A Powerful Space: Recap of IUME’s Inaugural “Culture Circle” ☆

| January 28, 2012

The only word that seems appropriate is “powerful”–it is extremely powerful (and empowering!) to have students, teachers, professors, and community members gather on a Saturday morning in Harlem, amidst loads of personal responsibilities, and voluntarily engage in critical dialogue with one another. IUME first Culture Circle event, led by inspiring scholars Cati de los Rios and Dr. Benji Chang, was a resounding success; we had a room packed of over 40 activists, eager and excited to engage in the work of Paulo Freire but more importantly, with each other and with oneself. Both Dr. Chang and Cati led us in an introduction about the work of Paulo Freire and his use of “culture circles,” before listening to the song, “Commencement Day” by Hip Hop group Blue Scholars that we later interpreted as a codification to connect to Chapter 2 of Freire‚Äôs Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Specifically, in small groups, we discussed the song’s connection to Freire and to education in general, by using Freire’s six stages as our guide to taking action. This type of critical dialogue was extremely refreshing; each group talked openly and honestly about the critical issues in ways that we often do not get a chance to in our traditional classroom settings. Despite the room still loud with discussion, Cati and Dr. Chang brought us all back together to share the key points from our groups. Some of the points that were raised involved applying these discussions in the context of high-stakes testing to specific teaching issues such as internalized inferiority with students and expanding to discussions on community-based work. As a group, we had a fruitful discussion amongst strangers and friends, yes, but also as activists and scholars engaging with each other to change lives.

Coming full circle, while today’s event itself was a success because of the type of discussion, activities and leadership that took place, I go back to the word “powerful” because of what this giant gathering inherently was–and what it told each of us there in attendance. Immediately from the get-go as people flocked to our Gordon Campus to our final solidarity clap together, the energy of the room was absolutely electric; just to look into the eyes and connect with such a diverse set of people was empowering in itself because of what this event represented. Today’s Culture Circle was a space for people to come together and engage in critical dialogue that is usually left outside the so-called “boundaries” of the traditional higher education institution. It was a space where candidness and honesty was free-flowing, where humility was abound, and where collaborative activism was in the air. For students and staff at Teachers College and at other institutions, such a space is needed for us to grow as educators and researchers–and as human beings.

IUME intends to fill that void at Teachers College (and other area institutions), providing both the physical and intellectual space in the middle of Harlem that is unique in its vision. But IUME is nothing without the community and the people who seek to empower, inspire, and as today’s Culture Circle was entitled, to liberate. For those who made it out today, thank you. And for those who did not, we look forward to seeing you very, very soon.