21
Mar 17

The HLBLL Instagram Rotation Curation Experiment

When I created an Instagram account in 2015 for the PhD Program in Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Literatures and Languages, I admit, I didn’t really know what I was doing. Instagram was a fairly unknown platform for me, despite its wide use among Millenials and in our program. Being so different than the two social media platforms we were already using in the program—Facebook and Twitter—proceeding in much the same way as on those was not practical or yielding results, although I tried.

In a nutshell, Instagram is a photo-sharing application for mobile devices, and because it has maintained this identity throughout its growth, Instagram has purposeful limitations that make it a less-than-ideal platform for the announcing of upcoming events, calls for papers, directing users to more information, pre-scheduling posts, etc. In short, the social media strategy applied to our Facebook and Twitter accounts was not an effective Instagram strategy. And the account sat, mostly unused, for many months of the year.

Several weeks ago, I joined Instagram myself, partially because I wanted an outlet for the pictures I like to take while running in the city and partially because a friend of mine adopted a puppy and shared adorable puppy photos on Instagram daily. And also partially because I thought that through using the platform personally, I’d be more prepared to tackle it as a Social Media Fellow. After several weeks of personal Instagram use and browsing through the often quotidian, often captivating photos of others with their witty hashtags, I was struck with an idea. Actually, the idea is not mine, but I remembered that the Twitter account, @sweden, has a new Swede Tweeter every week. I thought this model, called Rotation Curation, would be particularly interesting, novel, and a more fruitful use of the program’s Instagram account.

The intention of Rotation Curation on Instagram is to use the platform not so much as an account broadcasting news and upcoming events from our program, but rather keeping in line with its strengths showcasing spontaneously captured photos rather than planned images and information. The first Rotation Curation post on our account is mine: an adorable minor frustration during my dissertation writing.

As the curation of the program’s Instagram account moves throughout the members of the HLBLL community, we will have glimpses into the lives of students from the first year to their last, taking classes, preparing for exams, teaching on various CUNY campuses, writing dissertations, organizing and attending events, looking up in awe at the Midtown skyline.

On Instagram, the everyday moments, such as a weekly class…

Leyendo #LaCautiva #Thesisroom #FernandoDegiovanniVol.2 #Classes #PhDLife #Food #tortilladepatatas

A post shared by HLBLL at The CUNY Grad Center (@gradcenter.hlbll) on

…are given as much weight as a lecture in our spring Colloquia Series.

Today, María Fernanda Garbero is giving a talk about #madresplazademayo #conferencia #Argentina #rotationcuration #Photobyelenaoekatherina

A post shared by HLBLL at The CUNY Grad Center (@gradcenter.hlbll) on

 

We are now beginning our third week of this Rotation Curation experiment. New curators announce their guardianship of the account in its profile and I have encouraged each one to invent their own hashtag signature for their posts.

#speak #art #hallway #GC #CUNY #Monday #Photobyrocos_life #rotationcuration

A post shared by HLBLL at The CUNY Grad Center (@gradcenter.hlbll) on

And so I invite you to follow the HLBLL Instagram account and check out all that this Rotation Curation experiment has to offer.

Prospective Students! It’s a window into our program!
Graduate Center community! We’re having fun and working hard!
HLBLL PhD Candidates! Feel nostalgia for first exam preparation!
HLBLL Level 1 Students! Your dissertation-writing colleagues are scarcely seen but churning out the pages!


HLBLL students, future Instagram curators of all PhD levels are wanted for weeks starting April 10th. No personal Instagram account is required: just a willingness to download the app on your smartphone. If you are interested, send me a message: jprince[at]gradcenter[dot]cuny[dot]edu.


23
Aug 16

SSOFT: The Linguist’s Kitchen

This is the final HLBLL blog feature in Summer Series on Fall Teaching (SSOFT). We hope that our brief writeups and links to resources in the CUNY world and beyond have helped you prepare for the upcoming semester of teaching in CUNY.

This week, SSOFT features The Linguist’s Kitchen.

Past SSOFT features:

Open Educational Resources
The Graduate Center’s Teaching and Learning Center
Free course sites and Social Paper: OpenCUNY, The CUNY Academic Commons, and Social Paper
Resource Repositories: CUNY Syllabus Project, CUNY Academic Works

The Linguist’s Kitchen

Ian Phillips, PhD candidate in Linguistics at the Graduate Center, developed The Linguist’s Kitchen with the support of the New Media Lab and a Provost’s Digital Innovation Grant. The application will be launched shortly. Ahead of its launch, creator Ian Phillips shared a bit about how The Linguist’s Kitchen came to be and how CUNY instructors and students might use it in the classroom. Read our interview below.

 

The Linguist's KitchenThe site is called “The Linguist’s Kitchen.” So what does it mean to “cook” data?

If you go out there and collect linguistic data in the world, that’s a bit messy, you need to clean it up. So the idea is that [using The Linguist’s Kitchen] you can cook it up, clean it up. In linguistics, cooked data will allow you to learn something, come to a generalization.

Could you tell me a bit about how you came up with the idea for the Linguist’s Kitchen? Why do you think it’s a helpful application?

At the time I was in the ITP [Instructional Technology and Pedagogy certificate] program and also teaching a course at City College called Languages and Dialects in Cross-Cultural Perspective. I was teaching this course and most of the students had never thought about language as a system, something that could be analyzed for something other than meaning. One of the important parts of the course is talking about syntax and how all languages have syntax. But we didn’t get really deep because it was introductory. We talked about syntactic constituents and identified phrase structure rules. And the students had a hard time with that because there are so many ways to analyze a sentence.

The other part of it, I had 41 students in that class and there were something like 29 different languages spoken by students in the class. So we talked about how what makes a dialect different than a “standard” language is perception. “Standard” languages are spoken by people in power. And homework examples [for this class] would focus on dominant, standard languages, but you wouldn’t do a lot of work analyzing those other languages that students spoke and most of the students who spoke non-standard language varieties (of English or Spanish mostly) also didn’t have a high opinion of their own language. They viewed these languages as “broken” or “incorrect.”

So the idea was, since all languages have rules, why can’t we analyze their own language practices. That was the motivation [for this site], and maybe it will help student engagement because they are analyzing their own languages. They are the experts.

How do you expect to see The Linguist’s Kitchen being used in classrooms?

Test groups thought that even just a portion of this site, like identifying parts of speech of a sentence, would be great for some classes. A recurring theme is that it would be good to use in conjunction with classroom instruction. It’s not quite at the point where the students can just go at it alone.

It can be used for students to analyze their own languages, but a good starting point would be to have instructors give students lists of sentences to be analyzed that they know would work out well.

This interface also would be good to analyze sentences where there is code switching, which a lot of students are interested in.

It could also be used for any course where you’re teaching anything about language learning. Sometimes students come in and don’t know the parts of speech.

I’d like to emphasize that this was an experiment in pedagogy, and I really just wanted to see if this could improve teaching and learning in the classroom.

—–

As tips for use of The Linguist’s Kitchen in your classroom, Ian also adds that while the end goal is to have instructor and student roles, and possibly even a researcher interface, at this point the site will be most beneficial for student learning if paired with classroom instruction and if students are given curated sentences to “cook.”

If you choose to use The Linguist’s Kitchen in your classroom this fall, Ian appreciates feedback on how you and your students use the site, and on any bugs you find.


15
Aug 16

Summer Series on Fall Teaching: Open Educational Resources (OER)

Each Monday until the beginning of the school year, the HLBLL blog will feature a Summer Series on Fall Teaching (SSOFT), with brief writeups and links to resources in the CUNY world and beyond to help you prepare for the upcoming semester of teaching in CUNY.

This week, SSOFT features Open Educational Resources (OER).

Past SSOFT features:
The Graduate Center’s Teaching and Learning Center
Free course sites and Social Paper: OpenCUNY, The CUNY Academic Commons, and Social Paper
Resource Repositories: CUNY Syllabus Project, CUNY Academic Works

Open Educational Resources (OER)

Open Educational Resources (OER) are, according to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.” Many OER are licensed under the Creative Commons, which allows users to access, copy, and share the work (non-commercially, very often), and also may allow for some adaptation or remixing of the material.

Whether you’re looking for ways to tweak your syllabus, provide enriching one-day lessons, or jump start lesson planning of your own, OER could prove useful in your teaching this fall. CUNY Central’s Library Services maintains a guide on OER and also an OA/OER Toolkit. Included in the OER guide is a non-comprehensive list of OER that you could employ in your classrooms. Click through on the links below for some OER guide highlights for you to explore in greater depth.

OER Libraries and Databases

OER Commons

 

OER Commons: A library of digital OER with advanced search tools to find the appropriate resources by course subject, course level, resource type, etc. Follow OER Commons on Twitter.

 

 

CCCOERCommunity College Consortium for Open Educational Resources: CCCOER maintains a list of OER, with corresponding links to content. One CCCOER goal is to enlist community college professors to refine and expand the existing resources so that current and future community college students have free access to quality materials rather than having to pay for expensive proprietary textbooks and workbooks. Follow CCCOER on Twitter.

 

MERLOTMultimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT II): MERLOT is a project of the California State University system and its partners to provide high-quality OER to educators and students and to allow educators to freely share resources they have developed on their own. Follow MERLOT on Twitter.

A search for Spanish language resources on MERLOT returns nearly 500 different results for materials that can be freely used in classrooms now, including:

  • An oral recording and paleographic transcription of all five+ hours of the Cantar de mio Cid, intending to allow students of the epic poem to appreciate its oralidad.
  • “Mi vida loca”: A 22-episode BBC mystery web series set in Madrid to teach Spanish vocabulary and grammar to beginners.
  • Trabalenguas: A site with 145 tongue twisters for pronunciation and vocabulary practice.

 

 


08
Aug 16

Summer Series on Fall Teaching: Teaching and Learning Center

Each Monday until the beginning of the school year, the HLBLL blog will feature a Summer Series on Fall Teaching (SSOFT), with brief writeups and links to resources in the CUNY world and beyond to help you prepare for the upcoming semester of teaching in CUNY.

This week, SSOFT features the Graduate Center’s Teaching and Learning Center.

Past SSOFT features:
Free course sites and Social Paper: OpenCUNY, The CUNY Academic Commons, and Social Paper
Resource Repositories: CUNY Syllabus Project, CUNY Academic Works

The Graduate Center’s Teaching and Learning Center

The Graduate Center’s Teaching and Learning Center (TLC) was founded in 2015 and is officially part of the Office of Career Planning and Professional Development. The TLC’s inaugural director is Dr. Luke Waltzer, a Graduate Center alumnus in History and former professor at Baruch College. The Center is also staffed by three fellows: Anke Geertsma, Andrew McKinney, and Avra Spector.

The TLC hosts regular workshops throughout the semester on issues germane to teaching at CUNY, from teaching English Language Learners to designing courses. The summer schedule is set to help Graduate Center students prepare their syllabi for the coming semester with three drop-in workshop sessions on August  19 (10am-2pm), August 22 (12pm-4pm), and August 23 (3pm-7pm), all taking place in room 9204. Additionally, the TLC hosts regular office hours during the semester (schedule TBA), and summer office hours are by appointment only. Email tlc@gc.cuny.edu to request a summer appointment.

The TLC staff is working hard to publish guides for Graduate Center students as they navigate teaching at CUNY and beyond. Current published guides are New To Teaching?, WAC-WID/QR (about the Writing Across the Curriculum/Quantitative Reasoning fellowship year), and Navigating CUNY. More guides on everything from instructional technology to going on the job market are forthcoming.

Keep up with and join discussions on the upcoming TLC events, announcements of new guides, and other news, including relevant fellowship opportunities on their CUNY Academic Commons public group.

And follow the TLC on Twitter.


01
Aug 16

Summer Series on Fall Teaching: Course Websites and Social Paper

Each Monday until the beginning of the school year, the HLBLL blog will feature a Summer Series on Fall Teaching (SSOFT), with brief writeups and links to resources in the CUNY world and beyond to help you prepare for the upcoming semester of teaching in CUNY.

This week, SSOFT features free website services–OpenCUNY and the CUNY Academic Commons–and the new Commons writing environment, Social Paper.

CUNY Academic Commons

Commons Logo

The CUNY Academic Commons hosts the HLBLL site and provides a social media and website platform for CUNY faculty, staff, and graduate students using the open-source content management system WordPress as its foundation. Read more about the Commons on its Wikipedia page.

Through the Commons, users can create sites for programs, groups/organizations, courses, or for individuals. All sites are free. Users can also create and join groups, both public and private, and connect with individual users of the site as friends.

The Commons can be used to create a course site that is much more dynamic, flexible, and attractive than other Learning Management Systems available, although without some built-in features customary to an LMS like Blackboard. The Commons currently has over 300 plugins available for users to expand the functionality of their site, with everything from an academic citations generator to a widget that displays a Twitter feed. Additionally, pages can be password protected so that they are only accessible by your students.

Follow the Commons on Twitter

Social Paper

Social Paper is a Commons feature that allows for sharing and giving/gathering feedback on writing. Created by PhD students Erin Glass (English) and Jennifer Stoops (Urban Education) with Professor Matt Gold, Social Paper was developed with the Commons team and funded in part by a National Endowment for the Humanities grant. Read all about Social Paper’s capabilities in this post by Sarah Morgano on the Commons News blog.

The one drawback to using Social Paper as a writing, sharing, and feedback resource for courses taught outside of the Graduate Center is the limitation of the available sharing settings. Papers can be kept private or privately shared via invitation with Commons users selected by the author. But as the Commons’s membership includes CUNY faculty, staff, and graduate students, the students in many CUNY courses are not eligible for accounts. Papers can also be completely public, which would allow non-Commons users to comment on them, but also would make them open to comment from anyone else.

Follow Social Paper on Twitter

OpenCUNY

OpenCUNY Logo

Predating the CUNY Academic Commons, OpenCUNY is a student-run, student-based, participatory digital medium which provides a free WordPress platform for websites created by the Graduate Center community. OpenCUNY is an affiliate of the Doctoral Students’ Council and is run by three student coordinators. An advisory board of four OpenCUNY student users is elected each spring by OpenCUNY participants.

OpenCUNY sites have been used for everything from personal and course sites to sites for student groups and PhD programs. Over 70 plugins are available for site customization, and pages and/or entire sites can be password protected. The OpenCUNY coordinators maintain an extensive archive of FAQs and tutorials created specifically with the Graduate Center student in mind; OpenCUNY.info assists their users in beginning and maintaining a site. The coordinators are also available for individual meetings with student users of OpenCUNY to assist them in getting started or refining their OpenCUNY sites.

Follow OpenCUNY on Twitter


25
Jul 16

Summer Series on Fall Teaching (SSOFT): Resource Repositories

Each Monday from now until the beginning of the school year, the HLBLL blog will feature a Summer Series on Fall Teaching (SSOFT), with brief writeups and links to resources in the CUNY world and beyond to help you prepare for the upcoming semester of teaching in CUNY.

This week, SSOFT features two resource repositories at CUNY: CUNY Academic Works and the CUNY Syllabus project.

CUNY Academic Works

Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 2.02.12 PMCUNY Academic Works is an open-access institutional repository for the CUNY community, coordinated by the Office of Library Services at CUNY Central. CUNY faculty, professional staff, and graduate students can upload their open-access materials, including articles, conference presentations, theses and dissertations, and materials prepared for teaching courses. Committed to the ideas of a public university and open access, anyone with an internet connection can download materials from CUNY Academic Works for free.

The repository is growing, with nearly 12,000 CUNY-wide submissions since its recent launch, and over 2,000 submissions from the Graduate Center community alone. Downloads of CUNY Academic Works materials total over a quarter of a million! Among other benefits, adding your work to the repository will result in greater visibility for your scholarship on search engines such as Google.

Browse CUNY Academic Works by CUNY school or by discipline, or use the search tool to narrow your search.  Prepare for the 2016-2017 year in your Spanish language classroom with “The politics of normativity and globalization: which Spanish in the classroom?” by Professor José del Valle. The article appeared in the Modern Language Journal in 2014, and is now also housed on CUNY Academic Works.

Follow Academic Works on Twitter for updates.

CUNY Syllabus Project

The CUNY Syllabus Project (CSP) is a syllabus repository collecting syllabi from all CUNY instructors across all campuses and disciplines. The project was launched this year by Laura Kane, a Phd Candidate in Philosophy, and Andrew McKinney, a PhD candidate in Sociology. The goal of the project, according to its organizers, is to “become a robust resource providing a way to search, compare, and visualize syllabi across institutions, disciplines, and departments at the City University of New York.” This goal can only be accomplished, however, through a critical mass of syllabus contributions from CUNY’s instructors.

The CUNY Syllabus Project is currently in its collection phase and is seeking contributors to upload current or past syllabi. Contributors can also allow for their syllabus to be publicly available for searches on the site under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.

Follow the CSP on Twitter for updates.


10
Nov 15

CFP: UMass Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference

Forms of Feeling: Navigating the Affective Turn

UMass Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference

Conference Date: April 2, 2016
Location: University of Massachusetts Amherst
Submission Deadline: February 12, 2016
Keynote Speaker: Patricia Clough (The Graduate Center, CUNY)

From the conference organizers:

Sibling rivalry, team camaraderie, Islamophobia, migrant nostalgia, outrage against state brutality, mourning sickness, FOMO, human-animal bonding, blushing, crying at the movies – feelings are everywhere. As the ongoing “affective turn” in the humanities and social sciences emphasizes, it is imperative to investigate the operations of affect in order to better address the complexities of our world(s). That the definitions of the terms affect, feeling, and emotion remain contested reveals one of the greatest challenges of such explorations: the nebulous, ineffable nature of feelings. Yet, like bodies animating a pride parade or the virulent rhetoric of hate speech, feelings do take forms – however transient and dynamic they may be.

For our 8th annual interdisciplinary conference, the English Graduate Organization at the University of Massachusetts Amherst invites submissions that explore different forms of affects, feelings, and/or emotions as they are experienced, expressed, and theorized in and across historical periods and cultures. We are particularly interested in the forms of feelings that emerge in and transform human encounters with other human beings, animals, environments, machines and technologies, cultures, ideas, and social/political events. How – and to what ends – do social, cultural, political, aesthetic, and rhetorical formations structure and articulate feelings? Further, how might an enhanced critical awareness of affective forms and forces necessitate the rethinking of practices of interpreting, understanding, and knowing?

In relation to these themes, some of the questions that we are looking to explore include:
⋅ How does attention to visceral forces and intensities influence and challenge our understanding of embodiment?
⋅ How are emotions socially and culturally conditioned? What is the performative role of affect in formations of (racialized, gendered, national, etc.) identities?
⋅ How do feelings shape social relations? How do feelings operate in structures of power and strategies of resistance?
⋅ How are affects capitalized on in the workplace, marketplace? In what ways does the recognition of distinctly “affective labor” commoditize/monetize the measure and value of care?
⋅ How do aesthetic forms evoke affective responses? What kinds of literary and critical forms do writers and theorists fashion in order to address and examine affect?
⋅ In what ways might a heightened attunement to non-human affect enhance our understanding of animal studies, posthumanism, ecocriticism/environmental studies, vital materialism?

Graduate students may submit papers and/or panel presentations, performance and creative pieces, and multi-media projects. Approaches include but are not limited to:

⋅        Affect Studies
⋅        American Studies
⋅        Animal Studies
⋅        Art History
⋅        Childhood Studies
⋅        Communications
⋅        Critical Race Theory
⋅        Cultural Studies
⋅        Disability Studies
⋅        Environmental Studies/Ecocriticism
⋅        Film Studies and Film Theory
⋅        Gender and Sexuality Studies, Queer Theory
⋅        Literary Theory
⋅        Media Studies
⋅        Music Studies
⋅        Narrative Theory
⋅        Political Theory
⋅        Postcolonial, Global, Transnational Studies
⋅        Psychology and Cognition Studies
⋅        Religious Studies
⋅        Rhetoric and Composition
⋅        Sociology
⋅        Science, Technology, and Culture
⋅        Theatre and Performance Studies

We accept three kinds of submissions:
Individual papers/projects: please submit an abstract of no more than 300 words. Include your name, paper title, institution, and email address.
Panels: please submit a 1000 word proposal for an entire panel of presentations (3-4 presenters). Included in this proposal should be abstracts of 200-300 words for all presentations, title of the panel, and information for each presenter (name, paper title, institution, and email address). If you are forming your own panel, you have the option of providing your own chair.
Performances and creative presentations/panels: we welcome submissions of creative works, including creative writing, visual art, and dramatic performance. Please include a brief description of your project, as well as your name, project title, institution, and email address.

Email: umassegoconference@gmail.com


08
Sep 15

Funding: Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship Program (DPDF)

The Graduate Center has recently partnered with the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) to provide up to eight Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowships to GC students in the social sciences and the humanities.

Application deadline: October 15th, 2015

Application Workshop:
Professor Duncan Faherty (English, Director of the Early Research Initiative) will be leading a workshop with SSRC staff for prospective student fellowship applicants on September 11, 2015, from 11:00-12:00 in the President’s Conference Room (8201.02). If you would like to attend the workshop, email gcarchivalgrants [at] gmail [dot] com to RSVP by September 8, 2015.

From the Provost:

The DPDF Program is an interdisciplinary training program that helps early-stage doctoral students formulate their dissertation research proposals for external funding agencies.  The DPDF provides students with up to $5,000 for pre-dissertation exploratory summer research, preceded and followed by intensive multi-day workshops where students participate in proposal critique and writing sessions.  In the workshops, fellows work with faculty mentors and students from other disciplines and institutions, so as to introduce them to theories, literatures, methods, and intellectual traditions of disciplines outside of their own.

GC DPDF fellows will receive additional mentoring and support through workshops and training sessions at the GC. Additionally, 2016 GC DPDF fellows will have to demonstrate by February of 2017 that they have applied for at least one additional external fellowship award to support their dissertation research.  More information about the program and eligibility can be found through the links below.

http://www.ssrc.org/fellowships/dpdf-fellowship/

http://www.ssrc.org/fellowships/dpdf-fellowship/#eligibility


11
Apr 15

Fall 2015 Course Listings

FALL 2015  –  COURSE  LISTINGS

THREE-CREDITS

SPAN 70100 – El español como objeto de interés histórico
GC: Tuesday, 4:15-6:15 p.m., Rm. TBA, 3 credits, Prof. del Valle

SPAN 70200 – Hispanic Critical & Cultural Theory
GC: Tuesday, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Rm. TBA, 3 credits, Prof. Zavala

SPAN 70500 – Spanish Syntax
GC: Tuesday, 2:00-4:00 p.m., Rm. TBA, 3 credits, Prof. Otheguy
(cross-listed with LING 79100)

SPAN 87000 – Neo-Baroque Continuities & Ruptures in Cuban & Mexican Literatures
GC: Thursday, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Rm. TBA, 3 credits, Prof. Riobó

SPAN 87100 – In-Between Worlds & Tradition: Rereading the “Crónicas de Indias”
GC: Wednesday, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Rm. TBA, 3 credits, Prof. Chang-Rodríguez

SPAN 87200 – The Cinema of Pedro Almodóvar and Guillermo del Toro
GC: Wednesday, 4:15-6:15 p.m., Rm. TBA, 3 credits, Prof. Smith

SPAN 87300 – Políticas de la Lengua y Culturas de Transición en España (1975-2015)
GC: Friday, 2:00-4:00 p.m., Rm. TBA, 3 credits, Prof. José del Valle & Prof. Germán Labrador

SPAN 87400 – Asaltos a la biblioteca: Scenes of Reading in Latin America
GC: Monday, 4:15-6:15 p.m., Rm. TBA, 3 credits, Prof. Degiovanni

ONE-CREDIT MINI-SEMINARS

SPAN 87200 – Reflexiones en torno a una piedra
GC: Monday, 10/5/2015 – Thursday, 10/8/2015, 1:30-4:00 p.m.,
Rm. 4116.18, 1 credit, Prof. Bernardo Atxaga (Atxaga Chair)

SPAN 87200 – Economia política, estructura de la comunicación y sociolingüistica del Catalán
GC: Monday, 9/28/2015, 1:30 – 4:00 p.m., Tuesday, 9/29/2015, 11:45 a.m. – 1:45 p.m., Wednesday, 9/30/2015 & Thursday, 10/1/2015, 1:30-4:00 p.m.
Rm. 4116.18, 1 credit, Prof. Toni Molla (Rodoreda Chair)

SEE ALSO

SPAN 88800 – Dissertation Workshop
GC: Tuesday, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Rm. TBA, 0 credit, Prof. Degiovanni


22
Feb 15

The Controversy over Gender-Neutral Language at CUNY’s Graduate Center

By Professor José del Valle

JdV-Picture

I have been studying linguistic debates for years, and I guess it was just a matter of time until one would break out in my own backyard. It finally did, on January 16, when administrative and teaching staff at the City University of New York´s Graduate Center received a memorandum from the Office of the Provost and Senior Vice President. The memo informed us of new letter-writing guidelines that eliminated “the use of gendered salutations and references in correspondence to students, prospective students, and third parties.” In other words, they declared their commitment to avoid “Mr./Mrs./Ms.” as well as gender-marked pronouns in written exchanges with the above-mentioned addressees. It was presented in the spirit of the preferred-name practice – a practice, widely adopted nationwide, whereby students, faculty or staff may choose to be addressed by a name other than their legal one – and as part of an “ongoing effort to ensure a respectful, welcoming, and gender-inclusive learning environment at the GC and to accommodate properly the diverse population of current and prospective students.”

Unsurprisingly, the measure was picked up by some in the media and the news eventually gained significant traction. In Fox News, for example, Gretchen Carlson covered the episode through an interview with Judge Andrew Napolitano, a frequent guest. They did not break in any significant way with the typical forms of pushback that this type of linguistic choice tends to trigger among conservatives. However, the standard ridiculing of the new guidelines was done in a somewhat backhanded manner (mostly through Gretchen’s body language and mocking intonation), and the conversation focused instead on the legal dimension of the issue. In a nutshell, they chose to issue a warning that, if punitive measures were to be taken for non-compliance (punitive measures with which, by the way, the memo did not threaten in any shape or form), the institution would see itself in breach of the First Amendment: “While the university can drop Mr. or Ms. in its official documents, it cannot punish or coerce or instruct its employees or the students from using Mr. or Ms. because they have a First Amendment right to do so,” said the judge. In general, commentators chose the conventional route dismissing the new guidelines as silly left-wing political correctness and unacceptable linguistic authoritarianism. In response to questions from the press, a spokesperson for the institution confirmed the non-compulsory nature of the guidelines and reiterated their link to the spirit of the preferred-name practice.

The episode fits nicely within a well-known type of linguistic debate that results from a particular form of verbal hygiene (an illuminating term developed by British sociolinguist Deborah Cameron in her 1995 book of the same title). A new linguistic usage is tactically promoted within a broader strategy to push forward an egalitarian cause; in this case, gender equality, acceptance of gender non-conformity and gender-neutral decision-making at the institutional level. Typically, pushback from conservative forces ensues, and an effort is made to portray the agents behind the new norm as puppets at the service of the “looney left” and its culture wars. It is worth highlighting that the predictable conservative pushback – almost a knee-jerk reaction to any sign of a progressive cause’s forward movement – will unfold with the complicity of people – even faculty who might define themselves as liberals – who may agree or not with the alleged silliness of it all but get overly upset due to their perception of the memo’s prescriptive thrust.

Why? Why liberal pushback against a liberal cause? Because the memo – intentionally or not – brings to the surface the fact that the language we so nonchalantly use is political. When we address people as “Mr.”, “Mrs.” or “Ms.” we do it in a social context in which concepts such as male, female, gay or transgender are relevant to understanding who is included and who is excluded from certain spaces (just think of same-sex marriage). In the case at hand, the decision to put forward a new option for addressing interlocutors in writing forces us to face the fact that, when addressing someone, we are actually choosing to use language in a particular way and that our choice may very well have political implications. Of course, many would rather be left in peace feeling that the way they write or speak is innocent and the linguistic norms with which they so faithfully comply are nothing but a neutral and transparent system of communication. But the fact remains that language is social practice, that it is variable and that it is unavoidably embedded in the political life of institutions and countries.

In sum, it is not surprising that conservative commentators would react to The Graduate Center’s initiative; it is not surprising – in a political climate hostile to public universities – that they would take the opportunity to attack a proud and powerful public university such as CUNY; and it is not surprising that, in the process, they would appeal to common-sense ideas about language, often fierce enemies of social change. Whether the recommended guidelines will be adopted or not throughout the Graduate Center remains to be seen (it will ultimately rest on multiple individual choices). But that should not be the measure of the initiative’s success. In as much as it forces us to face language’s involvement in structural inequality (which it has already done), it is a worthy and commendable move. And if it makes us the target of The Wall Street Journal and Fox News, we must be doing something right.

José del Valle teaches Hispanic Studies and Linguistics at CUNY’s Graduate Center


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