NSSR and Lang Students Explore Suppressed Histories in New York City

On a sunny October afternoon in 2021, Washington Square Park was filled with just about everyone in New York City. Among them were around 25 New School students, their professor, and their guide.

Nearly 400 years ago, the area looked very different. Twenty-eight different farmsteads filled that land, all owned by Black individuals — New York City’s first Black neighborhood. Yet the park today bears no record of this history, nor that of the people who lived there.

That erasure, said Kamau Ware, is not accidental. Ware is an artist, historian, and founder of Black Gotham Experience, an organization dedicated to making “the impact of the African Diaspora missing from collective consciousness as well as the public square.” After a brief introduction, Ware handed each New School student a card bearing the name of a Black person, then asked them to focus on one name: Manuel Trumpeter, a Black farmstead owner. What are the kinds of things that might have been on Trumpeter’s mind? What might he have been feeling, frightened of, excited about as a semi-free Black man in 17th-century New York City?

This empathy-based exercise and subsequent in-depth historical tour of Washington Square Park are integral parts of students’ work in either the “Capitalism and the Settler Colonial Present in New York City” graduate course or “Blind Spots of New York City: Capitalism and Exclusion” undergraduate course, both taught by Benoit Challand, Associate Professor of Sociology.

“This is all very practice-oriented,” says Challand. “The goal is to bring students outside of the classroom and academic, book-centered learning experiences.” In addition to tours with Ware of the park and of the Financial District, students have toured Inwood Hill Park with the Lenape Center and discussed the colonial-era fur trade from the perspective of the Mohawk Nation with the North American Indigenous Center of New York for Culture, Equity, and Economic Justice — all spaces of different kinds of exploitation and erasure.

Developing a Civically Engaged Class

“How can you explain what is capitalism from a historical and sociological perspective?”

During Challand’s first year as a Sociology faculty member at The New School in 2015, he developed a Lang first-year seminar that explored this question via two major commodities, cotton and sugar. As he taught the class, he found that issues around settler colonialism — the replacement of an indigenous population with an invasive settler population — in the U.S.; extraction; land dispossession; and racialization of the other continued to crop up, especially in relation to New York City.

“The big discovery [for me] was to find out how the history of the city is connected to those two commodities all the way to recent times without acknowledging its link with slavery until the 1850s,” he says. This led him to dig deeper into the erasure of past slave rebellions in the city, as well as that of the city’s current large Native American population, and to develop the course in new directions to confront the absence of Black and indigenous people’s memory in New York City landscape, architecture and monuments.

After meeting Ware during a tour in 2017, Challand asked him to lead a tour on erasure of the city’s Black history for the Lang seminar. Following positive reviews, Challand brought Ware into the course as a partner via a Lang Civic Liberal Arts grant, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. They taught together in 2018 and 2020, and now again in 2021.

New this year is a version of the course at the graduate level at NSSR. While both courses explore the same content and read the same texts, Challand says that undergraduate students are “more creative in terms of how they express knowledge” while graduate students have a “deeper, more robust engagement with literature” in class discussion and in written assignments. The courses are now supported by a Mellon Periclean Faculty Leader grant, which has allowed Challand to bring in the additional indigenous community partners.

Assisting with the graduate course is Emmanuel Guerisoli, a Sociology PhD student who studies settler colonialism in the U.S. from a legal point of view. His Teaching Assistant position is funded by NSSR’s Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility, which supports research on New York City and its transformation over the centuries by migration.

Bridging Sociology and History

At both levels, the courses draw deeply upon both history and sociology. At the graduate level, it is one of several Sociology courses that focus on the struggles of peripheral peoples in countries both of the global core and the periphery (read more about the Critical Perspectives in Democratic Anticolonialism project).

Says Challand, “Both disciplines concur on locating capitalism in Atlantic trade, which includes the slave trade. Mercantilism is replaced by capitalism, a new economic and ideological system rooted in exploitation and destruction of native populations….History means an understanding of historical episodes, a past-dependent development. The landscape of New York City is a byproduct of what colonial New York City was in the 17th and 18th centuries. There is continuity and rupture. And from the sociological perspective, capitalism rebundles social relations.”

Although course material temporally ends in the mid-1800s, course discussions address contemporary topics. “We try to look at the legacies, and how racial capitalism and its hierarchies have evolved and developed with time,” says Guerisoli. “In the final sections of the course, it was impossible to ignore what happened last year [uprisings following the murder of George Floyd by police] and Black Lives Matter, and the effect that it had. This is completely influenced by what happened in colonial times.” Discussion topics include the complicity of academia in erasure, pushback against monuments to colonial leaders, reparations, and the establishment of Juneteenth as a national holiday in the U.S.

“I’m very happy to see the students very engaged both academically, theoretically, but also politically,” says Guerisoli, who has been a TA for a previous Sociology class taught by Challand, “and that we’re able to discuss what are very much provocative topics that are not easy to engage with and don’t have any easy answers or simple answers.” He cites a recent debate around the discourse of nativism; that indigenous people might use nativism to counter settler colonial practices, but that white supremacists use the same discourse against migrants.

Melisa Rousseau is a Sociology MA student who registered for the course without much prior academic knowledge of the topics it addresses. But with race as a primary area of focus for her studies, the course seemed like a great fit. “I really didn’t even know about what settler colonialism was,” she says. “I signed up because I had taken Benoit’s class before, and he and Emma together are a really good team, so I knew it would be a good course.”

The course has not only offered her new perspectives on slavery and the genocide of Native Americans; it’s also reframed how she thinks about race, space, and place, and New York City itself.

“The course has significantly changed the way I see New York City,” she says. “I’m not just walking through Washington Square Park anymore, right? It’s got a different meaning now. The same with Wall Street or City Hall. I never realized that interred a block away from City Hall are up to 20,000 skeletons [of Black individuals]. Now when I walk in Lower Manhattan, it has a different meaning.”

And she appreciates the multifaceted aspects of the course. “We’re able to integrate what we’ve learned on the tour with what we’re also learning in the readings,” she says. And on top of that, we’re keeping journals [which integrate] what we’re reading and our experience on the tours.”

Ware’s October tour ends outside a building just east of Washington Square Park where, in 1911, nearly 150 Jewish and Italian immigrant garment workers died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. A small plaque on the building commemorates the tragedy, one of the worst industrial disasters in U.S. history and a major turning point in labor history and occupational safety. He notes the differences between the site and the nearby park in terms of public memory and erasure. But one parallel remains: the extra work those “othered” must do — ideally with a wide base of support but often alone — to fight for visible change in a society built on their erasure.

Photo credit: Emmanuel Guerisoli

 

Tatiana Llaguno Nieves Named Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellow

Tatiana Llaguno Nieves has been named a Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellow by the Institute for Citizens & Scholars. The Newcombe Fellowship is the nation’s largest and most prestigious award for PhD candidates in the humanities and social sciences addressing questions of ethical and religious values. Each Fellow receives a 12-month award of $27,500 to support their final year of dissertation work.

Llaguno Nieves is a PhD candidate in political theory working under the supervision of Nancy Fraser, Loeb Professor of Philosophy and Politics. She is also pursuing the Graduate Certificate in Gender and Sexuality Studies. Her research areas include the history of political thought, social and political philosophy, critical theory, feminist theory, as well as critical approaches to capitalism.

“In my dissertation – provisionally titled ‘Paradoxes of Dependence: Towards a Political Theory of Our Dependent Condition’ – I propose to look at dependence as a generalized life experience and to systematize its study through an analysis of its subjective and objective dimension,” she explains. “I claim that we repudiate dependence not because it has an intrinsic connection to unfreedom, but because we experience it in an unsustainable manner in the context of alienated and asymmetrical social relations. I thus propose a normatively laden critique of the wrongness implied in our current organization of dependence and a reconceptualization of freedom, not opposed to but informed by our condition of dependence.”  

Llaguno Nieves is spending a year as a visiting doctoral student at the Institut für Philosophie, Humboldt University of Berlin, under the supervision of Prof. Rahel Jaeggi and supported by a DAAD Long-term Doctoral Research Grant. Her research has also been supported by the Frank Altschul Dissertation Fellowship and a Fulbright Program doctoral fellowship.

She has developed and taught undergraduate courses at Pace University, the City University of New York, and The New School, from which she has received a 2019 Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching Award.

Liliana Gil and Sidra Kamran received Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships

Liliana Gil and Sidra Kamran have received Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships for the 2021-2022 academic year. Now in its fifteenth year, the fellowships “support a year of research and writing to help advanced graduate students in the humanities and social sciences in the last year of PhD dissertation writing.”


Liliana Gil, an Anthropology PhD candidate, will utilize the fellowship to complete her dissertation, “Beyond Make-Do Innovation: Practices and Politics of Technological Improvisation in Brazil”; apply for jobs; and, if conditions permit, conduct follow-up fieldwork with electronics industry workers in Manaus, Brazil.

Gil’s work is driven by a commitment to questioning hierarchies of knowledge. “Perhaps because I come from a working-class background, I’m drawn to the puzzle of how certain knowledges are recognized as skilled and expert vis-a-vis others that are just as demanding and vital to society,” she explains. “These rankings of value reflect structural forms of inequality – pertaining race, class, and gender – but also other historical and sociocultural factors. In my current project, I get to explore these issues by studying how historically and socially embedded forms of improvisation play a role in different spheres of tech production in Brazil.” Her main advisor is Hugh Raffles, Professor of Anthropology, and she also works with Miriam Ticktin, Associate Professor of Anthropology.

“I was truly honored,” says Gil of receiving the grant. “But I also took a moment to recall all the invisible work that went into this application. This was my second time applying and I was luckier this time around. Although it’s important to celebrate these achievements, I think we focus too much on accolades and don’t discuss ‘failure’ and ‘fortuity’ as part of our jobs. This can be very taxing, especially for first-generation college students. Fortunately, I have peers and mentors who are open about these issues.”

In addition to the Mellon/ACLS Fellowship, Gil has received a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant; a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant, co-sponsored by the Science and Technology Studies and the Cultural Anthropology Programs; and the 2020 David Hakken Graduate Student Paper Prize, conferred by the Committee for the Anthropology of Science, Technology & Computing of the American Anthropological Association, for an essay on innovation practices at a public fablab in the periphery of São Paulo in Brazil. She also received a 2020 New School’s Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching Award for her work creating and teaching an undergraduate “World Histories of Anthropology” course.


Sidra Kamran, a Sociology PhD candidate, will utilize the fellowship to complete her dissertation, “The (In)Visible Workers: Gender, Status, and Space in the New Service Economy in Pakistan,” as well as finish work on a journal article.

As Gil mentioned, much invisible labor and time go into applying for academic grants. When Kamran learned she had received the ACLS/Mellon Fellowship, she felt both happy and relieved. “I could stop applying for other fellowships and take some time off!” she says.

Kamran’s work broadly examines the interaction between changing gender and class norms. “In my dissertation, I use qualitative methods to understand how women beauty and retail workers navigate new types of status positions, work, intimacy, and urban life in Karachi, Pakistan,” she explains. Her advisor is Rachel Sherman, Professor of Sociology.

“I am involved in feminist and labor movements in Pakistan and the U.S., but as a researcher I explore how structural changes ostensibly unrelated to social movements shape gender and class equality,” Kamran continues. “I plan to examine how these supposedly ‘non-political’ processes interact with ‘political’ struggles.’” Her other research investigates how working-class women are active, if unlikely, participants in emerging forms of digital culture on TikTok in Pakistan. She is also interested in global flows of labor, social reproduction work, and the intersection between love, work, and money, and is inspired by Marxist-feminist approaches to these topics.

Kamran has also received a Junior Research Fellowship from the American Institute of Pakistan Studies, a Wenner Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant, and a Graduate Fellowship from the Heilbroner Center for Capitalism Studies at The New School.

Azeemah Kola Receives APA Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Doctoral Fellowship

Azeemah Kola, a Clinical Psychology PhD candidate, has received a 2021-22 Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Doctoral Fellowship, part of the Minority Fellowship Program of the American Psychological Association (APA). The fellowship will help support her as she completes her doctoral studies, and connect her to a broad network of other psychologists and psychologists-in-training who are specifically focused on working with racial and ethnic minorities. 

Kola is broadly interested in how certain groups, particularly those that are marginalized, are perceived in society.

“Thus far, I have been interested in looking at this through the principle of magical contagion, which is the idea that the essence of a person or thing can be transferred through physical contact with an object,” she says. “In my MA thesis, I found that individuals were less likely to want to come into contact with objects that had been previously handled by obese individuals, suggesting that obesity is in fact wrongly viewed as communicable.” 

Her dissertation, tentatively titled “Magical Contagion and Psychiatric Disorder,” uses magical contagion to look at the ways in which individuals treat those with psychiatric disorders. “Specifically, I am interested in understanding whether, and why, mental illness in particular may be seen as communicable, whether consciously or unconsciously, and whether this differs depending on the type of psychiatric disorder,” Kola shares. Her dissertation advisor is McWelling Todman, Professor of Clinical Practice.

Understanding exactly what conditions underlie stigma around mental health has a number of potential policy and practical applications, especially where attitudes toward mental health intersect with other issues, e.g. providing safe housing and support for unhoused populations, or dealing with mass trauma from catastrophic events like the COVID-19 pandemic. In many cases, mental health stigma and attitudes towards the individual may involve compounding prejudice, where biases and irrational beliefs about mental health collide with prejudices about race, ethnicity, legal status, chronic health conditions, or poverty. 

Kola’s clinical interests center on the experiences of people of color. “I am interested in how established therapeutic models may apply (or not apply) cross-culturally, and how therapy that focuses on specific events or experiences may need to respond to or be aware of greater structural and systemic experiences of racism and inequality,” she says. This year, as an extern in the PTSD Clinic at the Brooklyn VA Medical Center, she is starting and co-facilitating a Race-Based Stress and Trauma psychotherapy group with her supervisor, also a woman of color. “We hope [this] will provide a space for veterans of color to acknowledge and process the often pervasive and repeated traumas of racism,” she shares.

“I felt incredibly fortunate [to receive this APA fellowship], not least because I felt empowered by the fellowship committee believing in my research, clinical focus, and its importance. I am also deeply grateful to the Psychology department at The New School and my mentors, in particular Dr. Todman, Dr. [Richelle] Allen, and Dr. [Daniel] Gaztambide, for their unwavering and beyond generous support of me and my application,” Kola says.

In addition to her studies, research, and externship, Kola writes a blog for Psychology Today and is a member of the APA’s Task Force on Climate Change, which she joined to help address the disproportionate impact of climate change on already vulnerable and marginalized groups.

Follow Azeemah Kola on Twitter

(Still) Making a Magazine in a Pandemic

Cailin Potami, Research Matters writer and Back Matter editor, reflects on the process of creating a magazine remotely with the Spring 2021 cohort of GPUB 6002:Multimedia Publishing Lab.

The Multimedia Publishing Lab course in the Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism (CPCJ) MA program at The New School for Social Research came highly recommended from fellow CPCJ MA student and former Research Matters writer Alexa Mauzy-Lewis, who wrote about the course last spring. But I had no intention of taking the course; it seemed like too much work during the last semester of graduate school.

But during the fall, it clicked for me. I couldn’t think of a more gratifying way to sew up my strange, Zoom-mediated graduate school experience than by building something new with a group of people equally hungry to create.

Each spring, Multimedia Publishing Lab students produce an issue of Back Matter magazine under the supervision and guidance of Jon Baskin, instructor and Associate Director of CPCJ, and founding editor of The Point, and Jesse Seegers, CPCJ and Parsons instructor, and overall design expert. Each issue of Back Matter looks at the worlds of journalism and publishing through a different lens. With the exception of that loose guideline, each class has complete creative freedom over the magazine’s vision.

Under typical circumstances, producing Back Matter is an intimidating endeavor. We had no idea how making a magazine from start to finish would go from our apartments, scattered across the country, as a pandemic raged around us.

The Multimedia Publishing Lab met over Zoom each week to create the third issue of Back Matter.

Yet from the beginning, the process went surprisingly smoothly. We built out our editorial, digital, and design teams, as well as a wonderful one-person marketing and communications department, Hannah Hightman, Bachelor’s-Master’s (BA/MA) student in the BPATS self-designed liberal arts program. I became co-editor-in-chief along with CPCJ MA student Miko Yoshida, and we worked to facilitate a vision of a magazine without rigid hierarchy or perfectionism, where we would strive to create something original and representative of each person’s interests.

“The Back Matter media lab was a great learning experience for a number of reasons. It introduced me to the world of publishing and gave me an inside look at the process. It also gave me exposure to students with a wide range of skill sets,” says Yoshida. “I enjoyed the collaborative aspect the most, which hinged on mutual trust and a common objective — to create something meaningful.”

Traditionally, Back Matter prints articles that CPCJ students draft during the fall semester and workshop during the spring. While articles cover a wide range of topics, clear themes emerged, such as identity and community. A year into the pandemic, we’ve all been asking: What does it mean to be who I am? Who am I in relation to my communities — online and offline?

“The element of virtual collaboration and community in the time of COVID became a pinnacle of the theme of this issue, so it’s only fitting that our collaborative efforts existed on platforms like Zoom, Slack, Miro, and Gmail,” says Maya Bouvier-Lyons, CPCJ MA student and Back Matter art director. “I think our thoughts on the identity of the magazine were inevitably formed by those venues and avenues for communication.”

The editorial team worked with writers to help them grapple with these questions and highlight the themes already underlying their work. Jessie Mohkami, CPCJ MA student and executive editor alongside Nicole Collazo Santana, Eugene Lang Journalism + Design and CPCJ BA/MA student, reveled in this aspect of the work. “One of the best parts of being on Back Matter’s editorial team was getting to collaborate with writers on their pieces from the beginning until the end,” she says. “They brought their already strong pieces from last semester and we got to work together on how to cut down and shape the pieces. I’ve often been in classes where I’ve suggested edits or additions to a piece and I never get to find out what happens, but seeing the process through with the writers was so rewarding.”

The design team, led by Bouvier-Lyons and Olivia Heller, CPCJ MA student, represented questions of identity and community by incorporating collage as well as digital design cues into the print magazine, which Dalia Amellal, Back Matter print designer and Parsons Theories of Urban Design MA student, masterfully pieced together.

“I’m so grateful for the opportunity this class granted me to be on the design side of things for a change,” says Bouvier-Lyons. “I was able to use an entirely different skill set from what I’m used to—thinking more visually about the big picture of the publication, and the smaller details that make up that whole.”

Likewise, the digital team — digital editor Sophie Lee, Journalism + Design BA student, and web designers Greg Coleman, CPCJ MA student, and Kevin Martinez, Journalism + Design BA student — brought collage to life online, thoughtfully adding analog and print notes. Together, we created something thoughtful, cohesive, and daring.

The Back Matter digital design team incorporated elements of collage and print, like in the website header (above).

It sounds cliché, but communication, compassion, and trust really made the magazine’s production possible across Zoom, Slack, and Miro. As managing editor, Christina Santi, CPCJ MA student, did the impossible — she kept everyone on task and on schedule across various time zones, on top of communicating with the printer, managing the budget, and working on her own piece for the magazine, “Can Fashion Sew Up Its Racism Problem?”. At the same time, Santi and the whole team made space for each other, listening intently to ideas and challenges, and always acknowledging the tremendous difficulty of navigating school, life, a magazine, and a pandemic. Each week in class, Yoshida took care to remind us that the magazine is a great learning experience, an opportunity to take on ambitious ideas without fear of failure, but ultimately, everyone’s wellbeing must come first.

“It takes a lot of trust and collaboration to create a magazine, and though that can be difficult to build virtually, I think the whole class was invested in making that a reality,” says Mohkami. “While there were some challenges presented by the virtual nature of the class, I think the entire team rose to the occasion and put in the time, effort, and communication to compensate for that factor,” agrees Bouvier-Lyons. “In a lot of ways, I think this would be a very different issue had we all been working on it together in a classroom.”

The print magazine — complete with thoughtful articles, an interactive online-in-print adventure, fun games, striking photos, and more — is hot off the presses, and its digital counterpart is now live. It has been an extraordinary gift to work on this magazine, and an experience I’ll carry with me forever.

Please join us at the Back Matter launch party, which will take place over Zoom on Wednesday, May 5th, at 7:00PM.


Cailin Potami is a writer, an editor, and a student in the Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism MA program. They live in Queens with their cats, Linguini and Tortellini.