FI Board Spotlight – Jason Hendrickson

Futures Initiative Faculty Advisory Board member, Dr. Jason T. Hendrickson believes that keeping the needs and experiences of students at two-year colleges in mind is central to FI’s work: “I’m representing LaGuardia [Community College], and that’s something that’s near and dear to me.” Dr. Hendrickson, who recently served as a co-leader in CUNY’s Transformative Learning in the Humanities Initiative, is Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College. As a native New Yorker and the first in his family to earn a college degree, he brings invaluable insight to the Faculty Advisory Board: “I grew up a mile from LaGuardia, my first job was a summer job at LaGuardia, and I’m uniquely placed as a local, first-generation college graduate, so my role is to bring this perspective to the ideas that are already present at the Futures Initiative.” 

An Africana Studies scholar by training, Dr. Hendrickson spoke to FI Graduate Fellow, Rod Hurley about some of his previous work, as well as his recent projects focusing on 20th century African-American literature, racial justice in higher education, and equity in classroom assessment. He also discussed the relevance of the work we do at the Futures Initiative, shared advice for students, and spoke about how parenting impacts his work. 

How did you first learn about FI and how do you view the work that we do?
I’ve known about the Futures Initiative at the Graduate Center for a few years now. One of my colleagues from undergrad, Dr. Bianca Williams, is at the GC and she told me about it, and I got familiar with some of the folks there. The most direct link that I’ve had with the Futures Initiative is through the Transformative Learning in the Humanities program. Through my connections there, I got to meet with folks at FI and became familiar with the work and got to understand that the Futures Initiative is trying to undo some of the historic, narrow-sighted views of what teaching can be in the academy. 

What I love about it is that it’s an inclusive vehicle that allows faculty like myself working at a two-year college to also make a contribution in a graduate setting, to teach and interface with graduate students, and help build a future that recognizes the multiplicity of backgrounds that should be in the pipeline for graduate study and the work that a doctorate could open up.  The Futures Initiative changes lives not just in terms of what gets produced in scholarship, but who produces it.

What project or projects are you currently working on?
Right now, I’m in a bit of a transition phase. My previous work has focused on the importance of vernacular speech and English, the question of justice in literature, and also in current events. I wrote a little bit about the Rachel Jeantel testimony in the Trayvon Martin case and how her accent was front and center. “Language on trial” is something that other folks have talked about with that particular case, but that is one of the ultimate reasons why George Zimmerman was able to walk free – and this is by the admission of the jurors. Basically Rachel Jeantel’s use of vernacular speech and habits that are very familiar for those of us who use them were recognized as indicators of lack of intellect, lack of trust. I wrote about that also in the context of Black literature. 

I’m transitioning away from that, and some of the work I’ve done recently has been around higher education, and diversity, inclusion and justice matters here at LaGuardia’s campus. But right now, I’m interested in working on a project, an edited collection on Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man  and respectability politics, as it approaches its 75th anniversary later this decade. I’m also working on pedagogy and the idea of contract grading as a tool not just for school success but also life readiness, success in the workforce and career success. 

What other roles do you have outside of academia?
Outside of academia the only thing I have time for is my role as a parent. eeing how generations work is something that has transformed the way that I look at my students and my work – teaching with care and with an eye toward the challenges that returning students who are parents or younger students who are still navigating a path may be facing. I’m either at the campus or I’m doing something with the kids.

With the knowledge and experience you now have, what advice would you give to your younger self?
Fail more, celebrate failures, and understand that’s an investment in my success. Growing up I did everything I could to maximize my grades at the expense of my learning. That’s what I mean — I would tell my younger self to experiment with failure more and to be okay with that because that is essential to learning — to celebrate failure, because that is essential to learning. I would say to my younger self and to other people who are just starting out that mistakes make greatness. It’s okay. It’s about bouncing back and learning from it. It’s like, if you have to choose between a skilled boxer who has never been knocked out and a skilled boxer who’s hit the mat a few times, you go with the one who knows how to get up.


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