Kristina Graham

Blog Posts by CUNY Peer Leaders

What Democracy Means To Me

Posted by Kristina Graham on

In my understanding, democracy, or a democratic society, is a society where all citizens have equal rights and take an active part in choosing their government and shaping their society. Democracy is both a right and a responsibility, as citizens who are a part of a democratic society should have not only equal rights but also responsibilities to contribute to the betterment of their communities and their society as a whole.

My participation in democracy is defined by different actions. For example, my participation in democracy is defined by my right and my responsibility to vote. This responsibility consists of learning about the needs of my community and the country as a whole, so I can make an informed decision about the best candidates who can represent our needs and protect our rights.

My participation in democracy is also defined by my responsibility of giving back to my community and by providing support to my community. My support is expressed by contributing to the field of education: education that is inclusive, free of injustice, free of stereotyping, and is equity-driven. I am proud to be a part of the LaGuardia College learning community, both as a student and as a Student Success Mentor. LaGuardia Community College contributes to the national movement of providing equal quality education and support to all students, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or other characteristics. Even though United States is known as a democratic society, many members of our country still experience inequity, lack of inclusion, and other barriers to education. Barriers to education further translate into barriers to gainful employment. Access to education and support with successful completion will help our community and our society to minimize a variety of social issues, such as unemployment, poverty, and crime.

I believe that in a truly democratic society, all members should have equal access to and support with educational opportunities. I am proud to be a part of the movement that provides support to all students in becoming educated and justice-driven members of the society, who in turn will further promote democracy and democratic values.

Blog Posts by CUNY Peer Leaders

New Normal

Posted by Kristina Graham on

In this blog I would like to bring up what’s already on all of our minds and a part of our life: social distancing, wearing masks, getting used to the “new normal.” We hear and use these words every day and I would like to zoom into our experiences in hopes of drawing some insights that will give me (and maybe others) some clarity in understanding our feelings.

“Don’t forget your mask”

When I hear my roommate say “don’t forget your mask,” sometimes I catch myself thinking how surreal this sentence sounds. But I thank her for reminding me, take the mask and enter a new world that we now call a “new normal.”

As my roommate and I walk outside of our apartment building, every store and business that is open greets us with the same words of warning: “Social Distance! Keep 6ft apart” 

We walk into the grocery store, I try to keep my distance, but sometimes I forget to. It feels unnatural to consciously avoid people who are my neighbors, my community. Rather than saying hi and beginning a friendly conversation, we turn into a different isle or turn away to avoid any interaction — social interaction is now unsafe. 

I smile at the person ahead of me in line not realizing they cannot see my facial expression. My smile fades. No one is smiling at me. Or are they but their smiles also fade as they realize they are invisible. We have become invisible to each other without our smiles.

When the pandemic first began, it felt alarming to see people wearing masks. Now it feels alarming to see someone without a mask. 

As we walk back into our apartment, we hang our keys up along with our masks. Our masks live on our key holder. Sometimes they look like little flags to me. Sometimes I see them as flags of hope and other times as flags of surrender. They are blue and white generic masks. I can buy some fun themed masks or masks that represent a statement but I am not ready yet to have a mask represent me and be a substitute of my smile – even if no one can see it.

Is this the “new normal”? I never understood what that phrase meant. Sometimes I refuse to accept all this as normal. But then I realize that resistance holds me back when I need to find ways to keep going forward.

No one knows how much longer this global devastation will last but what I do know is that when time comes and it is safe to take our masks off, I will never take for granted a neighbor’s smile.

Blog Posts by CUNY Peer Leaders

How Can We Contribute to the Issue of Equity in Higher Education

Posted by Kristina Graham on

There is a lot of information that I found valuable from the talk that was offered to us. Most importantly, I was not aware of many points that were brought up on the examples of inequity, such as differences in allocation of resources between public and private universities. Even though COVID is a global crisis, different communities receive unequal support. I also realized that my understanding of student needs across different communities has been limited to my own experiences of communicating with students on their needs. The variety of needs is much broader and it is important for us, who are in the roles of supporting students to be aware and knowledgeable of a large spectrum of needs our students have (as they may not always feel comfortable to openly share with us their difficulties). It was very educational for me and I plan to continue educating myself more on these very important issues.

The question on how can I, individually, “bring about more equity in higher education” is very difficult. It would be too easy to say that there is no much one person can do without any resources and that for now I don’t have any resources that I could help with. Many of us can say that about ourselves and then do nothing about it because we have an excuse. However, as members of an academic community, who have been receiving education and learning to problem solve, we have to identify real approaches – even without available resources.

What can I do individually? First and foremost, as I mentioned above, we need to educate ourselves on the current issues. There are some issues that I simply was not aware of. Awareness is a first and very important step, as awareness can result in further steps. Acquiring awareness and knowledge and knowledge on these issues does not require additional resources, so I cannot use lack of resources as an excuse not to take any action.

What else can I do individually that does not involve resources, which I don’t have access to? I have access to social media and I can highlight some of the issues to make others aware, to educate others on the issue of inequity in higher education. The more people are aware, the more results we can achieve. We have different (free) venues for educating each other and thinking of further ways to bring our efforts together.

What we can also take upon ourselves to take part in building more equity in higher education is learning about available resources that provide wider access to students. Many Universities, local and federal organizations also fight for equity and have succeeded in creating resources but many of us are not aware of such opportunities. So, we need to learn what resources are available for which needs and be able to provide this information to students that we are supporting.

Thus, everyone of us, can contribute to widening access and support to all students across all communities. “I don’t know” or “I can’t” is not an excuse. We are going through difficult times but we also live during the times when information is available and we need to learn how to use it for the betterment of equality in higher education in particular and other human rights and needs in general.

Blog Posts by CUNY Peer Leaders

A Year Ago Today

Posted by Kristina Graham on

A year ago today I moved away from my mom for the first time. I had two weeks to find a place. I was really hurt. I felt like she was leaving me. Yes, she only moved to New Jersey… but my mom is my best friend and I felt like she was being taken away from me.

I also had no idea what it was like to live with roommates. How do I clean an oven?

Two weeks later, I found an apartment on the app Roomi with two girls. I felt really lonely. After work, I ran straight to my bedroom. I would hear the laughs from my roommates and I would be on the other side of the door crying. 

Three months later I received a call from my aunt during work. “Your grandpa isn’t doing well. I think this might be it.” I’ve dreaded this day for years. I haven’t seen my grandpa in seven years and for some reason, I anticipated this moment. I have carried guilt for years because I hardly called him. He loved me and took care of me when I was younger and I felt that I ruined our relationship. Now I am flying to North Carolina to say my final goodbye. 

I walked into my grandpa’s room at the nursing home not knowing what to expect. “Hey Tina!” his voice is exactly as I remembered it. I walked over to him lying in his bed and his appearance scared me. He looked so fragile. Almost unrecognizable.

Two days later I had to fly back home. I stood over him and was unsure of how to say goodbye. A part of me was hoping that he will still be here for Christmas. I can visit then, right? I can make things right. I touched his hand and said bye. He didn’t respond. Did he hear me?

Two days later he passed away and I flew back to North Carolina. 

Work was getting busy with the holidays. I remember feeling so numb because I was tired of working in the retail industry. I felt robotic. I felt like I didn’t have a purpose in this world. I remember a specific moment when I was pushing items onto the sales floor and praying for something more. “I want to help people. There has to be a greater reason why I am here.” 

A month later my roommate and I found out that my other roommate will be moving before the lease ends. We decided to move together at the same time that our roommate left. The day that we moved into our new apartment, I started working as a Student Success Mentor at LaGuardia Community College. 

Three months later I decided to stay for a few months with my mom in New Jersey. During this time, I lost two jobs due to the pandemic. Luckily, I was able to keep my position as a Student Success Mentor. 

Three months later and I am home in Astoria. Some days I feel empty. 

I like to think about where I will be in a year. What will be my story? A year from today, what will I say?

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