Living, Learning, and Working during COVID-19: Profiles of the FI Team

For me, one of the strangest effects of the drastic changes to home and work life during the COVID-19 has been the contraction and expansion of time in unexpected ways. I know that I’m not alone in feeling this; even in our team meetings, others have echoed the strange sense that time is either not passing at all or vanishing with little recollection of where it has gone. It is unsettling to have our routines disrupted to this extent.

This long preamble is my excuse and apology for sitting on something that I intended to publish last May. May! At that point, CUNY had already been remote for two months. The semester was ending with little sense of closure, and it felt like time was stretching long. And yet, here we are seven months later, as a second surge rises in New York. It is upsetting.

At that time, we collected short reflections from several members of the FI team in order to share mini-profiles and highlight our team members’ work. Each team member responded to the following questions:

  1. Describe your role with the Futures Initiative.
  2. As you reflect on your work with FI this past year, what are you most proud of?
  3. What have you learned about yourself, higher ed, or anything else during the COVID-19 pandemic?
  4. What is one goal you have for the year ahead?

While I’m embarrassed that it has taken me so long to share this, any chance to celebrate these wonderful colleagues is a pleasure. So, here they are.

Kashema Hutchinson

  1. I am the Co-Director of the Undergraduate Leaders Fellowship Program.
  2.  I am most proud of providing a space for CUNY undergraduate students to breathe, connect, relate, learn and grow. This year has magnified our impact and why I am proud of being the Co-Director of the UGL Program.
  3. I have learned that we are not in this together and saying that is actually like being “colorblind” because it ignores the systemic oppression that impinges on the marginalized not just in higher education, but in healthcare and different structures of the state. However, the beautiful gestures that I have experienced and witnessed through this quarantine has given me hope and made my heart smile. So what have I learned? Take it one day at a time and stick to my beliefs.
  4. My main goal is to show up for the students. To share, listen and be in community with students who just want a brighter future. I never realized the weight of my role in their life because I saw them once a month, however now and by reading bell hooks Teaching to Transgress, I want to students to know that when they doubt themselves, they can and they will…even if it is not set to their timetable.
    Writing this reminds me of my value. That’s it. Peace and love.

Christina Katopodis

  1. I’m a Futures Initiative fellow who focuses on reaching out to new educators to share with them social justice pedagogy and I’m Cathy Davidson’s research assistant. With Cathy Davidson, I’m writing a book–a practical guide to transforming the classroom–to expand this effort and reach more people. [Note: Christina recently defended her dissertation and accepted a new role as Executive Director of Transformative Learning in the Humanities. Congrats, Christina!]
  2. I am most proud of hosting an event that generated three HASTAC blog posts. It’s rare to have an event that has a lasting effect, that reaches more people than those in the room, that has a written record of advice and resources that might be useful to others. I’m proud of structuring a public-facing, collaborative activity into an event.I’m also proud of co-writing with Cathy. Collaboratively writing as a team is very difficult. It takes a lot of social awareness, skill, and compassion. It is probably the hardest and longest I’ve worked collaboratively with anyone, and I think it has pushed me to a new level of professionalism, team-oriented or “we” thinking instead of “I” thinking, and, frankly, maturity, than I possessed before this project.
  3. I’ve learned that home and work were never separate except spatially and temporally. In every other way, they were always mixing. I recognized that fact when it came to understanding the needs of students but I never acknowledged it as a fact in my own life.

Sujung Kim

  1. As a postdoctoral research associate, my work with the Futures Initiative is greatly focused on qualitative research on the CUNY Humanities Alliance program. In addition to the Humanities Alliance research, I also collaborate in to design and to moderate public events of The University Worthy Fighting For.
  2. Most of all, I would say that I am most proud of co-organizing and presenting a symposium  at the 2019 ASHE conference with my colleagues who are academic professionals, faculty, and a Humanities Scholar including Katina Rogers and Kaysi Holman, Humanities Alliance doctoral and undergraduate fellows and a Futures Initiative undergraduate fellow. Our session has invaluable symbolic meaning, recognizing diverse higher education members including undergraduate students from both community colleges and 4-year colleges as critical agents who collaboratively revisit and advance ideas, knowledge and practices.
  3. While spending most of my daily time in my room with very limited accessibility to the other living areas of the small house where I’m renting a room, I have learned even in this small space, there are so many aspects that I discover every day. Regarding higher education, most of the community college students that I’ve interacted in my fieldwork, who are also low-wage workers, struggled with the same issues: their precarious financial situations in which they were not able to afford textbooks, laptops, and meals, and as well a lack of sleep while juggling work, classes, and other responsibilities even before the Covid-19 pandemic. And, their sufferings are getting more serious. With the acute awareness of marginalized students’ difficulties and sufferings, which can be expressed as everyday sufferings and difficulties, I hope more active systematic supports are developed and sustained.
  4. One goal for the next academic year that I want to work toward is developing more channels to share my findings and to have rigorous discussions about how to design humanities alliance related programs and related research with the partner-institutions of the next round Humanities Alliance and the colleagues at the Graduate Center as well as the larger audience. This is related to the long-term and larger goals to improve professional development for doctoral students in humanities and to vitalize diverse humanities curricula for community college students toward students’ empowerment as enabling critical democratic citizens.

    Love & Solidarity.

Adashima Oyo

  1. I am the HASTAC Scholars Director.
  2. It didn’t require much work, but I’m happy that I started Scholar Spotlight. I’ve enjoyed reading about the Scholars in our network.
  3. I’ve actually learned a lot about my students. In place of a final paper and final exam, my students completed a COVID-19 Journal. They’ve shared their thoughts about how COVID-19 had affected their lives, the stimulus package, re-opening America and how the pandemic will influence the U.S. presidential election.
  4. I’m really looking forward to cycle 3 of the collaborative book discussions. I hope we can discuss Katina’s book.Keep pushing forward!

Cihan Tekay

  1. I’m a graduate fellow at the Futures Initiative since Fall 2019, where I assist Katina Rogers with program administration as well as her forthcoming book, Putting the Humanities PhD to Work. I am also organizing the Graduate Education at Work in the World conference, our collaboration with Publics Lab that has now been postponed to Spring 2021.
  2. This was my first year at FI. So far, I am most proud of becoming part of the team and developing great working relationships as well as friendships. I have had the opportunity to both lead and participate in a variety of our programming, and it has been really meaningful to watch myself and my teammates grow together.
  3. I was organizing a national conference for FI when the disruption happened, which was scheduled to take place on May 1st of this year. We first postponed the conference to the Fall semester, then to Spring 2021, and it is still uncertain what form it will take. Also, our work schedules and conditions became entirely different when we started working from home. Because FI is such a cohesive team, we were able to continue working and supporting each other — we had a solid base to work from, and I saw that investing time in team-building is very important. After a while, I was also able to help Katina adapt and streamline our operations under these new, less than ideal conditions. I have had to face several uncertainties in the past few years in my personal and academic life, so it was good to realize that I can apply the lessons I learned to this new situation, and be able to help others as well.The systemic inequality in higher education is not news to many of us who have been teaching at CUNY – it is just heightened and highlighted under the pandemic conditions. I am not currently teaching, but I have adjuncted through most of graduate school, and I am uncomfortably familiar with CUNY’s systematic mistreatment of part-time instructors, on whom around 60% of our instruction relies. The meaning of “our working conditions are students’ learning conditions” has never been clearer — without investment in CUNY’s instructors and infrastructure, these inequalities will only be heightened.
  4. Aside from re-planning the Graduate Education at Work conference, and helping promote Katina’s book, I would like to continue writing on our blog and on about what I’m learning about pedagogy and the notion of the public.I know that the next academic year will be a difficult one, but I am looking forward to continue collaborating with our team to come up with innovative ways to solve problems

Siqi Tu

  1. I worked as both the researcher and the digital strategist of the Futures Initiative. In my role of a researcher, I conducted FI graduate fellow and faculty fellow interviews to have a holistic understanding and a solid documentation of our initiative. In my role of digital strategist, I worked with my colleagues to maintain the website, support our users, and center the content we care the most in order to reach a broader audience.
  2. I am glad the February event “Being a Scholar in Public” has generated great interest and attract a full room of audience. Along with all my other colleagues’ works and events, I find joy and delight in leading and participating events like this to gradually effect change in higher education.
  3. I have finally found the beauty in routines and repetition and learned to “embrace boredom.” Getting up at the same hour, 10 min morning yoga, breakfast with “The Daily” podcast, virtual cafe with friends from 10am to 6pm with a lunch break, exercise, dinner, 20 min meditation before bed. In a world full of uncertainty, I feel insanely grateful for the stability I get to ground myself in, with the (virtual) company of the loved ones.
  4. I will be joining the Ethics, Law and Politics department as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity (in Göttingen, Germany) starting in September 2020.I am extremely grateful for finding FI as my “home base” at the end of my graduate school years, not just as a workplace, but also as a community I trust, care, and take pride in. I will always be a member of FI, no matter where I am.

Note: While other team members did not share profiles, we celebrate them as well! It is such an honor and joy to work with Michael Epstein (now graduated and working as a postdoc in Boston), Gustavo Jiménez, Celi Lebron, Lauren Melendez, Cathy Davidson, and our new FI Fellows Shaun Lin, Jessie Fredlund, Coline Chevrin, and Tatiana Ades, who joined after these profiles were collected.


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