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Hey guys,

When I decided to write a graduation blog—sort of a tell-all about my CUNY academic journey—I quickly found out I literally had no idea of what to say. It isn’t that I’m lacking in material; rather I was chock-full of witty statements about meeting (or missing) deadlines; “thanks,” to send out to all my CUNY professors and other administrative staff that helped make earning my undergraduate degree an experience I’m truly proud of; and, of course, time-management tips for full-time students who have thousands of other obligations. However, I struggled with pulling anything cohesive together. So, after many wasted afternoons at my local Starbucks, I did what any other Communication and Culture graduate would do—I communicated by sharing my “writer’s block” phenomenon all over the Internet. While waiting for inspiration to hit or a friend to text back with a sympathetic ‘smiley face,’ I stumbled across a really enlightening video featured here.

As a Communication and Culture major, this video really struck a chord with me. The author presents his message in a brutally honest manner that cannot be ignored, if only because we are all so plugged in to society via “smartphones.” I, personally, can attest to the difficulty of striking up a conversation on the bus stop or even offering something as simple as a greeting to a passersby because we just don’t notice each other. The lives that we live online, the conversations that we hold via social networks, even the pictures we take and immediately post have become so important that we may be missing out on everyday moments. And why? Why is it so important that we ‘share’ every minute detail about our lives on social networks—it’s only being looked at, considered, judged, and then passed over, reduced to a ‘like’ or simply forgotten. I don’t quite know the answer to that question but I do know that I am going to utilize my degree NOT to publish my life online but to communicate interpersonally with the people around me.

My studies here at CUNY SPS helped me realize we are a nation of many cultures, languages, ethnicities, backgrounds, stories, and feelings. Each of us matters in our unique way and we all are worth more than the click of a ‘like’ or ‘share’ button. Communication, thus culture, is comprised of much more than wording an essay online or in class, composing an eloquent response to a peer, and knowing the correct usage of a word. Communication does not stop when we leave online chat rooms, close out private messages, or even exit our classes. Likewise, the history behind the many cultures populating America cannot be summed up and manifested in one person who thinks to share his or her life-story via Facebook or chooses to post authentic cultural dishes on Instagram. Communication and culture is so much larger than us that to truly understand its content, we must go outside the Internet, beyond our smartphones and venture into this people-populated world.

Big steps are not necessary in our quest to start interpersonal communication with those around us. The first thing I’m going to do is stop practicing yoga in front of my laptop screen with my cell close at hand and actually enroll in a class at my local gym. Ten dollars a class, no cellphones allowed, and interaction with men and women of all ages and ethnicities. Sounds perfect!

My name is Yolanda Ransom, and for the past two semesters I have had the pleasure and opportunity of being in the Ernesto Malave Leadership Academy CUNY Corps group. During our group retreat last December, we brainstormed to come up with our idea of how to honor and celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. day. We decided to create an event that we called “A Piece of Peace.” Since a huge part of Dr. King’s goal was to bring about peace among people, rather than racial and ethnic division, our aim was to bring a ‘piece’ of Dr. King’s message of peace to a group of young students.

Some of our members are current students at City College or former students of the A. Philip Randolph High School. So we decided to launch our 1st annual “Piece of Peace” event there. We focused on selecting students that had shown leadership skills and worked with their administrators to invite these specific students. Although we originally planned to do the event in January when Dr. King’s birthday is legally celebrated, that was not possible due to scheduling issues. So when we were offered the opportunity to hold it in March instead, we jumped at the chance.

So, on March 11, 2014 we held the first “Piece of Peace” with about 100 or so eager students. We started off with lunch and provided a delicious spread beforehand (no one wants to learn, or do anything on an empty stomach, right?). Afterwards, we introduced our group and its purpose for being there.

Malave Leadership Academy’s “Piece of Peace” Martin Luther King Jr. Event
Next, we did an exercise designed to help the students become aware of and recognize how automatically we stereotype one another based on physical differences and/or labels. All of the students formed 2 long lines facing each other. While one student held a label (which they couldn’t see) up to their forehead, the partner facing them would ask them questions associated with the label assigned to them. For example, one student had the label “CEO.” Based on the perceptions, stereotypes and assumptions that automatically come to mind, the student facing the ‘labeled’ one would say things that either did/did not result in the ‘labelee’ figuring out what their label was, and whether it is generally viewed positively or negatively in society. The students really enjoyed doing the exercise.

We wanted the students to gain a greater understanding of Dr. King and what he was all about. So we gathered many of his lesser known quotes to share with the students. Most of the students admitted that they know Dr. King for his “I Have a Dream” speech, but not much else. Here, I and my fellow Malave members are introducing this part of the event:

Malave Leadership Academy’s “Piece of Peace” Martin Luther King Jr. Event

The quotes were shared in small groups where the students read and discussed them. They described how the quotes applied to them, society, and their futures as leaders. Both the students and Malave members were deeply engaged in the discussions.

Malave Leadership Academy’s “Piece of Peace” Martin Luther King Jr. Event

Then, each group selected a spokesperson or two to present their collaborative ideas to everyone.

Malave Leadership Academy’s “Piece of Peace” Martin Luther King Jr. Event
For the final part of the event, we explained to the students that they were the first group ever to participate in the “Piece of Peace.” To commemorate the event, each student would place their thumb in paint and ‘sign’ a dove image that we had brought. The artwork would then be framed and displayed at the A. Philip Randolph High School as a collective symbol celebrating Dr. King and our shared experience that day. This is when all the students got super excited and began cheering, whooping and clapping! They all gleefully lined up to ‘sign’ the dove onstage.

Malave Leadership Academy’s “Piece of Peace” Martin Luther King Jr. Event
Each student and everyone in attendance also received a colorful wristband that read “I Have a Dream” and “A Piece of Peace” on it to take as a gift and reminder of the day we all spent together.

Malave Leadership Academy’s “Piece of Peace” Martin Luther King Jr. Event

Here is the ‘Piece’ of Peace Dove that the students will proudly display at their school:

CUNY Corps group and the A. Philip Randolph High Scho
It was a wonderful day for both the CUNY Corps group and the A. Philip Randolph High School students. We gave and took from one another in a positive spirit of learning and up-building and everyone left very happy. The students shook hands, hugged and thanked us for coming. And we returned the love and thanked them for letting us spend a few hours with them. This first event got off to a great start, and it can only get better from here!

Group Shot!

CUNY Corps group and the A. Philip Randolph High School students

Greetings from the ePortfolio team at CUNY SPS! We hope your semester is going well and that you’ve had a chance to log into your Digication account to work on one or more of your ePortfolios. Speaking of which, many students have reached out to the team about maintaining multiple ePortfolios, so we’ve decided to throw a pizza mixer (aka “workshop”) in April, just before spring break brings a brief lull (and hopefully sunny warm weather!). During this hands-on workshop, students will learn how to use ePortfolio to identify and demonstrate their transferable skills and will also work with the ePortfolio team to create a central (hub) ePortfolio by using Digication’s Organize feature. We also welcome this opportunity as chance to get feedback from students on ways we can improve the overall ePorfolio program. That, plus some delicious NYC pizza and you can’t go wrong for a Wednesday evening in April! Seats are limited so register soon. For those who can’t attend, we will post all of our resources and a video overview shortly after the event (sadly, sans pizza).

Cheers,

Sarah Morgano & Jennifer Holland
CUNY SPS ePortfolio Team

Workshop: Transform your ePortfolio

When: Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 6:00pm – 8:00pm

Location: CUNY SPS, 119 W. 31st Street., Room 303, New York, NY 10001

Want to make your ePortfolio showcase and career ready? Join Sarah Morgano and Jennifer Holland from the ePortfolio team, Shannon Gallo from Career Services, and Anthony Sweeney from Student Services for some pizza and for an opportunity to learn how to transform your ePortfolio in time to participate in our annual ePortfolio showcase, where featured student ePortfolios will receive an Amazon gift card.

Visit the event page to learn more and register for this workshop: http://sps.cuny.edu/events/id/217

CDC Find & Apply Workshop

CUNY Big Apple Job and Internship Fair Save the Date

We live in a diet-obsessed society and despite the vast selection of diet products in stores we are a country with an obesity problem. It’s no wonder that The Biggest Loser is such a hit or that trainer Dolvett Quince has struck a chord with people watching from home.

The Biggest Loser - Season 15

I had the pleasure of speaking with Dolvett and listening to him talk about developing an emotional attachment to his team. He is invested in their success. He feels their pain. Winning isn’t just about losing the weight but learning to shed the past, the things that have brought them to this point. It starts with standing on national television in a sports bra and shorts letting it all hang out. It is about being in a vulnerable state. “They can strip off everything and say this is who I am.”

Dolvett did more than listen as they told their stories. He shared his own stories. He recognizes the emotional aspect, “Health isn’t just about a pushup. There’s an emotional component.” He looks at the entire picture presented and, “listened to the source of the pain to try to problem solve it together.” He will tell you that it is his job. “I’m required to listen and to sort through. Working through the emotional component, that’s a jumping jack.”

This season’s winner Rachel Frederickson has been criticized for her results and some of the criticism seems to be less about health concerns than just the opportunity to make fun of a young girl who turned her life around.

Dolvett spoke about Rachel and the fact that she was once a competitive athlete playing a part in her journey. “She’s young. She’s 24 years old so her body responded to what she was doing.” According to him it is about finding a balance and helping her find that. “She is a competitor. You gave her a platform to compete and she had a goal and she won. Now in life she has to find a balance.”

I asked Dolvett about the naysayers who say that losing weight is easy with access to round the clock training and cooking while on the show. He points to the people who get sent home early on as proof that it can be done. “That first contestant has to go home the first week of the show. They are left on their own and come back losing 100 pounds, 115 pounds. So it is attainable.”

Finding balance to having a healthy lifestyle, “that’s the key. Anyone can do a quick fix.” Dolvett has always addressed health and balance as a trainer. In his book The 3-1-2-1 Diet, he makes losing weight and maintaining weight loss something that people can fit into their busy lifestyles. He recognizes that people are stressed. Life is stressful and that for many, time is a factor.

“No one has the time. You have to make the time. We make time for the things we care about.” He talks about finding ways to incorporate activity into your lifestyle whether it is grocery shopping as a family or cooking together. Make it a family thing. Always find ways to incorporate movement. “Make it an agenda to put movement in your life.”

In the diet and training world it isn’t often that you see a trainer willing to share knowledge or even share credit. Dolvett started out training in Atlanta and had enough success that he expanded. He believed in sharing the wealth whether it was his knowledge or even his clients. He didn’t subscribe to the, “I am an island,” mentality common in the world of training. “Trainers are very possessive. I was the complete opposite. It’s gonna be about the consumer. It’s not gonna be about anything other than that.”

Dolvett has built his success from that philosophy and he has an incredible resume of results whether looking at his celebrity client list, seeing his success as a trainer on The Biggest Loser or following his plan in The 3-1-2-1- Diet. He wants people to know that it’s possible, “it’s about having a goal. It is about saying, ‘I’m fed up. I’m going to get healthy.”

Kristen is a single mom of 3 kids and studying at the CUNY School of Professional Studies. She is blogging while she still figures out what she wants to be when she grows up.

My name is Yolanda Ransom and I am a junior majoring in Sociology at CUNY’s School of Professional Studies. Last year I was nominated to become a member of the Ernesto Malave Leadership Academy. The Leadership Academy consists of two groups that develop leadership in different areas. One group called Student Investment Advocates focuses on political networking and relationship development, and the other is called CUNY Corps which focuses on community volunteering and service. I am part of the CUNY Corps Program which meets twice a month on Fridays. Sometimes we meet more often depending on the projects we are working on or if there are leadership conferences (which occur frequently). As soon as I became a member I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the CUNY Women’s Leadership Conference in October 2013. It was an empowering and hopeful event.

If one has a flexible job/school situation Malave membership is very workable. In December 2013, I had the amazing opportunity of going on a retreat with CUNY Corps. The beautiful resort was Honor’s Haven Spa & Resort with features like body massages, hot tub, pool, movie room and exercise classes. The purpose of the trip was for the group to bond to help us work better together going forward. Six female students and six male students, along with the Ernesto Malave coordinators Kisha Fuentes and Denis Nolasco all rode up to Catskills, NY to spend an activity packed and enjoyable weekend right before finals week. We shared three delicious meals each day from the buffet, had group meetings where we got to know more about each individual’s personality type and communication style, and organized our Martin Luther King Jr. Service Day event. We used communication building tools to help us understand how to find the best way possible to relate and interact with one another as well as others outside of our group.

Malave Leadership Academy Retreat

It wasn’t all ‘work’ however. We had a few free hours each night for personal time, so we could hang out in each other’s rooms, watch TV/movies, have coffee at the café, swim, soak in the Jacuzzi, get a massage or just catch a nap. Kisha organized a treasure hunt and we searched all over the hotel to find the items. Team spirit was very strong as some members shared the location of what they found with others even though only one person could actually win. We also had pizza night and watched a comedy on Netflix that we all voted for in the movie room on our last night there. It was fun. I LOVE watching movies and we had our own little movie theatre.

Malave Leadership Academy Retreat

I was hesitant at first about attending the retreat because I didn’t know how well I would connect with others in the group. It takes me a bit of time to feel comfortable around those I have just met. But by the end of the retreat I felt like I had grown to know everyone much better and felt at ease. Everyone had a positive and willing attitude which helped foster trust and mutual respect. This pic is of our group on our last day before leaving—minus the CUNY Corps directors Kisha and Denis (I’m all the way to the left standing up).

Malave Leadership Academy Retreat

Through the Ernesto Malave Leadership Academy CUNY Corps Program I have been inspired to be more actively involved in helping society. We are doing an eyeglass drive on behalf of New Eyes for the Needy. At various campuses we are collecting all types of glasses until May 2nd, 2014. Please drop off your old prescription, reading and sunglasses and frames so that they can be used for those who need glasses. I will be collecting them at the CUNY School of Professional Studies. Contact Anthony Sweeney in Student Services if you want to donate your old eyeglasses. Best wishes to you for a successful semester and 2014!

April Coughlin was one of the CUNY SPS alumni featured in the New York Times article, Disability Studies – A New Normal, on November 1, 2013. We recently caught up with April and asked her why disability studies is an important field for everyone to explore. Here’s what she told us:

As we all know, Disability Studies is an important and emerging field in higher education, and it’s great to see that the New York Times is recognizing this as well. I have had a disability for 28 years and up until three years ago I didn’t even know Disability Studies existed. At the time, I was teaching high school in NYC and thinking about going back for another Masters degree. I perused through the CUNY website and came across Disability Studies at the School of Professional Studies. It sounded really interesting and I saw that the deadline hadn’t passed for the application period, so I immediately filled it out and sent it in. I had no idea that this program would not only inform ways of thinking about my own experiences with disability, but also disability in the classroom and would eventually lead me to pursue a PhD.

Disability Studies has undoubtedly transformed my teaching practices, both as a high school teacher and college instructor.

During the summer I work with the New York City Teaching Fellows who are teaching special education in NYC public schools. I teach a “Perspectives on Disabilities” course that requires my students to question, challenge, examine and shape their understandings of disability in our schools and society. To see the process that my students go through in how they think about and frame disability from the first day of class to the last is really quite impressive. I truly believe that all educators (special and general educators), administrators and staff, heck, the WHOLE WORLD should have exposure to this type of course!

As a high school teacher, disability entered the curriculum and conversations in my classroom on a daily basis, mostly because of the stories and personal experiences that I shared with my students. Even through this, I could see evidence that my students began to look at the world a little differently. Whether it was through the language they used, the access issues in the school building they pointed out, or the broken subway elevators on our field trips that they experienced with me, they were learning about disability – sometimes without even realizing it.

Disability is everywhere. In fact, as technology advances and people live longer, acquiring a disability becomes even more likely. I am grateful for the program at CUNY SPS because it provided me with the opportunity to explore a field of study that is not only extremely relevant to my everyday lived experience, but also enriches my teaching practices and the knowledge that I share with my students.

Finally, I would like to give a quick shout out to all of my former CUNY SPS Disability Studies classmates and professors. Meeting all of you and sharing classes each night that year made the program not only interesting and exciting, but also incredibly memorable.

April Coughlin received her Master’s Degree in Disability Studies from the CUNY School of Professional Studies. 

Why did you stay?

He wouldn’t do those things if he didn’t really love you.

I’m sure you’re exaggerating.

What did you do to make him do that?

Those are just some of the things that were said to me after I left my husband. Some believed his stalking was proof of his love for me. Some believed that it was a matter of two sides to the story and they were only hearing mine. Some believed that something I did caused him to push me against a wall, hold his arm against my throat until I could not longer breath and hiss that he would kill me.

People that love an abuser, and I don’t mean the victim, I mean the friends and family of the abuser, they don’t see the other side of him. They see the fun guy, the charismatic guy. They see the guy that always helps hang sheetrock or give a ride to the airport. They see the guy that offers help with that fence that fell down. They see the good side of him. Everyone has a good side. Even abusers.

In fact, there are abusers who have a side so good, so fun, that most people would never believe he is an abuser. That was my ex. He was the life of the party, the guy who was always there when you needed him. He was also the guy terrorizing his wife if you made her laugh too loud or look at you too long.

That is another one of the parts of abuse that make it so difficult for victims. It’s hard for most people to reconcile the perceptions of an abuser with the person who is always willing to lend a hand. It’s hard for any mother to look at her son and think of him as a man who would threaten his wife with bodily harm. What sister could look at her brother and think he would batter his wife?

There are different relationships built on love and on denial. Maybe they see things. Maybe the jealousy rears its ugly head from time to time. Maybe the control shows a bit as it worsens. But usually it’s laughed off. That’s when you hear, “He must really love you to be jealous like that.”

When I left my husband, he threatened to kill me. More than once. He tapped my phones sure that he was going to find the proof he needed. Needed for what? He never could understand that there was no other person involved in my decision to leave him. There was nothing for him to find and why did it never occur to him that if he did find something that it should be proof of how broken the relationship was and not some bargaining chip to force me back?

That’s the part that most don’t understand. Leaving an abuser isn’t easy and it isn’t always safe. How do you reason with a person who believes if they could only catch you they could keep you?

So why does she stay? For a lot of reasons that may not make sense to you. And no. The fact that he followed me everywhere was not proof of his love for me. It was some scary stuff and nobody should have to live like that. We should be free to leave a relationship for any reason. And we don’t owe those reasons or explanations to anyone.

Peggy is a mom and student at The CUNY School of Professional Studies. Peggy hopes to change the perceptions about what a victim looks like as well as raise awareness about domestic violence. Peggy believes it is possible to break the cycle.

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