Pausing to Reflect

This has been… a big year. While the Futures Initiative team and I formally reflect on the past year through the exercise of writing and designing our annual report, and while we plan for an unusual year ahead, I’d like to take a moment and offer a more personal reflection as well.

In working on our annual report, I and others on our team have been struck by how much the Futures Initiative has accomplished this year, and how far we have come in just three years since our founding in Fall 2014. From the collaborative writing and publishing experience of Structuring Equality, to our growing collaborations across the GC and CUNY, to the way our ongoing programs like team-taught courses and peer mentoring are thriving, it has been a banner year for the program. I look forward to sharing sharing that document when we wrap it up.

And yet, this has also felt like a particularly difficult year, one laden with anger at unjust systems and the persistence of white supremacy, with sorrow at lives wrongly taken, with uncertainty as the political climate threatens to wreak havoc with higher education and the lives of CUNY students.

The particular day that I’m writing this has started with sorrowful news that is at once uniquely terrible and also broadly emblematic of the year we have come through. This morning, before the day had even begun, I read in the news about too many lives taken:

  • Charleena Lyles, a mother of four and pregnant with her fifth child, was shot and killed by police after calling to report a suspected break-in in her home in Seattle. Lyles reportedly had a history of mental health issues. This morning, she becomes yet another example of police violence against black people in a year filled with names of those wrongly killed. The news feels unbearable and unsurprising at once.
  • Nabra Hassanen, a seventeen-year-old Muslim girl, was killed after leaving a mosque in Virginia following Ramadan prayers. The incident is not even being investigated as a hate crime, which seems utterly inexplicable.
  • One person was killed and eight were injured when someone drove a van into a pedestrian zone near a mosque in London. All those injured and killed were Muslim, and the driver reportedly targeted the Muslim community intentionally.

This is just today. Attacks like these have been far too common all year, and while incidents like these against women, against Black people, against Muslims, against people with disabilities are not new, the pace at which they are happening and continuing to happen despite more extensive reporting feels dizzying in the worst way.

It is against this backdrop that the Futures Initiative does our work. We continue to work across CUNY and the HASTAC network in support of innovative approaches to move toward greater equity in higher education. Our work feels more urgent than ever, though it also feels like we have so very far to go.

Beyond all this, it has been a big year for me personally as well. I’m expecting baby #2, a boy, later this summer, and my pregnancy has been very much present in my work—in an embodied way, as fatigue and headaches and other discomforts have distracted me in ways I’m not accustomed to, and in an emotional way, as I think about the world this baby boy will grow into.

I started a post early in my pregnancy that I never developed. Its working title is “Rage” and it is just four sentences:

I learned I was pregnant a few days before the presidential election. Trying to nourish a pregnancy and raise a small child in this nightmare of a political scenario has been incredibly difficult. I recently found out that the child I’m expecting will be a boy. While the dominant model of masculinity in the U.S. is nothing short of horrifying, you better believe my spouse and I are going to do everything in our power to raise both our kids to be strong, caring, feminist, questioning adults.

Those early days of assimilating the knowledge of a new life with that of our country’s new political realities were rough. I’m thankful to work in an environment where the emotions around identity, family, and politics can inform the work we do. The shock of new pregnancy has worn off, as has the shock of this new presidency. As a team, we are planning for my absence, preparing for the year ahead, recalibrating our goals and expectations to engage with the current political climate without being consumed by it.

We have great plans in store for next year. As we work toward building stronger connections across our faculty fellows, graduate fellows, and others in the FI orbit, we’ll be launching a new series called “Thursday Dialogues.” These graduate-student led discussions will focus on research, public projects, themes in this year’s team-taught courses, matters of professionalization, and more. We will continue our University Worth Fighting For series, with a theme of “Transforming Learning” and event topics focusing on pedagogy for LGBTQ educators; community college teaching; and Cathy Davidson’s forthcoming book, The New Education. Our undergraduate Peer Mentoring program will shift slightly as we run our first Undergraduate Leadership Institute. We’ll forge deeper integrations with the Humanities Alliance as it enters its second year. Through it all, our graduate fellows will be taking on more leadership roles than ever before, and I’m both sad to miss it and excited to see where they take our programming.

I’ll close this post with deep gratitude to my team members at the Futures Initiative and HASTAC, from whom I am constantly learning. I look forward to all that is yet to come.

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