The CUNY Peer Leaders 2022 Showcase Recap

The CUNY Peer Leaders 2022 Showcase Recap

This year’s CUNY Peer Leaders Showcase highlighted a range of interests and passions around the theme of “Accountability and Advocacy.” The Leaders worked on projects throughout the 2021-2022 academic year and on Friday, May 13th they showcased their projects in a lightning round format. 

The first round of presenters focused on mental health and self-care. Aaliyah McCoy played a snippet of “The Butterfly Effect”, her new podcast focused on internalizing music, mental health, and how to maneuver through life. Katelyn Madera showed parts of “Lying to My Therapist” a compilation of poetry and art for a currently untitled poetry book to spread mental health awareness for students who have been experiencing: burn-out, imposter syndrome, depression, anxiety, and ADHD. Nina Hogan’s “Being a Woman in a Misogynistic World” highlights information about sexual violence and abuse. Including how survivors should be taken seriously, how to end the shame of an act and offers resources. Ruksana Ruhee’s timely “Living with Grief” is a multimedia piece based on the notion of how grief is a universal emotion, whether it is a physical death or heartbreak. It can make one feel very lonely, miserable, broken, and is something that is very difficult to cope with.  Favour Anyalewechi’s project focuses on mental health especially the power of saying, “NO!” This project shows how mental health isn’t just only about depression or what society depicts, but also how we interact with others. 

Aaliyah McCoy’s Podcast, “The Butterfly Effect”

Our next round of presentations focused on social justice initiatives. Haunter (Sam) Ascencio’s “Lessons in Q’onnecting” project include the creation of Q’onnections, a paid stipend queer peer mentorship program, and spearheading the creation of John Jay’s new LGBTQ+ center. Dawn Ressy’s “4,645” is a play about social justice viewed through an intersectional lens on the body politic of brown, black, female bodies more specifically those impacted by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2018. Lionel Colon’s online hub for high low income and minority school students aims to increase the accessibility of careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Ayah Djelil project sheds light on the current affairs and the history of the Middle East and North Africa, as well as the several misconceptions that are portrayed by western societies (including stereotypes portrayed by the media, educational systems and academia, social institutions, etc.) in refuting the orientalism imbedded within these societies. 

Our third group of Leaders presentations focused on identity. Ian Fernandez presented “Beast,” a monologue and rap song he is writing for a musical he wishes to make in the future regarding his experience working at an upstate sleepaway camp as a bunk counselor. Avii Van Praagh project is a collection of written works exploring gender identity, mental illness, and banal societal expectations under American neo-feudalism. Ellie Hubbard’s “Emancipation of Female Sexuality” is a photo series that aims to remove the shame of female sexuality imposed by the patriarchy. It celebrates open sexuality, healthy sex, consent, and many other important components of sex. Malachi Davidson’s “Statement of Purpose” is an EP of self-produced Hip-Hop songs and poems centering his personal experience as a Black man. Malik Brizan-Reed’s “What’s Special about House Music?” is a necessary ethnographic article that goes in-depth about what House music means from a personal Black perspective. While explaining how he has navigated life on the rhythm of House, the history of this repetitive music and how it has evolved into today’s world will be discussed. A discourse about “white-washing” and the “Gay-stigma” surrounding House music will be explained and much more. Sayquan Wooden shared a poem from The Modern Sense,” a collection of poems, collages, photos, and essays that focuses on themes of identity, creative expression, existentialism, community, and societal change. This project serves to deconstruct & represent the different aspects and realities of these topics in relation to himself and his creative craft. Vaishali Patra’s “views from the other side” Vaishali’s project is a poetry collection revolving around the theme of identity, specifically intersectionality. Tori (Victoria) Caserta’s “The Shadows We Don’t See at Night” is a series of short stories focused around the experiences of one main character who’s just trying to survive the world as a teenage addict in an effort to shine light on the stigmatized stories we often don’t hear until a person’s “gone too soon” because of the disease of addiction.  

Sayquan Wooden explaining the inspiration behind their poem, “is it a reality?”

Our last two, but most definitely not least, presenters focused on Afro-Futurism and New Age concepts and identities! Jasmaine Brathwaite’s The Divine Story: Afrofuturism is a foundational explanation of Afrofuturism, the genre of her next novel. The dissection of story, time, and wisdom as a literary tool will hopefully bring new light to an imperative creative process within literature. Xueqin Ruan’s “Double Mission” is a collection of essays, poems and photos that shares her twin flame journey. This project is important because many twin flames feel so lonely in this world due to people’s lack of understanding. In this project, she will introduce twin flame groups, starseeds, and lightworkers.

The Leaders wanted to bring attention to the issues that they are passionate about. This 2021-2022 academic year has been a challenging year for many, nevertheless they explored various topics and issues that resonate with them and that they wanted to express in developing their Humanities themed projects. Please be sure to check out the showcase if you missed it and the leader’s projects on our website which will be posted in late May. 

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