Hi all! My name is Chinyere Okafor and I am very excited and honored to be a Futures Initiative Fellow! In this first blog post, I’d love to share a little about me and what I am looking forward to this year in my position as facilitator within the CUNY Peer Leaders Program.
I am currently a Ph.D. candidate in The Graduate Center, CUNY’s Critical Social/Personality and Environmental Psychology program. My research interests are on race & space, sexuality across the Black diaspora, Black women & expansive genders’ narratives in higher education, and healing modalities for Black mental health. In 2018 I was a part of a Futures Initiative course titled “Environmental Psychology of Care” with Dr. Imamichi and Dr. Chapin. That course played a major part in my current dissertation work and transformed my ways of thinking around my topic. I took part in presenting at the “Who Is Included? Restructuring Our Work and Our World” panel which was my first introduction to the F.I. program and it feels full circle to be working with the team again.
My dissertation work is on narratives of Black gender-expansive students and faculty navigating and organizing in higher education. I’m interested in the impact of institutional and interpersonal violence on mental health and the body. In my work, I utilize interdisciplinary frameworks and methods geared toward analyzing the fullness of my participants while centering their voices on their experiences within academic institutions. A key part of this work is my analysis of care and how that can be implemented in pedagogy, the physical environment, as well as interpersonally for Black marginalized genders and queer students who exist at intersections that render them historically excluded from conversations and/or larger infrastructural changes. My goal is to not just bring these structures into view, but to continue to imagine new possibilities for higher education, a central piece to what The Futures Initiative pursues, especially in relation to their commitment to the public.
My primary role is to assist and help facilitate the CUNY Peer Leaders Program. I have experience being a mentor to CUNY students and have aided Black and/or queer undergraduate students into applying and entering masters and doctoral programs. This experience solidified my commitment to mentoring undergraduate students toward whatever future they envision for themselves. I value the opportunity to be a witness as well as a guide for students to push them towards research ideas and/or job careers that hold liberatory possibilities, and I cannot wait to learn from the new cohort of Peer Leaders. So far, the students are phenomenal and I am deeply appreciative to hold space with them and offer support during this pandemic! There is a boldness and fire in them that I only wished to have had while I was an undergraduate student. I hope to learn as much from them and my team (Kaysi, Kashema, and Lauren) that I can and offer space for reflection and support around the challenging times we are in.
Excited to be here and working with you all! 🙂