Kelsey Milian (she/her/hers)

Blog Posts by CUNY Peer Leaders

CUNY Peer Leaders 2023 Showcase!

Posted by Kelsey Milian (she/her/hers) on

On Friday, May 19th, 2023 CUNY Peer Leaders gathered at the CUNY Graduate Center to present their final projects for the culminating showcase. At the CPL kick-off leaders choose the topic of mental health to focus on during the academic school year. Through a hybrid style of sessions, leaders met every other Friday from 3-5 pm to discuss professional development, music & mental health, pursuing graduate school versus non-academic careers, self-awareness through Body-Mapping, and sharing their poetry during the CPL Open Mic. We also had a wonderful time during our enrichment activities which included Broadway shows and musicals like The Lion King, and Fat Ham, and a visit to the Museum of the City of New York! CPLs presented fantastic projects during this hybrid-style showcase!  Echoing our various sessions throughout the year, leaders gave another take on mental health awareness with poetry collections and even workshops that can be implemented in their communities. Others presented incredible paintings and lectures that spoke on the social commentaries of child labor and the lack of resources for immigrants and communities of color. Through a myriad of projects, students tapped into visual, auditory, and kinesthetic projects that provided audience members with tangible examples of the kind of work and hope they have for CUNY in the future. Overall, the showcase was a massive success! We are incredibly proud of our leaders and wish them the best as alumni!

Our CPL Application for Fall 2023/Spring 2024 is now open and available here!


Em(Body)ed Experiences with the CUNY Peer Leaders

Posted by Kelsey Milian (she/her/hers) on
Em(Body)ed Experiences with the CUNY Peer Leaders

On Friday 10/14 CUNY Peer Leaders gathered to participate in a Body Mind Mapping exercise. What is Body Mind Mapping you might ask? I was first introduced to Body Mind Mapping at the MURAP 2019 Conference at UNC-Chapel Hill. A group of researchers talked about using Body Mind Mapping as a methodology in order to find a deeper connection to the Latin-American and Indigenous community in Colombia. I remember seeing photographs of community members’ bodies traced on giant white paper. These outlined bodies were then decorated with various crafts and colors that detailed the stories, lived experiences, and trauma they carried in such an artistic way. 

Body Mind Mapping was developed in 2008 with the Canadian AID Treatment Information Exchange and the Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative in South Africa. In order to understand and navigate stigmas on HIV/AIDS, Body Mind Mapping aimed to recognize and elevate the stories and experiences of those diagnosed. Since then activists have come together to develop workshops on body mapping for health, wellness, and experiences. When I came across Body Mind Mapping, I saw this as an important opportunity to highlight the experiences of my own students, dive into pedagogical practices that were different from conventional traditions of learning and documentation, and show a creative outlet where students could feel connected and empowered with their bodies.

I tend to use body-mind mapping as a leadership exercise and an icebreaker to learn about my students and fellow peers. As a participant myself in these activities, I also take the opportunity to reflect on my own conceptualizations of my identity and aspirational goals as well. Nothing about being human is static. Therefore, I highly encourage those facilitating the activity to also participate. The self-reflection is worth it and illuminating. Students work together by having a partner trace the outline of their bodies on a giant piece of paper. If students are not comfortable with this, we also have the option to use a printable of a body on standard-sized paper. 

For the CUNY Peer Leaders, I developed a series of guiding questions that students could respond to on their body-mind maps. Abstract interpretation is encouraged. Our overall goal is for participants to describe on their bodies who they are, what they are feeling, what they desire, and what they hope for. Here are a few examples: 

  • * Write down your name anywhere on your body map. What do you like people to call you? How do YOU spell it? How do YOU pronounce it? Do you have any nicknames? or specific ways of spelling? 
  • * Loaded question: Where are you from? Think in terms of space, city, and any location that YOU feel represents where you are from. This can be cultural too. Maybe you’re from many places? What does that look like? 
  • * What brings you peace? What are some things that make you feel relaxed and with yourself? I.e. reading a book, playing an instrument, bubble baths? What are some spaces that break your peace or make you feel relaxed? 

Over the years, the questions develop or expand. Depending on the group, students are able to share as much as they want to. The group is encouraged to bring crafts and colored pencils to make the activity as mixed-media and sensory as possible. With the CPL we did this and had our students bring newspaper clippings, magazines, pom poms, colorful paper, and glitter. My goal is to things back to Kindergarten. Hands-on activities are a rare occurrence in the collegiate setting, and yet truly memorable. 

Some students drew connections to their immigrant background and growing up in New York City. Others highlighted their inquisitive nature by composing a body map with questions about identity and career. I was especially moved by a student who drew a dolphin in connection with and remembrance of their grandmother! always in awe of the creativity and insight that comes from our participants. Perhaps it is an educator mindset in me, but I cherish opportunities where our students are able to explain connections to their loved ones, their aspirations, and what is stressing them out. How can we get to know our students better? 

Thank you to our wonderful students for sharing their body maps! You are all truly inspiring.

Blog Posts by CUNY Peer Leaders/events/Kick Off/meet-ups/showcase

CUNY Peer Leaders 2022 Kick Off!

Posted by Kelsey Milian (she/her/hers) on
CUNY Peer Leaders 2022 Kick Off!

CUNY Peer Leaders 2022-2023 Kick-Off Meeting in the Skylight room at the Graduate Center

The CUNY Peer Leaders (CPL) 2022-2023 cohort held their kick-off community-building meeting on Thursday, August 11, 2022. We began the meeting with welcome messages from Lauren Melendez, CUNY Peer Leaders Program Director and Administrative Specialist of the Futures Initiative. As well as Kelsey Milian (CUNY Peer Leaders Facilitator) and Jackie Cahill (Interim Program Coordinator). Cathy Davidson, Founding Director of The Futures Initiative, Distinguished Professor of English, and Senior Advisor to the Chancellor on Transformation also sent a video message to the group, sharing her trust and excitement for this year’s cohort and team. She sent well wishes and is excited to see what is in store! CUNY Peer Leaders facilitator Kelsey then shared CPL’S dedication to providing a safe space for all students regarding COVID-19 safety. With the rapid changes in the city and environment, CPL is staying updated on current health protocols within CUNY and New York City more broadly, to ensure the program continues and remains healthy and safe for all participants.

Jackie began the session by having students give brief introductions. Various academic disciplines are represented in the cohort this year, ranging from forensic psychology to special education, sociology, English literature, Anthropology, and Law. The cohort gathered around to take a quick group photo and began to have a discussion on what Leadership in Higher Education looks like with Lauren.  Lauren asked the cohort their motivations for applying and joining CPL. Several members mentioned their excitement to network with other students from diverse backgrounds, identities, and disciplines. Some members shared excitement to get out of their comfort zones and engage in more social activities with a social transformative intention. Lauren spoke on the differences between conventional and unconventional leadership journeys. She highlighted the importance of leadership’s path that might not always be clear-cut. However, having a drive and passion to grow is essential. Several cohort members shared a little about their journeys into leadership, such as finding a passion for mental health by being active listeners in their home community. Another student shared their passion for leadership by describing their path into breaking gendered expectations for women in finance and creating programs that engage participants to dive into creative avenues. Lauren also had testimonial videos from two alum FI Undergraduate Leadership program students; Cherishe Cumma and Steven Pacheco who had conventional and unconventional paths before, during, and after their time at CUNY. Both scholars still have had their own respective successes nonetheless.

One of the continuing CUNY Peer Leaders from last year’s inaugural cohort Sam Ascencio, led our Community Agreements for the kick-off this year. Our inaugural CUNY Peer Leader, Sam , led an exercise on what “presentness” looks like for our hybrid style meetings of in-person and zoom this year. Groups formed to discuss “presentness” and came up with insightful suggestions. These include using emojis and reactions on zoom during meetings and even creating engaging hand signals that create a collective shared experience. Simultaneously, members shared the importance of emotional and mental “presentness” at meetings. This means, not just showing up, but showing out and engaging with their fellow cohort members. Others stressed the importance of communication and mentioning to members of the team when they can or cannot make it to a meeting. Sam also shared the CUNY Peer Leaders Yearbook for each of the students to create a profile page to begin the year! Sam ended the session by asking everyone what safety means to them. Many shared ideas about creating a space to be their full authentic selves. At the same time, someone suggested the idea of establishing trust first before safety and letting people know how they are feeling by simply communicating it.

Co-director Kashema Hutchinson (Co-Director of the CUNY Peer Leaders Program)) led her Leadership in practice presentation by sharing an example of a leader she looks up to, Lauren Melendez! Kashema conveyed the importance of creating a space of love, especially in academia. She encouraged the cohort to write down someone who makes them feel special and like they belong. For Kashema, Lauren is a perfect example because of her active listening and care. Kashema stressed our duty in showing gratitude to the people in our lives who are there for us.

After a lunch break, the CPL team introduced the CUNY Humanities Alliance(HA) members. Ph.D., Humanities Director Luis Henao Uribe introduced himself and fellow Humanities Alliance Graduate Fellows. He stressed a shared love for CUNY as an institution and HA’s exploration in humanities to prepare students for success after school and improve the university, guided by principles of equity and social justice. Addressing the cohort, he stated that “This is an opportunity for you – but you are also a person who makes CUNY better – what you bring to the table is important!” Our Futures Initiative Executive Director,  Adashima Oyo Ph.D., followed and introduced The Future Initiative. With a collective goal towards trying to change higher education, she knows this work and opportunity will help members network and interact with people from various disciplines and backgrounds. Humanities Fellows took this time to introduce themselves as well.

Lauren took this time to go over the expectations for the year such as meetings, blogging, and the humanities-based project. With an almost unanimous vote, the cohort decided on a theme for the year: Mental Health! CPL meetings will center around this theme as we build different programs and workshops. To close out the kick-off, Kelsey led the group in reflecting on quotes about leadership by Audre Lorde and Gloria Anzaldúa. 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. These are a few examples of quotes fellow leaders shared: “You can stop swimming now, you’ve finally reached the shore” and “I don’t know whether the bird you are holding is dead or alive, but what I do know is that it is in your hands” – Toni Morrison. It was an exhilarating kick-off, to say the least! 

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