Our spring seminar schedule is up. All events will be held virtually via Zoom.
To register for these events, use this form: http://bit.ly/ARC-S2021
Our spring seminar schedule is up. All events will be held virtually via Zoom.
To register for these events, use this form: http://bit.ly/ARC-S2021
We are thrilled to welcome new fellows to ARC this fall semester. Each week, we will host a seminar where fellows present their current projects. All events in Fall 2020 will be held virtually via Zoom.
To register for these events, please use this form: https://tinyurl.com/ARC-Seminars
An Alternative to Capitalist University: The case of Mondragon University
Presented By: Catherine Mulder
Professor Mulder claimed that most academic programs assume capitalist structure and they do not regard anything to its alternatives. Since workers are the ones who know their job the best and who run the companies, it is best for the companies and institutions to rely on its workforce to make various decisions. Therefore, one of the alternatives to a capitalist system, she believes, is cooperatives which are broadly classified into three types: consumer, producer and worker cooperatives.
By invoking, Yanis Varoufakis, she claimed that capitalism might be undermining itself! Due to technological innovation and other things, capitalism is becoming obsolete. Will the world fall apart if capitalism stops now? she asked. Probably not, we will have a different system and maybe we could have more time for fishing and voting? She introduced Mondragon worker cooperatives as an alternative the current system.
Mondragon is located at Basque Region of northern Spain. Mondragon companies are worker cooperatives where workers make rules and regulations. First Mondragon firms were opened in 1956. There are now about 260 firms and 15 technological centers, which employs over 80 thousand people. While Mondragon companies are subject to market forces and business cycle, they have faced very little bankruptcy case. It is primarily because they value workers over capital and planned market over the free market. In the areas where there were Mondragon companies there was very little unemployment because, if workers were laid off, they were absorbed in another company or given retirement benefits. She summarizes her critique of capitalism: what is the difference between a government ruling top-down and private companies doing the same?
While Mondragon companies are all over the world, her main focus was on Mondragon University. It is a knowledge sector of the companies. It has bachelor`s, masters and Ph.D. with various subjects from mechanical engineering to culinary arts. All stake-holders administer the university including faculty, staff, and students. They apply Mendeberri Learning Model whose components are training students to work cooperatively in teams, to learn how to direct projects, how to make decisions, how to negotiate and communicate. In this model, students have the central role.
In classrooms, in all subjects, they do not just assume capitalist models, but they learn about strategic management, market forces and how to be cooperative. The objectives of the university are: Broad social access to knowledge about the company and the global economy, developing interpersonal as well as critical and quantitative analytics, and the art of communication, team decision making (how to come up with mutually beneficial projects) and democratic principles (which is the whole idea: economic justice.).
At Mondragon, they elect their general manager. They elect a board of directors and then those people pick a governor body that does the daily stuff. Everything is done in a democratic manner and with a focus on its employees and the sustainability of labor. Major roadblock on forming such cooperatives is the lack of funding. To overcome that, Mondragon has its own bank which itself is a cooperative. While the ratio of average worker to CEO often ranges from $300-700 to $1 in several western companies, at Mondragon, it can only be maximum of 7 to 1.
Following her remarks, one can raise some questions: Where does the money come from? Does it not follow the same capitalist system to generate its money? If so, then how is it different among other from the current capitalist model? Why does a Mondragon company abroad have low paid workers who are not members of the cooperative while workers in Mondragon are the members of the cooperative?
Authors: Laxman Timilsina & Fadime Demiralp
Over sixty years ago, the Supreme Court, in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), determined that separating children into white and black schools was inherently unequal and that schools must integrate, “with all deliberate speed.” Despite the successes of the 1954 case, segregation based on race and class is on the rise, most especially for poor Latino students. Dr. Michael Paris, political scientist and professor of law at the College of Staten Island, presented on Thursday, October 19th at the Graduate Center, on the developments of his future book (working title), The Death and Life of School Desegregation: Racial Liberalism and American Constitutionalism. The book is based on his extensive research on the school desegregation case in Hartford, Connecticut: Sheff v. O’Neill (1996).
With the assistance of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Sheff v. O’Neill case originated with 18 school aged children and their parents (black, Hispanic and white) in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1989, they filed a lawsuit against the state of Connecticut (including Governor William O’Neill), citing the state had violated students’ state constitutional positive right to an equal educational opportunity, due to racial isolation and concentrated poverty. Specifically, the case cited the state spent fewer resources on public schools with majority Black/Latino populations, compared to schools with majority White populations.
The trial took 35 trial days, with testimony from 58 witnesses and some 1,000 documents of evidence. In 1995, the judge ruled in favor of the State, stating that the plaintiffs did not provide enough evidence to show that the state helped cause school segregation. One year later, in 1996, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed the ruling and held that the state constitution “requires the legislature to take affirmative responsibility to remedy segregation, regardless of whether it has occurred de jure or de facto” (Paris, 2017). The court didn’t specify the particular remedies to be taken, but urged branches of state government to make de facto segregation a top priority. Due to the lack of specification, since 1996, the case has experienced five trips back to court, five consent decrees or agreements, several reform laws, approximately $2 billion in new expenditures and significant citywide school desegregation. The mechanism for desegregation has been voluntary for families and suburban districts, with the creation of inter-district magnet schools and a one-way urban to suburban transfer program. The result has been that by 2016, about 9,200 Hartford School District children or 45% total, attended desegregated schools, compared to 700 students or 3% in 1997. A desegregated school is defined as one in which the school population is 75% or less minority.
Professor Paris’s analysis of why Hartford has been relatively successful at integrating schools where, in other cases, integration has failed so dramatically, starts with a critique of school desegregation efforts written by the legal scholar, Dr. Derrick Bell. Bell wrote his critique in 1976 in a Yale Law Journal article entitled “Serving Two Masters: Integration Ideals and Client Interests in School Desegregation Litigation.” Bell argued that these desegregation efforts were limited in several ways. The first is about the clients in cases like this, where Bell argues that these lawsuits claim to speak for the African American community as a whole, without actually establishing that the African American community shares the same goals as presented in the case. Paris believes that Sheff addressed this issue through community engagement, buy getting buy-in from the community, and having community members give vivid testimonies. Bell also believed that the focus of desegregation cases should be better education, not an ideological commitment to desegregation, per se. Sheff took this tact as well. Additionally, Bell made clear that previous desegregation efforts had been too legalistic and reliant on the courts, when the truth is that institutions and people don’t always follow the law in a way that is productive in meeting the goal of desegregation. Sheff made great efforts to have an educational and policy aspect to its work, thus avoiding the trap of relying too much on legalistic remedies. Lastly, Bell recognized the importance of focusing not on what courts say but instead what they actually do. Sheff took this into account through a framework of of moving from “needs to rights,” drawing on a previous court victory. Additionally, Paris argues that it was very important that Hartford built some excellent magnet schools in the central city, thus incentivizing suburban parents to bus their kids into the city for school.Despite the successes of the Sheff case and its attempts to uphold students’ rights to equal educational opportunities, Dr. Paris argues that schooling for students separated by race and class can never be equal. He cited the following social conditions: high rates of joblessness, crime & neighborhood violence, single parent households & family disruptions, recurrent evictions & housing relocations and frequent incidences of health problems, developmental disabilities and hunger. Additionally, schools where students are starkly separated by race and class, generally have less prepared teachers, high dropout rates, pre-packaged curriculum, high levels of student attrition, less parental involvement and fewer resources. Hence, Dr. Paris argues that housing policy is school policy. In order to achieve equal educational opportunities for all students, it is essential to re-create housing policy, the tax code for school funding and the distribution of social resources. What type of social movement is needed to achieve such legal changes? Who are the stakeholders that need to turnkey? What is the role of students and teachers in this movement? Where do we begin?
Written by: Rachel J. Chapman and Christopher Maggio
Paris, M. (2017). Racial Liberalism and School Desegregation: The Connecticut Case of Sheff v. O’Neill (1996). Presentation presented at the Advanced Research Collective, The Graduate Center, New York, NY.
While Cecelia Cutler has an impressive record of academic research and publication, her current project focuses on something a little different: community outreach.
This endeavor comes out of her work on the Corpus of New York City English (CoNYCE) Project, which focuses on collecting data on varieties of English spoken in the five boroughs and the surrounding areas and will ultimately comprise of an on-line, freely accessible, audio-aligned and grammatically annotated corpus. Through this work, Prof. Cutler and her colleagues have contributed to linguistic knowledge of non-mainstream varieties of English, documenting distinctive phonological features and patterns of dialect leveling.
Documentation work like this has radically altered the way that many academics view so-called ‘nonstandard dialects’, highlighting the systematic nature of underlying rules, but this sort of change is yet to happen on a larger scale. Outside of the community of linguists who do this sort of work, negative attitudes towards non-mainstream varieties, including New York City English, persist, and many speakers are plagued with linguistic insecurity.
Prof. Cutler hopes to address that disparity by sharing the findings of the corpus with the public. This is an opportunity to both give back to the communities that have contributed to the CoNYCE project and to challenge mainstream ideologies of language in pursuit of sociolinguistic justice.
Inspired by various existing initiatives, including the Language and Life Project at NC State, the Wisconsin Englishes Project, and the SKILLS (School Kids Investigating Language in Life and Society) program at UC Santa Barbara, Prof. Cutler is using the ARC fellowship as a starting point for this endeavor. Ultimately, she hopes to develop teaching resources, design an interactive website, and organize public events.
Drawing on her experience in teacher education at Lehman College, Prof. Cutler is currently developing specific ideas for activities that could be incorporated into social studies and English language arts curriculum. These include an investigation of the relationship between NYC’s immigrant past and language forms that have arisen as a result of multilingual contact, an exploration of common words with varying pronunciation, and translating rap texts into Standard American English.
Prof. Cutler ended on the importance of actively disseminating our work to a general audience because “if knowledge is worth having, it’s worth sharing”. If we are responsible researchers committed to a vision of justice, we cannot just assume that the message will ‘trickle down’ from academic journals; we have to do the work to make it happen. This is a valuable reminder for all of us engaged in scholarly work, regardless of our field.
Income inequality has become the watchword of the current era. It is often used as a shorthand explanation for wealth concentration, economic stagnation, declining social mobility, various social ills ranging from the decline of civic engagement to the opioid crisis, and for the populist politics that have blossomed in the US and Europe. In his fascinating talk, Brian Nolan, Professor of Social Policy at the University of Oxford, took a hard look at the evidence for these purported consequences of inequality, and in most cases found it lacking or inconclusive. But does data have the final word?
Take Brexit, for example. Many have argued that rising British income inequality was responsible for driving populist feeling. But Prof. Nolan showed that while inequality spiked sharply during the Thatcher era, it remained stable thereafter, meaning that the level of inequality did not, in a strict sense, correlate with the rise of populism. Yet Prof. Nolan didn’t discount the possibility that the data might not be telling the whole story. He acknowledged that there may be lagging or indirect effects, and it is possible that the spurt of inequality in the 80s sowed the seeds for the present wave of populism in ways that sociologists are still studying. Certainly the fact that, as he cited, education and geography are the strongest predictors for how people voted suggests that labor market competitiveness and uneven regional economic development — which are manifestations of inequality — rallied support for the “Leave” campaign.
On Growth and Inequality
According to Prof. Nolan, the claim that rising inequality slows economic growth is not robustly substantiated by the evidence. In my view, this causal relationship is not only unsupported by data but might also be conceptually flawed. Let’s say inequality does slow down growth: we are still left to explain what forces are creating inequality in the first place. And the possible answers to that question — financialization, stagnant wages, etc. — are all markers of a sedate economy. Thus, our hypothesis would be that inequality is both driven by and driving slow growth, in which case the impact of inequality on growth is a feedback effect, and we ought to focus primarily on the puzzle of slowed economic growth.
This puzzle cuts to the heart of a debate in the field of economics about the theories used to understand the workings of the economy. As Prof. Nolan pointed out, policymakers at the IMF and the OECD now argue that inequality can be addressed through market correcting tweaks, and have therefore begun developing policies intended to foster “inclusive growth.” But is inequality a bug or a feature of our capitalist economy? It might be more likely that slowed growth, like income inequality, is inherent to capitalism. In that case, are redistribution and other such schemes the solution? If the gears of the capitalist economy are in a secular slowdown, they might not provide more than a short-term reprieve.
Photo Credit: NYU Press
Date: October 23, 2020
Time: Friday 3pm
Co-sponsored with the New York Immigration Seminar.
Registration Link: https://tinyurl.com/ARC-BookTalks
In Stuck, Chin shows that there is a “bamboo ceiling” in the workplace, describing a corporate world where racial and ethnic inequalities prevent upward mobility. Drawing on interviews with second-generation Asian Americans, she examines why they fail to advance as fast or as high as their colleagues, showing how they lose out on leadership positions, executive roles, and entry to the coveted boardroom suite over the course of their careers. An unfair lack of trust from their coworkers, absence of role models, sponsors and mentors, and for women, sexual harassment and prejudice especially born at the intersection of race and gender are only a few of the factors that hold Asian American professionals back.
Chin, an Associate Professor of Sociology at Hunter College and The Graduate Center, CUNY, was an Advanced Research Collaborative (ARC) Distinguished Fellow.
In her presentation “Endurance: A Novel: Gentrification and Its Effects in Washington Heights,” Emily Raboteau invited us into the process of writing her novel Endurance about life in an apartment building in the upper-Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights. Featuring Manny, a superintendent of Dominican descent, as its protagonist, Endurance depicts the lives of residents in a building on 180th Street. While Manny takes care of the never-ending job of building-maintenance, he simultaneously labors to raise his teenage son Angel who is diagnosed with autism. Confronted with gentrification and changing demographics of Washington Heights, the personal struggles of Endurance’s characters are bound up with social and economic forces that they seek to resist and navigate despite increasingly difficult conditions.
Describing her approach to writing as interdisciplinary, Raboteau explains her methodology to writing Endurance as a process of historical research and ethnographic observation, a methodology meant to capture the changing nature of a neighborhood. Practically, this has meant shadowing her building’s super on a regular basis to understand his job as well as volunteering with kids with autism to better depict Angel’s character. In terms of research, Raboteau studied immigration history and investigated the urban ethnography of Washington Heights.
Explaining how storytellers can bring to life the lived experience hidden behind our statistical knowledge of economic inequality, Raboteau describes a realist commitment to social justice. That is to say, realism’s job is to produce critical reflections on behalf of the reader by conveying the social conditions and conflicts of our shared reality. Thus, the critical question is: how do you capture a phenomenon like gentrification through literary representation? Raboteau’s suggestion is to make the economic forces of gentrification a dramatic driving component of the narrative, by placing Manny’s job at risk due to new management of the building. In turn, this instance of economic change similarly puts Angel’s future at risk.
At the same time, focusing on the life of and in a building—a sort of social microcosm mediating the urban structure at large—allows a novelist to activate gentrification through individual characters. Through this slice of social reality, depicting a group of people with diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds, large-scale conflicts of dispossession and displacement can be articulated in personal stories. This leads Raboteau to reflect on questions such as: what does it mean to be part of a community? What are our responsibilities toward our neighbors? And what is the role of public institutions in taking care of its most vulnerable citizens, here dramatized through Angel’s autism? Ultimately, asking the question, “to whom does an apartment building belong?” is to inquire about the right to the city.
In Henri Lefebvre’s classic rendering, the right to the city is a political practice in which we collectively transform ourselves by changing the city. I believe it’s fair to say that the same concern informs Raboteau’s literary writing on gentrification, the effect of which is precisely the dispossession of the collective, political claim to reshape the urban spaces we all share.
Written by Martin Aagaard Jensen
Ray Allen is the first ethnomusicologist ARC faculty fellow. His work focuses on American folk and popular music within New York City music cultures. His latest project deals with the stylistic characteristics of calypso and soca in the 20th century. Allen’s work makes valuable contributions to understanding diasporic transnationalism, globalization, the politics of hybridity, and the relation between music and cultural identity. Allen complicates these theoretical frameworks by thinking through the contextualized lives and development of these musical styles. He has three major interventions into these areas of research. First, diasporic transnationalism is cyclical, reflected in the flow of calypso and soca between the Caribbean and New York. Allen also questions the center-periphery model of globalization theory by showing how Trinidad and Brooklyn each served as centers and peripheries at different points in the life cycle of calypso and soca. Finally, the power relations between sites of artistic emergence can have effects on musical hybridity, as seen in the mass marketing of calypso music in the United States. Despite the unity fostered through this music, there were still island specific identities, that are clearly reflected in the annual Caribbean carnival in Brooklyn, for example.
Allen traces the development of Harlem and Manhattan calypso music from the 1920s to the 1960s, and after that the emergence and decline of soca, which now tends to enjoy only seasonal popularity in New York. The mobility of Trinidadians across the Atlantic from Trinidad to New York was reflected in the circulation of Harlem calypso between these sites in the first half of the twentieth century, and audiences included English speaking Caribbean islanders, as well as Harlem Trinidadians. Through playing a selection of songs, Allen points out that the lyrics of this musical genre reveal that the songwriters and singers (including Wilmoth Houdini and Rupert ‘Lord Invader’ Grant) were inspired by their immigrant experiences. They drew from the Trinidadian tradition of using music as a medium of sociopolitical commentary. For the first time, calypso was generated by musicians in hybrid form: containing sounds from Africa, as well as new jazz sounds from the United States. Calypso began to reflect elements of everyday life in New York, including the movement of the Trinidadian community from Harlem to Brooklyn. It also incorporated local and universal political experiences, such as racism in the city, pride in African identity, and the growth of the Black nationalist movement globally. Allen traces the historical trajectory of calypso in the post-war period to illuminate the effects of capitalism and U.S. cultural imperialism in both its content and its production and distribution. For example, for the first time in 1956, calypso was appropriated for mass consumption through crossover appeal in the United States by record companies such as RCA, and sung by artists such as Harry Belafonte, who mimicked West Indian linguistic traits.
With the Hart Keller Act of 1965, there was a surge in Caribbean immigration to New York, and the center of the NYC Caribbean community moved from Harlem to Brooklyn. This growing community created a demand for calypso music, leading to the establishment of record stores and recording studios in Brooklyn. This led to a flow of calypso music written in Trinidad that was recorded and produced in Brooklyn where the technology was available. Two of these record stores still stand in Brooklyn: Straker Records and Charles Records.
It was during this time that the musical style of calypso began to change as well. Songs began to incorporate electric guitar with more prominent basslines. Elements of funk and soul were also incorporated. These novel sounds became known as Brooklyn soca. Soca lyrics were not as politically themed as in calypso, but were associated with party going and dance scenes. Soca was a thoroughly transnational musical style. Artists from Trinidad saw their songs recorded in New York while these records were then popularized and sold in Trinidad. For example, the acclaimed soca artist Calypso Rose was born in Trinidad, toured the world and the Caribbean, and was based in Queens. The rise of soca in the 80s and 90s is attributed to its pan-Caribbean audience across the islands and Brooklyn, as well as its influence from soul, funk, and disco. However, there was a lull in soca music sales in the 1990s due to CD piracy and music streaming services. As a result, soca is no longer recorded in Brooklyn, and its popularity is limited to the Caribbean community and the festivity of annual Caribbean carnival in New York City.
Written by Misty Crooks and Claudia Rey Crowie
In his numerous publications, Finex Ndhlovu has critically examined the relationship between language and issues of multilingualism, identity formation, migration, politics, and policy/planning. At the heart of his recent work, Prof. Ndhlovu is concerned with the complex interplay of social and political factors that make up the sociolinguistics of migration, and how to reshape heritage language planning and policy to better align with the needs of immigrant communities.
Prof. Ndhlovu impresses upon us the need to understand where someone comes from in order to understand who they are, stating “you can’t say you know me if you don’t know the people that I live with.” This notion perfectly captures the spirit of his recently developed Language Nesting Model (Ndlovu, 2014). As Prof. Ndhlovu shows, the model provides a more holistic profile of the unique language-based needs of immigrant communities than has previously existed.
A recurring theme throughout his talk is a call to challenge the “commonsense” assumptions about how we conceptualize heritage languages. While language planning and policy typically assumes a direct relationship between ethnicity and language, this assumption is often contradicted by the linguistic realities of immigrants, whose language choices are largely influenced by complex migratory patterns and exposure to a wealth of linguistic diversity. Prof. Ndlovu’s research is centralized around two overarching questions: What are the actual multilingual practices of people on the move, and how do specific migration paths influence their linguistic experiences?
In building the Language Nesting Model, Prof. Ndhlovu conducted an in-depth ethnographic study of speakers from East, Central, and West Africa who were residing in Australia. Interviews comprised of people offering personal stories about their migration experiences. Prof. Ndhlovu finds that his participants often speak a HL that is not their native one. In fact, several individuals report speaking pigeons and creoles (new languages having emerged through extended contact between different languages) in their interviews. Pigeons and Creoles receive little to no government support due to their subordinated social status. Prof. Ndhlovu argues it is precisely these languages that serve to bridge relationships and create new and vital social networks. These narratives demonstrate the severe need for governments to provide institutional support for such languages.
Prof. Ndhlovu proposes the Language Nesting Model to account for these and other crucial findings that surfaced through his ethnographic research. The model leverages commonalities across the language experiences of African immigrants to paint a picture of rich linguistic diversity. Central to his model are the diverse language codes and varieties a HL speaker can deploy as linguistic resources. These include varieties of English, discoursal and cultural practices, African cross-border languages, small ethnic languages, and refugee “journey” languages, which are those languages picked up while in transit. The model achieves its goal of breaking down our common-sense assumptions about HLs by showing that the linguistic repertoires of transient populations must be better understood. Prof. Ndhlovu closes his talk by arguing that language policy and planning cannot address the needs of immigrant communities unless it shifts its focus to considering the lived experiences and linguistic realities of people on the move, which show much more nuance than what census data alone is capable of revealing.
Matthew Glenn Stuck
Language and power are tightly intertwined. That was my takeaway from November 16th’s ARC talk featuring the thoughtful, engaged, and critical scholar Tatyana Kleyn, who is an Associate Professor and Director of Bilingual Education and TESOL in the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Culture at the City College of New York.
This message about language and power came through in the substance of Kleyn’s talk and the film she screened about how transborder young people navigate language, family, and school as their families repatriate small towns in Oaxaca, Mexico after years of living in the United States. The power of words was also a theme that resonated in the post-talk conversation, including in ways that revealed some tensions in our ARC community that we would do well to address moving forward.
I’ll unpack that conversation in a bit. But first: the talk.
Tatyana is someone I have had the privilege to work with through the CUNY-New York State Initiative on Emergent Bilinguals, a project that brings K-12 teachers, administrators, and professors in bilingual education from across the CUNY campuses together to study and improve education for bilingual kids. As Don mentioned in his opening remarks, Kleyn’s work truly embodies the values and mission of ARC. Her research is interdisciplinary, straddling all of ARC’s clusters. She views phenomena such as immigration and multilingualism through the lens of theories that take into account racial, economic, and linguistic power hierarchies. And she is a public scholar, not content simply to write for narrow audiences of academics. Her films about the experiences of undocumented and transborder youth, as well as curriculum and guides for teachers based on the content of the films, are accessible for free online.
Before showing her film Una Vida, Dos Paìses (One Life, Two Countries), Kleyn asked us to consider the power of film as its own language. She argued persuasively that film can be mobilized as a research method, a medium of dissemination, and as service and activism. At the same time that she celebrated the capacity of the medium to “reprioritize whom we listen to” and to bring research participants’ stories alive for wider audiences, she also described some of the limitations and challenges of this type of scholarship. She has had to build strong relationships with her participants, many of them folks targeted in today’s political climate for their or their family members’ undocumented status. In addition, while she prefers not to use voice-overs in her films so that audiences hear participants “direct from the source,” she acknowledged her and her collaborators’ roles in editing and juxtaposing clips to create cohesive narratives.
The film she screened at ARC introduced us to a group of transborder young people living in Oaxaca, Mexico who call themselves “New Dreamers.” The film captures the complex, mixed emotions that come with “going home” — the feeling of belonging, but also of being “ni de aqui ni de alla” (from neither here nor there). One of the core themes discussed by participants was the role of language in their transitions to life in Mexico. Across contexts in the US and Mexico, languages are used for different purposes and have different statuses attributed to them. While the youth expressed love for the English language, and were often called upon by peers to tutor them in English, they also found themselves lost in classes delivered in Spanish, and felt peers and teachers in Oaxaca sometimes viewed them as stuck-up for their knowledge of English and experiences in the US. In her talk, Kleyn also described how indigenous languages, often regarded as less prestigious in their communities, are a key part of students’ linguistic repertoires, enabling them to communicate especially with older generations.
After Kleyn’s presentation, an audience member asked a question about the young people’s accents. It elicited a strong reaction from some of those present, including one who found it so offensive that he walked out. Rachel Chapman, a fellow ARC student, has provided her take on the question, and her response can be read on our blog here. Kleyn responded by critiquing the premise of the question, arguing that language ideologies about accent are rooted in socially and historically constructed hierarchies that rank speakers based on race, economic status, perceived education, ethnicity, and other markers (see Flores & Rosa, 2015 for more on this).
To me, the strength of ARC is its ability to foster critical conversations about dynamic and complex issues — immigration, inequality, multilingualism, and our digital world — with people at different stages in their academic careers, from different disciplinary, racial, and cultural backgrounds, in order to deepen research and practice in our fields.
Having conversations about complex issues across difference is not easy, however, and this moment at ARC brought those tensions into sharp relief.
Despite a professed desire for open, democratic dialogue, academic communities can reproduce many of the hierarchies they seek to dismantle. As we learned from the student when he returned to the conversation, for people of color, academia can be a violent space. Too often, people of color shoulder the burden and invest much emotional labor into correcting the oppressive dynamics which permeate our institutions. Others (read: white people) need to step up.
At ARC, there are some first steps we can take. There are many incredible organizations such as Border Crossers and the New York Coalition of Radical Educators, among others, which have figured out how to facilitate critical and constructive conversations across difference. I’ve drawn on resources from these organizations as I navigate my role as a white scholar and educator engaged in work with youth of color and their teachers, and have found them exceptionally useful.
To have critical and constructive conversations across difference, relationship-building and setting community norms are key. I noticed that when I began my time as an ARC student, there wasn’t a space devoted to building this community — perhaps such a space could be useful in the future. Some questions for ARC students and fellows to consider as we build community might include:
In many ways, Tatyana’s work offers us a compelling example of engaged, critical scholarship. She began her talk by discussing her own positionality — her own background and experiences, and how she arrived to her topic. She is transparent about how her own power and privilege shape her teaching and research. She forges strong bonds with her study participants, reciprocating in the communities that provide her with data. And her scholarship and teaching go hand in hand with her social justice activism.
I hope the talk from this week is a catalyst for some soul-searching at ARC. Not only might we strengthen and deepen our own work, but we might continue the hard work of dismantling oppressive structures within academia too.
Flores, N., & Rosa, J. (2015). Undoing Appropriateness: Raciolinguistic Ideologies and Language Diversity in Education. Harvard Educational Review, 85(2), 149–171. https://doi.org/10.17763/0017-8055.85.2.149
By Sara Vogel
PhD Student in Urban Education, CUNY-Graduate Center
According to a recent Pew Research Report, between 2009 and 2014, one million people repatriated from the United States to Mexico. As a qualitative researcher, Dr. Tatyana Kleyn is interested in the stories behind these numbers. In particular, she studies the experiences of children and young adults who undergo these crossings—physical, social, linguistic, and educational. “Transborder youth are crossing many borders,” she said. Indeed, some recurring themes both in her research program and in reactions to her research are the power of language to form community and the need to cross borders in order to understand multiple perspectives. This blog piece begins by exploring the research topics, methodology and general findings of Kleyn’s work, and it ends by discussing the reactions to her lecture and offering practical suggestions for moving forward.
Kleyn, who is Associate Professor in the Bilingual Education and TESOL programs at the City College of New York, began her study entitled “The Other Side of Deportation Repatriation” as a Fulbright scholar in Mexico from 2014 to 2015.
Through interviews, classroom observations, and collections of art and poetry, Kleyn assembles portraits of transborder youth in elementary, secondary, and tertiary schools in Oaxaca, Mexico. Additionally, she uses documentary film as both a research method and tool for disseminating research findings to larger audiences. She said, “Film is accessible across borders. It does not matter your educational level or what language you speak.” Ethnographic data from her research on transborder youth in Oaxaca is highlighted in the documentary film “Una Vida, Dos Paises: Children and Youth (Back) in Mexico.” The complete film and accompanying unit plans are freely available at www.UnaVidatheFilm.com.
So, what are her findings? First, transborder youth bring their assets of multilingualism and multiculturalism that can be harnessed in the classroom. Differentiating classroom instruction to exploit their English language skills and knowledge of United States cultures can better support everyone in the learning community.
Second, it is important to note that transborder children are multifaceted and have varying degrees of fluency in the languages that they speak. Their linguistic repertoires are formed from the multiple speech communities that they have lived in. For example, one could hear features of U.S. English from the Midwest, Florida, and California; features of Spanish spoken in Latinx communities in Southern California; and Zapoteca, a language indigenous to Mexico. Generally, most of the youth in her study are more fluent and comfortable speaking English than Spanish, and they are least fluent in Zapoteca, which is stigmatized and mostly reserved for speaking with grandparents.
Naming themselves the New DREAMers, transborder youth negotiate their identities using language practices that are rooted in cultural and political hierarchies. Sociolinguists often refer to stigmatized language varieties or specific features of language, what lay people refer to as “accents,” in regards to prestige. We often criticize the less prestigious, stigmatized variety of a language while praising the dominant, higher prestige variety. Furthermore, higher prestige speech patterns that are considered normative or standard; one focuses on the content that their speakers are conveying. On the other hand, lower prestige varieties are considered irregular and substandard. Listeners tend to focus more on phonology and syntax rather than the substance of what the speaker is saying. These New DREAMers may speak varieties of Spanish that are lower prestige because they are different than what is spoken in Oaxaca. Conversely, their fluency in English is an asset that may be perceived as threatening by their teachers. These power dynamics and cultural fissions reflect the politicized nature of language.
After hearing about the project and viewing the 30 minute documentary on immigration, language, race, and class, audience members undoubtedly were feeling a mass of emotions. Personally, I was thrilled. I was impressed by Dr. Kleyn’s integration of mixed methods qualitative research and multimedia to magnify underrepresented voices. Her scholarship provides a model for me in several ways. As an Urban Education Ph.D. student who has been studying sociolinguistics since my freshman year of college in 1999, one could say that I have a close relationship with these topics. I’ve had time to mull them over, clarify questions, process strong emotions, and formulate my positions. But, this is not the norm.
Scholars from other academic disciplines and thematic clusters were processing their thoughts in the moment, perhaps unaware of the potential volatility in the atmosphere. The very first comment expressed in the discussion period was an anecdote about teaching multilingual children and a separate comment that drew attention to the fact that although youth had lived in the United States for several years, they still spoke English with a “Spanish accent.”
I am not sure where the comment was leading, or if there were a follow-up question planned after the anecdote and comment. However, I noticed that several audience members appeared to be uncomfortable and perplexed. What I heard in the comment was a lack of awareness about linguistic repertoires and the role of speech communities in shaping our linguistic repertoires. At the same time, I heard an ideological assumption of linguistic purity in the United States that is false and has been used as an instrument of racism in education, housing, and employment. It is this last piece that triggered some audience members, including my colleague who stated, “I’m sorry, but that is a racist statement!” He made other comments about being tired of racism at the Graduate Center before hurriedly leaving the room.
What happened? It was a charged context. We all hear and process information according to our own individual experiences and social positions. Bodies matter. Words matter. In recent months, my colleague and other Ph.D. students have experienced blatantly racist remarks such as being called ‘the N-word’ and ‘oriental’ in classes devoted to the scholarly study of language, power, and culture. They also have been subjected to sexist remarks in the same classes, and the individual rights of the offending parties—who are White—were prioritized over the rights of students of color and women.
Despite news articles to the contrary, I can attest that professors at the Graduate Center do in fact support the views of “conservative” and “right wing” students. They do in fact support academic dissent, even when it appears that comments teeter on racial and sexual harassment. And in this context, we students seek refuge in the lectures held at the Advanced Resource Collaborative with its stated commitment to promoting equity and critical, interdisciplinary dialogue. This work will not happen by itself. We must be intentional about forging community across boundaries of academic title, race, ethnicity, class, gender, linguistic background, and religion.
If a graduate student becomes enraged, do not question his intelligence or maturity. As Audre Lorde told us in “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” there is a place for eros in the academy. There is a place for rage as a defensive mechanism against the protracted, systematic oppression of our psyches. The academy is not neutral. There is a place for passion that can be transformative in our relationships, but reflexivity is key. What triggered our strong reactions to certain comments or actions? What are our “non-negotiables” as scholars? What experiences and teachings inform the values that we bring with us? Is it possible to understand someone else’s values and perspective? Can we apologize for our offenses and forgive others for offending us? Let’s assume the best of each other and receive each other with patience and compassion. Those are the first steps to navigating these often dangerous crossings of memory, of lived experience, and of perspective. As an ARC community, this is the work that we are uniquely called to do in these times, and to the extent that we are successful, the reverberations of our efforts are manifold.
Written by Kahdeidra Monét Martin, M.S.Ed.
Ph.D. Student in Urban Education
The Graduate Center, CUNY
Mellon Humanities Alliance Graduate Fellow
I felt the question on why the speaker had a Mexican accent and not an American accent was inappropriate and offensive as it others the speaker, in relationship to Standard English or “American accent.” I write this because CUNY has historically been a place of struggle and resistance against the white & patriarchal supremacy that is often upheld in the knowledge production of academia. My response to the question regarding the American accent in relationship to the Mexican accent is a response and resistance to the hegemony of English and its attachment to white supremacy. This has a history of what Joel Spring describes as “cultural genocide” or deculturalization, by which an individual is stripped of their language and culture most predominantly through schooling institutions within the U.S. to uphold the dominant culture. Thus, the language and curriculum of schools privilege & legitimize the dominant culture & language, silencing & delegitimizing non-dominant voices and languages.
The upholding of the Standardization of English without question in a space we seek to liberate, creates strong emotion among those of us who have been subject to the deculturalization process and who work to reverse this process through our research, teaching and activism at the Graduate Center and at CUNY. The problem in marking a Mexican accent versus an American accent is that the term “American accent” is connected to the Standardization of English or Standard English, which carries privilege and domination (Bonfiglio, 2002). Those that deviate from the standard due to characteristics of their speech, such as accent, vocabulary and syntax, are marked as other. Standardizing a language creates a hierarchy on the basis of language, in that the standard form is given greater preference and legitimacy. Thus, those who speak the standard or “American accent,” hold greater privileges and are perceived as speaking “better” or without an accent, than those who don’t.
To illustrate the othering within the standardization of a language as well as its relationship with race, the article, “Expectations and Speech Intelligibility,” published in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, shows how stereotypes regarding race and ethnicity influence our perception in how we listen to people speak. Conducted in Canada with Chinese Canadians and White Canadians, Babel & Russell found that participants expected a particular signal based on skin color; specifically, that if an individual wasn’t white, they were perceived to be a non-Native speaker of English. Babel & Russell conclude that expectations and stereotypes of how people should sound are used when we understand spoken language.
The question regarding why the speaker has a Mexican accent and not an American accent, marks the speaker as other and perhaps assumes the American accent is more desirable. This in turn upholds the superiority and standardization of English in the U.S. In addition, the question failed to recognize language acquisition of the speaker. While in the United States for 10 years as a child, the speaker learned to communicate in English. Based on the speaker’s narrative, English was the primary language they used to communicate and used little Spanish during this time. When the speaker moved to Mexico, the speaker started learning Spanish, their then primary language used to communicate, influencing the speaker’s English “accent,” as we heard in the video.
The notion of an “American accent” being the Standard or correct form to speak English, upholds superiority and privilege that is unfair to those who do not speak the Standardized or “American accent” English.
Written by Rachel J. Chapman
PhD Student of Urban Education, The Graduate Center
Teaching Fellow, Queens College
Babel, M., & Russell, J. (January 01, 2015). Expectations and speech intelligibility. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 137, 5, 2823-33.
Bonfiglio, T. P. (2002). Race and the rise of standard American. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Spring, J. H. (2016). Deculturalization and the struggle for equality: A brief history of the education of dominated cultures in the United States. New York : Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.