ADVANCING EQUITY AND INNOVATION IN HIGHER EDUCATION

A Recap of the SPRING 2024 CUNY Peer Leaders Showcase

This recap blog post is from contributing author Inma Zanoguera, who is a CUNY Humanities Alliance Fellow and PhD Candidate in English. Originally posted on the Humanities Alliance website.

The Spring 2024 CPL Showcase was a well-rounded event, with presentations that ranged from politically informative to poetic, moving, and empowering performances from our Peer Leaders. It took place in a hybrid mode, with most of the participants attending in person at the Graduate Center’s Skylight room. It was a Friday and though most of us brought the last bits of energy left from the week to the gathering, by the end of it we were revitalized by each CPL’s dedication to their exciting culminating passion projects. 

After refreshments, lunch, and introductions, Isabella Bandeira got on stage to kickstart the event with a musical reading of her ongoing poetry project, “Moonlight.” Isabella’s poetry immersed us in the poet’s own creative process of overcoming grief and walked us through to the magic that awaits us on the other side of life’s challenges. 

CPL stands behind the podium, giving a presentation.

Through the afternoon, poetry was a recurrent theme. Shehnija Afrin invited us to think about the meaning of being together in our humanity through her poems. Even as we gathered together in NYC under relative peace, Shehnija’s poetic voice helped us expand our awareness to what others are going through, such that the distance we usually perceive was closed for a while thanks to her heartfelt reading.

Other CPLs presented projects that were similarly concerned with our involvement in conflict beyond our national boundaries. Lily Sahadi, who is studying abroad in Italy this semester, showed through her project how the tourism industry is invested in the perpetuation of neocolonial exploitation, specifically in Jamaica, Mexico, and Hawaii, where tourism ruthlessly corrodes local communities to the benefit of capitalist accumulation. Christopher Arzu, studying international relations (pre Law) at Hunter College, has been studying global dynamics in the 20th and 21st centuries under the lens of “multipolarity.” His findings and reflections pointed him to favor a model of bipolar competition on a global scale where, similar to Cold War dynamics, countries would be forced to innovate and invest in better futures by dint of trying to catch up to their competitors. 

In a different approach to thinking cross-nationally, Enrique Rodrigez Brito’s project looked at how various cultures handle mental health and focused on how their differences are made apparent in the relationships between immigrant parents and first generation children. 

This inquiry resonated with other CPLs who have grown up between the US and other cultures, whether that means being raised by immigrant parents or having moved countries at some point in their childhoods or early adolescent years. Enrique had interviewed three CUNY students who grew up in different countries, and showed us that mental health struggles are an unfortunate running thread, having mostly to do with the taboos surrounding the topic. But his reporting led him to the conclusion that we can work toward better mental health practices, starting with more intentional communication. 

The fate of our mental health, as it is commonly understood nowadays, starts in childhood, and it is this formative period that rests at the heart of Jonaki Debi’s project: “Pure Souls: A Mission for the Little Ones.” Jonaki’s presentation explored childhood vulnerability and how protecting the child within is a way to redress early-years harm. By showing us that childhood experiences can be redressed, Jonaki’s work paves a way forward to grow self-confidence and deeper compassion. 

There was an abundance of thinking with, about, and through language in the CPLs’ projects overall, including more poetry readings by Rosalind Hernandez, whose themes of identity and self-acceptance found resonance with many in the room. Rosalind’s project is a creative practice that reckons with the difficulties and joys that we all experience in our 20s. By reading her poems, she created an opening: she showed us that narratives we form for ourselves through poetic language can shape us into an authentic, marture version of ourselves. 

CPL stands behind the podium, giving a presentation.

Even more intricately connected to the question of language, Aurora Hernandez shared her progress building a thesaurus of various Spanish dialects and their differing word usages. In this thesaurus we find a way to bridge communication among different cultures (and language communities) in the Spanish-speaking world.

So there was attention being paid to language usage during students’ showcases—but there would also be, a little bit later, a presentation devoted to Latin and is of much interest through Sarah Joyce Koch’s work. Her ongoing research involves the letters of Heloise, circa 1130-1134 CE, to her lover Abelard, a story that came alive through Sarah’s enthusiasm and sense of humor as if unfolding in real time. 

Robert Thompson wanted to make his presentation a collective endeavor—presenting on his ongoing work of fiction, the Honduran student attending Lehman asked the rest of the group to take his paragraphs and read them for the group. We learned about Robert’s main character, who faces a host of unexpected struggles, through the voices of different students. In this shared manner, Robert created a beautiful narrative space where the spectator/reciter boundary was blurred, making the presentation a three-dimensional immersive story. 

Sayquan Wooden, a recent Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) graduate from Brooklyn College whose poetry project, entitled “Not Available in Color,” explores the struggles of finding one’s identity, the importance of color in different aspects, and executing messages in rebellious ways. He chose to present the poems “Mind Palette,” and “Walking on Water,” while encouraging us to take a look at “All American Candy” when we have a moment. 

CPL stands behind the podium, giving a presentation.

Kimberley Hill ended our showcase on a strong note, and left all who were present in awe with her presentation entitled: “Teen, Queen, Trilogy” with text and visuals showcasing her burgeoning book proposal regarding research and commentary on Teen Pop, Teen R&B and Alternative Rock from 1989-2014. 

During the time we spent together, each individual project created its own distinct space where a combination of hard work, devotion to a specific theme, and a lot of creativity resulted in uplifting and informed presentations from our Peer Leaders. That said, the gathering was made special collectively, by a shared sense of working together—whether a poem or another type of creative work, a report or a work of research, each student was able to tell the story of their project in ways that drew the audience in. We all left the meeting with bubbling excitement to see where everyone’s projects will end up!

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