A few days ago, our weekly team meeting was conducted by Lauren Melendez, who is the Peer Leaders Program Director. I am writing this short piece because I have learned a lot in those two hours thanks to Lauren’s amazing meeting organization and moderation, and I think the meeting is a good way to share how I understand Futures Initiative work.
Exceptionally, it had been two weeks since our last meeting. Lauren started off asking everyone to share how they felt. Once again, I could see how special is the FI space. The answers were genuine and sincere. Everyone listened, congratulated or expressed support to the members of the team speaking about their different situations.
After that, Lauren prepared a group exercise (zoom technical difficulties prevented us from group work, everything is so exhausting about virtual reality). Each group had to read a peer leader’s blog post and give a feedback. Lauren had carefully selected the blog posts. The piece I read was beautifully written, brave and deeply moved me since it echoed situations I had to face as an educator. It reminded me of everything that we don’t see as professors, as our students navigate through the different spaces of life. It reminded me of how deep their pain, anxiety, anger are rooted in their material life and personal experience, and of how little our institutions acknowledge those situations or train us to help students to face them. It also reminded me of the limits and impotence I felt in every one of those heartbreaking cases, of how vulnerable students are (especially at CUNY or at public universities) and of how strong they are expected to be in order to complete their degree.
So much has been written already about how Covid-19 has increased inequalities and challenging situations. However, I have taught in public universities before the pandemics, and the sense of emergency and helplessness vis-a-vis students was very much there already. We should not forget that this crisis is the symptom of another deeper and wider crisis. Public universities students were already facing extremely difficult, deeply unfair conditions that have been even more exposed through this social and racial justice crisis. Many of them are first generation university students, sometimes first-generation US citizen, they are parents, they are workers. As an adjunct I feel very unprepared and very impotent to help them navigate through these circumstances. I also think that too often, adjuncts’ situation reflects many of these struggles – we don’t have much time, our classes are sometimes very big, we are frequently struggling ourselves to stabilize material conditions. How do we not reproduce the extractive logic of higher education institutions – as Tressie McMillan Cottom invites us to do – when we generally also have to resist extraction ourselves as precarious grad students working as adjuncts? How do we engage in practices that support our students and empower them while also being some of the vulnerable workers the institutions extracts work from?
Lauren’s exercise was deeply moving and instructive – and it is extremely important to all of us since we created collective space to visibilize these issues, think about them and share strategies as educators. Lauren suggested an collective exercise that disrupted the “classical” format of our team meetings, and the team embraced the guidelines. We created space and time for this reflection. It also shows very well the value of FI spirit and praxis: we have learned through peer sharing but also thanks to the meaningful work Lauren Melendez and Kashema Hutchinson do with the undergrad students Peer Leaders Program. We have learned from the students’ reflections and writing, through sharing thoughts and strategies, while acknowledging doubts and anxiety regarding the reality of these struggles. Many of the advices were articulated to Tressie McMillan Cottom, Carla Shedd, Cathy Davidson and Shaunee L. Wallace’s reflections from FI recent events. I think the whole meeting gives us a peek at part of the essence of our work and functioning as a team.