What’s so Super About Being a Maid? The Philippine’s Supermaid Program and Women’s False Empowerment

The erstwhile president of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, launched a domestic worker training program called, the “Supermaid” (or “Supernanny”) Program in 2006 to increase the professionalization of Filipino women leaving the country as domestics. The program teaches Filipino women things like seven ways to cook eggs or how to change a diaper with speed and precision. The Supermaid Program prides itself with shipping the best kind domestic worker all over the world: a Filipino woman whose innate domestic skills have been honed and sharpened.

Since the export of migrant workers tops the national list for exports in the Philippines, administrations from Corazon Aquino to the current president, her son, Benigno Aquino II, have invested in managing the profitable $19 billion per year migration industry. In recent years, these investments have rode the international feminist wave, claiming that migration leads to women’s autonomy and empowerment. The gendered rhetoric of “bagong bayani” or modern heroes often rely on tropes of mothers, daughters, and sisters obligation to their family; twisting an old patriarchal logic on its head while distracting Filipino women with tales of travel and ability to support their families.

In reality, even if Filipino women are the best domestic workers in the world, the false hope of “empowerment” through migration leaves women in low-wage gendered labor often without worker rights in their different destination countries. Without international standards and varying national labor regulations, domestic worker jobs are often insecure, contractual and highly susceptible to exploitation. So what’s so super about being a maid anyway?

Today, it’s easy to say that women’s presence in any and all workplaces can be called a feminist victory. But we must be wary of what we trade for those victories. For women in developing nations, celebrating advances based only on gender liberation oftentimes fall flat as women are still exploited as low-wage workers, in their own countries and abroad. Although Filipino women are working, traveling the world and bringing home the bacon, they are still seen as third-class citizens in their new homes as they take up gendered work as immigrant workers. And that’s not super at all.



Yea, right.

In my handy dandy Apple dictionary app, indefinite means, “lasting for an unknown or unstated length of time.” Something about the word indefinite always kinda puts me on edge, depending on context, of course. When people say, “I’m moving here indefinitely!” I feel like, yay, you’re choosing to be somewhere for a long time!

But when someone’s like, “I don’t know when I’ll be back. My trip away is indefinite.” I feel like, damn. Something outside of your own control is probably putting you in a position that you don’t want to be in.

That said, when President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law in the last day of 2011, I felt like, damn, that’s definitely something that can put you in a position you don’t want to be in. Indefinitely.

The NDAA basically allows (unconstitutional) military detention without due process (a charge or a trial) for any unknown length of time and from wherever there is an American battlefield. If you can imagine the types of loopholes and crazy interpretations of this bill, it could mean that an Occupy protest or a community center doing critical popular education is a battlefield.

This bill is bad news (bears). Not just because of the indefinite part, but because it is the beginning of the corrosion of civil liberties. This bill inches away at the “freedoms” Americans think we have. Further, the bill allows for a shoot-at-any-target type of tactic that has proven to be ruthless, inaccurate and dangerous (see Japanese internment, Post 9/11 Muslim hate crimes).

In class this past semester, we were discussing war and conflict and a student in my class said, “We’re free here in America.” And an invited speaker from the UK replied, “You’re quality of freedom is really low.” This NDAA bill definitely backs that argument up.

I know, I know, right. For the first post of the year, kind of a downer. But hey, if this is the kind of world we live in. It’s the kind of world I’ll write about.

On a more positive note, we get an extra day this year. Happy Leap Year!

Buhay Migrante, Isang Tula

My favorite poet, Melanie Dulfo, wrote a poem called, Buhay Migrante, Isang Tula, and it is awesome. For my Tagalog speakers and readers, here you are.

Patriarchy will eat you

Given that the headlines on the past couple of days will probably be fodder the umpteenth season of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, the media monster has feasted on the paradoxical moral and emotional outrage that keeps viewers watching the cases of sexual harassment and assault surrounding major male leaders in institutions like politics and sport in the US. I’ve been mulling it over, obviously annoyed at both the amount of coverage these cases are taking up but also disgusted at the portrayal of the alleged perpetrators’ dismissals of their allegations.

I keep thinking to myself, why so much emotion, Val? This is to be expected.

And then, after reading an article on Colorlines, I realize Hermain Cain and Joe Paterno are cut from the same cloth. Akiba Solomon has it right.

Patriarchy eats its women and children and criminally cripples its men.

I think what’s sad is the culture of patriarchy that allows for people to condone these heinous violations and now the circulation of that kind of behavior as top headlines.

UPDATE: I’m over it.

Cultures Not Costumes

Halloween has never been a real thing or event in my life. I started to think about how Halloween costumes are hella ridiculous last year when I was looking for something to wear to my NYC community center costume party. As I browsed lots of costume stores with great disgust at the sexualized and racialized representations in costumes, I couldn’t believe just limited a woman’s options are to partake in Halloween. I mean, does every feminized costume have to be “sexy”? Sexy cop? Sexy nurse? Sexy janitor? Sexy sexy girl? I mean, c’mon. If you dressed sexy to half those jobs, it’d be hella unsanitary.

I’d strike a conversation with different people about it and folks would be like, “Val, don’t take it so seriously! Halloween is just for fun!” I’d be like, “oh,” and feel like a sociologist out of water then my smart-girl complex would get the best of me so I’d back off.

So, I decided to commission my partner to make a costume out of a hoodie. He came up with a chicken. I risked my vegan friends being mad at me, but my costume was a live chicken, not fried or cooked or anything. Anyway.

This year, instead of feeling defeated by the rant that Halloween is just for fun and that racialized and sexualized costumes are okay just because they are the norm. This year I urged my family here in the Bay to make costumes with me so that we could tap into our creative crafting selves but also so that my cousins, mostly women, wouldn’t have to wade through the sex costumes.

But really, props to Ohio University student organization, STARS, Students Against Racism on this campaign on racialized costumes. Straight to the point.

Also, on the heels on my previous post about undergrad education and students not being critical enough–BLAOW to the naysayers.

It’s not okay to belittle a culture. Not okay. At all.

This last one, especially, has a great message.

Academically Adrift?

This morning as I was browsing through my daily news, a sociology study stuck out of the information overload. In times of #Occupy and Gaddafi’s recent death, a sociological account was the last thing I thought I’d write a post about. But finishing my second month teaching at USF, I’ve been thinking a lot about how my course is going, what my students are learning, and if the course I’ve prepared is effective (Of course, the efficacy I’m assessing reflects the goals that I’ve set for myself and my class). I’ve also been simmering in my mid-course assessment, a strategy I’ve developed here at USF (such a great way to take the temperature of your course, why didn’t I think of it before? Evaluations as a motor to courses, instead of a cursory practice at the end of each course! Duh!). And lastly, my monthly teaching workshop facilitators asked all new faculty to answer,” what are the big questions your course is tackling?” All of these things allow me to learn, assess and get better as I’m teaching.

At any rate, Richard Arum from NYU found that an alarming rate of undergraduates don’t learn how to think critically, write effectively  and reason with complexity after their stints in higher education. Findings of the study point to various student-centered problems that affect their critical thinking development: studying individually v. groups, socializing, student laziness on doing reading and homework.

As a teacher, Students often beg off from working in groups or pairs because its easier to do things individually. Do I think its annoying? Yea. When I give students small group work, some of those minutes go to chit chat. Is it wack? Mmm-hmm. I know when my students haven’t done the reading. Does it irritate me? Sure.

But I think critical thinking–a key tenet that I want to ensure that my students walk out with after taking a course called, “Introduction to Globalization”–has to also be measured in critically. No offense, Professor Arum, I think assessing if our students met our big question goals at the end of a course, much less at the end of their college career, has to be a critical undertaking. I don’t necessarily have a survey instrument, interview guide or scale to offer undergraduate educators but I think our assessments of critical thinking has to be measured in our classrooms, with alternative assignments, an array of engagements.

Also, a major beef I have with this article, is that it puts the blame on students then expects teachers to get better, without proper discussion of this throw-away sentence:

Arum concluded that while students at highly selective schools made more gains than those at less selective schools, there are even greater disparities within institutions.

Um, the quality of education of “highly selective” schools might have something to do with tuition. I think leaving out an analysis of the retreat of the state from education and then arguing that undergraduates aren’t critical leaves out a very, important and influential structural culprit.

Lastly, let me say this, I think undergraduate students often struggle with developing their critical thinking skills, its just not how higher education is set up, its the way the “real world” is set up. Undergraduates, more and more, are worried about how the piece of paper they’re getting after 4-5-6 years in college is gonna translate to paper, the kind that’ll pay bills. So, before we point fingers at universities, undergraduate educators and undergraduate students, let’s make sure we tease out the social milieu under which the possibility of critical thinking is in critical condition.

Alabama, shame on you.

If corporations can illegally pollute bodies of water, then people who are called “illegal” should have the right to drink water.

Alabama, shame on you.

After Georgia fell in line with Arizona’s racist and xenophobic attack on immigrants in the US, I decided that these nativist acts had to figure its way into my dissertation writing and teaching. I wanted to make sense of how the popular and mainstream debates on immigration weren’t being framed in terms race and racism. Except for a few reliable progressive sources, the immigration problem was singled out as a border control issue. An economic crisis and lack of jobs issue. The threat of “alien” invasion issue.

But there is so much to say about immigrants figure into the American racial order, more importantly, the ways in which the neoliberal American democracy institutionalizes segregation as the remnants of blatant Jim Crow racism.

Of course, in the past month, the “occupation” of the US has stirred and invigorated the sleeping American consciousness. I wonder how much of immigration/race issue has occupied these encampments, given that, Americans (broadly defined, not just white college students) have taken up, often, private property of cities and corporations calling attention to the broken-ness of the capitalist-cum-US-democracy system.

I wonder if anyone thinks of these occupations as illegal. I wonder if the politicians who, both are intrigued and disgusted by these occupations, think these people need water.










The morning before the International Women’s Alliance conference in Manila, delegates from Gabriela USA were invited to participate in the Philippine-American “friendship” day, to protest the unequal relations between the US and the Philippines. We decided that it was important to participate in a mobilization to the US embassy, or “emba” as the kasamas here call it, because after all we are from the US, we have seen the inequality between the Philippines, and people of color, and poor people, and queer folks, and women folk, and the US. The mobilization was a really important political mobilization for us.
We were prepped that there might be kiskisan, or shield-to-people confrontation and we were assured that we’d be safe if any violent dispersal happened. Our conduct for the mobilization was “touch-the-seal” which means to get right in front of the US embassy to protest unequal relations between the US and Philippines. Our women braved the challenge. We were all a bit nervous but trusted the command of the people’s organizations.
At different moments in the march, we were asked to run down different streets, do an about-face and run some more.  Running down streets to outsmart the Philippine National Police was almost like problem solving puzzle. The puzzle: how to get to the embassy and touch the seal. The problem: the PNP’s riot gear and batons. People were chatting to one another about going in one way and decoying the other way. These earlier runs were fun and filled with chanting and laughter. I remember the smiling faces of the Nanays with us, the youth and students alive with chanting and the men from KMU, workers who came to protest their exploitative job conditions under US corporations.
The people’s orgs had a strategy. We assembled in 4 places so when we closed in on the embassy there were marchers from 4 different directions and at a certain point the PNP was encircled by the masses. As this militant march moved in and chants grew, the PNP got nervous and started to strike back, pushing us with shields. The command of the march told us to move back. So we did. And because there were no blows. The command told us DIKIT!–come back to hold the line. We were a bit in the back of the march for safety so we didn’t have to hold the line. But we needed a solid whole so we ran back. And then the PNP started to take to their batons and large pieces of rocks. They threw rocks at the crowd hitting a few in the head. The batons were most bloody. The PNP reacted to the weaponless masses by hitting men and women alike with batons over their shields. Later, (start at 4:26) we saw a video where the PNP beat a man from KMU as he stood, surrendered. 
From our end, we were told to RUN. And that we did. At that moment, all of our women made sure that they were together. Never leaving each other. Ensuring we would get to safety. We were all scared and jarred at the moment. But then, at that moment, we really understood state repression. Police repression against people who are simply practicing the freedom to assemble, the freedom to speech.
In all of my expos in the Philippines, I have never been more mobilized and agitated. The face of fascism showed itself, and even though I ran away, I’ve seen it. The face that peoples in the Philippines, Palestine, Greece, South Africa, Colombia and the world over face when they are struggling for a better world, a better life, a better future. For me, I felt like this was a march to remember not just because of the violent dispersal but because I saw the people’s resilience. Marchers whose faces I saw bloodied with batons got immediate medical attention from movement medics and wanted to go right back out and finish the march. All against imperialism.


I love the contradictions of the Philippines.

Jeeps and ignored traffic lanes
Mobilization and repression
Malls and poverty
Drainage and floods
Just two days ago, my FiRE sisters and i went to Barangay Damayan Lagi, a shanty town next to the San Juan river in Quezon City. Most of the residents have lived in that urban poor community for 20 some odd years, inheriting their “puesto” or space from other urban poor dwellers who built the structure before. They are in a fight against demolition. Inside of this month, the threat of demolition from the state looms over 260 families who will get pushed out in the name of President Aquino’s Public Private Partnership, where as Mylin, the lead Gabriela organizer there said will, “kill the public and make the private rich.” The PPP, as it is referred to here, prioritizes private investment and development for the public good, assuming that one more mall is good and assuming that the government, the arbiter of these deals, are for the public.
Jeni, the woman who offered her dwelling to us said, “Masakit isipin na maaalis kami dito. Nung lumipat kami dito, wala akong anak. Ngayon, tatlo na sila na lumaki dito.” It’s painful to think that we will be demolished. When I moved here, I didn’t have any kids. Now, I have all three here and they’ve grown up here. The popular rhetoric for the problem of “informal settlers” as the government labels them is that they are a nuisance, they squat, they pollute the rivers, they make the urban center ugly, etc. From the outside, we can only see their shantytowns as a nuisance, squatters, pollution and ugly.
But we often, always, fail to see the contradictions that live inside of them.
That there are families that have grown and laughed in those tiny dwellings. Those families who often barely have anything to eat, sometimes have cried together, evacuated the areas of their homes that is being swallowed up by flood, ran to the street because an electrical fire has ravaged the homes they built with their own hands.
That most of these “squatters” came from provinces. And that they way they know how to build their houses from pieces of wood, tarpaulin and corrugated metal comes from their knowledge of building bahay kubos with bamboo and parts of coconut trees. That the fact is, they all want to go back to their lives in the province but are unable to because there is no livelihood there. Landlessness is rampant. Usury and a landlord system starves their children even if they, and their ancestors have always known how to grow food.
That the pollution problem with “informal settling” is not that urban poor people are throwing their garbage into rivers but that the massive malls that excrete waste almost at the same rate as the construction of new malls are polluting as well. And because the corporations that build these malls are invisible because they serve the “public good,” the poor become framed as dirty, dangerous and decrepit.
After our visit to Damayan Lagi, my team and I went to a forum held by Alyansang Kontra Demolisyon (AKD), the Alliance Against Demolition. A metro-Manila wide coalition of urban poor organizations working towards resisting demolition through their main instrument “barricadang masa”–the people’s barricade. They have seen 2 success stories in the past year and have planned to mobilize their members to imminent demolitions. Ka Carlito of KADAMAY said that they can’t demolish all communities in one day, and if there is a demolition every day of the week the members of AKD will mobilize to fortify the people’s barricade wherever it is needed.
It’s been raining a lot here since I’ve arrived. After all, it is one of the two seasons here, tagulan, rainy season. And when it rains here, it floods. I often think of Jeni and wonder if the San Juan river has come to her family’s doorstep again. I often think of Jeni in hopes that I’ll be able to return to visit her, hoping that both the flood and the demolition won’t come to her doorstep.
The contradictions of the Philippines are stark and intense. And although, it strikes a chord in my heart, the very same organ swells with love and embrace for the conditions under which people live and the way that people resist those conditions.

Arundhati Roy


I loved God of Small Things. But I love this Roy quote even more, “People have the right to resist annihilation.”

What Our Public Means and What We Can Do About It

What Our Public Means and What We Can Do About It: Michelle Fine’s CUNY Graduate Center Commencement Address (2011)

Michelle Fine’s Graduate Center Commencement Address::


Commencement Address

Forty-seventh Doctoral Commencement Exercises

The Graduate School and University Center

The City University of New York

May 27, 2011

Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center

Michelle Fine, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Urban Education and Women’s Studies

Good morning President Kelly, Honorees Ina Caro, Robert Caro and John Striecker, President Emeritus Francis Horowitz, Trustee Berry, Vice Chancellor Dobrin, honored guests on the platform from the Graduate Center Foundation Board, member of the Graduate Center Cabinet, faculty and most important the graduating class of 2011, family and friends…

CONFESSION: I am not Tony Kushner.

This week, like all weeks, we have had our share of political and environmental disasters but also great moments of hope. First, there was no rapture; it would have been a great, if tragic, irony after all those years of writing your dissertation…. The U.S. Supreme Court ordered the State of California to reduce its inmate population by 32,000 inmates to “correct longstanding violations of inmates’ rights.” The New Jersey Supreme Court has instructed Governor Chris Christie to provide equitable school funding for the most resource deprived districts in the state. Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi placed a restraining order on Wisconsin’s recent collective bargaining law. In a few days Tony Kushner will be getting his much deserved honorary degree and last evening was a stunning memorial to the great public intellectual Manning Marable.

Today, 334 of you will graduate from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, representing 41 countries including China, Romania, Burma, Congo, Colombia and also Bronx, Florida, Puerto Rico, Illinois and of course Staten Island.

As I understand it, from reviewing the transcripts of the graduating class, most of you were raised in homes that did not originally speak Foucault. Some of you have earned a Ph.D. after 10, 12, 17 years.

A double Mazel Tov to you for persistence.

Before you are hooded, I have one more assignment for you. Consider it a life time comprehensive exam. As you know, we are in a political, fiscal, ideological and intellectual custody battle for the soul of the public. You – the brilliant, diverse and deserving graduates of a, perhaps the,thriving, democratic, critical public institution for doctoral education – know intimately the joys of a stunning public higher education. Thus in gratitude to the taxpayers of New York and with love for the children of generations to come, I ask you today to consider how not if, you will engage in the struggle to defend and reclaim public education, as vital to our collective lives in a multi-racial democracy.

One might ask, when did public become a 4 letter word?  In the Spring of 2011, we have witnessed a dramatic fiscal and ideological make over of the public sphere; a grotesque shredding of budgets for public education and social services while millionaires and corporations enjoy tax breaks. Across the country, public officials have chosen to transfer the economic pain onto the already burdened poor and working class, in the drag as austerity, as if the economic crisis were natural and inevitable; as if we were truly engaged in shared sacrifice.  On every measure of social life, inequality gaps are swelling. British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (2009) document how these gaps jeopardize our collective human security in terms of health, infant mortality, crime, fear, violence, civic participation, voting and sense of shared fates. Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich keeps reminding us that the wealthiest 1% own at least 25% of privately held wealth, while law professor and scholar Michelle Alexander, in her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010) tells us that there are more Black men in prison today than were enslaved in 1850 and the Chronicle of Higher Education continues to report that financial assistance to higher education is in jeopardy for low income youth and shamefully unavailable to students who are considered undocumented. On the front of educational policy for democracy, we have indeed lost our way. Fear not, for the drumbeats of organizing for educational justice can be heard across the country. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

At the dawn of 1900s, W.E.B. Du Bois published The Crisis, a magazine committed to chronicling the ongoing exploitation of the African American community. Brilliant man, he understood that our country would not likely attend or respond to the cumulative structural neglect and miseducation of Black children until a profit could be made or until the people would revolt (see Du Bois, 1903).  One hundred years later, the perverse braiding of poor people’s pain with corporate profit is now becoming an American tradition, evident in predatory lending, housing foreclosures, the proliferation of for profit charters and the money being made from the prison industrial complex.

As my 96 year old mother would say, from Du Bois’ mouth to your ears, now we hear there’s a crisis! The media circulates caricatures of k – 12 educators, especially those with tenure and experience, by distributing popular images of Rubber Rooms, incompetence, greed and educators with criminal records. Some conservative media tried – unsuccessfully – to unsettle the reputation of our own brilliant Francis Fox Piven and other critical scholars of participatory democracy and labor studies. Periodic twitters bemoan fat pensions and the “tragedy” of public universities. These media stories occlude the sustained conditions of poverty and discrimination, highlight public sector “failure,” selectively report “data” on privatized success and serve as ideological lubricant for aggressive budget cuts, policies of privatization and relentless power (and land) grabs.

Enter a new regime of power brokers – thank you Robert Caro– subsidizing this reconfigured “common sense.” As the logic goes, the public sector is inefficient, corrupt, greedy and in need of radical reform, takeover and salvation. Leeching onto the pain of cumulative structural disinvestment in poor communities, this message resonates for some with justified outrage over about generations of miseducation in low income communities. But while corporations and market logic promise to save poor people from the inefficiency of the public, crucial political questions of participatory democracy, racial and ethnic justice, schools and universities as a resource in community life, the autonomy of knowledge, questions of community/youth/educator power, and accountability to whom? gently slip off the policy table and media headlines, into a neo-liberal wastebasket.

But this was Spring 2011 – your Spring, Arab Spring. We have witnessed a virtual human chain of educational struggles unleashed across the United States, stretching from the University of Puerto Rico and Madison, Wisconsin to Newark New Jersey and Detroit, Michigan where 5466 teachers – all of them – were given pink slips. Students, staff and faculty are organizing against the privatization of the University of California system, and of course at the City University of New York, students, staff and faculty, with scholars, artists and activists around the globe, organized a stunning and victorious campaign insisting that our Board of Trustees respect intellectual integrity and faculty governance and shaming their moments of silence.

These eruptive moments for educational justice have provoked funny little opportunities for new allies. In my brief remaining time, let me offer a quick story of surprising solidarity. When busloads of Professional Staff Congress (PSC) members traveled to Albany on March 23, 2011 to protest the budget cuts to CUNY, a small group of faculty, students and HEOs agreed to engage in civil disobedience and be arrested, to demonstrate the breadth and depth of this fiscal injustice. As the state troopers gently placed handcuffs on the aging PSC 33, a few whispered, “Thanks for doing this for public workers. You know, we can’t.” In Albany as in Madison we witness the emergence of a stunning, tentative but swelling alliance among college students and educators and police officers, firefighters, housing activists, k – 12 educators, social service advocates, public health workers and other public employees. Indeed, Chuck Canterbury, National President of the Fraternal Order of Police, not someone I quote often, spoke for his colleagues in Madison, asking, “Who are these evil teachers who teach your children, these evil policemen who protect them , these evil firemen who pull them from burning buildings? When did we all become evil?”

So you may decide to take up your third comprehensive exam in critical scholarship and/or activism in these struggles against the gentrification of public education. But before I end, I’ld like to complicate this work a bit. Let’s be honest. We don’t want to fight to keep lousy institutions open just because they are public. Engaged struggles for public financial support and democratic governance are necessary but not sufficient. Our vision must be bolder. We need your wisdom, scholarship and chutzpa to reclaim and restore the wide-open intellectual culture, participatory passions, and radical imagination of public institutions, to protect their vibrancy and to build a deep recognition of our profound interdependence. [I see some of you confused by the word chutzpa – if you don’t know what chutzpa is… you can’t really say you have a Ph.D. from CUNY! Ask a friend!]

Let me borrow an image from biology writer Janine M. Beynus (1997) who has lectured around the globe on mighty oak trees that survive natural disaster. Beynus pulls social problems up by their roots and asks, “How would nature solve this?” (Goldsmith and Elizabeth, 2011). Standing tall, almost unbowed, she tells us, oak trees grow in communities, expansive, bold and comfortably taking up lots of space. While they appear autonomous and free-standing, the truth is that they are held up by a thick, entwined maze of roots, deep and wide. These intimate underground snuggles lean on each other for strength, even and especially in times of natural disaster.

Because you have had the privilege of being educated at the Graduate Center and have probably taught throughout the CUNY system, networked by subways and email systems equally likely to fail at just the wrong moment, you know the thrill and terror of shared fates, the sweet comfort and knotty entanglements of entwined roots, and you know in your belly the intimate pain of inequality gaps sketched into the faces of your students. You know that we are weakened by segregated neighborhoods and schools, with some of us locked in gated communities, others behind bars, and increasing numbers deported. And you know how jazzed we can get in our wildly diverse CUNY classrooms as students or faculty, when we meet strangers in pulsating public spaces like parks, libraries, basketball courts and subways; as we listen to national public radio, bike in Prospect and Central Park, visit the Bronx Zoo and Botanical gardens; as we breathe in the luscious sounds and visions of museums and public concerts.

These spaces constitute productive sites of public possibility, provoking what John Dewey (1950) called “aesthetic” experiences which inspire sensual imagination for what might be, which he contrasted with “anesthetic” experiences that deaden “heart, mind and soul.”

Public education may be a deeply flawed, highly uneven system, a work in progress. It is, however, our only chance for participatory, collective sustainability. And so it is our work to deepen the roots and resurrect the aesthetic, provocative possibilities of public life, even and especially in hard times.

So, our collective project is nothing short of resuscitating diverse, critical, democratic spaces of serious scholarship for social transformation. Toward that end I want to honor our Angels of America working at the Graduate Center including the security officers working under Sergeant Cheryl Holder and with Stan Miller and the administrators, HEOs, the PSC and the adjuncts who stitch together the CUNY community so we don’t really know how precarious it all is. I know that naming names is dangerous business, but I want us to give a shout out to three unsung heroes at the Graduate Center who care intimately and always for your three basic needs – your heart, Vice President for Student Affairs Matt Schoengood; your wallet and fellowships, Associate Director of Graduate Assistant Programs, Anne Ellis; and your IRB application, the irreplaceable IRB Administrator Kay Powell. Matt, Anne and Kay are just a few of the administrators who ride the elevator thinking about how to resolve your crises, wholly attentive to students’ financial, academic and human needs, they can be found emailing quietly into the night.

And finally to our much beloved groundskeeper, President Bill Kelly who has sculpted the Graduate Center as a spa for intellectual engagement, critique, dialogue and labor. Over half a decade, Bill has not only protected our fiscal health and overseen our magnificent growth, but he has also nurtured the intellect, heart, ethics and deeply rooted public vision of the Graduate Center. Nationally and globally the Graduate Center is now one of the most highly desirable salons for public intellectuals committed to scholarship for social transformation and rekindling the public imagination. This is of course a stunning achievement in fiscally hard times, and you, the graduates are evidence of Bill’s success.

So this is public; this is why we pay taxes.  


I leave you with a thought from the political theorist Hannah Arendt (1958), from the Human Condition where she argues for the vita activa. Arendt takes the position that public is not simply a noun or an adjective. At its most compelling, public is a verb: a set of commitments, your commitments, activities, labors, solidarities, disappointments and desires. Public grows deep and wide so we can all lean upon each other in good times and even more so in trying times. Public captures the dreams of the parents and grandparents sitting in the balcony of Avery Fisher Hall, reflecting your blood, sweat and tears, so that your babies could sit here, in the orchestra, with caps and gowns.


In closing, a mighty oak grows on Fifth. The Graduate Center stands strong and sturdy, public and democratic, diverse and intellectually provocative. But these are precarious times, financially, politically, ideologically and intellectually.  Unless we redress the unregulated rush to privatize and reclaim the soul of the public, you could be the pruned generation, among the last to enjoy the sweet roots of public support.

And so, to the gorgeous, brilliant and diverse graduating diaspora of the Graduate Center 2011, I wish you lives of meaning, justice, friendship, outrage, joy, long walks, sweet dreams, thrilling scholarship and laughter.

Give money to the Graduate Center, remember your roots, and go public – everywhere you can.


Alexander, Michelle (2010) The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness. New York: The New Press.

Arendt, Hannah (1958) The Human Condition.  Chicago: University of  Chicago Press.

Beynus, Janine M. (1997) Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature.  New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

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All copyright to this document belong to Dr. Michelle Fine, mfine AT gc DOT cuny DOT edu


Learning Online

In some respects as an Instructional Technology Fellow, I really understand what its like to improve classes with technology both for undergraduates and for professors. I see how taking advantage of young people’s dexterity with the internet and their “gadgets” can actually be helpful for learning.

But I am totally uneasy with the the intimacy between technology and capitalism in education. Yesterday, I read a bit about how online classes are being positioned to take the positions of professors in universities. Today, the Times publishes an article about how online courses are now peddled to high school classes to “prepare” them for college.

While, I hope that the same amount of time and resources is being spend on critical thinking, writing and reading comprehension, I highly doubt it.