Friday, April 18, 2014

Motion sickness

I was the lone faculty member at a "teach-in" this evening on social justice and The New School; the organizer asked me because she's heard me go on about New School history. The turn-out wasn't great, the "Social Justice Hub" on the fifth floor of the new University Center turns out to be a difficult place to do things (ambient noise, people passing through, etc.), and I had to leave early (to see the Dance students' senior show). But what I saw was extremely thought-provoking.

Three examples:

-- A Psychology PhD candidate described his disillusionment with the school's failure to live up to the diverse and engaged image it projects in a powerful image of his own: students come in expecting the school to function as a kind of trampoline, allowing them to be more effective activists in the larger world as a result of what they learn, but it turns out to be more like quicksand. I'm sure most institutions disappoint in one way or another but something in the particular promise The New School makes (the promise, among other things, not to be like most institutions) makes its failures worse.

-- an MFA Drama student criticized "method acting" workshops, in which students are expected to delve into very personal and traumatic experiences, for not being "safe spaces." No structures exist to help people respond to what was shared, individually or collectively; her own experiences as a lesbian of color were not welcomed, and produced poisonous "microaggressions" in response. This raises fascinating and disturbing questions about much modern performance practice, which asks participants to take personal risks but doesn't really take into account the different levels of risk different participants already take just to be, and to be in a space in which they are already feel unsafe.

-- in response to the organizer's plaint that she'd spent four years without "doing anything" beyond organizing at New School, an NSPE student asked what we all thought counted as "doing." The discussion (which I had to leave halfway through) was all about whether the university itself is an appropriate venue for doing- something a Health Educator said was clear in most other universities but, because of The New School's strange self-understanding, not so much here...

I wish more people had been there to hear this; these are profound questions, worth wrestling with at every level.

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