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Insurrection at Columbia: The Groovy Revolution

FOLD

You could tell something more than springtime was brewing at Columbia by the crowds around the local Chock Full, jumping and gesturing with more than coffee in their veins. You could sense insurrection in the squads of police surrounding the campus like a Navy picket fence. You could see rebellion in the eyes peering from windows where they didn’t belong. And you knew it was revolution for sure, from the trash.

Don’t underestimate the relationship between litter and liberty at Columbia. Until last Thursday, April 23, the university was a clean dorm, where students paid rent, kept the house rules, and took exams. Then the rebels arrived, in an uneasy coalition of hip, black, and leftist militants. They wanted to make Columbia more like home. So they ransacked files, shoved furniture around, plastered walls with paint and placards. They scrawled on blackboards and doodled on desks. They raided the administration’s offices (the psychological equivalent of robbing your mother’s purse) and they claim to have found cigars, sherry, and a dirty book (the psychological equivalent of finding condoms in your father’s wallet).

Of course this is a simplification. There were issues involved in the insurrection which paralyzed Columbia this past week. Like the gymnasium in Morningside Park, or the university’s ties to the Institute for Defense Analysis. But beyond these specifics, the radicals were trying to capture the imagination of their campus by giving vent to some of its unique frustrations. In short, they had raised the crucial question of who was to control Columbia? Four buildings had been “liberated” and occupied by students. The traditional quietism that had been the pride of straight Columbia was giving way to a mood of cautious confrontation. The groovy revolution — one part dogma to four parts joy — had been declared.

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The rebels totaled upward of 900 during peak hours. They were ensconsed behind sofa-barricades. You entered Fayerweather Hall through a ground floor window. Inside, you saw blackboards filled with “strike bulletins,” a kitchen stocked with sandwiches and cauldrons of spaghetti, and a lounge filled with squatters. There was some pot and a little petting in the corridors. But on Friday, the rebellion had the air of a college bar at 2 a.m. In nearby Avery Hall, the top two floors were occupied by architecture students, unaffiliated with SDS, but sympathetic to their demands. They sat at their drawing boards, creating plans for a humanistic city and taping their finished designs across the windows. In Low Library, the strike steering committee and visiting radicals occupied the offices of President Grayson Kirk. On the other side of the campus, the mathematics building was seized late Friday afternoon. The rebels set about festooning walls and making sandwiches. Jimi Hendrix blared from a phonograph. Mao mixed with Montesquieu, “The Wretched of the Earth” mingled with “Valley of the Dolls.”

It was a most eclectic uprising, and a most forensic one as well. The debates on and around the campus were endless. Outside Ferris Booth Hall, two policemen in high boots took on a phalanx of SDS supporters. Near Low Library, a leftist in a lumberjack shirt met a rightist in a London Fog. “You’ve got to keep your people away from here. We don’t want any violence,” said the leftist. “We have been using the utmost restraint,” answered his adversary. “But,” insisted the lumberjack shirt, letting his round glasses slide down his nose, “this gentleman here says he was shoved.”

In its early stages, at least, it was a convivial affair, a spring carnival without a queen. One student, who manned a tree outside Hamilton Hall, had the right idea when he shouted for all to hear: “This is a liberated tree. And I won’t come down until my demands have been met.”

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SPINDLE

Ray Brown stood in the lobby of Hamilton Hall, reading a statement to the press. His followers stood around him, all black and angry. It was 7.30 p.m. Sunday, and the press had been escorted across a barricade of tabletops to stand in the lobby while Brown read his group’s demands. By now, there were dozens of committees and coalitions on the campus, and students could choose from five colors of armbands to express their sympathies (red indicated pro-strike militancy, green meant peace with amnesty, pale blue meant an end to demonstrations, white stood for faculty, and black indicated support for force.)

But no faction worried Columbia’s administrator’s more than the blacks. They had become a political entity at 5 a.m. Wednesday morning when 300 white radicals filed dutifully from Hamilton Hall at the request of the blacks. From that moment, the deserted building became Malcolm X University christened by a sign over the main door. In the lobby were two huge posters of Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X. That was all whited were allowed to see of Hamilton Hall. The blacks insisted on holding out alone, but by joining the demands of the people in Harlem and the kids in Low, they added immeasurable power to the student coalition. This is easier explained by considering the University’s alternatives. To discharge the students from Hamilton meant risking charges of racism, and that meant turning Morningside Park into a rather vulnerable DMZ. To eject only the whites would leave the University with the blame for arbitrarily deciding who was to be clubbed and who spared.

In short, the blacks made the Administration think twice. And Ray Brown knew it. He read his statement to the press, and after it was over, looked down at those of us taking notes and muttered, “Clear the hall.” We left.

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There was a second factor in the stalemate and its protraction. The issue of university control raised by the radicals had stirred some of the more vocal faculty members into action. They arrived in force on Friday night, when it became known that police were preparing to move. When the administration issued a one hour ultimatum to the strikers early Saturday morning, concerned faculty members formed an ad hoc committee and placed themselves between the students and the police. This line was defied only once — at 3 a.m. Saturday by two dozen plainclothesmen. A young French instructor was led away with a bleeding head. The administration backed down, again licked its wounds, and waited. It played for time, and allowed the more militant faculty members to expend their energies on futile negotiations. All weekend, the campus radio station, WKCR, broadcast offers for settlement and their eventual rejection. While the Board of Trustees voted to suspend construction of the gymnasium pending further study, they made it clear that their decision was taken at the Mayor’s request, and that they were not acceding to any of the striker’s demands. Over the weekend, factions multiplied and confusion grew on campus. This too played into the administration’s hands. Vice-president David B. Truman blamed the violence, the inconvenience, and the intransigence on the demonstrators. When a line of conservative students formed around Low Library to prevent food from being brought to the protesters, the administration ordered food for the anti-picket line at the school’s expense.

Finally, it called the first formal faculty meeting in anyone’s memory for Sunday morning. But it made certain that only assistant, associate, and full professors were present. With this qualification, the administration assured itself a resolution that would seem to signify faculty support. Alone and unofficial, the ad hoc committee persisted in its demands, never quite grasping its impotence until late Monday night, when word began to reach the campus that the cops would move.

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MUTILATE

At 2.30 Tuesday morning 100 policemen poured on campus. The students were warned of the impending assault when the University cut off telephone lines in all occupied buildings. One by one, the liberated houses voted to respond non-violently.

While plainclothesmen were being transported up Amsterdam Avenue in city buses marked “special,” the uniformed force moved first on Hamilton Hall. The students there marched quietly from their sanctuary after police reached them via the school’s tunnels. There were no visible injuries as they boarded a bus to be led away, and this tranquil surrender spurred rumors that a mutual cooperation pact of sorts had been negotiated between police and black demonstrators.

Things were certainly different in the other buildings. Outside Low Memorial Library, police rushed a crowd of students, clubbing some with blackjacks and pulling others by the hair. “There’s gonna be a lot of bald heads tonight,” one student said.

Uniformed police were soon joined by plainclothesmen, identifiable only by the tiny orange buttons in their lapels. Many were dressed to resemble students. Some carried books, others wore Coptic crosses around their necks. You couldn’t tell, until they started to operate, that they were cops.

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At Mathematics Hall, police broke through the ground floor window and smashed the barricade at the front door. Students who agreed to surrender peacefully were allowed to do so with little interference. They walked between rows of police, through Low Plaza, and into vans that lined College Walk. In the glare of the floodlights which normally light that part of the campus at night, it looked like a bizarre pogrom. Platoons of prisoners appeared, waving their hands in victory signs and singing “We Shall Overcome.” A large crowd of sympathizers were separated from the prisoners by a line of police, but their shouts of “Kirk Must Go” rocked the campus. Police estimated that at least 628 students were jailed, 100 of them women. Officials at nearby Saint Luke’s Hospital reported that 74 students were admitted for treatment. This figure did not include those who were more seriously injured, since these were removed to Knickerbocker Hospital by ambulance. Three faculty members were reportedly hurt.

Many of the injuries occurred among those students who refused to leave the buildings. Police entered Fayerweather and Mathematics Halls and dragged limp students down the stairs. The sound of thumping bodies was plainly audible at times (demonstrators had waxed the floors to hamper police). Many emerged in masks of vaseline applied to ward off the effects of Mace. Police made no attempt to gas the demonstrators. But some of those who had barricaded themselves in classrooms reported that teams of police freely pummeled them. A line heard by more than one protester, as the police moved to dislodge groups linking arms, was “Up against the wall, motherfuckers.”

There was no example of incredible police brutality visible at Columbia on Tuesday morning. It was all credible brutality. Plainclothesmen occasionally kicked limp demonstrators, often with quick jabs in the stomach. I saw students pulled away by the hair, scraped against broken glass, and when they proved difficult to carry, beaten repeatedly. Outside Mathematics Hall, a male student in a leather jacket was thrown to the ground when he refused to walk and beaten by a half dozen officers while plainclothesmen kept reporters at a distance. When he was finally led away, his jacket and shirt had been ripped from his back.

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The lounge at Philosophy Hall, which had been used by the ad hoc faculty committee as an informal senate, became a field hospital. Badly injured students lay on beds and sofas while stunned faculty members passed coffee, took statements, and supplied bandages. The most violent incidents had occurred nearby, in Fayerweather Hall, where many students who refused to leave were dragged away bleeding from the face and scalp. Medical aides who had moved the injured to a nearby lawn trailed the police searching for bleeding heads. “Don’t take him, he’s bleeding,” you heard them shout. Or: “Pick her up, stop dragging her.”

The cries of the injured echoed off the surrounding buildings and the small quad looked like a battlefield. Those who were awaiting arrest formed an impromptu line. Facing the police, they sang a new verse to an old song:

“Harlem shall awake,
Harlem shall awake,
Harlem shall awake someday … ”

Though two of Mayor Lindsay’s top aides, Sid Davidoff and Barry Gottehrer, had been present throughout the night, neither was seen to make any restraining move toward the police. Commissioner Leary congratulated his men. And University President Grayson Kirk regretted that even such minimal violence was necessary.

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By dawn, the rebellion had ended. Police cleared the campus of remaining protesters by charging, nightsticks swinging, into a large crowd which had gathered around the sundial. Now, the cops stood in a vast line across Low Library Plaza. Their boots and helmets gleamed in the floodlights. Later in the morning, a reporter from WKCR would encounter some of these arresting officers at the Tombs, where the prisoners were being held. He would hear them singing “We Shall Overcome,” and shouting, “victory.”

At present, it is difficult to measure the immediate effects Tuesday’s police intervention will have on the university. Most students are too stunned to consider the future. On Tuesday morning they stood in small knots along Broadway, stepping around the horse manure and watching the remaining policemen leave. Their campus lay scarred and littered. Walks were inundated with newspapers, beer cans, broken glass, blankets, and even discarded shoes. Flower-beds had been trampled and hedges mowed down in some places. Windows were broken in at least three buildings and whole classrooms had been demolished.

It would take a while to make Columbia beautiful again. That, most students agreed. And some insisted that it would take much longer before the university would seem a plausible place to teach or study in again. The revolution had begun and ended in trash, and that litter would persist to haunt Columbia, and especially its president, Grayson Kirk.

1968 Village Voice article by Richard Goldstein about the student revolt at Columbia University

1968 Village Voice article by Richard Goldstein about the student revolt at Columbia University

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Education From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

On Donald Barr, “The Captain Queeg of Dalton School”

Come Back, Captain Queeg: Thursday’s Massacre at Dalton

Some years are agreeable, some disagreeable. I long ago adjusted to that fact, but last winter as I sat on gas lines, the only cheering things I could fix on were the endless humiliation of Richard Nixon and the fact that my younger children were finally learning something — going to Dalton, a school I really liked. At least, I thought — sneaking cigarettes I supposedly had quit smoking — school is one thing I don’t have to worry about. Dalton under Donald Barr was a decent model of what a good school, public or private, should be: a place where children could learn what they needed to know on their way to becoming well-educated, self-sufficient people. This is what I think a school should be — certainly no less, and I suspect it should not be much more.

Over the years, I had thought about schools far too much. The first article I wrote appeared in this paper about seven years ago. It was an attack on the Elizabeth Irwin School at which one of my daughters was a new student, and it praised City and Country, another Village school where my other children still were. Writing that article was possibly the third biggest mistake I ever made. To begin with, I was dead wrong — not about Elizabeth Irwin which was narrow and aggressively Old-Left propagandist at the time. I have no knowledge of its present character but I always found it interesting that both Kathy Boudin (of the 11th Street explosion) and Angela Davis are alumnae. I was wrong about City and Country which, in its slack permissive fashion, had gone on for 50 years turning the children of bohemians and intellectuals into students with most of the learning behavior problems of inner-city children. The fact that it took the near-paralysis of the brains of my older children before I removed the two who were still there indicates exactly how wrong I was.

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The other part of my mistake was that, as a result of the article, it became impossible for my daughter to continue at Elizabeth Irwin and, since it was the middle of the term, they refused to release her transcript to another school unless tuition was paid for the entire year. I therefore paid two private school fees that year, making that piece easily the most costly I ever wrote.

My worst mistake, however, was that I had been wrong about what education is. I was still under the spell of Summerhill and the notion that a child knows what it should learn when I complained (again in this paper) that Donald Barr, then a fairly new headmaster, was “the Captain Queeg of the Dalton School.”

I have difficulty now remembering what it was I found so appalling — I suspect it was Barr’s attitude that the young must be protected from adults capitulating to the escalating demands of those young — an attitude I had come to endorse heartily by the time I came to Mr. Barr, hat in hand, to ask him to put together what permissive education had split asunder. In other words, I wanted my children in a real school.

This was four years ago when even some of the most traditional schools seemed to be softening, buckling at the seams under the onslaught of counter-cultural fevers. Yet at Dalton the kids were learning math, science, grammar, literature, and history in a sensible consecutive curriculum appropriate to age and ability.

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Meanwhile, my fifth-grader at still another school was studying, as his core subject for the fall term, China. That is, China since the most recent cultural revolution (this before Mr. Nixon’s visit to China — so that the only texts available for study were Quotations From Chairman Mao and an article from Life magazine). The core subject for that teacher’s class the term before had been “Drugs.” The Spring semester promised “Sex,” but happily the teacher left.

My elder daughter, unable to get into any four-year college (even Syracuse turned her down), was at a junior college in New Hampshire where she finally learned to punctuate and turn in acceptable work on time (something second-graders at Dalton seem to know.)

Further, my younger daughter was at New Lincoln failing a few courses (among them “peak experience”) when New Lincoln decided to shut down for at least two weeks and perhaps for the rest of the term in a gesture of protest against the Kent State and Jackson State shootings. When I commented at a parents’ meeting that I thought it misguided and hardly meaningful to turn teenagers loose to roam the streets — especially since my daughter was failing peak experience and algebra and would therefore not have a chance to pull up her grades — I was, as I recall, booed for my reactionary position. The school, in effect, did close down for some weeks, the peak experience teacher never returning at all.

Thus we came to Dalton. A number of people we knew were surprised that we were sending our boys there. For some time Dalton had been the apotheosis of the New York private school of its genre — neither the Waspy old traditional school, nor the permissive alternative school, but something in between. Many of the parents are rich or famous — sometimes both — and often too doting. As Mr. Barr once said in one of his recurring lectures to parents, “This is the kind of school in which a child evinces an interest in photography at breakfast and by dinner he has a Nikon.”

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Nonetheless, in addition to sizable numbers of students on scholarship, there are many children of less affluent writers, academics, and other professionals at Dalton because despite its defects of over-size and over-privilege, Dalton has become the school where the intellectual action is. And of course this has been because of Donald Barr, the cranky, eccentric headmaster who held back the tide of the ’60s at Dalton, striding the corridors of his school in a rumpled suit, wearing in his lapel an American flag pin which was likely an affront to almost everybody.

The word around town was that Barr was an authoritarian bastard, that the kids hated him. Yet looking at stories about him in the school newspaper, at cartoons, one saw that the relationship the students had with Barr was the sort one generation use to have with another — a kind of natural enmity mixed with grudging admiration. At least with Mr. Barr, they knew who the grown-up was. My guess is that former students will be telling stories about him long after the trendy principals who were “on the side of the child” are forgotten.

Shortly after we became parents at Dalton, the first attempt by some trustees to oust Barr erupted in an explosion that reverberated through the pages of the New York Times, Time, and New York magazine. The parents were alerted to the putsch by a letter sent out by, among others, Norman Podhoretz, David Susskind, and Sidney Lumet — all parents who were opposed to the move but, like the rest of the parents, had no power to prevent it.

Dalton is governed by a self-perpetuating board of trustees. There is only nominal direct representation of the parent body, so nominal that the trustees are accountable for their actions to no one but themselves. In one sense this is good because it frees the board from the modish pressures that parents tend to bring to bear on an elected board. But it can also leave parents in the position of waking up one morning to find their school turned upside down on the whim of the oligarchy.

This, in fact, is what happened to those who had sent their children to the pre-Barr Dalton, a much smaller progressive school — not wildly academic, but strong on the arts. Or, as one alumna member of the board put it, “It used to be such a nice school. The children played with animals…” It was a warm, almost sweet school until one day the parents turned and found what seemed to be a martinet in charge, the school size doubled, computers installed, and no one caring whether their children had friends in their classes or not.

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The kind of individualized attention the new Dalton was pushing was based far less on the child’s psycho-social development than on his intellectual readiness for a given subject. The old Dalton parents had, in effect, had their school changed utterly by a board of trustees who, it turned out, never knew exactly what it was getting with Barr. As one of the old trustees (also a parent) said, “When we hired him we didn’t know we were getting a dictator.”

A number of the old teachers and parents left, and others took their places. But still, not everyone was happy.

As I said before, by the spring of 1971 some trustees had had enough of Barr. There was angry talk that he had been hasty in expelling sixth graders who were running a nasty shakedown ring, that he had expelled others because of drug distributing, and that some of the kids so treated were children of parents too powerful to accept this kind of behavior from a schoolmaster.

The parents, however, overwhelmingly supported Barr, who strode dramatically into a crucial PTA meeting to make his case, thus kicking off the fight to retain him. “And now,” Barr said, taking leave of the assembled parents, “I have to go to a meeting of the trustees who are gathered in the basement — where they belong.”

Fortunately, at that time, the board had a number of members who did not want to violate the intensely expressed will of a parental majority and, in the face of a prodigious pro-Barr mail, phone, and telegram campaign which used enough high-quality time and energy to have easily elected a congressman, the trustees allowed their board to be reconstituted and a new board came into being.

We then relaxed, secure in the knowledge that our irascible headmaster was doing his job, that fifth-graders would still have their choices of 10 languages including Greek, Chinese, and Russian, that students would still read aloud the dress regulations (no sneakers, no jeans) in a German accent, and that the younger students would still tell each other that if you were very bad, you would get sent to Mr. Barr’s office where he would talk to you and give you a lollipop.

Then, two months ago, one of my sons came home from school with the word that Mr. Barr was leaving. It was the first I had heard of it. An article in the Times the next morning reported that Mr. Barr had resigned in a dispute with the trustees which “seemed to center on the question of where the board’s authority should yield to the headmaster’s judgment.”

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The Times continued by noting that “Richard Ravitch, a construction company executive who is president of the board of trustees,” had said that “ ‘My sense of trusteeship and my understanding of the requirements of the state law and the bylaws of the school all say to me that it is the obligation of the trustees of an institution to make all the policies.’ ”

What new headmaster of any worth could possibly be attracted to Dalton after that statement?

I had known Mr. Ravitch previously as a Dalton parent and as the head of that construction company which has brought into being, among other developments. Waterside — that great hulk sitting on six acres of the East River — which now, out of pure malice, I hope remains unrented forever. Further back, I recall, during the 1968 Democratic primaries, Ravitch, one evening at the McCarthy Cabaret, poorly supported the unfortunate Hubert Humphrey in a debate with partisans of Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy.

I bring this up now because I remember thinking Ravitch was a jackass then, but I hardly expected he would be in charge of the only good school I had ever found for my children. Or as someone said on hearing the news, “I thought I was sending my children to Donald Barr’s school, not to Richard Ravitch’s.” Dalton has lost the man who made it extraordinary because Mr. Ravitch, welding his “sense of trusteeship” like a club, precipitated Donald Barr’s resignation.

Of course there had been issues in dispute between some trustees and Mr. Barr. There always were. Barr is a natural adversary. These trustees felt that because contributions to the school had fallen off (money to Israel and the Nixon economy) and costs had risen, cuts in courses and personnel were necessary. In response to the push for economies, Barr had carefully worked out to the approval of most of the trustees a plan for eliminating certain courses that did no real damage to the school’s academic standards. In fact, several trustees have said that meetings between Barr and the board had, in the months preceding his resignation, been so relatively calm that they had seen no auguries of trouble. Even when an evaluation of the school had been ordered by the board, Barr went along — not cheerily, but he went along. After all, there had been other evaluations before.

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As I understand it, what brought about the fatal confrontation was that, on the Thursday of the week before the resignation was announced, Richard Ravitch had prepared a letter to the Dalton faculty which urged the teachers to talk freely to the outside evaluation committee when it appeared at the school. Barr, however, was convinced that the letter could well have been interpreted by the faculty (who already knew that some teachers would not be returning because of the cuts) as an invitation for them to participate in a general back-stabbing in an attempt to influence the evaluation committee as to who should stay and who should be cut adrift.

Barr refused to distribute the Ravitch letter unless it was rephrased. Ravitch ignored the concern of the man he considered his hireling and ordered Barr’s assistant to place the letter in the teachers’ boxes instantly. In the battle of wills that followed, Barr resigned. He may well have been too quick to resign — but it is clear that Ravitch made no move to reject the resignation and, in fact, was manifestly pleased at this turn of events.

When a parent called after hearing of the resignation to ask why no effort had been made to get Barr to reconsider, Ravitch answered, “Believe me, it’s the best thing that could have happened to the school.”

Later, Ravitch tried to tell another irate parent that Barr had quit because he didn’t want an evaluation of the school. “But did you try to persuade him of the need for an evaluation?” the parent asked.

“Of course not,” said Ravitch, “would you tell you cleaning woman why you wanted her to do something?”

A few weeks ago, a faculty member at the University of Chicago was told of the Dalton situation. He was astonished. “Barr made that into one of the best schools in the country,” he said, “and now they’re getting rid of him?”

Damn it, if only Hubert Humphrey had been elected, he might have appointed Richard Ravitch ambassador to South Vietnam and Donald Barr would still be headmaster of Dalton.

 

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Education THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Baruch Invited the CIA to Recruit on Campus, and Faculty Are Steamed

Last summer, staff, students, and alumni at Baruch College were surprised to learn that they’d been targeted by the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA had issued a press release naming Baruch a Signature School, a university partnership initiative launched by the agency in 2016 to increase the diversity of its staff.

After months of ensuing controversy, in early May the Baruch College Faculty Senate called on Baruch leadership not to renew the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the CIA when it expires at the end of this summer. The move followed year-long activism by students and faculty at CUNY schools, who vocally condemned Baruch president Mitchel Wallerstein’s decision to establish a closer relationship with an intelligence agency known for committing torture, toppling democratically elected governments, engaging in targeted assassinations, and committing other human rights abuses.

“The CIA is looking to diversify the agency in order to more effectively carry out its mission, and its record of intervention in the world shocks the conscience,” Johanna Fernández, an assistant professor in Baruch’s History Department who has researched the NYPD’s surveillance of political groups in the 1960s and 1970s, tells the Voice. “CUNY came into being, in part, as a result of the same kinds of popular struggles that the CIA suppresses abroad. That a public university is ignoring this reality is profoundly unethical.”

For the CIA to partner directly with a CUNY school might seem unexpected, but it’s actually part of a push by the agency to achieve a more diverse workforce. Long before Gina Haspel was appointed the CIA’s first female director last week, the agency has been trying to bring in more young women and young people of color to engage in covert intelligence work.

“What’s noteworthy about [this partnership] is that it’s another sign of the intimate relationship between the CIA and American academia,” says Daniel Golden, a senior editor at ProPublica and the author of the 2017 book Spy Schools: How the CIA, FBI, and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America’s Universities. The CIA has historically conducted recruitment on college campuses, he notes, but has done so covertly.

“Trumpeting this partnership would have been unlikely or unthinkable back in the Sixties and Seventies, when I was young, and CIA recruiters were anathema on college campuses,” says Golden. “Now it’s run-of-the-mill.”

***

Baruch is the third Signature School identified by the CIA, following Florida International University and the University of New Mexico (UNM). (The University of Illinois at Chicago signed on this February.) In March, the student and worker activist coalition CUNY Struggle, which organizes around labor and justice issues, obtained a copy of the agency’s Memorandum of Understanding with the school. The memo, which was reviewed by the Village Voice, commits Baruch to facilitating the CIA in developing relationships with university staff and conducting on-campus advertising and recruitment sessions. Baruch community members interviewed by the Voice said they did not know of any specific public CIA recruitment initiatives on campus this year.

“Because of our global charter, we need talent from all cultures and backgrounds to accomplish our mission,” then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo said in the August press release. Baruch president Wallerstein echoed that “Baruch College has one of the nation’s most diverse student bodies.… I am certain that in the years to come, the CIA-Baruch Signature School Program will provide our students with numerous, exciting career options both in the US and abroad.” The MOU mentions several specific “diversity professional organizations” — i.e., student of color groups — in describing how the agency might go about its recruiting.

Universities are increasingly open to partnering with the CIA, says Golden, for a variety of reasons, including a resurgence in the popularity of intelligence agencies following the 9-11 attacks, and the growing dependence of universities, especially public ones, on military and intelligence agencies for research funding. CUNY faculty members have received some funding from such agencies in recent years, including professors at City College’s Institute for Ultrafast Spectroscopy and Lasers and Dr. Andrew Rosenberg, a computer scientist formerly employed by Queens College and the Graduate Center.

Baruch officials told the Voice in a statement that participating in the Signature Schools Program “is entirely consistent with CUNY’s founding mission to provide educational and economic opportunities to historically marginalized populations, and particularly to those who had recently immigrated to the United States.” Diversifying participation in government service, the statement said, “is among the best guarantors of a government’s ability to remain responsive to democratic interests and popular concerns.”

Fernández counters that CUNY students — who are more likely than students from the CIA’s traditional Ivy League recruiting grounds to be from Muslim backgrounds, say, or have family members who are undocumented or have criminal records — face particular threats from the CIA recruitment process. “Unlike Yale and Harvard students who are protected by their class, Baruch students, their families, and communities stand to be scrutinized, harassed, and made vulnerable by the CIA’s unimaginably probing interview process,” she says. “Baruch’s decision to partner with the CIA stands in opposition to the CUNY mission: to provide the best possible education to the working-class people of New York.”

As Daniel Golden explores in his book, the CIA has a long history of using unsavory covert tactics to recruit vulnerable students and professors, including handing out fake business cards at academic conferences. Given widespread hatred for the agency in other nations, once a contact accepts CIA money, wittingly or not, the agency can use that connection to arm-twist its intended recruit into working as a spy or risk public exposure. And when the CIA is offered a front door into a university, says Golden, that doesn’t mean it won’t enter via the back door, too.

Fernández added the partnership has already affected her classrooms. When she suggested that students host a teach-in about the CIA as part of a class assignment, she says, several people expressed concerns that the activity might affect pending immigration interviews or job prospects. “The chilling effect on speech came faster than I imagined it would.”

***

Conor Tomás Reed is a CUNY Graduate Center student who taught at Baruch from 2011 to 2013, and is a member of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), the union that represents CUNY’s faculty and staff. He says the CIA MOU is just the latest development in the broader militarization of CUNY, including the return of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) to several campuses – a trend which he sees going hand-in-hand with budget cuts and tuition increases.

The Faculty Senate resolution that passed earlier this month, which is not binding, states that the formal relationship with the CIA threatens the safety of faculty doing research abroad as well as their subjects, and also endangers international students and their families. The resolution admonishes the college administration for signing the MOU without consultation, a move that seemingly stands at odds with Baruch’s stated commitment to shared governance.

“The unilateral nature of the decision [to sign the MOU] was the most disturbing,” says Vincent DiGirolamo, an assistant professor in Baruch’s Department of History and the chapter chair of the PSC. President Wallerstein had not engaged in any consultation with faculty before signing the agreement or even notifying them about the development. “It’s not about opposed me being opposed to the [MOU], but it’s about what the members fear and feel about the college — their employer — being tied so closely with this necessary but nefarious government agency.”

It appears that Baruch leadership may be taking the resolution under consideration. At a recent labor-management meeting, says DiGirolamo, Wallerstein said that the MOU is under review.

DiGirolamo acknowledged that there are students at Baruch who support the MOU, and faculty who believe that the union should not be mobilizing around the issue, for example in organizing an April “teach-in” about the CIA.

But he doesn’t agree. “This gets to the heart of what we do, here at the college, in terms of our creation of knowledge and who we serve, the mission of the college and the whole CUNY system, and the health and safety conditions of our membership,” he says. “We as scholars and workers as citizens have a right to weigh in and try to influence the direction of our country’s foreign policy.”

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Education THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The School Battle That Launched Cynthia Nixon’s Political Career

Nearly twenty years ago, on what was already a nerve-racking first day of school, parents of kindergartners attending P.S. 163, a dual-language English-Spanish elementary school on West 97th Street, found a classroom full of glaring safety issues. The bulging school population meant kindergarten classes were, as in previous years, held in adjacent trailers. A gate to the recess yard was open to the public, but no security guard was on duty; there was no intercom system to connect with the main building; and though each class had 25 to thirty kids, no paraprofessionals (better known as “teacher’s aides”) were assigned. A story made the parental rounds that the children had been left unsupervised for several minutes because a teacher was forced to leave the classroom to fetch a band-aid for an injured student and no other adult was available to step in and watch the kids. Apocryphal or not, it was a troubling situation for teachers and administrators.

“It was always a worry of what if one of the children gets hurt, or if I got hurt, can one teacher watch all the other kids while we go inside?” says Lisa Galeano, a kindergarten teacher who had started at the school the previous year. “We just didn’t have enough staff, so it came down to a group of parents spearheading efforts to fix things.”

Cynthia Nixon, one of the four pillars of the hit TV show Sex and the City, was one of those concerned parents. Nixon’s daughter, Samantha, the first of two children she had with partner Danny Mozes (they split up in 2003), was enrolled in the school’s Gifted and Talented program, whose classroom was in a makeshift trailer. The P.S. 163 battle marked the beginning of Nixon’s life as a public activist, which has taken her from an outside agitator to a 2018 New York candidate for governor.

Nixon has made fully-funded public education a centerpiece of her gubernatorial campaign, hammering it home right alongside her guaranteed applause lines in favor of legalizing weed. She has decried the growth of charter schools, called for doubling Cuomo’s proposed school aid increase to $1.5 billion by raising taxes on those earning more than $5 million, and denounced the expansion of policing on school grounds. Last month, she launched “Educators for Cynthia” and called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to repeal the Annual Professional Performance Review, a teacher review process that focuses on state standardized test scores.

Nixon’s views on education have certainly evolved and grown in scope since that first day of her daughter’s kindergarten class. And yet it’s not so far-fetched to say that her gubernatorial run might have never happened if those trailers had been in good shape.

“A lot of times, in order to become motivated and get active, a person has to have some direct experience between their lives and the larger world,” notes Billy Easton, executive director at Alliance for Quality Education, an organization Nixon became affiliated with during that 2001–02 school year. “I wasn’t there in 2001–02, but that trajectory is a common one. We had a teacher who contacted us because her school space was being threatened. She credits that moment for realizing how effective she could be and now she’s one of our super-activists.”

***

Nixon, a product of Hunter College Elementary and High School, was adamant her children would attend New York City public schools as well. Now that her daughter was in kindergarten, though, her class needed help. Samantha’s trailer classroom was some fifty yards from the lunchroom entrance, and little children with little legs tend to dawdle. The everyday act of walking across the courtyard to the cafeteria was an ordeal in itself.

“It was taking 45 minutes just to get to lunch,” says Mia Galison, owner of eeBoo Toys, whose daughter was in the same class as Nixon’s daughter. “If one kid needed the bathroom, they all went to the bathroom. Just an insane amount of wasted time each day.”

“My recollection is that Cynthia said, ‘Let’s go see the superintendent right now!’ ” says Danielle Fenton, a former actress, and publicist at the time, who had a son in Nixon’s class. “So we walked a few blocks to the District 3 office to voice our complaints. They gave us the runaround, but we were tough New York women who weren’t taking ‘No’ for an answer.”

Fenton immediately called the city desk at NBC News, who came and did a story the next day. The main get, of course, was the erstwhile Miranda Hobbes, who had recently told boyfriend Steve she was having his baby just as Sex and the City went on a mid–season 4 hiatus.

“The timing was perfect,” says Fenton, who now writes plays in her North Carolina home. “The television cameras were on as the kindergarteners were getting out of the half-day. There were all these kids, parents, and guardians congregated, so it looked like a much bigger protest group than the seven or eight of us who’d hatched the plan. The principal walked out, saw the cameras, turned around and walked back inside. Pay dirt.”

Then, on the second full day of kindergarten, the World Trade Center was attacked, throwing what was already a challenging fiscal climate for Gotham public schools into the unknown. The previous January, state Supreme Court Justice Leland DeGrasse had ruled that Albany’s aid distribution had shortchanged New York City for years, spending $2,000 less per student than the statewide average, to the tune of $2 billion annually. Governor George Pataki had appealed the ruling, so the funding situation was in limbo. Then in late October, the New York City Board of Education officials warned of potentially “devastating midyear cuts.”

This is when Nixon took her first steps from concerned parent to school funding activist.

Six weeks after 9-11, Nixon raised her fist at a rally in Madison Square Park, three miles north of the smoldering rubble.  It was organized by the AQE, whose New York director at the time was Christine Marinoni, later to become Nixon’s wife. (“I’m pretty sure I was with Cynthia at that rally when they first met,” laughs Fenton. “Did not see that one coming.”) Nixon joined some 200 teachers, advocates, parents, and kids in protesting the cuts, speaking of how Samantha’s school lost a dozen teacher’s aides and had but a lone lunchroom worker to watch over 72 four- and five-year-olds, calling the lack of official non-voluntary adult supervision “unacceptable.” For the rest of the school year, Cynthia Nixon was on a righteous mission.

“I didn’t watch Sex and the City, so I didn’t know who she was, but she was so down-to-earth, always an advocate for all the kids,” says Irene Martinez, a first-grade teacher at P.S. 163 for the past 21 years. ”When I had Samantha in first grade, Cynthia would buy art supplies or copy paper or whatever for the whole grade, not just our class. I remember the United Federation of Teachers were taking turns outside the school holding signs and placards for smaller class sizes, and against the cuts, and Cynthia and her daughter were there with us.”

In February 2002, the budgetary crisis worsened as new Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a $358 million reduction for the Board of Education starting that July. New York City faced a $5 billion budget deficit, but Bloomberg refused to raise taxes other than on cigarettes. That same month, Nixon went to Albany and met with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to advocate for more school money and to work the press. She told the Daily News that having two adults try to keep order over several hundred kids in the recess yard “resembles nothing short of a prison riot.” And she mentioned to the Times that she’d never been involved in politics but wanted to do more for public schools, adding: “If that means getting further involved in politics, so be it.”

On May 14 of that same year, Nixon joined some 75 people in stopping traffic outside City Hall, calling for the reinstatement of more than $1 billion to the Board of Education. A hand-picked group of twelve activists, including Nixon, blocked an entrance to City Hall, while singing lyrics urging Bloomberg not to cut the budget, to the tune of “We Shall Not Be Moved.” For her act of civil disobedience, a smiling Nixon was handcuffed and taken to the First Precinct to be charged with disorderly conduct.

Nixon was issued a summons, but was back on the Sex and the City set the next day. Her arrest made an impact, though, as the protest inspired further peaceful demonstrations throughout the week. Russell Simmons got in touch with Nixon and asked, “Can’t hip-hop get involved?” At the end of the school year, a who’s who of the rap world was out at City Hall protesting the budget cuts during a rally-cum-house party. Guests included Chuck D, Raekwon, Erykah Badu, RZA, and Jay-Z, who sent the call out on air at Power 105 and Hot 97 for school kids to walk out at 2:30 for the 3:30 protest.

***

Ultimately, the cuts ended up being nowhere near as draconian as advertised. Mayor Bloomberg’s 2003 budget laid off thousands of paraprofessionals and school aides — the very people who drew Cynthia Nixon into the fray in the first place — to save $53 million. But overall individual city schools received more money. It was paid for, in part, through property, sales, and income tax increases.

As Samantha’s kindergarten year came to a close, the disorderly charges against Nixon were dropped and her year of activism came full circle, at least by the DOE calendar. But what began in the P.S. 163 schoolyard continued, as Nixon pressed on with her advocacy work on behalf of fully-funded city schools, which has been expanded statewide as a bedrock issue in her campaign platform.

“My first full year was 2001, and after 9-11, it was scary, but we still took the kids on trips, put them on buses, and gave them a normal school year,” says Galeano. “The community we have at this school was warm and comforting during a time of tragedy and part of the reason I’ve stayed for eighteen years.” As for the immediate staffing crisis, she recalls, “We got our paraprofessional back for the remainder of the year,” then adds: “I haven’t had one since.”

Categories
Education Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES

NYU Students Say School Official Threatened Their Financial Aid Over Protests

When a group of New York University students began occupying the staircase of a campus building last week, they initially planned to stay indefinitely, or at least until their demand for a meeting with the school’s board of trustees was granted. Instead, the students departed within forty hours, after the university phoned their parents, warning of a possible suspension that could lead to a loss of housing and financial aid.

The phone calls — which a memo from the Student Government Assembly described as an act of “administrative recklessness” — startled both students and parents, and have since ignited a debate about how universities should treat campus protesters.

“I don’t believe it is appropriate for NYU to use emergency contacts in this way,” Carlos Matos, a Puerto Rican student who arrived at NYU in November through the Hurricane Maria Assistance Program, tells the Voice. Matos says his father was visiting a relative in the hospital when he was informed by Christopher Stipeck, assistant director of residential life at NYU, that his son’s housing would be in jeopardy if he continued protesting. “After everything that’s happened in Puerto Rico, my parents have enough on their plate already. The one thing they could trust was that I was at NYU, but now their sense of security is destabilized.”

Christiane Riederer, whose daughter Josephine is an NYU sophomore and a member of the divestment movement, says Stipeck phoned her as well, and warned that her daughter would be in danger of losing financial aid, scholarships, and her housing if she continued occupying. “It seemed excessive, when they could have just listened to the kids instead,” says Riederer.

But according to NYU spokesperson John Beckman, the school’s reaction was “in line with our long-standing practice” for when students face a possible suspension. Beckman notes that the protesters — most of them members of the Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM), which advocates against unjust labor practices at the university, and NYU Divest, which has long called for the school to divest from fossil fuel — had attempted a round-the-clock occupation of the Kimmel Center for University Life, which closes at 11 p.m., to protest the school’s refusal to grant them a public meeting with the board of trustees.

Students who disrupt university operations to protest school governance have faced similar discipline in the past. In 2009, eighteen students were suspended by NYU for barricading themselves in a dining hall, in an attempt to force the university to share information on its operating budget, expenditures, and endowment. In that case, “most, if not all” of the suspended students were able to keep their financial aid and housing, Beckman said.

But the school’s policy does typically prohibit suspended students from living in university housing, and federal guidelines attached to financial aid could prevent a suspended student from accessing parts of their benefits package, including the Federal Work-Study program, according to Beckman. (He did not respond to a follow-up question about whether a student had ever lost their housing or financial aid over a suspension related to protesting.)

In last week’s phone calls to parents, Beckman added, the university did not “threaten students about their housing or other financial aid. But it is simply the case that certain possible disciplinary outcomes — such as suspension — would have an impact on those matters.”

Yet several students and parents who spoke with the Voice said that the calls they received from the university last week made clear that continuing the occupation could imperil their financial aid and housing. In the view of those students, the tactic had the effect of targeting those who are financially dependent on the university, and could discourage them from speaking out in the future.

“It’s particularly disturbing that they would threaten those who rely on financial aid and housing, which would disproportionately affect low-income students,” says Olivia Rich, a first-year law student at NYU and member of the divestment movement. “It’s just a really extreme reaction considering we’re asking for something very small, which is just a few hours of time with the people who make decisions at the university.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”402365″ /]

Student access to the board of trustees has become something of a flash point at NYU in recent years. Since 2016, activist groups including SLAM, NYU Divest, the Incarceration to Education Coalition, and the NYU College Democrats have called for student representation on the board. So far, NYU president Andrew Hamilton has rejected the idea, claiming it would present a conflict of interest.

But that explanation is specious, students say, considering that the current board — which determines financial aid policies, among other issues, and has previously rejected a student government vote to divest the university from fossil fuels — already appears to be riddled with potential conflicts.

The student activists note that the current board chair, William Berkley, made some of his fortune as the director of First Marblehead Corporation, a private student loan provider that has drawn legal scrutiny for its lending practices. Berkley is also the former owner of an oil and gas company, now owned by Anadarko — an energy company that NYU had direct holdings in until last year. Other board members include BlackRock CEO Laurence Fink, billionaire hedge fund manager and Trump advisor John Paulson, and Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak, who serves on the United Arab Emirates’ Supreme Petroleum Council.

“We’ve found that accessing the decision-making body at the university is almost impossible — we don’t know where this board meets, or when, and the individuals are extremely difficult to contact,” says Sarah Singh, a senior at NYU and member of NYU Divest. “I think a lot of the shadiness here comes from the fact that [the board of trustees] might not be able to answer questions that student leaders have for them.”

Until such a meeting is arranged, leaders of both groups say they will continue to push for increased accountability and transparency from the board. For other students, however, the university’s latest reaction revealed that the cost of protesting at NYU may be too high to bear.

“By calling my parents and creating that sense of panic in them, they’re placing me in a situation where now my parents have no more peace of mind,” says Matos. “I’m pushed to stand down or silence myself because I care for them, rather than have a voice in the system.”

 

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CULTURE ARCHIVES Education THE FRONT ARCHIVES Theater

How a Chinatown School Is Bringing Diversity to Theater

It’s 3 p.m. at Public School 124, also known as Yung Wing School, in Manhattan’s Chinatown, and the theater club kids are ready to break a leg. There are just a few weeks left until their big trip to Atlanta for a three-day event called the Junior Theater Festival, and they’re hoping to add another trophy to the assortment that fills the school’s front lobby.

“Sit up straight!” calls out instructor Kyle Garvin from the base of the stage. “Pretend there’s a string attached to your head, and it’s pulling you up!” Each of the 24 students, from grades three through five, suddenly grows an inch taller. An upbeat show tune adapted from the animated movie Madagascar fills the auditorium. One row of children, sitting with their backs to the instructor, turns and beams dazzling, thousand-watt smiles at an imaginary crowd. “It’s showtiiime!” they sing. Another row turns: “Showtime!” A third row turns. At the top of their lungs, they sing, “Showtime!” and leap to their feet.

From the back of the auditorium, their coach, former Broadway dancer and choreographer Baayork Lee, looks on smiling. “You should have seen them at the beginning of the year,” she says. “Some of them were so shy. They wouldn’t even open their mouths to sing. Or they would barely sing above a whisper. By the end of the term, they completely open up.”

Like theater itself, this after-school program is a collaborative effort. Now in its ninth year, it was developed with funding and expertise Lee secured through her theater-world connections, is taught by instructors from a nonprofit Lee co-founded called the National Asian Artists Project (NAAP), and is kept afloat through the devotion — and many, many bake sales — of Yung Wing’s principal, Alice Hom, and the club’s parents.

Through their efforts, along with those of other outside arts organizations, they are introducing theater to younger participants, at an age when education experts say children are especially poised to benefit from performance. And by working with a school in Chinatown, they are also bringing more diversity not just to the audience for theater, but hopefully, over time, to Broadway stages as well.

The Yung Wing theater club is a passion project for Lee, who grew up in Chinatown. When she was five, casting agents put out a call in the neighborhood for the role of Princess Ying Yaowalak in the original 1951 Broadway production of The King and I, starring Yul Brynner. Lee got the role, and it changed her life. She went on to become a professional director, actor, and choreographer, most famously developing and playing Connie Wong in the original 1975 production of A Chorus Line.

But Lee wanted to give back to Chinatown, a working-class neighborhood where she says exposure to theater is low, and where people tend to view red velvet–adorned playhouses as exclusive spaces not intended for them.

In 2005, Lee co-founded NAAP to offer summertime musical theater programs to schoolchildren in Chinatown. The organization has since expanded into other efforts aimed at raising the profile of Asian American artists, who are underrepresented in theater. (Lee won a Tony Award last June for her work with NAAP.) An annual study by the Asian American Performers Action Coalition of Broadway and the sixteen top nonprofit theaters in New York City shows that from 2006 to 2016, Asian actors were hired for 3.7 percent of all roles, though Asians are 5.6 percent of the U.S. population and more than 13 percent of New York City’s population, per the 2010 census. Asians were also the group least likely to be cast in roles that did not call for a specific race.

Deciders in performing arts “say that there aren’t any good Asian actors [to cast], but we say it’s because we’re not being given the opportunity to show our stuff,” says actor and dancer Nina Zoie Lam, one of Lee’s co-founders at NAAP. The solution, says Lam, is not just casting more Asians, but also supporting more Asian directors, writers, and other positions across the entire spectrum.

Lee and Lam also noted that opportunities for Asian artists are often limited to “Asian” productions, such as Miss Saigon (a musical set in Vietnam) or Flower Drum Song (set in San Francisco’s Chinatown). At P.S. 124, the students perform such general-interest crowd-pleasers as Annie and The Music Man.

Around 2009, Lee learned about the Junior Theater Festival (JTF) in Atlanta, where students from across the country gather for three days to compete, take workshops, and nerd out over musical theater. She knew instantly that she wanted the same opportunity for students in Chinatown.

A two-year pilot program for a year-round, after-school theater club at Yung Wing was developed with the help of iTheatrics, a company founded by Timothy Allen McDonald that produces JTF and also helps create theater programs in underserved schools. The pilot was underwritten by Freddie and Myrna Gershon, a philanthropically minded theater-world couple whom McDonald had worked with before establishing his own organization. (Freddie is co-chair and CEO of the licensing company Music Theatre International.) NAAP supplied the club’s instructors, professional performers who teach in their spare time and who, says Lee, enable the children to have artistic role models who are people of color.

When the fledgling Yung Wing club first traveled to Atlanta in 2011 for JTF, it was invited to perform on the festival’s main stage, in front of 6,000 people, and as McDonald puts it, “they got a standing ovation and brought down the house.” Each year since, the club has won numerous awards at JTF, including the trophy for Outstanding Production for the best overall elementary school performance three years in a row, from 2013 to 2015, and again in 2017. “After that [first win], the parents were like, ‘Wait a minute, we have an award-winning theater club? We’ve got to do it again!’ ” says McDonald.

Indeed, the Yung Wing school parents have embraced the club wholeheartedly. After the initial two years of funding were up, they took it upon themselves to keep paying for it. It costs more than $1,000 per student in the most expensive city in the United States, in a predominantly immigrant neighborhood where the average family income is $37,362. But to the parents, it’s worth it.

“After he joined, my oldest son began to love coming to school,” says Beijing-born Feili Ye, the mother of two club members. (Her son, Aaron Wang, starred as the title character in The Music Man in the 2015–16 school year.) “I think this program is really amazing. When other parents say they’re not sure if their kids should join because they want them to focus on academics, I always tell them it actually helps with the rest of school, too.”

Another parent, Philippines-born Evelyn Leon, said theater education has brought her two daughters “improved self-confidence [and] better public speaking skills…especially with my younger child who is on the more shy side.” She noted that she only learned public speaking from a course during college, but that her elementary school–aged daughter is already able to speak confidently in front of groups.

Those benefits — not to mention the plain old desire to make school a fun, joyful place — are what drive iTheatrics’ mission. In the past, the company has worked with entities ranging from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., to the New York City Department of Education to help schools develop self-sustaining theater programs. Most recently, iTheatrics completed a two-year pilot program in Cincinnati, in conjunction with the Educational Theatre Association, which will soon bring its efforts nationwide, through an initiative called JumpStart Theatre; iTheatrics also partners with local community theaters and schools to hold one-day versions of its Junior Theater Festival in such cities as Salt Lake City; Newark, New Jersey; and Charlotte, North Carolina.

McDonald estimates that his organization has helped bring theater programs into thousands of middle schools across the country. (Most high schools, he says, already have some sort of theater program.) Elementary schools like P.S. 124 are the “new frontier, because upper elementary is a great time to introduce kids to theater,” he says. “Students are in an age group where they are generalists, not specialists. While ideally they are experiencing a wide range of things like soccer, chess, robotics, and musical theater, it is important to us to make sure the arts are a part of those experiences they are having. If they have a positive experience with the arts in fourth or fifth grade — and even if that is the only positive experience — they will continue to think positively about the arts throughout their lives.”

A 2012 National Endowment for the Arts report underscores the benefits of exposure to the arts. The study found an 18 percent difference between dropout rates for low-income students with high arts participation (4 percent dropout) and those with less arts involvement (22 percent). Low-income students with high levels of arts involvement also had higher GPAs, were more likely to go to college, and were three times as likely to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Yet funding for the arts currently shows no sign of rebounding from cutbacks that started with the George W. Bush–era No Child Left Behind policies and the 2008 recession. A U.S. Department of Education fact sheet put out by the Obama administration highlighted a “definite arts opportunity gap between the highest-poverty and lowest-poverty schools,” and also noted that “minority students and those from low-income households have less access to arts instruction.”

Those realities lend extra urgency to the work that iTheatrics and NAAP do. Thanks to them, that trophy case in the lobby of Yung Wing School is getting crowded. In January, the theater club traveled to Atlanta and won yet another award, for Excellence in Dance.

Sarah Chiu, a junior in high school who participated in the theater club during its second year, says the experience she had in Atlanta is a major reason she now attends Talent Unlimited, a performing arts high school in Manhattan. She recently appeared in an Off-Off Broadway production, and is thinking of becoming a playwright. “I would love to maybe write musicals and really represent the Asian American community,” she says.

But even for former classmates who have moved on to other things, says Chiu, theater club was unforgettable. “It took everyone out of their comfort zones, where we all came together as a family to support each other,” she says. “That’s something I really love about theater: When something goes wrong you usually have someone there to support you and, as the theater world would say, ‘make the show go on.’ ”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter.

Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to iTheatrics as a “nonprofit”; though the company operates on a nonprofit model, it is organized as a for-profit institution.

Categories
Education THE FRONT ARCHIVES

New Schools Chancellor Quits in Middle of Acceptance Speech

Not since Lebron James took his talents to South Beach have New Yorkers been rebuffed so hard and so publicly.

In what’s surely one of the most bizarre twists in mayoral appointment history, Miami-Dade schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho announced on Thursday that he’d decided not to take the position of New York City schools chancellor after all. Despite previously accepting the position, he appeared to change his mind midway through an emergency Miami-Dade school board meeting where he was expected to announce his departure, at which board members and students begged him to stay.

After requesting a five-minute break, and returning about thirty minutes later, Carvalho explained that “the decision that I have made about that position is however a decision I can no longer sustain. I am breaking an agreement between adults to honor an agreement and a pact I have with the children of Miami.

“I just don’t know how to break a promise to a child, how to break a promise to a community,” he added, to thunderous applause. “That has weighed on me over the past 24 hours like nothing has weighed on me before.”

It’s unclear whether Carvalho reached this decision spontaneously, or if the dramatic spectacle had been planned in advance. Despite saying on Thursday that he was “breaking an agreement,” Carvalho has reportedly told others that the job fell through because of Mayor Bill de Blasio, and that he had never officially accepted it. Yet Eric Phillips, the mayor’s press secretary, appeared to be receiving the news in real time, and with as much confusion as everyone else.

NY1’s Roma Torre was equally mystified, telling viewers, “I have never experienced anything quite like this ever.… What the heck just happened?”

The surprise ending follows a search process for the successor to outgoing chancellor Carmen Fariña that some parents had charged was equally confounding. “There was no place for the people who were the stakeholders in these schools to have any voice,” Janine Sopp, co-founder of anti–Common Core group Change the Stakes, told the Voice. “We probably wouldn’t have voted for someone who is so friendly to charter schools.”

The Miami Herald also reports that Carvalho has a “politically savvy” reputation, and a penchant for seeking out prestigious positions. He was also believed to be among the contenders for a congressional seat in Florida.

The mayor is expected to address the matter at a press conference at 3:30 p.m. This is an ongoing story and we’ll update as more information becomes available.

UPDATE #1, 2:54 p.m.: While we wait for the mayor’s press conference, there’s this from Chalkbeat’s Matt Barnum:

UPDATE #2, 4:24 p.m.: NY1 now predicts the mayor will give his press statement at 4:30. We’ll see.

UPDATE #3, 4:57 p.m.: Mayor de Blasio finally takes the podium at 4:40 p.m., looking appropriately cranky. Says he was “very surprised” by Carvalho’s decision. Says he got approval from Carvalho yesterday to tip off Politico for this article revealing the appointment; he last spoke with Carvalho last night around 8 p.m. to plan next steps, so “you can imagine how surprised I was to get a phone call from him a few hours ago.” Promises “a new announcement soon,” says current chancellor Carmen Fariña will continue on the job through the end of the month.

Asked what happened, he says Carvalho called him a couple of times during the long hiatus in the Miami school board meeting — the mayor was in a meeting at Gracie Mansion about closing Rikers — and expressed “second thoughts.”

Asked about mayoral spokesperson Eric Phillips’s Twitter outburst, the mayor cuts him slack: “We’re all confused at what happened here.”

Crankiness levels rising: “Look. He was offered the job. He was going to take it. He accepted it. Then he changed his mind.”

Upshot: Whether Carvalho truly decided he had to “reconsider after my heart started beating faster and louder than my mind” during the school board meeting, or had second thoughts prior to that, New York City now needs another schools chancellor candidate. Given de Blasio’s statement in the press conference that his administration has been “reconnecting with candidates,” it seems likely City Hall will be approaching some of its second choices. Hopefully this one won’t have quite such a loud heart.

 

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Education NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Bronx School Stabbing Shows How NYC’s War on Bullying Has Failed

At 10:45 a.m. last Wednesday morning, thirty minutes into history class on the fifth floor of Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation in the Bronx, eighteen-year-old Abel Cedeno plunged a three-inch switchblade into the chest of fifteen-year-old Matthew McCree. Another student, Ariane Laboy, sixteen, stepped into the fray and was also critically injured. Forty minutes later at St. Barnabas Hospital, McCree was pronounced dead.

The first student death inside a New York City school building at the hands of another student since 1993, the killing sparked renewed questions about school safety. Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña have touted 2017 as the safest school year on record, something they credit to City Hall’s prevention initiatives such as restorative justice, an approach to discipline that emphasizes emotional learning, mediation, and reconciliation over punitive actions.

But as shaken parents picked up their children at Wildlife last week, they told swarming reporters that safety at the school had long been a concern, and that they felt their complaints had been ignored by school officials. And though it’s still unclear what precisely led Cedeno to attack his classmate — media reports said that the victim had thrown pencil bits and paper at his assailant prior to the attack, while McCree’s mother said in a press conference that her son was kind, not a bully  — there are indications that Cedeno had been subjected to months of harassment by fellow students prior to the incident.

In fact, the startling death of Matthew McCree and citywide bullying data reveal a picture of how schools across the city, overburdened and underresourced, remain unsure of how to effectively implement the city’s lofty school safety goals. Educators aren’t always clear on what constitutes bullying, and teachers and school faculty almost never report harassment to the city, despite regulations requiring that they do so.

Cedeno told police after his arrest that other students had taunted him for several weeks leading up to the attack. However, in a statement at the 48th Precinct in the Bronx, NYPD Chief Detective Robert Boyce said Cedeno had made no formal reports of bullying to the school prior to the incident.

Dawn Yuster, the director of the school justice project at Advocates for Children, a children’s educational rights and legal aid group in New York, says this is part of the school system’s problems with bullying. Though the city reports bullying in schools is on the decline, the AFC hotline, which helps families and students who are experiencing bullying, has received an increasing number of calls over the past few years. One of the primary complaints received: schools not taking action after a student reports being bullied to a teacher.

“What we find is that families often are making reports and telling school staff, but there are problems with addressing what’s happening by the school,” says Yuster. “There aren’t enough guidance counselors or school psychologists or mental health professionals to deal with these issues. Schools are overwhelmed.”

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Toya Holness, press secretary for the New York City Department of Education, emphasizes that the DOE is making a concerted effort to improve school climate and increase the number of guidance counselors across the city, in accordance with the DOE’s “Respect for All” initiative. She says, “We take bullying seriously, and schools are required to immediately report, investigate, and address any reports of bullying.”

A classmate of Cedeno’s, who requested that her name be withheld because of harassment and threats she has received from former classmates since the incident, reports that he had been bullied since middle school. Students called him slurs because of his sexuality (he had come out as bisexual to a small circle of friends) and close female friendships. She remembers being in the library in tenth grade when another student threatened to get his gang together to “jump” Cedeno’s “faggot ass.”

Cedeno’s friend is not surprised he never filed a formal bullying report. “If somebody fucks with you, that’s just how it is, no matter how much you say something about it,” she says.

In New York City, according to a 2011 policy updated in 2013, when a teacher either observes bullying directly or hears about it from a student, the teacher or staff member is required to report the incident to the school principal or a school Respect for All liaison within one school day. A report must be submitted within 24 hours to the DOE’s Online Occurrence Reporting System (OORS), and an additional written report must be made within two school days for the school’s files. An investigation by the school principal is required to take place within five days of the original report. If the principal determines the behavior was bullying, he or she must work to recommend an intervention and take appropriate action, such as mediation to prevent the behavior from recurring, counseling with a guidance counselor or social worker, or disciplinary action.

In the 2015–2016 school year, 896 schools, or 50 percent of city schools, reported zero incidents of bullying, discrimination, or harassment, a statistic that raises eyebrows among children’s advocates. Ninety-six percent of schools reported fewer than ten incidents of bullying.

At Wildlife, just seven incidents of bullying were reported in the entire school year of 2015–2016, the most recent data available. Yet the school’s end-of-year survey from 2016 to 2017 indicated that 74 percent of students at the school reported that students were bullied or harassed some or most of the time.

The state attorney general and state education department asserted in a 2016 report that the low official bullying numbers suggest “substantial underreporting of material incidents of harassment and discrimination…along with a significant level of confusion or uncertainty as to how to classify those incidents that are reported.”

“What seems to be happening is that they’re deciding it’s not bullying before the reporting process,” says Yuster. “What we’ve seen is a breakdown in all parts of the process. Reports are made that haven’t been documented at all in the DOE database.” Left unresolved, she warns, “incidents can snowball and escalate.”

Wildlife’s numbers present a picture of a school already suffering the strain of overcrowding and high teacher and administrative turnover. Cedeno’s friend, who graduated last spring, describes a school so bursting at the seams that students had to ransack other classrooms for extra chairs and desks to use in class. In 2016, 45 percent of Wildlife students reported feeling unsafe in the school’s hallways, cafeteria, and bathrooms, and 89 percent of students reported that other students got into physical fights at school — the latter four times the rate of just three years earlier.

Wildlife has gone through three principals in just five years, and according to students, its high turnover of experienced teachers has led to a loss of student trust.

“All the teachers that cared about their students and would actually take time to build a relationship with them and understood them left,” said Cedeno’s friend. “There are very few teachers that know everybody’s story and try to go the extra mile for them.”

Urban Assembly, a well-regarded nonprofit that helps support a network of 21 public schools across the city, takes a “social-emotional learning” approach to teaching. SEL, as it’s known, places an emphasis on educating students to be emotionally intelligent, empathetic, and able to constructively resolve conflicts. The science says it works; the DOE collaborates with consultants at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence to design its curriculum and train teachers on social-emotional learning principles.

However, integrating social-emotional learning into a classroom isn’t always simple, says Dena Simmons, director of education at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. “Even if you take SEL out of the equation, you’re still going to have a host of challenges,” says Simmons, a former middle school teacher in the Bronx.”How do you teach SEL or math or social studies or anything in classrooms where you have structural challenges like poverty that make it very difficult?”

Simmons’s research has focused on teacher preparedness to intervene in, prevent, and respond to bullying in New York middle schools. She was surprised to find that teachers did not feel empowered to intervene when conflicts broke out in their own classrooms. This statistic was particularly pronounced if the bullying was caused by gender preference or race.

Teachers also only witness a fraction of bullying that occurs between students, says Simmons. When she was a classroom teacher from 2006 to 2009, she says, administrators often instructed her not to get involved in student conflicts, and to let students fight it out for themselves, which is against DOE protocol. When teachers don’t recognize bullying as requiring intervention, that compounds problems for students, who can feel powerless to stop it, or mislabel the experience themselves.

Cedeno’s friend said that in her conversations with Cedeno, they would never call it “bullying.” “We would just say if people already started bothering us,” she says.

Dawn Yuster says when she advocates for a child who has been bullied or experienced harassment at school, she often ends up telling teachers and guidance counselors about existing support systems in place to help them with bullying.

“Students, families, and even school staff are typically not even aware of who the person is in their school who is supposed to be the expert on addressing bullying,” she says.

For example, Yuster points out, every school reports to a school climate manager who works with the DOE. However, each school climate manager serves at least seventy and as many as two hundred schools, according to DOE figures.

“We appreciate good policy,” she says, “but it needs to translate on the ground. Schools need to have the resources and the training to utilize it.”

Moreover, the bullying training teachers receive is limited. The Dignity for All Students Act, the 2010 state law (implemented in 2012) that defined a “zero tolerance” policy for school bullying and harassment, requires only that anyone applying for a New York State teaching license after 2013 must complete a six-hour course on harassment, bullying, and discrimination. There are no measures in place for a school administration to evaluate a teacher’s understanding or application of the training.

“It’s something they do six hours on a Saturday. It doesn’t allow them to get in depth enough to become expert on dealing with these issues,” says NYCLU executive director Johanna Miller. “And somebody needs to be an expert in a school, not just on the law, but on how to support young people and de-escalate conflicts in a constructive way.”

The DOE also requires that each school’s appointed Respect for All liaison attend a two-day, twelve-hour weekend training on the policies, bullying prevention, and intervention procedures. But the NYCLU found that 81 percent of surveyed high school students had no idea which school official was their anti-bullying advocate.

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Part of the shift toward social-emotional learning in city classrooms comes from a de Blasio initiative to drastically reduce student suspensions and move increasingly toward restorative justice in schools. Educators are required to document positive interventions they had made prior to the principal deciding to suspend a student. Student suspensions dropped between 2012 and 2016, and the city heralded the initiative.

But the falling suspension number is controversial, as some wonder if constructive alternatives are being offered, or if students are simply not being suspended for behavioral infractions.

“Schools are under a lot of pressure to reduce suspensions, but most aren’t getting the resources they need to implement safe alternatives,” says Miller. “You can’t successfully reduce suspension numbers without providing alternatives.”

Advocates argue that the problem of schools’ difficulties in addressing bullying goes all the way to the top. Despite the city’s multiple anti-bullying campaigns, training programs, and designated Respect for All liaisons in every school, teachers across the city aren’t receiving necessary training on the ground, says the New York Civil Liberties Union.

The city allocated additional funding for restorative justice programs, which are designed to avoid suspensions and keep students in school through mediation, counseling, and providing additional mental health supports. But much of the $47 million designated annually for “school climate” initiatives, says Yuster, has been directed to a small number of the city’s schools with the highest number of suspensions, providing money for teachers to become trained in restorative practices, and therapeutic crisis intervention training for staff members. Wildlife is not slated to receive these extra supports, according to the 2017 DOE budget, despite additional guidance counselors being assigned to schools with comparable size and student demographics.

The DOE is taking steps in the right direction, but its efforts are not yet reaching all New York City schools. Marc Brackett, the director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, works directly with the DOE on its effort to increase the impact of its social-emotional learning curriculum. But the trainings are still not mandatory, and have only reached a small percentage of teachers so far.

“The DOE is very interested in moving forward with training for all teachers,” he says. “The reality is that it takes time to do it well.”

If the tragic death of Matthew McCree is any indication, a more concerted effort on behalf of the DOE is required to close these training gaps in all schools, not just a struggling few. The burden cannot be placed on schools and teachers alone.

“I do think that most schools are trying to do the best they can for kids,” says Brackett. “We have really high expectations for how people should support kids, but it’s a very difficult place to be as a teacher — trying to support so many kids.”

The desire to improve schools is there. Now it is up to the DOE to scale its efforts and make good on its promise to families: that every child is entitled to attend school in a safe and supportive learning environment, free from discrimination, harassment, bullying, and bigotry.

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Education NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

City Finally Does Something About Students Ashamed to Eat School Lunch

This week, New York City joined cities including Boston, Chicago, Detroit, and Dallas in offering free lunches to all its schoolchildren, making it the largest school district in the country to do so. The Free School Lunch for All program announced Wednesday by New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will expand eligibility to at least an additional 200,000 students — including not just those at public schools but also charter schools and any private schools that choose to opt into SchoolFood, the city’s free meal program.

But city food advocates say it will have far broader benefits as well: Reducing stigma that currently prevents many needy students from taking advantage of free lunches, and sparing principals from having to chase down parents for lunch payments.

“As kids get older, they stop eating, no matter how hungry they are,” says Liz Accles, executive director of Community Food Associates, a policy impact group that focuses on increasing food accessibility to low-income New Yorkers. CFA is one of several groups that have advocated for years that providing free lunch for all would end the drop-off in program participation by students as they approach high school — students who may currently be going hungry out of shame or fear of bullying.

The first school lunches in New York City appeared in 1908, when a home economist named Mabel Hyde Kittredge started a school lunch program at an elementary school in Hell’s Kitchen. The following year, Kittredge founded the New York School Lunch Committee, which by 1915 was serving 80,000 free or low-price lunches annually to children in nearly 25 percent of the schools in Manhattan and the Bronx, most of them in poor neighborhoods. The city’s board of education eventually took over the program in 1920.

In 1946, President Harry Truman established the National School Lunch Program, a federally assisted meal program that continues to operate today. When it started, the program served lunches to around 7.1 million children nationwide. Last year, it reached 30.4 million children, who are deemed eligible for free meals if they already participate in other federally funded programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or if their family income is below 130 percent of the federal poverty level. (Families between 130 and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-cost lunch.)

One of the unintended consequences of this eligibility model is that a “poverty stigma” has grown up around the program, says Accles. And this poverty stigma has made it much less likely for the very children who need the meals provided by the NSLP to actually take advantage of the program.

With teenagers in particular, Accles says, “peer pressure is not ever to be underestimated. They’re embarrassed to eat [the free lunches], either because someone is actively bullying them, or because they anticipate that that will happen.”

In New York City, a startling number of children may be impacted by such peer pressure. As wealthy as the city may be, 75 percent of its schoolchildren are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches based on their families’ income levels; the cutoff for eligibility for a family of four, for instance, is $45,510 a year. In a city like New York, many families who make too much to be eligible are still struggling to make ends meet. (Accles notes that not having a universal free lunch program also “puts principals in a terrible position, to try to collect fees from parents who don’t have the income.”)

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For this reason, food-policy advocates have long called for the city to adopt a universal lunch program. In 2013, Accles’s Community Food Associates launched the Lunch 4 Learning campaign, which partnered with pediatricians, school parents, teachers unions, and school workers unions to push for free lunches for all students in the city. The impetus for this particular campaign was the introduction by the federal government three years prior of the Community Eligibility Program (CEP), which offered an alternative funding model that incentivized a move toward universal school lunches. Instead of matching funds directly to individual students and their families’ income levels, CEP rules that if 40 percent of students at a school, group of schools, or even an entire school district qualify for free lunches, so does the rest of the school or district. CEP also allows schools or districts to qualify without collecting meal application forms, which can be cumbersome and intrusive, providing another impediment to eligible students participating in free lunch programs.

Still, the push toward free school lunches for all was slow and incremental. In 2014, the city implemented a universal meal program in stand-alone middle schools, but from there, efforts stalled out. City officials cited concerns that such programs would not be financially beneficial; they also feared that schools could lose their Title I funding, since the meal application forms, which are also used to measure poverty levels for other programs, would no longer be necessary — a fear that was proven unfounded by the universal meal program in the city’s middle schools. “Honestly, we have never fully understood the resistance,” Accles says.

What finally allowed the city to sign on to a universal meals program was a new data matching engine that identifies eligible students through electronic documentation acquired from other government programs, such as SNAP and Medicaid. The data matching makes it easier to identify students who are eligible for free lunches — and, thanks to CEP, identifying more eligible students has allowed entire districts to qualify for free meals. Because of this new matching engine, the program is not expected to increase costs to the city, according to the New York Times.

Accles says that high school students, who endure the worst bullying, will benefit greatly from Free School Lunch for All, and from no longer standing out from their classmates for receiving free meals. But even more likely to benefit, perhaps, are the children just starting out in school, who, thanks to the eradication of the poverty stigma that this new program should bring, will never have to feel shame for getting a healthy meal at the one place they can count on it: their schools.

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Education NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Michael Musto: What I Really Learned in College

Revisiting the whiplash of Columbia University for a gay Brooklynite in the Seventies

As a sixteen-year-old closeted gay from Brooklyn who’d never gone anywhere, I was ill-prepared for my freshman year at Columbia. I’d been one of the top three students in my class at New Utrecht High School, where we studied Simon and Garfunkel lyrics as poetry and engaged in annual “SING!” revues of rewritten Broadway standards and lowbrow shtick. But now I was entering a hallowed Ivy League institution, and had already been mailed the required-reading list consisting of all sorts of Greek, Roman, British, and Russian classics I had to frantically absorb before (dis)orientation day. It was a far cry from “koo-koo-ka-choo, Mrs. Robinson.”

As an English-literature major — they had no undergrad journalism major, so this was the closest thing — I buried my head in books and immersed myself in the rigorous required courses, like humanities and Contemporary Civilization. I had to admit my mind was being enjoyably expanded, though terror was restored by the fact that gym also happened to be a requirement, and I was dramatically unable to do anything physical. I’ll never forget the first day, when I had to leap into the deep end of the pool, virtually blind without my glasses on, and flail around until being fished out via a large pole they stuck in the water for me to grab onto. (A fitting metaphor, that.) Somehow I passed, but that wasn’t the end of my horrifying connection to athletics. After commuting for a while from Brooklyn, I landed a dorm room and expected to be surrounded with bespectacled intellectuals who’d be intimidating in a sort of inspiring way. But Carman Hall, the freshman dorm, was where they placed all the jocks with the low SAT scores, so the communal TV room was filled with brawny guys grunting and cheering over football games I was even less interested in than parallel bars. I wanted to watch sitcoms and awards shows.

To help pay for school, I indulged in “work study,” stamping and arranging books several times a week at the school library. To save pennies, I would eat — alone — at a nearby dive called Spaghetti City, where a worker routinely grabbed pasta with his bare hands and threw it into a skillet. It was pretty grotesque compared to my mother’s extraordinary Italian cooking, but I had to eat. Fortified, I summoned the nerve to audition for the Barnard Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s production of The Mikado at the sister school, having racked up that “SING!” experience and a love of G&S’s wicked satires. The group strangely allowed old-timers to try out along with the students, so I ended up going up against a man who had appeared on Broadway in Gypsy. I was appointed to the chorus and made up with slanty eyes and a kimono, and, this being before political correctness, no one complained or even noticed. Way more liberating was the fact that my involvement in the production made me privy to some open gays, who showed me that in the post-Stonewall era, you could be out and not suicidal about it.

But depression had definitely threatened to put the depths back in Morningside Heights. At night, I’d wanly sit around the Columbia Daily Spectator office, because a student had told me that the way to get assignments was just to hang around and be available. Alas, I was so painfully shy that I barely introduced myself, simply lurking there night after night without anyone acknowledging me. (They probably considered calling the authorities.)

In subsequent years, I built confidence by doing more shows and even briefly joining the glee club, primarily because they were going on an expenses-paid trip to Mexico. (They put us up in a Mexico City jail, but still, I had actually gotten on a plane and gone somewhere. The adventure got me out of imprisonment — and it was better than Carman.)

The Spectator kept ignoring me, but then a Barnard student asked me to write reviews for the Barnard Bulletin, where she was an editor. Again, I was sure there’d be an outcry — why is a Columbia guy taking up space in the Barnard paper? — but no one said a word, and something good actually came out of it. The Spectator finally noticed my work and started giving me assignments, and I pretty quickly became the theater editor there! Having the douches who had no use for me suddenly covet my byline was a bittersweet victory that felt like validation.

Smitten with Barnard, I bagged a room in Plimpton Hall in my junior year, thrilled to get out of Columbia’s testosterone-filled housing. By this point, I had hit my stride, gossiping with (and about) the girls and becoming active and almost popular. At twenty, I hit the pavement in a very gay way — and have gotten straight A’s ever since.