To the Futures Initiative,

By Frances|May 10, 2018|Reflection|0 comments

This year has passed by in a whirlwind of emails and events, planning sessions, meetings, and conferences, interviews, sudden trips, and all of those big and small life moments in between. Still, with summer right around the corner and the promise of lazy beach days to come, I want to press pause to reflect and take in what this year, what being a part of this program, has meant. I’ve already written my letters to CUNY and FSU but this one needs its own space in part to recognize the importance of the space you’ve given me.

The opportunity to join the Futures Initiative came just at the right moment when I was nearing the end of an exhilarating and exhausting year teaching at Fordham, wondering what my next step should be. The idea of taking a breather from the classroom to take on a leadership role in running and building a program was daunting and unfamiliar but also exciting, challenging, and, if I’m honest, a relief after a long year of too much teaching and grading and not enough time to think and do my own research. You caught me, in short, at a moment of awkward and uncertain transition and for that I need to say thank you, even though this year has felt like a long drawn-out series of thank you’s that can never possibly capture the complicated emotions and depths of my appreciation. But let me try anyway.

I could list the big public-facing events that you gave me space to organize, including that one in September on “Pedagogies of Dissent for Asian American Studies” that allowed me to bring my questions, work, and myself into the program. This and the other events we organized this year created room for ongoing conversations about the stakes of higher education, pedagogy, politics, aesthetics, and what we as scholars, teachers, and students could do to materialize a university worth fighting for. But while these were occasions to assemble the different publics and communities we serve, to clear space for precisely those vital, timely dialogues, I am perhaps most grateful for the internal, invisible things that this program accomplishes that do not fit neatly into event recaps.

So, let me say thanks by bringing to light some of this invisible stuff that too often escapes notice because it happens during quiet meetings, on frantic phone calls, endless email loops, and–perhaps unique to this program–on giant post-it notes and in ever-expanding collections of collaborative Google Docs. Thank you for teaching me about the tremendous amount of labor involved in running a vibrant, multi-faceted program that cuts across CUNY, New York City, and beyond. I had a small taste of this behind-the-scenes work this year; the relentless energy it takes to track down answers and resources, to wrestle with fickle budgets and deal with inevitable technical glitches, to lay the groundwork, devise back-up plans, and carve out spaces and opportunities for creativity, mentorship, community, and conversation that are so vital–in short, the work that Lauren, Celi, Cathy, and Katina model daily with grace, passion, and dedication. I have learned from all of you what it means to be a fierce administrator and leader, to embody a willingness to listen, learn, stand up, give time, fight for, and defend, all at once, a practice of inhabiting institutions that I take with me.

Thank you also for making this program into a space where students’ voices aren’t just heard but are in fact the driving forces behind the public events and everyday activities, the work that we do. You have taught me that student-centered isn’t just a term that applies to how we enter and organize our classrooms but one that can and should influence how we administer programs. Because the approach matters; it matters how we teach graduate students to see themselves as active participants in and as themselves shapers of institutional life, with the capacity to challenge, re-envision, and transform. I have learned that so much of this has to do with trust, letting students run with their ideas and questions, to experiment and be creative while providing them with support, guidance, tools, and structures as they need it.

Working closely with the graduate fellows, in turn, has amplified my understanding of mentorship and the importance of self-care. I have learned from our meetings how vital it is to cede the floor, to listen carefully and act as a sounding board, to encourage the use of the spaces that are available, the space that this program offers to bring your passions, thoughts, and research in, to create new conditions of possibility, new platforms and publics, for your work. I have learned too the necessity of teaching students how and when to say “no,” to pull back, share the burden, and carve out time for yourselves in schedules that are often overwhelming and overly packed with commitments. And, by talking to all of you I have found a way to say these things to myself too, to take time and create space for me (unplugged, off-email, down-time) and the work that feels most urgent, necessary, pressing.

I have also been inspired by this program and the people who make it run. You gave me the courage to put more of myself out into the world, to make public parts of me that I never thought I would be comfortable with but because of this I’ve found a different mode of expression, another dimension to my voice. You taught me that building something like an academic website isn’t and shouldn’t just be about “professionalizing” in that bland, corporate sense but rather a way to make a different space, to discover and build new communities. You showed me how agenda-setting doesn’t have to function within a rigid and unchanging structure, that it can be a creative and collaborative endeavor that shifts scales constantly from the level of minute details to expansive vision and future possibilities. And talking to you about pedagogy in so many forms this year has also helped me find my way back to the classroom, to miss that space and long for it with an ever-growing list of ideas, strategies, and texts I plan to share with my students at FSU this fall.

Above all, I am grateful for the spaces this program creates for reflection, to process, think over and think anew, including what needs to change, what we’ve been doing well, but can do better. I learned from you that programs don’t have to assume the same shape from year to year, that each year brings with it magic shape-shifting possibilities that come in the form of the bodies that exit, those that enter, those that remain, and the ideas and questions that linger, stick with us, and those that creep up suddenly with urgency. You showed me, in other words, how program building is itself a kind of worlding, a bringing into existence, an assembling of people and potentialities that didn’t have a shape before but could now because of the work that you do.

Thank you for letting me be a part of the communities and worlds you have created and are still in the process of creating. I began this year a little lost, uncertain, and more than a bit cynical about the pathways open to me but it turned out that the breathing space this one-year postdoc and leadership role gave me was just what I needed. And, it strikes me that I kept the promise I made in that first introductory blog post I wrote back in September because we did make magic together. This year has been a breath-taking ride and I look forward to seeing and hearing about the magic this program and the people whose energy and enthusiasm animates it, will continue to work in the years to come.

For now,

Frances


Photo by myersalex216 on Pixabay.

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