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Blog Posts by CUNY Peer Leaders

Hello & Aspirations.

Posted by Kimberley M. Hill (She/Her/Hers) on

What are your future goals, dreams, and aspirations? These can be career-related, about the impact you might want to have on the world, or about how you want to feel every day when you wake up.”

As a Digital Music student at Hostos Community College, I hope to not only become a professional musician but to help make the American music industry a safer, much more nourishing place for musicians the world over. Growing up in an unorthodox home in the late 1990s and 2000s, music and the musicians who made the music I loved provided me with a steady source of comfort and creative and intellectual fulfillment. And I would want little more than to spend the majority of my years giving back to the community that so fiercely gave to me when I needed that bounty the most. 

Over time (and with help from the lessons I have learned while at Hostos), I have realized that aside from general competition or the ever-evolving taste of the general public, we musicians are facing a veritable mountain of systemic threats and barriers. And unfortunately, a fair amount of those threats and obstacles come from within our own walls. As a multiply marginalized student from a generationally underserved population, I personally and profoundly understand the importance of a thorough, flexible, affordable, and progressive education. But how many other musicians do? How many other musicians know that the ability to have a vigorous or rewarding academic background in our field of work is one of the major keys to finally unlocking and achieving the full-scale financial, creative, and psychological freedom that we want, need, and deserve within the industry? And that with steady and aggressive activism and advocacy, the reality of a low-cost or free American music education is entirely within our grasp? 

After watching writers and actors from all over the country come together and harness their collective power to demand the fair treatment they deserve, I wholeheartedly believe that musicians are capable of this power, too. We first just have to recognize our power, where it lies, and what can help strengthen said power. And I know without a doubt that it is education. 



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! 

Blog Posts by CUNY Peer Leaders

Making Education More Equitable

Posted by Alex Martinez on

I participated in the discussion Cathy N. Davidson, Tressie McMillan Cottom, and Carla Shedd had about making education more equitable, specifically in higher education. That topic itself stuck out the most for me because it is something that many people have tried but failed to achieve. Inequality in the school system does not get acknowledged most of the time but was introduced as an essential step to better the system and society. I appreciated how their goal was to reach beyond the school system and help the community as well. There were also two women of color taking part in the talk, so they could include their hardships and reason or desire to help. It made the question and answer portion of the discussion more genuine.

A way I can advocate for my fellow peers in a classroom or campus setting is to hold short informative conferences notifying us of our rights, student-run podcasts, but primarily support students when an unjust action is taken towards them. We need to make students aware that equity is possible if we make an effort to change it. Using the social media available to said students or citizens will prove useful as we have more creative options. Our target audience should be BIPOC, who may or may not struggle with mental or physical disabilities, as those are the people we should be fighting for primarily.  

My initial concern is that the students will not be taken seriously or ignored when they report injustices. There has always been a conversation about closing the gap or making sure the system is equitable in higher education. Still, with the pandemic taking over, the hole opened more. I am also troubled about the students becoming unimportant to the government and the department of education as the situation worsens. The student’s well-being and goals should come first above politics and everything else. However, after finishing the talk, my concerns were acknowledged, which tells me we are in the right hands and will have many successes as we move forward. 

Blog Posts by CUNY Peer Leaders

That’s A Pretty Big Deal.

Posted by Malachi Davidson on

By: Malachi

The conversation had by Dr. Carla Shedd and Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom, facilitated by Dr. Cathy Davidson was one that was very heartening, especially during this current political and social climate. 

During a time where Covid-19 is running rampant through our most vulnerable communities, where lynchings are on the rise around the country, in the midst of a rather demoralizing presidential election, when we’ve watched their justice system tell us that our lives still do not matter; it has been easy for myself and many others to mute the outside world in fear of feeling desensitized, defeated, and hopeless. 

The last few months in particular have been very demanding, both mentally and emotionally. My attempts at keeping my hopes up have been very difficult, however, I can say with certainty that after viewing Change Series: Making Education More Equitable I was left feeling empowered. Not in a way that could ever erase the painful feelings of helplessness caused by the consistent injustice around us, but in a way that instead better prepared me for the challenges that lay ahead. 

For starters, to hear such an insightful conversation surrounding racial inequities, both through a social and institutional lens, was extremely vital, especially when this conversation is had by two highly educated Black women. As a Black man, listening to a conversation surrounding racial inequities could be very risky, but when led by Black women, who have historially sat at the intersection between race, sex, and class I felt, safe. 

That’s a pretty big deal. 

Safety is not something that I, or people who have similar experiences to me, may feel very often. We do not feel safe within our communities, within our schools, and definitely when outside of our communities (for many different reasons); making safety quite the rarest of commodities. But when given the opportunity to hear conversations that need to be had, led by the voices that are often the most silenced, I felt most comfortable. 

Dr. Shedd and Dr. Cottom kept it real, and for that I am truly thankful. I learned about the structural and political barriers that I will face upon continuing my education at the graduate level; and what I should expect both of myself and of the institution that I would be entering. Conversations like these are essential, because they prepare the marginalized for the challenges that await them, while simultaneously shining a light on the existing inequities and challenging the institutions to do what is right.

Blog Posts by CUNY Peer Leaders

Learning to Assert your Identity with Q’onnections

Posted by Sam Ascencio (He/They/Zir/Hir) on
Learning to Assert your Identity with Q’onnections

What is Q’onnections?

The goal is to inform LGBTQ+ students and connect them

A program under LGBTQ+ and allies club that pairs up LGBTQ+ students with LGBTQ+ peers.

The program aims to accomplish a sense of belonging within the college in students’ time at John Jay fostering growth, Community building, Advocacy, Leadership, Identity (C.A.L.I).

Blog Posts by CUNY Peer Leaders

“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

Posted by Sharifa Thompson on

The event hosted by Cathy Davidson and her colleagues Carla Shedd and Tressie McMillan Cottom was truly invigorating. Excellent points were made throughout the program but some of my favorite points were centered around ideas of collectivism and community. I believe it was Professor Cottem who stated, in regards to higher education that, “It only works if it works for everybody.” When I heard that quote it reminded me very much of another quote by civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer who stated, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” But I think the reason why that quote resonated with me was not only because it touched on the need for collectivism but it also pointed to the fact that some private troubles are indeed public issues. The issue of certain schools, especially schools located in urban areas and concentrated with minoritized students, being inadequately funded is a public issue that mimics the systems and structures that exist in our society. Furthermore, the reason why we have yet to have seen these inequalities fully addressed is that once again they’re viewed as private troubles as opposed to systemic issues. We have to stop placing bandaids over gunshot wounds and address the real issues that exist. Another thing that was discussed was the need for us to see schools beyond a place of learning but to view them as an outcome. An outcome, that for many young people is a means of economic mobility and a newfound possibility of a wealth of new opportunities. Professor Shedd even talked about schools not only being seen as just a place of surveillance but as a place of much more value – a place worthy of investing in. The idea of colleges also being vested in the communities they exist in is also a key part of reimagining the way we view higher-ed institutions. Imagine if colleges were open regularly for highschool students to do research when libraries were closed. Imagine if colleges had childcare programs for working moms in the community and free college prep programs for older children. Finally, imagine that there was also a mentoring program in which students were able to form positive relationships with professionals, thus encouraging them to further their education after high school and to earn a college degree. Wouldn’t that be great? Now I admit maybe some of these solutions might be a bit idealistic. I honestly believe, though, that the possibilities are endless when colleges and communities work together and are supported at the federal and state level. That is where measures such as differential funding can be implemented to create a more equitable space for minoritized students. At the end of the night, though, this program had me asking myself, “Am I doing my part? And how can I do better knowing what I know now?”

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