Clarion Masthead

Class struggle: teaching May Day

Printer-friendly version

Bringing the protest to CUNY campuses

This May Day, faculty and staff from universities across the nation will teach about how the policies of the Trump administration affect subject matter in a range of disciplines, from the sciences to social sciences, from criminal justice to public policy. An administration that spreads alternative facts, ignores science around climate change, and uses hateful language to describe women and immigrants poses a threat to academic inquiry and critical thinking, both of which are essential components of a college education.

PSC President Barbara Bowen wrote in a message about May Day that PSC members “have a responsibility to use our power in academically responsible ways to expose untruths and demand that universities be safe and productive.” She invited faculty and staff to participate in the moratorium by integrating examination of Trump policies and their impact into relevant classes and by joining a mass demonstration in support of immigrant and workers’ rights on May 1 in Lower Manhattan’s Foley Square.

“It is clearer every day: Donald Trump’s plans threaten to severely undermine the communities we serve, the democratic values we hold dear and the public good writ large,” wrote PSC Secretary Nivedita Majumdar in an email to members. Scores of faculty and staff across CUNY have pledged to include critical reflection on the impact of the Trump presidency in ways that will deepen discussion within their academic subjects. If you plan to teach about the drastic effects of the Trump administration's foreign and domestic policies, let the union know.

The PSC is also collecting suggested readings about the Trump administration that can be used to initiate discussions in the classroom. Add your own suggestions to the dropbox, and also view the readings collected so far.

Below, some PSC members share what they plan to discuss in their classes on the week of May Day.

Anne Posten

Adjunct Instructor, English Department
Queens College

Last spring, I developed a syllabus around the theme “literature of immigration.” In the Spring of 2016 it felt very timely; I could hardly have imagined how much more timely it would feel to teach the course a year later.

One of my primary goals was to use the course to think about immigration from a variety of different angles – to form an abstract, philosophical picture of what immigration is and means and how it is written. It seems to me that this is exactly what literature is good for: to allow us to see from different perspectives, and to think critically and abstractly in order to later apply these ideas to the world we live in.
I have used a small excerpt from the beginning of Julia Kristeva’s Strangers to Ourselves as a cornerstone of the course to think about the trope of the foreigner. Kristeva’s text is a difficult one, but the thesis is clear: foreignness is within us all, and by recognizing it in ourselves we can avoid fearing or hating it in others. Students then apply Kristeva’s ideas to a widely varying selection of prose dealing explicitly or implicitly with the theme of immigration.

This May Day will mark the turning point of my class, and the beginning of the last unit, which I call “Immigration in Crisis: Europe and America Today.” On May 1, I will ask my students to consider what it means to say that we are experiencing a crisis of immigration, and who or what is causing it. Is our country really threatened by immigration the way our president suggests? If it is natural, as Ben Mauk suggests in his piece for Granta, “A Land Without Strangers,” to divide ourselves and judge on the basis of differences real or imagined, how can we fight this impulse, recognizing our mutual strangeness and fostering a more just world?


Stuart Chen-Hayes

Associate Professor/Program Coordinator
Counseling, Leadership, Literacy, and Special Education (CLSSE) Department
Lehman College

This semester I am teaching two sections of “College Access Counseling.” From the start of the classes, we have focused on access, affordability and college admissions. We’ve talked about how prepared first-generation poor and working-class immigrant students of color are to navigate the labyrinthine financial aid process and the need for affordable options beyond free tuition, such as covering the cost of food, housing, transportation, childcare, and books – options that are available in many other countries. We will spend our class time the week of May Day discussing the Trump administration’s threats to the Pell Grant program, elimination of protections for student borrowers, the temporary removal of the FAFSA financial aid tax retrieval tool, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s focus on privatizing K-12 schools and higher education.


Immanuel Ness

Professor, Political Science
Brooklyn College

As Trump seeks to eviscerate public education, in this centenary year of the Russian Revolution, students in my class, “Guns, Money and Politics in the US,” will learn the importance of education in building a new society.

In the week of May Day, I will teach about the work of Nadezhda Krupskaya, an early 20th-century activist and a leader in the movement to widely expand women’s access to education throughout Russia. From 1929 to 1939, she served as the Deputy Minister of Education of the Soviet Union. As a young adult in Imperial Russia, Krupskaya recognized the importance of science and mathematics and also attached great importance to literature, history and the social sciences. Krupskaya devoted her life to educating women workers. Krupskaya provides a sharp contrast to Betsy DeVos, Trump’s secretary of education, who advocates for restricting public access to education through privatization and charter schools. DeVos, a member of a billionaire family, has invested in companies seeking to profit through spending public tax money on private for-profit schools.

Our mostly working-class students will discuss whether our government is committed to providing quality higher education. Students will evaluate whether Krupskaya’s dream of advancing public education and learning for all has become a reality in the 21st century. Students will discuss their own programs for expanding public higher education here at CUNY.


Rachel Cholst

Advisor, CUNY Start
Hostos Community College

I think it’s important that our students realize that Trump’s policies are the manifestation of many hateful ideologies, but he is certainly not the first person to espouse such ideas or even to use the government as a platform to make racism, sexism, homophobia and labor suppression into government policies.

Full-time students are in class from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and during our lunch break on May Day, we’ll post a timeline around the room highlighting the events they’ve read about in Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and Juan González’s Harvest of Empire, and also include important moments they’ve learned about in labor history, LGBT rights history, indigenous rights history, and women’s rights history. Each of these historical movements will be color coded. The timeline will circle around the room – with the first date next to the last date – to demonstrate that history is not progressive and that some of the events of Trump’s first 100 days might circle back to the past. We will then discuss any patterns students noticed in the long history for the struggle for equality and what each of us can do to interrupt harmful patterns and repeat the successes of past activism. If students desire, they can use art supplies to respond to the question that will conclude our discussion: What kind of future do we want to build?