What does “the Future” hold for the Team at FI?

By: Will Arguelles 

Every Tuesday here at the Futures Initiative, our fellows and staff gather, update one another on our work, and brainstorm solutions to complex problems.  A key component of our work is professionalization and helping our cozy community of scholars blossom into the best versions of themselves. The content of this blog post originated in our 2/06 weekly meeting, where Assistant Director Rod Hurley had us think about our own goals, pair up in groups to figure out how best to get there, and then share out with the group (and now more widely) our new visions for our futures. The text of this activity has been edited and reformatted to fit a wider, public audience.

Life in contemporary Academia is precarious, and often quite destabilizing. Siloed away in our research and working towards a completed degree, it can be a startling experience to look up and see the end, and instead of the expected relief, to be filled with terror at the uncertainty of it all. With an uncertain post-PhD Future in sight and a shrinking window of opportunity, what are we to do? Well, luckily, at least in my case, there is a future in the Futures Initiative. As we begin to move into our 10th year, and turn a reflective eye to our accomplishments as a center,  Assistant Director Rod Hurley wanted to make sure that we don’t lose sight of the future – the future of our fellows. In a very hands-on, practical workshop, the whole FI team discussed this core of uncertainty that is plaguing academia, and we set about trying to find solutions that worked on us – at least on the micro-level of our individual lives.

One thing we immediately all recognized was the privilege to be in such a warm, welcoming space to begin with. The simple fact that we were having an honest conversation about our futures beyond FI says a lot about our ethos as a group – that people are willing and excited to look beyond our time at FI, and work to improve our initiative as we continue together. Megan Henriquez, our Communications Director in charge of our monthly newsletter, highlighted what makes working at FI so great: “I love being an FI Fellow because it takes my mind out of the tedious work and gives a larger perspective about what there is to love about academia.”Our Outreach Manager, Beiyi Hu remarked similarly, noting that “I appreciate FI for the invaluable emotional support it provides. To me, FI is a safe haven where I feel comfortable sharing my feelings, vulnerabilities, and concerns openly. It’s a place where I recharge and feel supported. I’ve also gained valuable insights from the check-in activities, which I believe will be beneficial in my teaching.” Speaking perhaps for all of us,  Megan commented, joyfully remarking, “the FI meetings get me out of the house & make me happy!” – and sometimes it is as simple as that, enjoying each other and the joy shared between friends.

One interaction that stood out was between Kelsey Milian Lopez, CPL Facilitator and an early-career graduate student, and Faculty Co-Chair, Shelly Eversley. Kelsey, being a first-gen indigenous scholar, has found the Futures Initiative to be a place where she can interact with other people of color with different experiences and expertises in academia She noted how helpful FI had been in professionalization, such as learning how to negotiate salaries effectively, though still expressed some anxiety about how to go about asking for more money. Shelly responded with a clear practical example: when she became a full professor at Baruch – the only black professor – she asked the provost directly for a raise, using the methods we had discussed in a prior meeting. Shelly noted that full professors like herself have a responsibility as gatekeepers (as they often serve or lead hiring committees for assistant and associate professors) to show up and actively work to increase representation for scholars like Kelsey. It was a really touching moment between two scholars of color at different moments of their careers finding a common struggle and reassurance in each other. Shelly noted that part of what makes FI so great is that “the graduate students are doing the work” and, by working to make academia better, we are “finding our people and getting that love early” in our careers. [Check with Kelsey/Shelly if cool to share]

Part of what makes FI so special, and so capable of sharing moments like the above, is because of the nature of how the initiative is set-up. Because we are an interdisciplinary “initiative”at the Graduate Center, rather than a field-based program or institute, we have a good deal of flexibility and can change what our work can look like each year, FI is particularly situated to be adaptive to its fellow’s needs. Chris McGuinnes, Digital Strategy Director put it very effectively when he noted that,  “FI is interdisciplinary and we have so much potential in what we can offer each other.” 

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we should rest on our laurels, as many of our fellows had ideas of how to improve FI. Coline Chevrin, HASTAC Scholars Co-Director, noted that it would be helpful to circulate past successful applications from FI fellows and former fellows for prestigious grants and scholarships. Rod and Coline both remarked that it would be nice to have more “out-of-office” activities, and ways for former FI fellows and other FI alumni to stay connected with the work ongoing at the Futures Initiative. One idea that has come up a few times is a need for both an events coordinator and tech, as well as a documentation fellow – people whose job is to finetune the logistics of our events, and work at cataloging all the work we have done. Lauren Melendez, CPL Director & Academic Program Manager, noted that despite how successful and important our work with the CUNY  Peer Leaders program, we still need to “hustle” for the program to find funding, and suggested we look into further more stable revenue for one of FI’s core outputs. 

So what does life look like for academics beyond FI? Well, to find an example, we just need to look into the future of one of our Graduate Fellows, Rod Hurley. One of the most inspiring things Rod mentioned was that it was not an either/or, ultimately – but instead a shift in priorities. Rod looks forward to teaching and returning to some aspects of his former career as a musician but he also loves the work he does at FI – administrative management, events planning, and so much more. “FI has been a great resource, the work we do is very meaningful and gives everything else we do more meaning” Rod remarked, before noting that his “teaching is improved by his time at FI.”  Beiyi echoed nearly the same sentiment, when she stated that as she was “looking ahead, I hope to expand my horizons at FI. Given my limited experience in writing outside of my field, I would love the opportunity to contribute by writing event recaps or other content for the Futures Initiative.”

So while we didn’t solve the crises at the core of academic life – austerity funding, decreasing enrollments, and so on – we did at least reaffirm that there is still work being done and life worth living within academia. Which, in my opinion, might just be the first step to making us all happier with the university system we’re living within. 


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