Political Battles Over Funding CUNY

by Vince Boudreau, Dean, Colin Powell School

I’ve recently discussed the changing pattern of funding for public higher education and the pressures that those shifts have imposed upon tuition-paying students. Despite arguments about tight state budgets and financial crises, that shift is mainly underpinned by a real change in the way public officials view higher education and about who should be responsible for its cost. As I sat to write the next chapter in this series, that dynamic became all the more clear in my mind as we—administrators and higher education professionals—consider Governor Cuomo’s recently announced budget proposal.

In the past decade, crippling financial crises have moved states across the country away from past robust support for public higher education. But these periodic crises merely punctuate the steady decline in state funding for public education over the last 25 years. New York State’s current cuts to CUNY and SUNY are taking place despite a billion-dollar surplus in the past year, contributing to an undesignated reserve fund estimated to reach 2.1 billion dollars by March 2016. Suddenly, most of the funding cuts seem to result from a choice rather than a tough decision driven by financial hardship.

The policy details underpinning that choice recently became more clear: In his recent budget declarations, Governor Cuomo is calling for 30 percent of current state funding to be passed on to New York City, reflecting the 30 percent of the CUNY board members appointed by the city. There’s a kind of logic to that explanation, but it’s not robust: It suggests that the state should allocate funds in proportion to its power to control (even indirectly) the disposition of those funds. The proposal contains a number of truly welcome provisions, such as monies to cover the cost of a new contract and to cover increased expenses due to inflation (both absent from last year’s budget). Both provisions, however, are contingent on the City assuming 30 percent of the public-funding burden.

The contours of the friction between Mayor De Blasio and Governor Cuomo are fairly well known, dating back to their tussles over early childhood education. But the standoff is not, in fact, unique. In the past weeks, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported Illinois State’s defunding the University of Illinois systembecause of a similar dispute among state level officials.

The fact is that, in this season of rising populism, it has become much easier for politicians to regard public higher education as a luxury enjoyed by a relatively small share of the voting public at the expense of the broader society. Across the country, the idea that education is an individual benefit that people should pay for individually (either at private schools or via increasingly expensive public universities) has displaced the idea of an educated, prosperous society and a capable workforce as a public good that we all share. Even where elected officials do not openly deride higher education as a luxury, they increasingly approach it in ways that allow the health of our great universities to take a back seat to political considerations—and that leads us back to the tug of war between New York State and the City of New York.

It’s worth considering what the Governor must be thinking as he makes these recommendations. Presiding over a New York that is sharply divided between the conservative and often economically depressed upstate districts and a politically different, more prosperous downstate New York Metropolitan area, the governor is asked to support two university systems, one largely serving the former and the other totally located in the latter. Why should he ask upstate voters to support CUNY when they have their own SUNY campuses, championed by local politicians, in their own areas? Moreover, a democratic governor has fewer incentives to bring a New York City system under his wing—the largely democratic constituents of the city can be counted to support his candidacy far more than the more mixed upstate constituencies. Why not stand with those upstate, and demand that New York City take care of its own?

Over the long term, the idea merits consideration. The financial formula that has sustained CUNY since the late 1970s was occasioned by the crisis of the city at that time, and while state-level funding kept CUNY in business ever since, the university also remained in more or less constant crisis, repeatedly called upon to justify its very existence to a statewide legislature that often verged on indifference. At minimum, moving CUNY to a more New York City-based funding structure would ensure that politicians who are directly responsible to our communities would be allocating the resources necessary to educate them. And if the funding battles are becoming more political than matters of financial necessity, closing the geographic and political space between those who attend our colleges and those who fund them makes sense.

However, acting to implement this change in funding will require discussion and planning, and should not be a matter to be introduced in the brief period between a budget’s proposal and its adoption. Any concern for the health of our public education system demands careful consideration and the time to approach the change without impacting the quality of education on CUNY campuses, or its accessibility to our students. In the current political moment, any consideration of a graceful or measured transition in CUNY’s funding structure has taken a backseat to politics. But the best politics in this case would eschew the brinksmanship of a man-made budget crisis that casts the university in the role of Solomon’s baby. We have three months to make that case before the current proposals—or revised versions of them—find their way into the new budget.

Have you seen A New Light in Harlem?

Our original upload to YouTube got over 600 views in just a matter of days! We had to do a *tiny* bit of clean-up, so we uploaded a new version (click below).

The film features interviews with General Colin Powell, Dean Vince Boudreau, and faculty, students, alumni, and board members, spotlighting the amazing community we have up here on the City College campus.

Do you know a young person who wants to be a leader in public service? Get access to world-class preparatory coursework and field experience without amassing piles of debt?

Are you a scholar, educator, or community organizer looking to break down walls between the Academy and the surrounding community? Who knows that in order to find better answers to pressing questions of the 21st century, we need to hear more voices?

Watch and learn more about the mission of the Colin Powell School—”A New Light in Harlem.”

 

The Crippling Weight of the ‘Last Straw’

Vince Boudreau, Dean

by Vince Boudreau, Dean, Colin Powell School

The Office of Student Success was our earliest and most ambitious innovation at the Colin Powell School. It represents our commitment to a goal that we cherish, and must still pursue: to ensure, insofar as possible, that no student falls through the cracks.

In our early imaginings, that office would primarily take on higher-order advisement—guiding students to the right classes, to be sure, but also helping them seek out internship opportunities, manage scholarship and leadership programs, and forge connections between their classroom work and professional and service trajectories. We’re proud of our programs in that direction, and we’ve worked every year to make them stronger and more effective.

But early in this work, we confronted an unsettling realization. The people working in that office were devoting far more time than any of us imagined to helping students solve their administrative problems. As one member of the office recently said: 80 percent of our  time is devoted to serving 20 percent of our students, and those issues are almost all bureaucratic. It’s a telling assessment. As we seek for ways to enhance student success, huge elements of the answer cannot be found in esoteric educational theory, but in working to clear mundane bureaucratic and administrative barriers to student progress and success.

Underlying Barriers

These bureaucratic barriers, however, often lie hidden beneath the surface of a student’s experience of the college, cumulatively eroding their resolve and capacity to cope with other difficulties. In consequence, all of us—students and observers—might be tempted to explain away a student’s breaking point as entirely due to some unforeseen personal crisis, or the grinding pressures of some chronic hardship.

It’s often surprising how thin the last straw may be. A student loan refund that is delayed, a single course taken in error, or the inaccurate evaluation of a transcript: in the end, any of these may knock a precariously situated student off course. In the past several months, I’ve met students at the edge of leaving school because they could not afford books, or could not scrape together the money to see a dentist. We’ve placed newly homeless students in our dormitory, thereby allowing them to continue their studies when they thought they would not. One young man even stopped attending class because he’d lost his laptop’s charging adapter, was not able to replace it, and so couldn’t use the only computer he had access to at home.

Given the stakes (a student entering college in 2010 can expect to earn $450,000 more than a high school graduate over the course of her life) these final crises seem ridiculously small. So small, in fact, that they only make sense as a proximate cause—that final, last straw—piled on top of an underlying systemic problem.

An individual’s hardship may suggest that we seek out individual remedies in each case—that we in fact adopt a case worker’s approach to student hardship. But we can’t address countless numbers of these cases—because students in crisis often just fade away, rather than laying out their hardship. More importantly, embedded in each seemingly idiosyncratic story were places where a systematic regime of stronger student support could have made that crisis not much more than an annoyance.

Outlining Remedies

We need, in fact, three interrelated remedies.

Inarguably, we still need support for students who encounter emergencies. At the Colin Powell School, a generous donation from The Viola Fund allowed us to create the Viola Emergency Fund for Students facing a financial crisis. Students wishing to apply for support through the Viola Fund should secure a letter recommending that support from a faculty member or staff person with knowledge of the situation and then email the director of the Office of Institutional Advancement, Dee Dee Mozeleski, who will arrange a time to meet and discuss options.

Moreover, ample room still exists for our supporters to offer supplemental resources along these same lines. In the past, donors have supplied metro cards to help students travel to campus, funding for student housing, and emergency book funds. The more able we are to steer students through the crisis of the moment, the more easily we will be able to direct their attention to the big picture.

Additionally, students need more information about how to navigate complicated bureaucratic systems. Student advocates in our Office of Student Success are meant to do much of this work, but they find themselves spending most of their time solving problems for students who’ve already been tripped up in some way. A more proactive system equips students with information and strategies that would help them navigate bureaucratic systems. We’ve already made progress along these lines in our online advising resources. But similar progress in other areas of student/college interaction is crucial. We can begin by looking at existing models that have shown success. The Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium, for instance, made progress in helping students untangle one of the most convoluted but important sets of rules they will face, those surrounding financial aid:Something along these lines might be a very good model for CCNY students, and it’s an area we’re beginning to explore.

Finally, we need to make the search for more manageable and responsive bureaucratic systems a top priority at CCNY. We are an institution that has been in unremitting financial difficulty for decades—in truth, since New York’s fiscal crisis in the late 1970s. Over that span, the easy response to economic hardship has often been to reduce the number of people in key service offices: financial aid, admissions, registrar and bursar. Such reductions often escape the attention of most people. They do not, after all, result in fewer classes, or higher tuition, or program cutbacks. Steadily, however, they have undercut the capacity of students to manage the crucial and often bewildering side of achieving college success: the management of everything that takes place outside of the classroom. We’re only now learning how critical—and critically difficult—those management challenges can be. A genuine commitment to student success requires that we invest in the capacity of these offices as a way to invest in our students.

New York state’s program to eliminate mother-to-child HIV transmission could work around the world

by Stephen W Nicholas, Columbia University

 

Editor’s Note: For World AIDS Day, we share an article, originally published by The Conversation, by Dr. Stephen W. Nicholas, a professor of pediatrics and public health at Columbia University and leading expert on pediatric AIDS research. In October, we hosted Dr. Nicholas as guest speaker in our breakfast lecture series “Conversations with City.”

 

Last month’s announcement that Cuba is the first nation in the world to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV underscores a curious silence around a more significant triumph far closer to home: elimination of mother-to-child HIV transmission in New York state. Inexplicably, there have been no press releases or publicity concerning this.

The term “elimination” as used by public health officials means neither eradication nor zero cases. It means reduction to a level so low that it has become a negligible health threat.

Two years ago, New York state – with a larger population than Cuba’s – became the first state with a high rate of HIV to meet the criteria for elimination when only two HIV-infected babies were born.

New York’s largely unrecognized success is all the more significant given that, in the early 1980s, the state had the dubious distinction of leading all other statesand most places in the world in the number of HIV-afflicted men, women and children.

But New York state went from having the highest rates of mother-to-child transmission in the US and one of the highest in the world to eliminating it by identifying HIV-infected women prenatally or HIV-exposed babies shortly after birth and ensuring that they immediately received AIDS medications. New York state’s elimination of mother-to-child transmission is a blueprint for countries trying to achieve the same thing.

Learning how to prevent mother-to-child transmission

At the height of the epidemic in some pockets of Harlem and the South Bronx, pregnant women had rates of HIV comparable to areas of Sub-Saharan Africa today. And that meant many babies were born with HIV.

An untreated pregnant woman with HIV has a 25%–40% chance of transmitting the virus before birth, during labor and delivery, or after birth through breastfeeding.

In New York state in 1990, nearly 2,000 HIV-infected women gave birth to somewhere between 475 to 760 HIV-infected babies. Mothers and babies with HIV were predominantly found in the city’s impoverished minority neighborhoods.

In those days, before effective AIDS treatment, many of these babies got sick early in life and died before the age of five. In Harlem, where I worked as a pediatric AIDS specialist, AIDS quickly became the leading killer of children. There were times when AIDS babies filled all the cribs in the intensive care unit of Harlem Hospital and half of those on the wards. The days before the advent of the “AIDS cocktail” were characterized by death and dying, profound fear, and unimaginable suffering and hopelessness.

But since 1990, there has been a 99.5% decrease in the number of HIV-infected babies in New York. How did New York state achieve this?

The right treatment can help ensure babies are born free of HIV.
Baby via www.shutterstock.com.

New York state’s plan to reduce mother-to-child transmission

The availability of AIDS drugs changed everything.

With treatment, babies with HIV stopped dying and began aging into childhood, adolescence and adulthood. In 1994 came the dramatic and unexpected results ofa study showing that treatment with AZT, an anti-AIDS drug, during pregnancy and short-term treatment of the newborn could reduce mother-to-child HIV transmission by two-thirds. That translates into dropping the transmission rate to 8%.

In response, New York state implemented clinical guidelines recommending routine prenatal HIV testing for every pregnant woman in the state and AZT treatment for every HIV-infected woman and HIV-exposed newborn. Because infant formula was widely available, mothers with HIV were counseled not to breastfeed.

HIV testing and counseling programs, medication, formula and care programs were provided by government-funded programs at private and municipal hospitals, most of which were in New York City. And programs were put in place to increase the follow-up of mothers and babies.

One of the largest logistical challenges to progress was ensuring that, as part of routine patient care, routine HIV testing occurred. HIV testing rates were initially low, but after years of intense debate about how best to accomplish this, at least 95% of women now know their HIV status before delivery, and all babies are tested for HIV. And the treatment regimen has expanded from one to three anti-HIV drugs, lowering the HIV transmission rate to less than 1%.

Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has supported approaches similar to those used in New York, and cases have declined by over 90%.

Similar trends have been witnessed in all developed countries. And globally, thanks largely to multiple programs funded by the World Health Organization, theGlobal Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the United States President’s Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the number of HIV-infected babies hasgone down by half since 2009.

This success is due to a number of different, interlinking factors, but successful efforts worldwide share the following: availability of and access to prenatal care and follow-up for mother and baby, HIV testing programs and the availability of AIDS drugs.

New York’s achievements have provided a beacon of hope as well as a road map that has been successfully tailored to the needs of resource-poor settings throughout the world.

Lessons from New York in the Dominican Republic

The Caribbean has the second-highest rate of HIV in the world, but some countries in the region fare much better than others.

Cuba, for instance, has always had the region’s lowest HIV rate, while 80% of infected individuals are found on the island of Hispaniola, shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Using lessons learned in New York, colleagues and I have worked over the last 15 years to reduce the mother–newborn HIV transmission rate in the Dominican Republic by an estimated 84% and to achieve elimination in one large province.

This was accomplished through the creation of a national AIDS program that provided free HIV testing, prenatal and newborn care, baby formula, free AIDS drugs via the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and use of a three-drug “AIDS cocktail” for treatment.

Similar strides are being made in Africa.

Botswana, with the second-highest HIV rate in the world and where one in three adults is HIV-infected, has reduced the rate of maternal HIV transmission to 4%using a similar approach.

One issue in most low-income countries is that formula-feeding is not an option because of its expense. But even when provided through donation programs, the lack of clean water and means to prepare it hygienically, in tandem with the loss of biological protection that breast milk otherwise provides, led to significantly poorer infant survival and well-being.

Therefore, breastfeeding in many areas of the world is imperative. Treatment regimens for such settings have been developed so that women can safely continue to breastfeed.

Despite the progress, our work is far from over.

A quarter of a million HIV-infected babies are still born annually worldwide. In the US, the epidemic continues to disproportionately affect impoverished minority women. Each year nearly 9,000 HIV-positive women give birth to about 150 infected babies.

As we celebrate global progress, it is time to reopen a dialogue in the United States that reminds us of the work that remains right here at home. Without sufficiently funded ongoing state-of-the-art services tailored to the unique medical and psychosocial needs of these mothers and their babies, the hard-fought gains we have achieved could be reversed.

The Conversation

Stephen W Nicholas, Professor of Pediatrics and Public Health; Public Voices Fellow, Columbia University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Fall 2016 Overtally Forms

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Students!

Find your overtally forms here:

Anthropology

Economics and Business

International Studies

Latin American and Latino Studies

Political Science

Psychology (*see department advisers)

Sociology

Women’s Studies

 

New Investments for a ‘Changing Financial Landscape’

Vince Boudreau, Dean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Vince Boudreau, Dean, Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership

This summer, the Pew Charitable Trusts published a report that got my attention. The report, Federal and State Funding of Higher Education: A Changing Landscape, broke down the numbers and found that as state funding continues to dwindle, federal support has increased. This is a crucial shift in the financing model for public education, with tremendous implications for the Colin Powell School, its students, and the future of public education.

While state contributions typically show up as support for specific institutions, federal dollars generally arrive as grants, loans, and tax relief to individual students. Historically, state aid to institutions accounted for the lion’s share of public funding to colleges like The City College of New York. But in recent years, shifts in funding profiles made state and federal contributions to education more equal. Hence, even as we bemoan the drop in state support for our campus—in the past five years, state funds fell from 48 percent of our operating budget to just about 30 percent as of this year— the hidden story has been that federal dollars have been rising at just about the same rate. On our books, they show up as tuition revenue rather than public support—but the amount of public monies devoted to higher education have remained more stable than an exclusive focus on state contributions suggest.

Understanding this new funding context means understanding that if we lose students—if we fail to help them navigate their way through the complex of admissions, registration, and financial aid—we are losing public tax support as it is currently and increasingly being allocated.

This shift in financing is an unwelcome one, but trend lines over the past 25 years are unambiguous: states are retreating from their support of public universities. We have always been concerned with student retention, because we’ve always been concerned about our students’ success. Going forward, we have also have financial reasons why we must address student retention, which should begin by clearly understanding the concerns of a typical Colin Powell School student.

Our students are likely to come from an underrepresented social or ethnic group. Many of our students belong to families living below the poverty line. Surveys have shown us that 80 percent of CCNY student respondents were born in a country outside of the United States (while less than 20 percent are here on student visas). Together, those figures suggest that huge sections of our student population are seeking to make a home for themselves in the United States. But it also suggests that many may be inexperienced and ill-equipped to navigate the administrative hurdles that one must clear to get state and federal grants, loans, and tax credit. Our student may be the first in her family to attend college—and perhaps, therefore, also the first to contemplate filling out a financial aid eligibility form. She probably works a substantial number of hours each week. She may also bear the responsibility of steering immigrant parents through governmental systems and societal norms. She may not have health insurance. She may not be documented. She may have come from a deeply distressed public school.

So our students may have tremendous potential, but there’s a good chance that they come to college deeply unsure of this new environment. Yet the shifts in public financing to higher education make it more important than ever before that they figure things out quickly. As tuition increasingly becomes the way that public colleges secure their budgets, students become increasingly burdened in their role as conduits for that support. The hypothetical formula makes initial sense: Colleges can stabilize their budget by charging higher tuition to students who are eligible for more financial aid. But those assumptions shift responsibility form the college’s relationship with the state to the student’s relationship with the federal education bureaucracy.

And here lies one of the dirty little secrets of public education, particularly in places committed to supporting the aspirations of underserved men and women: While we bemoan the corrosive impact of failing high schools, stressed neighborhoods, poverty, and social instability on educational outcomes, an unimaginably large number of students leave college, or limp to the finish line because they cannot figure out how to navigate the numerous bureaucracies they encounter. Before we lose the students with poor math skills, or an inability to write, we lose countless others who fail to solve some puzzle with its roots in the administrative bureaucracy.

Take, for example, a scenario that is as common as it is frustrating. Over the last few years, restrictions on financial aid have grown increasingly complicated, and computer audits of student courses more unforgivingly sift courses that are deemed necessary from those that do not. Students navigating major and general education requirements need to be more focused on taking required courses, or they risk losing financial aid—typically in the year or month before they graduate. In consequence, some never do.

And then there is the issue of simply having enough qualified people to give the face-time and support that students need. As institutional funding for colleges falls, the easiest and earliest cuts often take place in these service offices, leaving them staffed with fewer—and less experienced— professionals. This leaves us less able to respond to this new context, where institutional solvency is dependent on student retention. Registration, admission, bursar, and financial aid offices need to be regarded as the frontlines in our effort to retain students. Where these offices have eroded, we must shore them up.

All of these factors combine into a complex of new barriers to student educational success, producing a deeply altered tone surrounding public education. Our public universities are, more than ever, cash-strapped and struggling. But they are also, as never before, asking students (rather than legislators, educators, and administrators) to be the problem-solvers, bringing revenue onto campus and helping balance the books. That reverses generations of good education policy and an established sense of who should be looking after whom.

Notes on ‘The Hunting Ground’: CUNY Community Screening and Conversation

The Hunting Ground poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Julia Suklevski

Based on the well-publicized number of sexual assault cases on college campuses across the United States, many might assume that these assaults are occurring at an alarming rate. They would be correct. But this is no recent phenomenon. For decades, the epidemic that has been impacting our nation’s college students was something that administrations did not want to admit was actually happening. This resulted in injustice for survivors, their experiences invalidated by the institution that was to provide them equal access to a safe learning environment.

I serve as a volunteer Domestic and Other Violence Emergencies (DOVE) Program Advocate at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Washington Heights, and I’m a student studying in the Women’s Studies department at City College. So domestic violence and sexual assault are issues I think about and discuss often, and why I, along with Arlene Verapen, was inspired to help bring an important documentary,The Hunting Ground, a film that has been screened on college campuses all over the nation, to further the discussion at The City College of New York.

The Hunting Ground (2014), a documentary that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year, was screened on April 22nd and April 23rd, to members of the City College community, as well as concerned members of the public. The film, directed by Academy- and Emmy Award-winning documentarian Kirby Dick, follows two survivors turned activists for a grassroots movement to strengthen alliances between survivors of sexual assault and the public. These advocates used their voices to raise awareness about how college administrations handle cases of sexual assault and violations of Title IX.

Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, who were sexually assaulted during their first year of college, are highlighted in the film for their dedication to the idea that survivors of sexual assault do not have to remain victims of policies and barriers that prevent them from seeking justice. They advocate for thorough investigations of their respective university’s Title IX violation, an equality law that institutions receiving federal financial aid must uphold. Title IX protects students from experiencing discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs and activities at universities that receive federal funding. Discrimination on the basis of sex can include sexual harassment or violence, such as rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual coercion.

If a university’s administration fails to uphold the Title IX policy by not responding promptly and effectively to sexual harassment or assault, it creates a hostile environment for the survivor. This hostile environment gives the student the right to proceed with filing a report to the Department of Education that the university is in violation of Title IX. Clark and Pino did just that at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill following their assaults. They inspire thousands of individuals across the nation’s universities to explore this option if they also experienced poor follow-through of their reported sexual assaults. Women’s Studies Program Coordinator Arlene Verapen says, “Opening the eyes of the general population is important for change. Annie’s and Andrea’s stories are catalysts for an important movement on college campuses. Educating our community about Title IX is the key to finding justice.”

The documentary goes on to explain the many layers and complexities that hinder survivors from receiving the justice they deserve. Universities are large institutions that receive funding from the government, as well as private donors and alumni. Its reputation oftentimes trumps the dignity of the survivor. In a society where rape culture is not only disturbingly present, but in some cases, encouraged, it is unfortunately easy to see how the epidemic continues to grow, silently but with great force.

Post-screening panel. From left: Professor Ackerman; Romy Fabal, Student Health Services Staff Nurse; Teresa Walker, Executive Director of Student Health Services; Michelle Baptiste, CCNY Title IX Coordinator; and Julia Suklevski.

Professor Patricia Ackerman, Director of the Women’s Studies Program at City College, moderated the community conversation following both screenings. Members of the panel included myself, Michele A. Baptiste, the Title IX coordinator for CCNY, Romy Fabal, Student Health Services Staff Nurse; Teresa Walker, Executive Director of Student Health Services; Dr. Laura Iocin and Dr. Erin Jeanette of the Counseling Center; and Professor Teresa Lopez-Castro and Professor Lesia Ruglass of the Psychology Department. The Office of Public Safety was also present.

As someone who has had individuals very dear to me experience sexual assault and did not receive adequate support from a school administration, it pains me to think that so many individuals have no option but to remain silent about assault. As a trained advocate and crisis counselor to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, I was heartened to see the number of people who made time to attend the screening. It was a powerful moment during a crucial time: we must continue to push awareness and ongoing dialogue in order to combat decades of negligence and injustice.

Meet Nimmi Gowrinathan, Visiting Professor and Noted Human Rights Specialist

Nimmi Gowrinathan

Read the Politics of Sexual Violence Initiative’s white paper: The Forever Victims

Nimmi Gowrinathan, a leading researcher, analyst, and commentator on international gender and violence issues, has joined the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership at The City College of New York as a visiting professor. She directs the Politics of Sexual Violence Initiative, a three-year program funded by a grant from the NoVo Foundation. The NoVo Foundation works to transform global societies from cultures of domination to ones of equality and partnership.

Gowrinathan is a former fellow of the Center for Conflict, Negotiation and Recovery, and the Gender Expert for the UN National Human Development Report in Afghanistan. For more than seven years, she served as director for South Asia Programs at Operation USA, overseeing disaster relief programs. Gowrinathan’s research interests include gender and violence, female extremism, social movements, issues of asylum, ethnic conflict, and the impact of militarization, displacement, and race in Sri Lanka. She is author of the blog Deviarchy and a frequent contributor to national media outlets including Foreign Affairs and CNN.

In this interview with Neighborhoods and Nations, Gowrinathan discusses her mission, the unique role of the public university, and her preference for fluidity within the professional and scholarly roles she occupies.

Would you identify the sum of your work so far as contributing to a mission you’ve identified as your “life’s work”? What motivates you?

My work has always been driven by a quest for social justice for the Tamil population in Sri Lanka. Within that, the work that I anticipate to require the entirety of my life, which demands both my emotional energy and intellectual curiosity, centers on understanding the politics of marginalized women. I am constantly reinvigorated by the everyday resistance of women around the world to all forms of repression.

Tell us about the Politics of Sexual Violence Research Initiative and its place at the Colin Powell School. How do you plan to use your resources on campus to engage students and the broader public?

The Politics of Sexual Violence Initiative is designed to better understand the impact of sexual violence on the individual politics of women, both within the U.S., and in select cases around the world. Beyond conducting research to better inform policy and humanitarian formulations on sexual violence, this initiative is intended to create a global network of women scholars engaged in political activism, research, and advocacy–beginning with the young women at City College. The Colin Powell School has been very supportive, and I hope to use this initiative to contribute a unique political project to the engaged scholarship already underway there, as well as to draw in students for events, research, and through select courses I will offer over the next few years. The Initiative also hopes to build important links between existing social movements (Black Girls Matter, the Last Girl) to create far-reaching political movement that addresses the root causes of violence against women.

What are your thoughts on the role of the university with regard to human rights matters–such as sexual violence across the globe or, say, Stop and Frisk in NYC? Does the public university have any major responsibilities other than to educate its students? 

I think the public university, and particularly one with the unique demographic make-up of City College, has an obligation to engage in public debates that affect and shape the lives of its students and its community. While providing a space for student-driven activism, at an intellectual level the university should provide an environment where diverse opinions and new ideas can be presented, challenged, and adapted to support movement-building in many directions.

You are both an activist and a scholar, and you’ve worked as an NGO director, human rights advocate, policy analyst, and journalist: do you see clear divisions between the work you’ve performed within these roles? Do you see yourself primarily as any one player? How do you shift between spaces–are there any specific challenges you face?

I don’t see clear divisions within my work, and I think a fluid approach to my intellectual life and the roles I play has allowed me to create a unique voice and contribution to multiple conversations. I have met young women around the world who are torn between competing identities (Somalian-American/Activist-Scholar) and who are socialized into trying to fit into one role or the other–rather than embracing the value of a space I have called the “inside-outsider.” The challenges I faced were early on in my academic career, where there were often accusations of bias. However, as I have built a career around the exact tensions we have been taught to avoid, I have found that the variety of roles I play allows each to contribute to the other in insightful ways. My own unorthodox approach to my intellectual and professional work can be an example for a younger generation frustrated with the roles available to them, proving that there is no one way to engage in the issues that you are passionate about.

Tell us about your involvement in the Vice Media documentary series on women in/at war. You’ve said that, in sharing women’s stories, you want to “challenge perceptions in academic and policy spaces, while pulling out the richness of their narratives.” How might the Vice series contribute to that goal, or do you see this as a new frontier?

The Vice media series Women at War will begin this month, and hopes to draw out the stories of women that stick with you when conducting intellectual research. The narratives are all drawn together within a special project that will allow one or two big ideas to be revealed in each mini-documentary, with a clear through-line that reveals the complexity of women’s politics as their lives are shaped by violence. This project may not shift academic discourses, but it has been proven that ending sexual violence requires a significant shift in attitudes towards and perceptions of women. Recent films like India’s Daughter reveal the entrenched cultural perceptions of an older generation of men, however Vice News has proven the ability to reach millions of young men and women around the world–providing a distinctive platform through which to tackle the difficult task of dismantling patriarchy in all its many forms.

Student Spotlight: Fatjon Kaja

Fatjon Kaja

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fatjon Kaja is, by all counts, an exceptional student here at the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership. Furthermore, his good humor, sensitivity, and commitment to service for the public good have made him a trusted peer among the school’s students and fellows.

Kaja, a recent immigrant to the U.S. from Albania, is enrolled in the B.A./M.A. program in Economics and has a second major in Pre-Law, with minors in Italian and French. He is a Legal Scholar in the Skadden, Arps Honors Program in Legal Studies, the Co-founder and Vice-Director of the Guidance for the Legal Empowerment of Youth (now the ACLU Chapter at the City College of New York), and Deputy Policy Director of the Economic Development Policy Sector of theRoosevelt Institute at the City College of New York. He was a Partners for Change Fellow in 2013-2014 and has held numerous leadership roles in other campus offices and activities, including student government.

In his free time, he likes to explore New York City, listens to classical music, and plays soccer with his friends and relatives. In this interview with Neighborhoods and Nations, we ask Kaja to describe his path from rural Albania to Harlem. Along the way, Kaja offers insight into why he believes Colin Powell School students have an edge as they pursue civic and global leadership roles after completing their studies at The City College of New York.

What brought you to City College? 

When I started applying for college, I only had been living in America for two months. Despite the fact that I possessed a strong application package, I applied only to the City University of New York due to its affordable tuition rates and because of its alumni roster, comprised of numerous self-made men and women who rose in prominence in the highest ranks of their respective professions. The idea that I could emulate such persons remains the cornerstone of my American dream.

What experiences growing up in your home country shaped your academic interests?

I was born and raised in Peshkopi, a small city in northeast rural Albania. Located between mountains, Peshkopi is the poorest district in Albania with a high unemployment rate. Growing up in such an environment was tough: educational resources, justice, and meritocracy were hard to find, while corruption, disorder, and nepotism thrived. These factors pushed me to focus my studies in two interconnected fields, economics and law. Specifically, I am deeply interested in exploring the impact of law on economic processes and outcomes, and the reciprocal influence of economic conditions on legislative acts.

How do you relate to your fellow students within the Colin Powell School? Do you feel you’ve found a community? If so, what do you think brings you together?

One of the things that I share with my fellow Colin Powell School students is our eagerness to learn about new material. I think the majority of us are children of immigrants or immigrants ourselves, and many of us are striving to integrate ourselves into American society. Additionally, we all have the desire to better ourselves, which in turns encourages us to expect more of each other. As students of the social sciences, all Colin Powell School students are interested with issues regarding the role of the state, civil rights, economic development, social movements, or global issues. What brings us together is our belief that social and political ideas need to be debated extensively. In my classes, I have found a community of eager scholars, who have aspirations to become leading public servants or executives of Fortune 500 companies. I feel like this is where I belong.

In addition to your demanding academic and extracurricular load, you applied for and received a Partners for Change Fellowship, which had its own stringent demands. How did the fellowship serve your professional development, and how did it complement your academic work?

My academic work is mostly focused within the fields of law and economics. The majority of the courses that I’ve taken offer a deep, insightful analysis of theoretical concepts. As a Partners for Change Fellow at the Colin Powell School, I had the opportunity to complement my academic work with empirical research and service in the field of economic development, financial literacy, and leadership in the community. I attended weekly seminars about financial institutions such as banks and credit unions, gained industry knowledge about their respective structures and services, and learned about the role that financial literacy plays among college students in the United States. Through close collaboration with other fellows and our Leader-in-Residence, I implemented a survey on campus to test the financial literacy of City College students. The results were incorporated in a research project that is being developed further and will soon be published. Part of the fellowship is the component of the internship, where I was assigned as a Business Development intern to theCommunity League of the Heights, a nonprofit organization in Washington Heights. There I worked on a number of projects that helped develop the structure of the organization and increase its value to the community. Through this fellowship, I honed my ability to make good decisions, plan and organize my time, work well on a team, and developed sound interpersonal, oral, and written communications skills.

Have you had mentors who’ve helped you during your time here?

I have been blessed with numerous mentors. I’ve benefited a lot from great guidance and support from Professor Andrew Rich, who is my undergraduate thesis mentor. He has been a generous source of ideas and insights on my project since its inception. Dean Boudreau has always encouraged me to be rigorous and thorough in every aspect of my academic and professional life. I am grateful for his high standards and for his continuing influence on how I think about leadership.Professor Richard Bernstein is a superb source of good ideas, useful information, and helpful criticism. Professor Kevin Foster of the Economics Department has broaden my understanding of economics and its utility in our daily lives. AndGaslin Osias, Senior Admissions Advisor at City College, has always been available to look over at multiple drafts of my personal statement, resume, and cover letter and provide valuable feedback and interview tips. Outside school, I would like to mention my mentors at the Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP, who have always provided precious advice about law school and the legal profession.

Where do you see yourself in a year? Five?

In a year from now, I see myself completing my last semester of my master’s degree here at City College and waiting to hear from law schools. In five years from now, I aim to graduate from a top tier law school with honors. After graduation from law school, I would love to work for a few years in the banking group of a prominent law firm.

Other than tuition savings, why might competitive and ambitious students choose to attend The City College of New York for undergraduate or graduate studies over some of the more prestigious private colleges in the city? 

I think there are many advantages that CCNY students have over students attending NYC private colleges. First of all, City College is one of the most diverse institutions in the nation, with students representing over 150 countries and speaking more than 99 different languages on campus. This allows for us to engage in intellectual debates with people who hold fundamentally different perspectives about issues and offer competing viewpoints about the role of the government and public policy. It is extremely beneficial to engage in such debates because it makes us aware of things that we have never thought before and, for those who aspire to take on leadership positions, it is essential to take into account all opinions.

Another advantage that City College students have is the small class size, as it allows for the students and faculty to easily forge bonds. The professor has the opportunity to get to know you closely; he or she learns about your background and your academic passions. When one applies for professional schools, the professors are able to write a solid letter of recommendation, which in turn can be a determining factor of whether or not you get into your dream school.

Being a student at the Colin Powell School has allowed me to explore my academic passions under dedicated faculty such as Professor Marta Bengoa of the Economics and Business Department and Professor John Krinsky of the Political Science Department. Being part of the Skadden Arps Honors Program in Legal Studies and the Partners for Change Fellowship at the Powell School has been an amazing experience. Both programs have allowed me to pursue topics of interest and have challenged me academically. Besides providing me with a full merit-based scholarship, these programs have helped me get internships, offered research opportunities, and provided me with insightful guidance. They truly have pushed me to test the limits of my potential.