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Blog Posts by CUNY Peer Leaders

Future goals, dreams, and aspirations. 

Posted by Luis Angel Ochoa on

I think of self-improvement when considering future goals, dreams, and aspirations. I want to be the best version of myself and encourage others to strive for that. I believe self-improvement is the fundamental prerequisite for achieving our other ambitions. We often must work on ourselves before we can attain or at least inch closer to other goals. These include our career and relationship goals, like landing our dream job or starting our family. Before I get married, for example, I must be someone that someone wants to marry; I must work on myself to be the right person for someone else. The idea similarly applies to my career. I want to be an attorney. Before I can attend law school, I must score high enough on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). The LSAT tests for reading comprehension and critical thinking, so I could be more likely to attend law school by improving those abilities.
            It might occur to you: how will you know when you’ve peaked? How do you know when you’ve reached the best version of yourself and can stop self-improving? I don’t know. I hope I never know. The goal is not to know. And to believe that self-improvement is limitless. Why I (you) would want to stop improving is an ensuing question to ask. Think of where you are and where you would be if you didn’t improve. And where you could be if you keep improving. If that doesn’t convince you to work on yourself, think about it again until it does.
            Self-improvement can take different forms. Some people want to become better drivers. Others want to be better at math. I want to be a good man. That’s my priority. That’s my ultimate goal. To do right. That is not an easy aim. How do I define “good”? What does it mean to do right? One way to answer these questions could be to follow in the footsteps of people generally considered Good Samaritans. Another way could be to read ethical philosophy. I could also think for myself, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes. The best approach is probably a combination of the three. And to not think so much about what a good man should be and be one, as Marcus Aurelius wrote in his book, Meditations.


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

March !

Posted by Moses Matos on

Hello everyone and anyone reading this blog post. It means a lot to me. It feels like a long time since I’ve written a post even though it’s been a month or so. 

I am grateful for this opportunity to always have a place to go to read other people’s thoughts on prompts or life and share my own! Man have things been rocky these past couple of weeks. Besides participating in the panel a few weeks ago (one of the top highlights for me this year so far) I have been struggling. Everyone can attest to being drained in this pandemic. I’m no different right now. I have hit a wall this semester for the first time in my academic career that school isn’t a safe haven. Previously in my life, I could lean on the fact that I could see friends or be assigned something that would change my perspective or give me insight into new things. My esteem for learning has shifted into just trying to make it through each day in this Zoom life we find ourselves in.

I recently read a book called Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo + Me by Ellen Forney for my Literary Genres class. I really loved this memoir. Long story short, the author has Bipolar 1 and detailed her journey. After years and years of struggles, she finally found her balance. This was very inspiring for me because that’s something I’ve been struggling with for a year really.


I look back at the post from September and the tone has definitely changed. While I still feel all the sentiments about me having hope and being cheerful, my tank is on E right now and that’s okay. I have been a workhorse all my life and it’s time for me to take graceful strides instead of charging. Didn’t expect a horse metaphor in this post but let’s keep going! I have been recently setting up everything I need for the big project at the end of the year. I plan on doing a podcast. The image for this podcast was very different in October. I envisioned it to be a lot of inspiring content with a focus on being a reminder for people to keep pushing and find inspiration. I have since changed the focus to be an expressive outlet which I can go to like this blog. I wanted to do something to inspire others but not it will be to keep myself inspired. I have hit this wall and want the podcast to be a way to overcome it while also flexing my creativity. Last year my project was an Instagram page where I answered questions with various photos and I really loved it. I want that same energy with this podcast. I want to still be a motivator but also speak on things happening to me at every scale. Hopefully, in the coming weeks, I can refine what I want the message to be and how I will execute it. I think I would love to include anyone on it who is willing and also would love to be on anyone else’s podcast if it’s for a project or etc.

This blog post has been a little bit of everything and I love that. I want to end it by answering our formal prompt for this month “Who is a Woman who inspires you”. For me, it’s three beautiful ladies that have changed my life in so many ways. The three women are my two older sisters and my mother. These three women raised me with love and helped me build my character. My mother instilled in me not only responsibility because I was the only male in the house, but she made sure to still protect me any chance she could. It didn’t matter that I was a six-foot giant, she was still Super Mom for me standing at five foot five. My two older sisters gave me love and many valuable lessons on how to treat people and myself. The three of these women changed my life in so many ways. One of them literally gave me life. They inspire me to be true to myself and continue fighting no matter what. I’m dedicated to always making them proud. If I could pay them for the sacrifices and time spent on me, I wouldn’t have enough money. The way I can pay them is to pay it forward and remember to always tell them they are appreciated.


Thank you for reading this if you got this far,

Thank you for just clicking anyways.

Be safe everyone

Blog Posts by CUNY Peer Leaders

Keep Fighting

Posted by Malachi Davidson on

“I see you been on your grind.”

I spent my time tryna catch up,

Was falling behind.

“Well, it seems like now is your time.”

I been here patiently waiting

And I am sick of this line

I feel like i’m trapped

I’ve been grinding and grinding

“–It’s all a part of the path.”

Guess I shouldn’t be mad that they won

And like I’m constantly losing

Now what homie, I’m done.

“I mean, at least you made it here,

Keep track of your growth

All you’ve done in a year”

You know what, I guess you right.

Blog Posts by CUNY Peer Leaders

Are You Alive?

Posted by Malachi Davidson on

A consistency of life is fear

As simple as can be.

All forms of life experiences it

All cannot overcome.

To experience fear is to be alive

But to live by it––is to die,

Suppressing imagination by way of fear

Is not to be alive.

Fear, most influential of them all

Limits, alters, obstructs and destroys

But it does not––no,

It does not kill; that’s all you

To live under limits is a façade.

To live is to experience

To challenge, to love, to choose;

To live in fear, is to avoid all of the above.

Then what is fear?

The hand which pulls the strings?

The thought which drives the conscious?

The butterfly quarreling in your gut?

Fear clouds the light of the bravest soul;

Fear may inverts one’s world;

Fear leads the unknown to the unventured;

Fear’s source of strength is your weakness.

It exists in between, not to be seen

It’s filter alters perception

It turns a spider to creature, a shadow to a monster;

Its true fear is to lose control.

To grow is to challenge

To challenge is to overcome.

Fear is but a mirage, a tactic of the puppeteer

To grow is to fight fear––is to live.

Blog Posts by CUNY Peer Leaders

Think For Yourself

Posted by Malachi Davidson on

Think For Yourself

We tend to take for granted just how amazing we–as humans, as individuals, as lived-experiences are. Think about all the things that you’ve accomplished thus far. For starters, you’re alive amidst a global pandemic. Not only has life as we knew it changed tremendously (and will continue to do so), you have changed as well, and slowly but surely you’ve adapted to life in the crib, and that’s been harder than you may realize. Secondly, and possibly most importantly, if it weren’t for your ability to think critically and rationally, you couldn’t be where you are today.

I know that if it weren’t for all of my experiences thus far, including all the times I’ve screwed up, disappointed someone I care for, and even let myself down; I couldn’t have grown. The lessons that I’ve learned about the world and about myself have all come as a result of my failures. Those same lessons have taught me to not only do better for myself, but to have faith in my ability to figure things out. The more I think about it, who would know what’s best for me anyway? Only I can truly know what I like and don’t like; I’m sure the same could be said for you.

Now, having reminded you of this, why have you been so hesitant to rely on yourself?  Why do you look to others for the answers to your problems?

I ask this because I have begun to notice a new trend, which I hope won’t amount to anything more than just that; which is letting friends, family, influencers, or just about anyone with a twitter account make decisions for us. The ways by which we receive information is so fast and accessible, that at times, our first interaction with a piece of information is through someone else. In my experience, there have been few times where someone has successfully relayed information to me that was completely absent of their own personal bias’. There were, however, many times where the opposite was true; and my first time learning about something was from an article, reaction or retweet, accompanied by their personal biases and beliefs–and possibly only a fraction of the story. I found myself holding onto strong opinions on things I knew very little about. It wasn’t until conversing with someone who really knew their sh!t that I realized I truly knew nothing.

My advice, try not to be like this. I was naïve and didn’t give any thought to how I was receiving my information or who I was receiving it from. I became hesitant to give my opinion, in fear that those around me would think otherwise; in fear that someone would expose my limited understanding or lack thereof. I couldn’t even trust my own thinking. I questioned my every thought, contemplating whether or not those ideas were actually mine. This is a rather frightening situation to find oneself in, and it forced me to reflect upon myself and really grow to see how and why this was even possible. Why was it that “my” stances on things could only be supported with regurgitated arguments and borrowed beliefs which were never truly mine to begin with? I had to re-evaluate how I received and internalized it. I had to learn how to be more critical and skeptical of the things that I am told. I had to develop a desire to want to know whether or not what I was seeing was the “truth”, and not a distorted version of the facts.

Now, just to be clear, I am not saying that wanting to know others opinions and ideas on things is wrong. Is there truly something wrong with doing some research on something before making an investment, or collecting information on the experiences of others before passing your own judgement? Not necessarily, however, I do believe that this behavior–if done too often, and left unchecked–can develop into a habit of letting others influence us to the point that they’re practically thinking for us. 

In order to get out of this habit, I have been intentional about improving my ability to think critically and create my own opinions, not just choosing one that I like the best. In this way it’s like doing mental math. What is 55+76? Though I am sure that each of us is capable of computing the answer in our heads, those of us who are accustomed to computing even the simplest of math problems on the calculator app will take longer than those who don’t to find 131 as the answer. I say all this to say that like mental math, when we take the time to be critical and formulate our own opinions, we are strengthening a skill that we’ve had from our very first breath, and it would be a shame to let such a useful skill go to waste.

As tedious and annoying as the process may be, do not avoid the work. When we avoid the process of discerning fact from fiction, from choosing what we agree with or disagree with, when we begin to trust others more than ourselves, we let what has made each of us so special go to waste. The ability to dictate someone else’s thoughts, let alone your own, takes an immense amount of work, and there are people, entities, and organizations who are more than happy to go through this work on your behalf. The result is that they acquire a certain kind of power–of control–over those who so eagerly sacrifice their own agency through allowing others to think for them instead.

I can’t provide you with a how-to manual on how to think for yourself. Not because I am keeping holding my secrets hostage, or because I do not have a real answer, but because this is something that only you can figure out. It’s your life, live it your way.

Remember to think for yourself.

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