CUNY Peer Leader Kick-Off Report

Kick-off agenda for reference.

The cover of the CUNY Peer Leaders 2021-2022 Yearbook created by Sam Ascencio/Haunter Octavius

The CUNY Peer Leaders 2021-2022 cohort held their kick-off community-building meeting on Thursday, August 19, 2021. We began the meeting with welcome messages from Lauren Melendez, Undergraduate Leadership Fellow Director & Administrative Specialist of the Futures Initiative, as well as Cathy Davidson, Founding Director of The Futures Initiative and CUNY Humanities Alliance.  After quick introductions from co-directors Kashema Hutchinson (Co-Director of the Undergraduate Leadership Program for the Futures Initiative) and Kaysi Holman (Director of Programs & Administration for the CUNY Humanities Alliance) and facilitator Chinyere Okafor (CUNY Peer Leaders Program and Doctoral Fellow for the Futures Initiative and Ph.D. Student in Critical Social/Personality and Environmental Psychology at the Graduate Center), the day really kicked-off! 

Three of the continuing CUNY Peer Leaders from last year’s inaugural cohort led sections of the kick-off this year. This began with introductions, which was not merely a round of stating name and school. It was so much more! Our inaugural CUNY Peer Leader, Haunter Octavius, created a CUNY Peer Leaders Yearbook for each of the students to create a profile page to begin the year! Thanks to this fun exercise, we got to know this cohort better and faster than any cohort before them! The next session led by CUNY Peer Leader Malachi Davidson was on Community Agreements, where we had a rich discussion of presentness and safety in communities. The depth of thought and care that informed our community agreements was profound. The community agreements spoke of respecting identities, holding space for boundaries, openness to learning from each other, and the exchange of vulnerability and support. 

Screenshot of the CUNY Peer Leaders 2021-2021 Kick-Off Meeting via Zoom (Not all Leaders featured)

After a lunch break, CUNY Peer Leaders got to hear a bit about the CUNY Humanities Alliance and the Futures Initiative from Katina Rogers, Co-Director of the Futures Initiative and CUNY Humanities Alliance, and Adashima Oyo, Associate Director of the Futures Initiative. They also got a chance to meet the CUNY Humanities Alliance and Futures Initiative Graduate Fellows who will be providing feedback on their creative and social justice work this year. 

Then, we got to our theme for the year! The theme helps bind and guide our work as a group for the year. We approach many social justice and humanities topics from the theme. The theme is also created by the CUNY Peer Leaders. We brainstormed and polled, and finally landed on the theme of “Advocacy and Accountability.” CUNY Peer Leaders worked in small groups to discuss this theme and what it meant to them, then created questions that arose for them around that theme. Following that exercise, we explored the idea of leadership in higher education. Another one of our returning CUNY Peer Leaders, Moses Matos, became a highlighted example of one CUNY student’s journey into leadership through Peer Mentorship programs. Kashema and he discussed his work, as well as his educational and leadership path. They then led the group in a Jam Board exercise on what leadership looks like

Finally, to close out the kick-off, Chinyere led the group in reflecting on quotes about leadership by Audre Lorde. CUNY Peer Leaders discussed these quotes and leaders who they also look up to. They offered their own quotes about leadership that resonated with them: 

  • “We gon’ be alright”-Kendrick Lamar
  • “What is learned out of necessity is inevitably more powerful than the learning that comes easily.” – Malcolm Gladwell
  • “The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.” – Neil Gaiman
  • What is it the slightly older people want from the slightly younger people? They want credit for having survived so long, and often imaginatively, under difficult conditions. Slightly younger people are intolerably stingy about giving them credit for that.What is it the slightly younger people want from the slightly older people? More than anything, I think, they want acknowledgement, and without further ado, that they are without question women and men now.” – Kurt Vonnegut
  • “It is through art that we will prevail and we will endure. It lives on after us and defines us as people.” – Rita Moreno, actress, EGOT, activist
  • “If you are tempted to look outside yourself for approval, you have compromised your integrity . If you need a witness, be your own” Epictetus

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