Recap: 2019 Leadership Institute

In a world where we are fighting against marginalization, visibly and voice are our weapons of choice. But what is the purpose? It’s not only to be seen and heard, but to also matter. This seems intuitive, however, if you think about it, mattering is hard to achieve in society when you are on the outskirts. As I was listening to the presentations, I had a minor epiphany–a significant part of why the program works is because of mattering. For example, Mike Rifino, former co-director and Futures Initiative graduate fellow, talked about his journey through CUNY while highlighting the programs that impacted his professional and academic outlook, endeavors and successes. Christina Katopodis, a Futures Initiative fellow, discussed professional identity on the internet. In both sessions, stories of trials and triumphs mirrored the aspirations, experiences, fears and hope with the new cohort.

Mike Rifino presenting
Mike Rifino presenting on his academic journey through CUNY

So, what is mattering? We have been hearing the term for years, but what is it really? For one thing, it is the opposite of marginalization. If you matter, you are not marginalized because you and multiple identities are valued, but not commodified or appropriated–it is important to know the difference! The original four dimensions of mattering are getting attention, feeling important, developing ego-extension, having dependence (Rosenberg and McCullough, 1981), an additional dimension that was added was appreciation (Schlossberg, 1989). In We Want To Do More Than Survive (2019), scholar Bettina Love defines the mattering when discussing abolitionist teaching:

Mattering is civics because it is the quest for humanity. I do not mean civics narrowly defined as voting, paying taxes, and knowing how the government works; instead, I am referring to something much deeper: The internal desire we all have for freedom, joy, restorative justice (restoring humanity, not just rules), and to matter to ourselves, our community, our family and our country with the profound understanding that we must “demand the impossible” by refusing injustice and the disposability of dark children.

Using both theoretical lenses of mattering to see this year’s Institute I am reminded that there is more to attaining an education than getting a degree. We, The Futures Initiative team, are all about the innovative and equitable approaches to education, however, we definitely have a human element because we see and listen to each other (Rogers, forthcoming). (Although sometimes we forget Gustavo Jimenez, a current graduate fellow, is in the room. Inside joke. :-)) As students, we bring our worlds into these academic spaces, get a number, maybe a stipend or a fellowship, attend an orientation and someone wishes us well. Recognizing and mattering is absent, despite what is said on the website or brochure. It’s protocol.

Christina Katopodis
Graduate Fellow Christina Katopodis presenting on digital identity.

However, this Institute made me realize how much we humanize the experience, whether consciously or subconsciously. This time, I heard a new Leader say she wants to be “somebody,” as if she wasn’t’ before. I get it though, because when we are incessantly bombarded with messages that says we are less than we really are, sometimes we internalize it and further marginalize ourselves. Another Leader shared her struggles about her academic pursuits. Her words poured out as if it was her first time sharing her story. She was conscious that she had our attention and she appreciated it by acknowledging how long she had been speaking. This time I heard Christina and Mike connect with students about the Imposter syndrome. Christina told a story about her friend leaving a note on her mirror saying: “You are deserving.” For one of the Leaders, it clicked that she, too, is deserving. The fellow shared her feelings about Christina’s presentation. At the end of the Institute, Cathy wrote “You are deserving” on a note card and slid it over to the fellow. She gasped and stood there. The weight of the gesture was setting in, Cathy and I looked at her and smiled. I gave her a hug and welcomed her, again. Some things don’t need to be said to be understood. She matters…along with the other Leaders in the cohort, past, present and future.



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