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CCNY Faculty and the YM-YWHA Embrace Public Scholarship

Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership

CCNY Faculty and the YM-YWHA Embrace Public Scholarship

The Colin Powell School’s Office of Engaged Scholarship and the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute have partnered with the Washington Heights YM-YWHA’s Center for Adults Living Well to spearhead an exciting new community engagement program. The Public Scholarship Initiative is a multi-pronged effort, led by the Office of Engaged Scholarship, with the goals of helping faculty make their research more relevant and accessible to various audiences outside the academy, and promoting a mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge between the academy and the community. 
The first session was held November 25, 2014, and featured talks on Federalism from Professor Dan DiSalvo of the Political Science Department, and Dominican poetry by Professor Vanessa K. Valdés of City College’s Division of Arts and Humanities. Public Scholarship audience at the Y
 
An idea for the partnership was born from a conversation between Office of Engaged Scholarship Director Genéa Stewart and Dean Vince Boudreau about broadening engagement with diverse populations across the city. Boudreau, inspired by his own experience tailoring public lectures for a retirement community in Ocala, Florida, thought that senior community centers in New York City would welcome faculty presentations and lectures on their research to support intellectual enrichment of older adults. Moreover, faculty would benefit, as Boudreau himself had, from the process of thinking about what a general public audience would need to know about their work.
 
After researching local centers, Stewart eventually reached out to the Washington Heights YM-YWHA, and connected with Pattie Harte, Director of their Center for Adults Living Well. “She was extraordinarily receptive,” Stewart said. “She said that the seniors needed more culturally-relevant programming to encourage them to take advantage of the Y’s offerings.” Furthermore, Harte added, an invigorating bilingual program would help break down language and cultural barriers. Changing demographics within the membership base over the last decade meant that nearly 80 percent of their membership was drawn from the Spanish-speaking Dominican community. 
 
This led Stewart to collaborate with Mira Myterbi, the Y’s Education and Social Service Director and Sarah Aponte, Chief Librarian and Associate Professor in the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute, to develop and facilitate a bilingual focus group exercise where members themselves could suggest subject matter for the TED-style talks in Spanish. Sociology student Khalil Vasquez supported ongoing documentation of the project, serving as its historian. Daisy Dominguez, Assistant Professor and CCNY Reference Librarian also lent her Spanish-speaking skills to support translation during the initial session. The group worked to facilitate discussion and foster community building, which helped the project get off the ground and run smoothly. 
 
The pilot session was by all measures a success. In discussion with Professor DiSalvo, participants addressed the state of their communities and how they were affected by the political system. “I sincerely enjoyed our conversations, and was enriched by the personal histories of these Americans,” DiSalvo said. “They were a lively and engaged group, ready to reflect on their experiences immigrating, settling, living, and working in New York City.” 
 
Professor Valdés illuminated the larger relevance of Dominican poetry for Dominican people: poems by great poets like Blas Jiménez are more than just works of art; they’re reflections of the Dominican experience in the United States, portals for deeper understanding. “What I didn’t expect was to have such a political conversation,” Valdés said. “I brought poems about exile and love of the country, and I found an audience that was hungry to talk about more—about race, class, and politics, in particular.” 
 
Coincidentally, November 25 was a notable date to some of the members in attendance that day, as it was the anniversary of the assassination of the Mirabal Sisters. During the talks they found ways to discuss this history and share some of their personal experiences, an emotional moment for both the YMHA members and the professors. “To echo what one of the participants said at the conclusion of our gathering,” Valdes said, “my heart was full. It was truly one of the best moments I have had as an educator." 
 
This is one key element of the Public Scholarship Initiative’s dynamic vision: it’s a two-way street. The program not only mobilizes academic expertise into public spaces, but also serves the university, as scholars are challenged to talk about their work in new ways and hear a multitude of perspectives from outside of the classroom. 
 

This spring the Colin Powell School/YM-YWHA partnership will host at least two more sessions featuring faculty from the Colin Powell School’s Psychology and Anthropology departments. Discussions are likely to come out of suggestions from the initial focus group, which include talks on immigration, gentrification/affordable housing, class mobility, and discussion on race, ethnicity, and perceptions of beauty. [Blurb on Public Scholarship and the Office of Engaged Scholarship with appropriate links.] Khalil Vasquez was a contributing reporter on this story.

 
Find out more about the Public Scholarship Initiative and the Office of Engaged Scholarship by visiting the website: http://www.colinpowellengagedscholarship.org/. 
 
Khalil Vasquez was a contributing reporter on this story.