide skills that transfer to, and can be applied to, all professions.”

Question 3: What kind of teaching/administrative practices do you think works best in a community college context, and why? What might you try in your own classroom (as a student or an instructor) or workplace? 

Student-centered pedagogy. In their answer regarding the best teaching and administrative practices within the community college context, 11 people indicated student-centered pedagogy, which recognizes students as the very agents of their learning.One attendant wrote that this includes, “student-based learning, giving students more agency, empowering them to be more active citizens, developing more empathy in students, especially with people from other walks of life.” Like this participant, other respondents explicitly indicated “student-centered” learning and/or projects that guide students to make dialectical conversations between their class materials and their experiences and lives.  A student respondent also added, “As a student, I believe that interactive teaching is one of the best practices for students because it allows us to express our ideas and improve our communication skills, while being active engaging in academic discussions with others.”

These answers commonly highlighted the significance of giving students more agency in their learning, which is also connected to educating them to become more active citizens by deepening their critical understanding in their everyday experiences and life trajectories. The student respondent suggested that instructors should give more opportunities to students to express their ideas in class discussions, rather than expecting them to listen passively and accumulate what the instructors deliver.

One respondent pointed out the prevalent institutional culture that excludes students in discussing effective teaching and administrative practices: “I have honestly never given any thought to this question: asking students this kind of question can be important guide students to recognize themselves as one of important agent in classes.”

Equal and democratic relationships between students and instructorsThree respondents indicated the significance of embodying equity in classes. A respondent beautifully portrayed it as “equity-minded class reading and writing activities,” in which she/he would choose the reading materials and writing topics addressing equity, and/or reading and writing activities that resonate equity mindfulness both in the microcontext of classes and in the macrocontext of local, national, and global societies. Another commentator offered, “I think intimacy (close?) relationships generally lead to a better understanding of the subject.”  The respondent suggested building more interactive relationships between students and instructors so that students could have a better understanding of the subject. On the one hand, this comment refers not only to class materials,but also how building relationships between students and instructors affect students’ understanding of the subject. This comment emphasizes that in such close relationships, instructors can be more aware of the depth of students’ learning of the subject, the barriers that disturb their engagement in their learning, and strategies and effective methods to advance their learning. On the other hand, in such devoted relationships with their students, instructors can be empowered to actively engage in the students’ learning and the students themselves to become active learners and informed citizens.

Socially engaged in teaching.Three respondents indicated the significance of the links between teaching and learning in community colleges and teaching and learning in institutional practices and societal engagement. One respondent stated “finding agency within oneself provides an opportunity to larger engagement in the classroom, institution, and society.”  

Writing collaboratively, exit tickets, and discussions for active learningFive answerers mentioned the notion of “active learning” or shared specific classroom activities. One commented, 

“While I am not affiliated with a CC (community college) I think a number of exercises featured here about collaborative writing could work well for students at my institution, although I still have concerns that written participation will reduce anxiety more than verbal participation for students with anxiety issues or for English language learners.”

On the one hand, the collaborative writing this respondent’s suggestion refers to the consideration of English learners who are nowadays emerging as a part of the critical community college student groups and that collaborative writing could be one of the efforts to invite them into critical learning. On the other hand, this suggestion characterizes classes as learning communities where students collaborate to draw more in-depth discussions and learning rather than compete with each other. In such learning communities, instructors position themselves more as creative facilitators of students’ learning rather than authoritative evaluators who rank students, a system that promotes individualistic competition.

Different respondents highlighted the significance of discussions. A participant said,

“I think discussion (or any activity where students can engage with each other) works well in classrooms, especially when students are encouraged to engage critically with a text and then discuss with each other their thoughts,because it helps broaden everyone’s understanding of a text and topic.”

This suggestion is connected to the student’s suggestion to give students more opportunities to share their ideas through discussions. Their engagement in discussion represents not only the chance for them to articulate their critical thoughts, but also a way for students to build organic relationships as teachers and learners to each other. Furthermore, instructors could also learn and update their thoughts and information/knowledge on the topics from the students’ discussions. Another participant mentioned he would try some strategies “such as exit tickets” mentioned during the conference.

Interactive multidisciplinary dialogue and research.Three other answers pointed to the importance of interactive multidisciplinary dialogue and/or research. A participant mentioned, “student-centered pedagogy complimented by multidisciplinary research works best.” 

Transparent communication.Two respondents commented that transparent communication is critical among students, instructors and administrators. In addition, another participant talked about her priority in choosing ‘culturally relevant literature’ in her pedagogy: “the principal introduction of culturally relevant(originally emphasized) literature has always been my pedagogy and should be the standard of all humanities programs. 

Revisiting the vocationalization of community colleges.One respondent pointed out the need to revisit the dominant policies and politics that reinforce the vocationalization of community colleges. 

With changes in the focus of the curriculum in CC (move towards “pathways”), it is important (more now than ever) to stress the value and importance of including the humanities in the core curriculum for students. The push toward merging (or confusing) the mission of 2-year institutions with vocational/career training institutions makes this a priority.

This respondent also pointed out how humanities are marginalized in the community college curriculum by business and industry-centered community college policies. Considering that, the respondent reemphasized the value and the significance of humanities and advocated to include humanities in the core curriculum and argued that the humanities’ collaboratively play a significant role in designing and reforming community colleges’ core curriculum.

Another respondent presented an important reason why the humanities are important for students.

“Providing access to the humanities in practice, whether it is through research, performance, lecture, and other activities bolsters their scholarship and grant students access to a larger academic community and purview of higher studies, which would otherwise be lost to them, as they pursue completion of their 2-year degrees.” 

The respondent also commented that the humanities provides students a more comprehensive and deeper understanding of their college education, career, and/or life in order for them to develop more concrete agency in pursuing their community college education.

Being aware of white colonialist narratives. One participant shared her new awareness of how white colonialist narratives are embedded in the in-built teaching style and curricula. 

“I’ve learned so much from this conference. Time-keeping as a feminist issue, using one’s personal background to offer a ‘possibility model’ to students, learning to become adaptable with different digital and in-person modes of teaching in order to appeal to different skillsets. And learning to understand our own privileges and how our in-built teaching style and curricula might actually uphold white colonialist narratives; I’ll be making many changes to my syllabi in the future.” 

The respondent’s comments pointed out how the white colonialist narratives, deeply embedded in our teaching and designing curricula, are strongly systemized, and moreover revoke the significance of our critical self-reflection.

Being consistent.A respondent also suggested, “to try something consistent.”  She furthered that “there are too many innovative approaches. Lack of consistency is undermining a lot of hard work in the classroom.” 

Question 4: What do you think are the best ways to empower students, faculty, and staff? 

Listening to students and understanding who they are and their experiences.Twelve respondents spoke of their alarmed awareness of the significance of listening to students and understanding who they are and what kinds of experiences they go through. One respondent suggested,

“Listen to students. Acknowledge that their issues and, although they may seem similar to issues other students have presented to you, they are unique and important to the student. Help the students who don’t know why they’re in college to explore and find their path and mentor the students who are pursuing their passion. Free the faculty from some of the other responsibilities that take away from their ability to give more time and energy to the students. Hire more staff so that critical support offices such as Financial Aid Department aren’t understaffed.”

This respondent also pointed out that the unstaffed reality, especially in providing crucial supporting services for students, implies reforming higher education management from a cost-efficient model to a pedagogy-centered model. In a pedagogy-centered model, the quality of support services are prioritized much more than cost-efficiency. In this sense, as the respondent discussed, conditioning faculty members to focus on teaching and mentoring students is crucial as well as improving employment conditions for adjunct faculty members. Another commentator added, “Treat students like adults but also understand that they have lives outside of the classroom and might need help navigating that world in addition to the academic world. Be there for your students, truly.”

When we consider the high percentage of adult learners in community college classrooms and, as this commentator mentioned, it is significant to respect students already coping with many diverse living, learning, and/or working experiences. Another participant proposed “radical honesty, true empathy, (and) listening.” And, one person suggested giving students “more agency in the classroom—letting them create and collaborate, as well as to be themselves.”  The notion of “to be themselves” is a remarkable project to consider, that of liberating and democratic classroom environments where students can bring their raw experiences to the classroom discussions and proudly express their cultures rather than concealing, feeling shameful about, and/or denying their agency and recognizing the significance of their experiences and backgrounds to their critical engagement in learning. This also challenges instructors and administrators to gain more comprehensive and deeper understanding of students that they serve.

In particular, as a way of understanding students’ process of learning, a respondent said, “listen to students’ needs and do exit/entry tickets a lot to understand their process in the course.” This suggestion to utilize entry and exit ticket stresses the importance of centering the students’ diverse forms of experiences, ideas, perspectives, and knowledge in class activities, and that multiple sessions of a class need to be organically organized.

Autonomy.Six respondents answered that in securing more agency and autonomy to students, instructors and/or administrators are important in empowering them. One respondent mentioned “interacting with students in more equal ways,” and another mentioned “learning and teaching by agentive practices, exploring what agency means and hopefully understanding and using those practices.” Yet another said, “the best way to empower students is to provide them with the tools to strengthen their writing and analytical skills. With these crucial skills, students can then empower themselves.” 

In teaching and learning.Five comments referred to specific teaching and learning methods as ways of empowering students and instructors, such as  “to co-construct teaching and learning in collaborative ways” ;“reading culturallyrelevant text”; and “thinking through process, not just content.” Another comment suggested to “(a) value teaching and learning more and make it more contextual, (b) make tuition and housing more affordable or free,” and (c) not to “make college a needless prerequisite for jobs/careers.” These respondents pointed out that teaching and learning should be a collaborative process through which students and instructors are more interactive, and teaching is not limited to class contents but rather includes the process through which instructors and students work together. Also, the third commentator pointed out it was essential to secure fundamental educational and living welfare services, including free tuition and affordable housing to empower community college students.

Support for faculty.To empower the faculty, however, a respondent mentioned, “establishing mentor/mentee programs that are integral to each discipline would have a transformative impact on student success and completion.” Another commented,

“Faculty need greater support and release time to reflect upon and experiment with new pedagogical approaches and to explore ways to bring students into dialogue with them about the best practices for fostering successful learning and teaching.” 

And, another also mentioned it is important to guarantee the faculty’s job security.

Professional development and collaboration.Four respondents also indicated the need to provide correct and updated information and resources to the faculty members and administrators in order to empower them.

More democratic interactions.Three respondents noted the significance of democratic interactions. One respondent wrote it is necessary to “work to dismantle hierarchies across institutions (research institutions, community colleges) and institutional position (tenured, adjunct, etc.) This respondent suggested changing the hierarchical relationships between 4-year and 2-year institutions and among different employment levels. Another commented it is critical to recognize students, instructors and administrators as key stakeholders and value their opinions. 

Question 5. What are your most important takeaways from this conference? 

New culture of a conference and conferences as a critical public pedagogyTen people identified experiencing the new culture of a conference as the most important takeaways from the Humanities Alliance conference. Among them, eight attendees pointed out that the two most important takeaways were (a) the diverse undergraduate students’ participation in different roles at the conference, and (b) the active open and honest interactions among diverse community college constituents and 4-year institutions including undergraduate and graduate students, faculty members and administrators. 

One participant mentioned, “I was quite impressed with the students who were at the conference, both those that were guides and those that were on stage. The multiculturalism at LaGuardia CC was inspiring.” Another respondent mentioned, “I loved the diversity at the CUNY colleges. I think having the panels with the students was very eye opening. I also think that including the student ambassadors was a brilliant idea—they really were wonderful and should be commended.” These participants noted the significance of the undergraduate students’ active participation in the conference in different roles. Indeed, in this conference especially, undergraduates were invited and positioned themselves as active coordinators, contributors, discussants, and collaborative knowledge producers rather than marginalized groups and/or passive information/knowledge consumers.  As a commentator said, through more opened and honest dialogue, which another participant had mentioned, “the importance of mentoring and creating dialogues between faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students” is the most important takeaway from the conference.

Furthermore, another participant pointed out that “involvement with a community where you can learn together and understand different views is crucial in our individual successes.” To this participant, engaging in in-depth and open dialogues with peer participants in the conference is also an act of engaging in a collaborative community to enhance the humanities and humanistic social sciences at community colleges. This could be an empowering experience to the participants, as another participant mentioned: “There is yet hope and a lot of good people doing good work in this field.” Reflecting the effort to invite the people to take part in as coparticipants, another commented, “I liked the nature of the presentations because they were meant to have a hands-on activity component.”

Critical pedagogy and teaching methods.Sixteen respondents indicated that “collegial” ideas and discussions related to critical pedagogy and concrete teaching methods were the most important takeaways for them. Regarding critical pedagogy, the student-centered aspects, which also signified revisiting the instructor-centered pedagogy, were mentioned by four respondents. One respondent wrote, “students need to be empowered to ask questions and to move beyond being passive consumers of information.” Furthermore, another respondent suggested guiding students to empower themselves. A student respondent indicated, “The most important thing  I learn as a student is not to be anxious about the learning process. That through questions and participation, I’ll gain the confidence to be successful.” These comments support the “decentralized mode of instruction” that one participant indicated. Rather than students being passive receivers of knowledge and information, many of the participants commented on inviting students to be important collaborators in classroom settings in order to include to appreciate and utilize their experiences and ideas. 

In addition, another participant furthered the discussion on the dilemma she has observed, one which the faculty members had brought up.

“While many faculty members are truly dedicated to fostering engaged classroom environments, many are still wedded to provincial attitudes about cultural relevance v(s). universality. Some faculty members are under the misapprehension that providing our students with a diverse range of culturally relevant text means that we are somehow depriving them of universalist perspectives. Culturally relevant texts written by authors of color provide universal insights and themes, just as those by white/European authors do. To claim that texts by people of color are not universal reveals an inherent Western chauvinism, which is directly tethered to antipathy towards the broad range of human voices that, together, articulate the breath of the human experience.”

The above comment that western/white-centered imperial perspectives that view western white authors’ texts as delivering universality but not the texts written by authors of color also resonates with the comments about advocating for the ‘decolonizing curriculum and teaching’ previously introduced. Considering that a large percentage of community college students are ethnic minorities and have transnational backgrounds, such culturally relevant texts must be seriously considered.

As an example, to learn different teaching methods, a respondent said, “I heard some great strategies for teaching English using contemporary materials and am interested in ways of documenting student work in online portfolios that can be used by faculty and advisors.” As such, it was observed that the conference functioned as a public sphere and community where participants could engage in critical discussions on the significant and/or controversial discussions, exchange teaching and learning diverse teaching methods. All these comments echo the participants’ commitment to empowering community college students.

Engaging graduate students.Three respondents mentioned that engaging graduate students in designing the class and crafting the teaching through an institutional partnership between graduate schools and community colleges was the most important takeaway. 

Networking.Three respondents mentioned that establishing networks with other participants was the most significant benefit they received from the conference. 

Comments on the conference organization and direction.However, there were negative comments about the logistics and strategies discussed at the conference. One respondent mentioned that the conference days were “too long and there was too much dead time” especially on the second day. Also, the commentator felt that the pedagogical strategies discussed were “not always appropriate in professional settings, especially when people lean so heavily on specific strategies” and that in regard to the food provided, it was “not labeled clearly enough for those of us with food restrictions”. 

Question 6. If we were to host another conference on this topic, what would you like to learn more about? 

Curriculum and classroom practices.Among the 42 respondents to this question, 11 indicated they want to learn more about classroom practices, especially those related to how to build a student-centered and inclusive curriculum and classes as a way to increase students’ engagement. Regarding the curriculum, a respondent wrote,

“…Perhaps because of the section I chose, I tended to hear more about actual classroom and cocurricular learning experiences on the one hand and, on the other (hand), institutional issues. How community colleges must adapt their curricular goals for transfer requirements, and how, within constraints, they pioneer new ways of teaching the humanities and social sciences with new curricula and ideas, is one swath through the experience I missed.” 

Reflecting that getting to know more class practices and advancing perspectives on critical pedagogy as two of the most important takeaways from the conference, in enhancing humanities and humanistic social sciences at community colleges, these issues are significant topics participants want to learn more about. Another respondent expressed an interest in learning more about “how to engage students through the year in the humanities-best practices, what works and what doesn’t.”

However, a student-respondent spoke of some barriers related to designing and creating such a curriculum and practices, especially “nonreading, lack of time for preparation outside of class, distractions of life events/pressures.” In the comment, on the other hand, the student reminded us of the reality that community college students deal with challenges everyday, especially lack of time to study primarily in the case of working-class students who have to work to make ends meet, and also the difficult issues and other responsibilities they deal with as an independent adult and/or a family member with limited financial, educational, and social resources.

There was also a respondent who wanted to learn more about “how to approach information literacy in the age of Google,” and another who mentioned the “assessment of learning outcomes-process and products.”

Fostering the humanities in community collegesFour respondents commented on learning more about advocating for the humanities and humanistic social sciences at community colleges, especially because of the emphasis of the STEM areas. A commentator wrote,

“…More focus on ways to foster teachingof the humanities in 2-year institutions. Faculty often have to work incredibly hard to justify the existence of courses that are not on a career path; the administration needs to justify the existence of these courses (which often have low enrollment) to the Board. Ideas on how to increase enrollment.”

Regarding the commentator’s concern about how to justify the significance of the humanities and humanistic social sciences, which are not aligned with certain career pathway programs, two respondents mentioned their desire to learn more about how to enhance interdisciplinary works, including how to integrate the humanities and hard science.

Humanities for praxis.Importantly, four respondents indicated they wanted to learn more about humanities as ways of praxis. One student respondent wrote,

“Maybe something more in terms of actual praxis? LikeDr. Follins noted, there are lots of conversations about equity but not necessarily a lot of follow-through, and there aren’t a lot of systems in place that supportpeople from marginalized backgrounds. I want to know what progress is being made in that respect and what actual steps I can take as a student and hopefully in the future as an instructor, to truly provide support for all people.” 

This student-respondent’s response stressed the role the humanities and humanistic social sciences for students to refer to their actions not only during their college years, but also in their careers as members of small and large communities. A respondent commented, “I would like to learn more about teaching humanity practices,” and “teaching humanities with/for justice involved persons.” These responses explicitly support the significance of the humanities and humanistic social sciences not just for individual student’s careers, but also more broadly for social justice that extends the students’ scope beyond/outside of classroom. In this sense, the respondent’s term ‘humanity practices” is remarkable and mirrors the inseparable relationships between the humanities and practices.

Collaboration between institutions.Four respondents indicated their need to learn more about the collaboration across the institutions. In particular, two respondents explicitly mentioned collaboration between community colleges and university systems. The first participant said,

“I think that the groups at the end of the conference—those on making more connections between the community colleges and the university systems were really good ones. The discussions were very, very good. Perhaps more of those sessions would be a good idea.”

The second respondent added, [we need] “concrete practices of articulation and collaboration across institutional divides.” These two comments show increased interest among the participants in collaboration, especially between community colleges, 4-year university systems and graduate schools, not only in terms of students’ transfer from 2-year community colleges to 4-year universities, but also more active collaborations between these institutions especially in renovating the curriculum and teaching the humanities and humanistic social sciences. “And beyond,” as another respondent indicated, “concrete practices of articulation and collaboration across institutional divides.” Creating the foundations for such collaborations between institutions could create new possibilities not only in advancing the humanities and humanistic social sciences in post-secondary settings, but also in enabling the humanities and humanistic social sciences to provide alternatives for higher education missions and roles currently dominated by the neoliberal ethos that stress workforce development and profit creation as higher education’s most critical mission.

To learn more about students’ perspectivesThree respondents mentioned they want to learn more about students’ perspectives on these topics. A participant said, “The LaGuardia students’ participation offered such phenomenal insights and I wanted to hear more from them.” Similarly, another commented, “I got much more out of the students’ sessions than from those presented by the faculty. I’m not sure if more of those are needed, but they were more inspiring.” The participants’ interests in students’ perspectives can be understood as first revealing the lack of students’ perspectives and interests in dominant community college settings.  Second, these comments indicate students are critical constituents possessing perspectives that need to be heard and reflected in community college policies and institutional diverse dimensions of practices. Also, this is a suggestion to invite community college students as critical participants in the conference. 

In addition to these suggestions, one respondent wanted to learn more about “how the PhD faculty mix their research and teaching expectations in CC settings.” This comment suggests we create an opportunity for doctoral students and community college faculty members to discuss more about community college faculty positions. There were other comments suggesting we have more sessions about the “middle-ground of institutional leadership,” “administration challenges,” and “how the humanities at public institutions are organized to prevent further cuts to our respective departments and programs. And there was a comment related to the Mellon grantees to discuss how to build “more concrete networks across personnel working on Mellon Grants to better learn from one another’s mistakes and success.” 

Closing Words

Across the questions, there were several themes commonly mentioned. Most of all, regarding the significance of the humanities and humanistic social sciences, it was discussed that the humanities and humanistic social sciences are praxis, which means the humanities and humanistic social science classes’ engagement in social and community issues as well as connecting with students’ everyday lives. Within this understanding, it was discussed that students’ experiences and perspectives and creating democratic classroom dynamics are critical in these classes. Reflecting such commitments, designing, and advancing student-centered pedagogy was noted as one of the most critical aspects discussed at the conference and also will be in future conferences. In the discussions about the critical pedagogy of the humanities and humanistic social sciences at community colleges, counter-neoliberal policies that overlook community college students as critical and empowered democratic citizens while highlighting them as member of the workforce and counter-postcolonial practices, were mentioned as the critical arenas we need to overcome.

Moreover, it was suggested there is a need to create more active collaborations in three important areas including: (a) different disciplines not only in the humanities and humanistic social sciences, but also different disciplines beyond the humanities and humanistic social sciences, (b) diverse postsecondary institutions including 2-year and 4-year postsecondary institutions and/or graduate schools, and (c) community college students, graduate students, faculty, and administrators. These collaborations also connected to the issues of transferring to 4-year institutions.

Lastly, in revisiting the culture of conferences, the community college students’ significant roles as conference cocoordinators, presenters, discussants, and performers were deeply appreciated and highlighted in the survey. Also, it was note-worthy that the conference itself was a critical arena of public pedagogy where we, as participants, were able to establish solidarity and empower ourselves and one another by sharing our knowledge, experiences, concerns, and/or commitments. We deeply appreciate all who participated in the survey especially for their time and wonderful thoughts and experiences as well as other conference participants who made this all possible. 


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