CUNY Humanities Alliance at the 2023 Mellon Scholars Conference

On October 6, 2023, several members of the CUNY Humanities Alliance presented at the 2023 Mellon Scholars Conference in San Francisco, on a roundtable about “Doctoral Education and Community Colleges: The Experiences of the City University of New York (CUNY) Humanities Alliance Inside and Beyond the Classroom.” 

This roundtable showcased the range of professional development activities across the Humanities Alliance, detailing how they benefit the various goals of undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and staff. Presenters discussed how each aspect of the program centers care, reflection, and the value of labor, as well as the challenges of institutionalizing lessons from the grant.

Luke Waltzer, Ph.D., Humanities Alliance Co-Director, contextualized the grant, providing a history of both phases. ​​In Phase I (2016-2020), CUNY Graduate Center doctoral students taught classes in the humanities and humanistic social sciences at LaGuardia Community College. They were guided by experienced LaGuardia faculty and staff, and had opportunities to translate their specialized research into innovative and relevant teaching methodologies. Through the LaGuardia Mellon Humanities Scholars program (predecessor to the CUNY Peer Leaders, or CPL), they also identified LaGuardia undergraduate students who were invited to participate in regular programming to help them build academic and career pathways in the humanities. The themes of Phase I, that have continued into Phase II, include: wellness, mentorship, and the future of the humanities. 

The HA is currently in Phase II (2020-2025), which expands its reach to four CUNY community colleges—Borough of Manhattan Community College, Guttman Community College, and Hostos Community College have joined LaGuardia Community College as our partner campuses—and broadens the scope of professional development activities for graduate fellows. In its current iteration, the CUNY HA program asserts that humanities teaching and learning does not only happen in the classroom, but also in a range of other institutional spaces. 8-12 Fellows enter as cohorts each year, and remain with the HA for two years. Fellows from the new cohort join existing fellows in their work on academic support projects at one of the four partner colleges. Fellows also participate in a weekly seminar and other professional development opportunities at the GC. The CPL program continues to expand recruitment and build on the success of previous years.

Luis J. Henao Uribe, Ph.D., Humanities Director and an HA Fellow alumni from Phase I, went into more depth to explain the Humanities Alliance Fellowship. The fellowship explores the capacity of humanities disciplinary training (at a doctoral level) to impact undergraduate students in diverse roles and programs; expands graduate students’ access to community colleges; and broadens fellows’ professional possibilities by placing them outside the classroom. His biweekly seminars with the fellows in each cohort are for community building and peer-to-peer mentoring; to share fellows’ experiences at the community colleges; and to contextualize the fellowship. The content of the seminars is meant to ground the fellowship on some critical frameworks, including: critical pedagogies, open education, experiential learning, accessibility, professionalization and career outcomes, and mentorship in the humanities as a form of care and self-care. In addition to the seminars, he meets one-on-one with the fellows for biweekly check-ins. These conversations are generally directed to different areas: overall well-being of the fellows; their academic progress as well as other endeavors; raising their institutional awareness; and discussing campus partners and projects. 

Janelle Poe is a current HA Fellow and PhD student in English at the Graduate Center. She spoke about the HA at the BMCC campus. In collaboration with BMCC faculty and staff, she interacts and collaborates with various programs and initiatives; builds individual relationships with instructors and administrators alike; and strengthens inter-departmental and inter-institutional relationships. Through this work, she supports a variety of students from various programs and initiatives, builds individual and group relationships with students, and demonstrates for them—increasing their awareness of—inter-institutional communities, commitments and possibilities. As a Black woman mentoring BIPOC students at BMCC, she was very aware of the importance of her presence as a model for students. During her time at BMCC, she has worked extensively with the Black Studies Across the Americas (BSAA) project, an interdisciplinary research program where faculty mentors, student mentees, and external collaborators work together to develop Open Educational Resources (OER) related to Black Studies. In BSAA, cross-departmental Faculty Mentors expose faculty and students to the Ethnic and Race Studies Dept., diverse Black geographies, peoples and cultures, and OER. Experts from the selected countries and/or communities mentor students in the research process and provide insights as the students create OER and a corresponding lesson plan. The cohorts were comprised of: Faculty Mentors (2); Student Researchers (4-6); External collaborators (2); and Humanities Alliance Fellows (1-2). This year, she is working closely with BMCC Race and Ethnic Studies Professor RaShelle Peck on the CUNY Hip Hop Commission and Fifty For 50, leading a CUNY-wide collective to celebrate Hip Hop’s 50th Anniversary with fifty events including a conference and instituting a CUNY Hip Hop Laureates program to celebrate former and current hip hop practitioners and scholars.

Rosalía Reyes is a PhD candidate in the Graduate Center’s LAILAC program and an HA Fellow Alumni. She spoke about her time at Guttman Community College working in partnership with the Pulitzer Center to launch the “Pulitzer Reporting Student Fellowship”, whose goal was to complete a multimedia reporting project on a local issue, shedding light on topics that have gone unreported in the mainstream American media. The student received mentorship throughout the journalism project, and developed skills, leadership, and a voice to speak on behalf of others. Some of the objectives with this project were to explore curricular innovations in bilingual English-Spanish language instruction through journalistic tools as a methodology of teaching; expand the humanistic perspective of the selected student while using the experiential learning perspective to expose her into a real social issue out of the classroom; The project will continue every year to encourage BIPOC students to use their native language as a bridge for them, and for others less fortunate, to raise awareness on different issues in their communities. In the seminars with Rosalía´s cohort, she read different authors who wrote about relevant topics in education, exchanged stories, and shared reflections throughout the process. 

She reflected on her time as a fellow from the perspective of her role as an instructor: “The HA Fellowship made me raise awareness about the importance of resorting to the humanities to transmit knowledge and skills to students. To innovate with methodological approaches centered in the student out of the classroom. To contribute to developing their critical thinking. I believe that the humanities are our allies to foster empathy, to show a problem of social justice, and to teach students that they can use their voice to be agents of change for the benefit of their community.”   

Lauren Melendez, M.S.Ed., CUNY Peer Leaders Director, focused on the wellness component of the CPL program, and her expertise as a counselor who creates a safe space for students to come together from different campuses for this leadership training. She uses student-centered pedagogy and a holistic approach to mentoring (e.g., mind-body-mapping, open-mic sessions for all students to participate and use their voices and be heard and recognized). CUNY is located in a commuter city, and there are challenges specific to the students who live in the city. The CPL program fosters students’ growth and development on conventional or unconventional leadership paths. She showed a video of two CPL speakers who exemplify how students in the program can benefit from this training and community of support and use their newfound skills in a variety of ways, whether that is to pursue a graduate degree on a more conventional academic path or start a business or organization to address the issues in society that they are most passionate and knowledgeable about. Both of these paths can lead to transformation in students’ communities.

Adashima Oyo, M.P.H,Ph.D, Humanities Alliance Co-Director, reflected on the challenges and lessons learned from the last two years with the CUNY Humanities Alliance. She offered a comparative lens based on her experiences overseeing two programs: one for doctoral graduate students (working in community colleges); and one for undergraduate students (CPL program). The challenges have included navigating changes in leadership (at the community colleges, at the Graduate Center, research scientists, etc.); bureaucracy at the administrative level; and program management during and after COVID. Some of the unique needs of CUNY students (social determinants of academic success) that she has identified include: mental health needs for students (depression, anxiety, stress); housing insecurity; and food insecurity. Institution-wide challenges have been decreased enrollments at CUNY, especially at the community colleges, and the shifts from in-person to Zoom and back again. 

Some of the lessons learned that she touched on include mentoring and professional development needs—not just for students, but for all involved in the grant—which could be partially met through continuous check-ins (with co-directors, undergraduate CPLs, doctoral fellows). The development of a student handbook to introduce and onboard people into the program has been instrumental to incoming fellows, staff, and students. She has prioritized creating a culture of care by centering student needs for engagement, and encouraging students to document their experiences (in blogs, public showcases, etc.). 

Some of the next steps the program will take in the last two years of the grant include developing research questions to show the impact of the program, identifying funding opportunities after this grant period, and thinking through the question of how to scale the program.

For more details from the presentations, view the slide deck here


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