Vera Haller and Gisele Regatão Publish a Trio of Articles on

Journalism professors Vera Haller and Gisele Regatão began planning a joint reporting project into the economic and social implications of the global growth of avocado production before the COVID-19 pandemic. It was only this past summer that they were finally able to travel, choosing to focus on Peru, the world’s second largest exporter of Hass avocados behind Mexico. Editors at PRX Radio’s international news show, The World, accepted the story and asked whether they could find additional stories, seeing this trip as a way of generating more news coverage out of Peru.

The professors ultimately produced three stories that explored the contradictions of modern Peruvian identity and the country’s economic and political disparity. The stories looked at challenges small Peruvian farmers faced after switching to what they hoped would be lucrative avocado crops, a rising hip hop star’s exploration of her Quechuan identity through music, and a filmmaker whose success is driving an expansion of Peru’s movie industry. 

The research trip to Peru was supported by PSC-CUNY, Baruch College, and the Weissman Dean’s Office. The articles, taken together, reflect the diverse and little-known stories that are produced by faculty at the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences.

Read or listen to the series below:

Peru’s Avocado ‘Green-Gold Rush’ Loses Some Shine

Meet Peru’s Quechuan Hip Hop Star

Peruvian Filmmaker Melina León Boots Peru’s Film Industry With Strong Female Leads

Meet Interim Associate Dean, Cheryl Smith

I sat down with Professor Cheryl Smith to learn about her background, her new book project, and the way she hopes to bring her vision of a poetic teaching project to the Office of Associate Dean.

Dan:  For those that don’t know you, can you start by introducing yourself, say what program you come out of, and give us a brief overview of your journey here at Baruch College?  

Cheryl:  Sure! My name is Cheryl Smith and I come out of the English department. I came to Baruch in the fall of 2003 as an Assistant Professor. I guess I’m starting my 20th year here. It went by in a blink! 

I’ve done lots of interesting things in my tenure at Baruch. When I was first hired, I was the director of the Immersion Program for students that need some extra help meeting the basic benchmarks of college-level reading and writing. I was the director of the Great Works of World Literature Program for 4 years, and was the WAC coordinator for about 8 years. For WAC, I worked CUNY-wide with coordinators at all the campuses, and it was a great way to form a community across CUNY with other faculty who were interested in student writing and faculty development. I co-chaired our last self-study for re-accreditation. I’ve also been the faculty liaison to the Center for Teaching and Learning and the Dean’s Fellow for DEI. I’ve always been invested in faculty development opportunities and faculty training. 

So, I’ve had a lot of different perspectives on the institution, and I was really excited for this opportunity to join the Dean’s Office at Weissman because I feel like I can bring those different frames of reference to the office. I’m really excited to work on the student end of things: bringing Weissman majors in and supporting them.  

Dan: I know that you’ve been working on a new book project, can you tell us a little about that?  

Cheryl: The working title is Poetic Justice: Poetry, Protest and Democracy in Public Higher Education. It’s a project that I’ve been working on for probably six or seven years, although I started writing it in earnest in the summer of 2020. The manuscript is now finished, I have identified a press, and I’m hoping to get this out very soon! 

It looks at writing instruction at CUNY in the late 60s and early 70s. This is a moment that became interesting to me because this is when first-year composition and poetry improbably mingled in university classrooms. At the time, CUNY was hiring all these up-and-coming poets to teach writing. I look at this as a micro-history, ultimately to call for a renewed focus on creativity and social justice in our college classrooms today. 

In order to get there, I talk a lot about the connections between higher education, writing and learning to write, and our connection to a civic, democratic identity. There is a chapter for instance, that talks about the origins of CUNY in 1847.  I ask, what was some of the rhetoric around the beginning of CUNY as an institution? I set that into a larger frame of thinking about other forms of access to higher education, other policy decisions that have happened nationally, and all of the ways that the nation was trying to bring historically underrepresented people onto college campuses.  

But mostly, I look at these poets in the classroom. I look at their pedagogy. I look at how they talked about learning and advocated for students, how they talked about CUNY at the time, how they talked about open admissions. And I try to pull out lessons for instructors today. I’m really trying to advance what I call a poetic teaching practice, to define what that is and give examples of how to enact it in the classroom. Both how the poets enacted it in their classrooms in the late 60s and early 70s, and how I am trying to do it today at CUNY.  

Dan: Sounds like a marvelous project. How do you see this poetic teaching practice, as you call it, influencing the work that you want to do in the Associate Dean’s Office.  

Cheryl: That’s a good question! So, with this book, I feel like I have finally found my voice. I am a literary studies scholar. I have a PhD in literature, 17th century literature. I love literary studies and I enjoy working through close readings. For me, the close readings of poetry in the book are some of the best examples of me as an intellectual. 

On the other hand, I’m also a total pedagogy geek. I’m really into it. I’ve worked on faculty development my entire career. I’ve thought about teaching really deeply. I’ve written about teaching, and that’s in the book as well. So, this book is a way for me to express my split identity as a disciplined intellectual in my discipline and a teacher. I feel like I’ve always engaged with the intellectual work of the discipline, the theory of literary studies, in a different way. I was always interested in thinking about a kind of literary studies practice rooted in student advocacy.  

This book merges those things, and I think that this office can potentially merge my split intellectual mind in really useful ways too. I write about how teaching can be a poetic practice. I think administration can be a poetic practice as well. One of the elements of a poetic teaching practice is the importance of collaboration, the importance of teacher-student collaboration, of writing together, of opportunities to write together, of opportunities to share.  

I think administration can be more collaborative. It doesn’t have to be so top down. It can be about learning from one another. Sitting in meetings, we often have very prescribed roles, and we sort of sit with our titles and we operate from our titles. I think that there can always be ways in which we operate around our titles, through our titles, and despite our titles. We can share spaces in different ways, and get different kinds of work done, thinking more creatively about how to move forward.  

Part of a poetic teaching practice is also about saying that everyone should have access to beauty, awe, and pleasure. We often don’t talk about that. For college students, we don’t prioritize that. We don’t say, my learning goal is that a student will write something that they feel proud of because they think it’s beautiful. But that’s really important. I want that for my students. Poetry, as a form, as a practice, really helps us get there. The emotional connections that we have with one another, to school, and to learning are potentially poetic.  

I see the end point of the work I want do here as creating opportunities for students to have little moments of awe in their educational journeys. To bring a little poetry into the work we do together. I’m really excited to begin. 

Baruch Hosts United Nations Development Programme for New York City’s Climate Week

For the past 14 years near the end of September, the United Nations has hosted Climate Week NYC, one of the largest, global climate events of its kind. During the week, the East Side buzzes with activity as influential leaders from the private sector, governmental agencies, the climate community, and the serving members of the United Nations General Assembly fill the City of New York. Though Baruch College lies only blocks away from the United Nations, partnerships between the two institutions have been rare. This year however, with the instrumental help of Professor Shelly Eversley of the Black and Latino Studies Department, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), an organization which advises the UN on driving its sustainable development agenda, brought a panel of young climate activists to Baruch College for People’s Climate Vote Live. Together, through a series of talks, fireside chats, and a lively Q&A with our students, the three speakers offered an engaging exploration of how policymakers and advocates can move from conversation to political action in the fight against the impending climate crisis.

Formally, the event highlighted the results of the UNDP’s latest project, The People’s Climate Vote, the largest survey of public opinion on climate change ever conducted. With 1.2 million respondents across 50 countries, the project uses a novel approach to bring everyday people’s voices front and center in the climate conversation. Poll questions asking respondents whether or not they felt climate change was an emergency and which government initiatives they supported, were distributed to users through advertisements in mobile gaming apps in 17 languages. The poll resulted in a unique sampling of people of all genders, ages, and educational backgrounds. 

At the event, which was held in-person in The William And Anita Newman Vertical Campus Conference Center and live streamed around the world, coauthor of the People’s Climate Vote and internationally recognized expert on treaty negotiations around climate change, Cassie Flynn polled a full room of Baruch students, faculty, and staff. Like the respondents in the study, they were asked if they believed climate change was a global emergency. 100% of the audience said yes.

This majority response was typical of the study as a whole. When it comes to age, younger people (under 18) were more likely to say climate change is an emergency than older people, 65% of those aged 18-35 regardless of education, nationality, or economic status answered in the affirmative.

Flynn was soon joined by Ana Sophia Misfud, a climate advocate since middle school and one of Forbes 30 Under 30. Today, Ana Sophia is a Manager at Rocky Mountain Initiative where she works with cities and states to eliminate the use of fossil fuels in large buildings. Also making an appearance was Kevin Patel, the founder of OneUpAction International, an organization that supports and empowers marginalized youth by providing them with the resources they need to be advocates for their own communities on a range of environmental justice issues.

Perhaps most moving was the Q&A, as Baruch students from across disciplines lined up at the microphone to ask how an average person can create meaningful change around such a complicated, global issue.

In his welcome remarks at the event, President S. David Wu tied Baruch’s “ever-expanding commitment” to furthering research on climate change with the UN’s climate project.

“We will do this through our students—by launching them into climate-related leadership positions through our Climate Scholars Program, and through our faculty—by their groundbreaking research from the natural sciences to social sciences to the arts cross-discipline exhibitions. Their work helps us to understand what we stand to lose if we stay complacent, and what we stand to gain if we work together,” he said.

He went on to address how work represented by The Peoples Climate Vote aligns with Baruch’s mission to be the People’s University. “Our students are global,” he said, “they come here, in part, to learn how their voices can shape a more just and equitable future.”

In all, People’s Climate Vote Live represented a unique opportunity for Baruch students to join the conversation and to tangibly realize the ways in which their voices and insights matter. Their contributions, and Baruch’s partnership with UNDP, felt especially pertinent given that The People’s Climate Vote and its creative polling process, offers new ways to insure that the voices of youth activists from around the world are part of the climate conversation.

Check out a recording of the whole event on UNDP’s Twitter page.