Queensborough Project Aids Genocide Studies

Humanistic Pedagogy Across the DisciplinesStructured around four broad approaches — arts-based, textual, outcomes-based and social justice — the book seeks to show instructors how they can incorporate students’ study of the Holocaust and genocide into their classes.

Queensborough Community College faculty members, in collaboration with the college’s Harriet and Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Center (KHC), joined forces to integrate lessons about genocide and the Holocaust into existing courses across a wide swath of subjects. Their project grew to include more than 50 faculty members and led to the publication this fall of a book for educators.

The book, titled Humanistic Pedagogy Across the Disciplines: Approaches to Mass Atrocity Education in the Community College Context, was released in October by Palgrave Macmillan. The book project, a byproduct of activities supported by a 2011 challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, synthesized instructor and student experiences from five years of Holocaust, genocide and mass atrocity education at QCC, drawing on the research of 19 faculty members who developed instructional frameworks and strategies. The book seeks to integrate genocide education through consideration of such topics as North American Indigenous Peoples’ lives; social psychology, gender and the Holocaust; and how photography has shaped our understanding of genocide and the refugee experience.

“All of us view this work as an opportunity to encourage students’ thinking about the historical occurrence and contemporary relevance of the Holocaust and processes of genocide,” says Dr. Amy Traver, an associate professor of sociology at QCC and co-editor of the book with Dr. Dan Leshem, former executive director of the KHC. “Collectively, we saw each learning activity as an invitation to look at these topics and go deeper.”

Rather than create new courses, participating faculty aimed to incorporate historical content such as the Holocaust into the context of established courses that instructors already teach.

Structured around four broad approaches — arts-based, textual, outcomes-based and social justice — the book seeks to show instructors how they can incorporate students’ study of the Holocaust and genocide into their classes. Faculty from English, history, psychology, criminal justice, dance and other disciplines have aligned their courses to touch on the historical repercussions of genocide and to encourage students to view the Holocaust in the context of current societal challenges and through their own lives.

“In an interdisciplinary arts-based partnership, Dr. Aliza Atik’s English students wrote narratives of surveillance, of the experience of being surveilled in society,” says Traver. “As they wrote, they were also thinking about ideas related to the Holocaust, such as hierarchies of power. Making connections across these topics, students shared their narratives with professor Aviva Geismar’s students, who choreographed them as original works of dance. This partnership was also captured in a documentary film composed by professor Benjamin Miller’s English students.”

Additional faculty connected their work to other educational disciplines, such as criminal justice. For example, Dr. Rose Marie Äikäs encouraged her criminology students to draw on genocide, mass atrocity and restorative justice frameworks in exploring the re-entry experiences of formerly incarcerated women in Queens.

“What makes our work possible and unique is the existence of the KHC – as well as the opportunities afforded us through the NEH grant that we received,” says Traver. “That grant allowed all participating faculty to design undergraduate learning opportunities that were differentiated, diverse, and of significance and relevance to a new generation of interested students.”


Trade, Food and Obesity

In Eating NAFTA: Trade, Food Policies, and the Destruction of Mexico, Alyshia Gálvez, a professor of Latin American, Latino, and Puerto Rican Studies at Lehman, exposes how changes in policy following NAFTA, have fundamentally altered one of the most basic elements of life in Mexico – sustenance. Mexicans are faced with a food system that favors food security over subsistence agriculture and a precipitous rise in obesity and diabetes has resulted in a public health emergency.

Sexual Violence In ContextLiterature and Neuroscience

The Elusive Brain, Literary Experiments in the Age of Neuroscience by Jason Tougaw, an associate professor of English at Queens College is an illuminating, comprehensive survey of contemporary literature’s engagement with neuroscience. By exploring how literature interacts with neuroscience, the book provides a better understanding of the brain’s relationship
to the self.

Sexual Violence In ContextSexual Violence In Context

In her powerful and original book, Rape and Resistance, Linda Martín Alcoff, a professor of philosophy at Hunter College, aims to correct the misleading language of public debate about rape and sexual violence by showing how complex experiences of sexual violence can be. Rather than falling back on universal definitions, we need to be more sensitive to the local and personal contexts in which these crimes are committed.

Manhattan’s NeighborhoodsManhattan’s Neighborhoods

William B. Helmreich latest book, The Manhattan Nobody Knows: An Urban Walking Guide, covers every one of the borough’s 31 distinct neighborhoods, from Marble Hill to the Financial District, providing colorful portraits of each area’s most interesting and unusual people, places and things. A distinguished professor of sociology at City College, he draws on conversations he had with residents during his block by block journey and provides a detailed user friendly map keyed to the text, as well as a lively guided walking tour.

Victorian Actresses DefinedVictorian Actresses Defined

In The Victorian Actress in the Novel and on the Stage, Renata Kobetts Miller, professor of English at City College, analyses how Victorian novels and plays used the actress to define their own place within and among genres in relation to audiences. Working outside the home led actresses to be a cultural flashpoint, and for some, to become suffragette playwrights. This helps to explain why, as Britain celebrates the hundredth anniversary of women first voting in the United Kingdom, actresses remain central to feminism.

Q&A: Life and Times of the ‘Boss of Black Brooklyn’

Life and Times of the ‘Boss of Black Brooklyn’In 1948, a 50-year-old West Indian immigrant named Bertram L. Baker became the first black person ever elected to office in Brooklyn. As a state assemblyman, city power broker and national civil rights figure, Baker’s achievements ranged from pushing through one of the nation’s first housing discrimination laws to driving the integration of professional tennis. Now his grandson, Brooklyn College journalism professor Ron Howell, tells his remarkable story in Boss of Black Brooklyn: The Life and Times of Bertram L. Baker.

Your book is both a political biography and a personal memoir but it’s a story you sat on for a long time. What led you to tell it now?

I grew up in my grandfather’s house – he was in effect my father. And I was always very sensitive about who he was and the power he had. To the point that for so long in my life as a reporter I avoided covering politics. But the fact of the matter is I cared about New York City and I especially cared about Brooklyn, and as the years went by I came to appreciate the very significant role my grandfather played in history, and I realized that he had been largely forgotten.

What was your perception of his power when you were growing up?

I have a memory that stands out. I was alone in the house with a buddy of mine one day when we were about 15. There was a cigar on a table and he said, “Hey Ronnie, can I have that?” I just shrugged. He lit it up and smoked it. The next day my grandfather came downstairs and said, “Where’s the cigar President Johnson gave me?” He had been in Washington a few days before for the signing of the Civil Rights Act. So it was evident that he wielded power and lots of people had great respect for him, and fear. I thanked God he was too busy to worry about the cigar.


What was Bertram Baker’s path from Ellis Island to the halls of power?
Beltran L.Baker
He left the island of Nevis as a teenager in 1915. The West Indies were under British colonialism then so he came here as a British citizen. He went to a British grammar school and though he never went to what we consider college he was fairly well-educated. He always said that his strong desire was to be an Episcopal priest. There were in fact some black priests in Brooklyn then but he knew the diocese didn’t want too many of them and it would be very difficult. So he set his sights on politics. What he had going for him that made all the difference was that West Indians who were coming to the country were able to step into the meeting places of the Democrats at a time when native-born blacks were still embracing the Republicans as the party of Lincoln and actually hostile to the Democratic Party. But if someone wanted to wield power and have a significant job and be able to help decide who else was going to have significant jobs, the Democratic Party was where the power was. Baker embraced the party and formed the United Action Democratic Association political club. So I think it was a combination of where he was from and the force of his personality that gave him the wherewithal to eventually become “the boss of black Brooklyn.”

How do you relate your experience growing up in Bedford-Stuyvesant to the place your grandfather knew in his time?

Brooklyn was such a different place when he > came there. At that time only 1 percent of Brooklynites were black. By the end of the century it was 34 percent – that’s nearly 900,000 people –and Brooklyn became known as the center of the black diaspora. My grandfather certainly did what he could to make life better for blacks, for instance pushing through one of the nation’s first bills outlawing housing discrimination when he was a leader in the State Assembly. But by the time I was in college I didn’t see black Brooklyn as my grandfather did. I saw Bed-Stuy as a ghetto. I saw the kinds of things that made me perhaps more open to Malcolm X than my grandfather would ever have been.

An interesting aspect of your grandfather’s career was his role integrating professional tennis. How did that come about?

Tennis was very popular among British West Indians and it was a way of distinguishing themselves when they came here. My grandfather decided tennis was a way to develop social connections. He got involved with the all-black American Tennis Association and became executive secretary in 1936. In the early ’50s, they started negotiating for Althea Gibson to be allowed to play in the white tennis competitions. She played in Wimbledon in 1957 and she won, and she felt she owed quite a bit to Bertram Baker. She came to our house and my grandfather gave a speech around the dining room table. He took her to City Hall to meet Mayor Wagner and rode with her in the ticker tape parade.