Literacy, Neoliberalism and Student Protest in 1990s New York City
I’m an English PhD candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center, where I concentrate in Composition-Rhetoric and American Studies. Broadly speaking, I study literacy, particularly in urban educational settings. I’m especially interested in using decolonial and critical-race approaches to conceptualize the university, writing pedagogy, and education justice. Other interests include digital pedagogies, archival research, community literacy, and feminist theory. Outside my doctoral research, I have worked across CUNY as a composition/English instructor, Writing Center consultant, and Writing Across the Curriculum Fellow.
My dissertation project, which I began working on this summer with the aid of the Connect New York Fellowship, examines the 1990s in New York City, highlighting grassroots student activist literacies in the context of policy and institutional changes under neoliberal racial capitalism. While theoretically rooted in composition-rhetoric and methodologically relying substantially on primary archival research, I take a transdisciplinary approach to understanding this time and place, drawing on research in K-12 education, cultural geography, critical race theory, and more.
On March 23rd, 1995, 25,000 high school and college students gathered en masse outside City Hall in New York City. The occasion was Shut The City Down!, a rally against the latest round of proposed budget slashes and tuition hikes at the City University of New York (CUNY), this time initiated by New York’s then-governor George Pataki. This gathering, at this point the largest student protest in New York City since the 1960s–if not earlier–centered the voices and perspectives of young people who would be most affected by these attacks on the city’s public university system.
My dissertation project, which I began working on this summer with the aid of the Connect New York Fellowship, examines the 1990s in New York City, highlighting grassroots student activist literacies in the context of neoliberal racial capitalism. Drawing on Critical/New Literacy Studies scholarship, I see “literacy” broadly as meaning-making practices–including but by no means limited to reading and writing–that individuals and communities draw on to “read the word and the world” (Freire). In the case of New York City in the 1990s, multiracial, multi-institutional coalitions centered around CUNY drew upon alternative literacy practices–including the production of grassroots publications and speaking out at public demonstrations–to defend their CUNY from budgetary and programmatic attacks.
This summer, much of my research involved digging into the larger sociopolitical landscape of New York City during this decade. Indeed, at this time, neoliberal policy changes under Republican state and city leadership, including the adoption of “broken windows” ideologies and stop-and-frisk, an uptick in mass incarceration, and the defunding of public resources perpetuated economic and racial inequity. In other words, the City embraced a stricter approach to policing and discipline and a hands-off approach to the market and public institutions–disproportionately targeting low-income residents of color. As my project progresses, I am eager to explore how activist writers and organizers affiliated with CUNY recognized, critiqued, and spoke back to these larger city-wide contexts, recognizing the ways in which higher education responds to and is embedded within them.