Posts Tagged ‘new school’

As I reflect on my time here at Milano, there are a few things that I think about. One is that I’m going to miss many of the people here after we go our different ways. I’ve met some brilliant, kind, passionate people here. Another thing is that the policy analysis framework is something that I anticipate will be useful far down the road.

But there’s another thought that I have, a thought that I didn’t expect to have when I came into the program. Certain policy issues and neighborhoods tend to be invisible at Milano. In other words, we just don’t see them.

I came to Milano because I have a burning desire to serve my community of Harlem in particular and urban black neighborhoods in general. I thought that at Milano, I would find a community of aspiring policy makers and scholars actively engaged in urban policy matters that directly impact urban communities of color. Sadly, this is not the case. This is not to say that Milano is completely devoid of any discussion of urban communities of color, but there is not the level of emphasis I would like to see in a program that is supposed to offer an alternative to Columbia’s SIPA and NYU’s Wagner. We only have a couple of courses that directly address issues of race, and both of them, to my knowledge, are taught by one professor – Darrick Hamilton. I think Leigh Graham’s classes may also address issues of race, but her Economic Development course wasn’t offered this semester and she’s off to another university next fall. Karen Merson has led the Making a Difference course, but my understanding is that the course is more of a general question-your-assumptions survey of oppression.

I think an urban policy program rooted in social justice should have greater emphasis on the plight and assets of urban communities of color and the potential policy options to improve the lives of people living in these communities.

Now, I should note that the Laboratory in Issue Analysis and Community Development Finance Lab has featured neighborhoods of color including Harlem, the South Bronx, and Brownsville. Political Economy of City definitely includes discussions of race and class but its only a piece. The course helps students understand how ghettoes came to be but doesn’t take the next step in examining possible policy solutions.

I think that a large reason why urban policy impacting communities of color is noticeably absent at Milano is because urban policy aimed at the improvement of communities of color is noticeably absent from government at all levels (notwithstanding Bloomberg’s Young Men’s Initiative). Ironically, we learn about neoliberalism and the devolution of government over the past 30 – 40 years, but we do not examine potential policy alternatives to compensate. Just because the Federal Government isn’t funding community action programs and community development corporations like it was in the 1960’s doesn’t mean that problems that gave rise to such programs have been solved. It seems that once the Empowerment Zones money ran out, once Boyz N the Hood became cliché, and once hip-hop became the best-selling music genre, the problems facing urban communities of color weren’t “sexy” policy issues anymore. At best, we look at pieces – urban education (charter schools vs. district schools), affordable housing, and food deserts. But what about the whole picture?

How can we send policy makers out into the world without ensuring that they have a full understanding of how urban policy has impacted urban communities of color? How can we do this and claim to be a social justice institution?  The Obama Administration was supposed to shine a new light on urban policy in America, but the President’s urban policy efforts seem to be going nowhere fast. As a heterodox and social justice-oriented institution and program, we should not be constrained by what’s hot right now. Of course there is the reality of offering programs and courses based on demand. I’m not challenging that, but what I am saying is that Milano should not just be driven by consumer demand, it should encourage students to engage issues that are overlooked in the popular policy discourse. Milano needs to have a greater emphasis on race, class, and what’s going on in communities of color across the city.

EDITED TO ADD: I also have to give a shout out to Robert Zdenek’s Community Development course. Unfortunately it’s not being offered next year. Supply and demand.

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I’ve been “teasing” upcoming developments at Milano here for months.  I wanted to wait to discuss this until some sort of more official, clear, “ta-da!” announcement was made and I was clear on who had been told what, and so I wouldn’t be saying anything that incoming students wouldn’t know about.  What can I say? I wanted a clear conscience. Given that, the following is now not “news” but it will affect those of us who are new or continuing students.

Milano’s programs will be merging with the New School’s Graduate Program in International Affairs (GPIA) thus forming a new division of The New School (to be named soon).  How this affects your program, how any of us feels about this, etc. is diverse, as you should expect.

In the short term, we can cross-register for courses at each others’ schools/programs.  However, many of us have been doing so already for awhile, so I’m not clear on how this represents a change at this time!

There are also two (I would say three) cultures coming together here from the students’ perspective.  Having spent more than five minutes of time in two and quite a bit more in my home Urban Policy program, I can tell you that these are three distinct communities in certain ways, and as much back and forth and cross-pollination that occurs, there are certain specific experiences or philosophies binding each of us.  For Urban part of it is Lab; I don’t know what my colleagues in other areas would say, but since part of creating community has to do with a shared experience, I’m sure they have a sense of that as well.  Part of the process of joining these groups together, then, is figuring out how these merging identities will work and how much of what is most valued for each will be maintained.

I’m not heavily involved in that larger structural conversation.  As to the rest: it makes for fascinating observation in terms of group dynamics on many levels.

That doesn’t mean I’m “opposed” to this; far from it.  I’ve taken courses at GPIA and find their course offerings as well as the incorporation of more global perspectives to our work a great complement to the expertise being developed by those of us planning to work in policy (or management).  So from an academic, intellectual perspective this is absolutely an exciting development.

I am, though, feeling a bit wistful as so many of my friends and colleagues have their graduation ceremony in a few weeks, in small part because I wonder if my diploma will be different from theirs–and we will at least nominally have been separated into two incarnations of this school.  That rather disrupts my own personal feeling of community, doesn’t it?  So when it is time to return to the [school to be named later] this fall, we will have an exciting new sense of ourselves and will be seeing how much–or how little–change this does mean for us.  In the meantime, for a few weeks, I’m getting a little emotional about the fact that so many of the people who have been important to my experience here are leaving soon, or have left already.  It really is (oh, god, cue the cliche machine) the end of an era.

The new one for me is going to be dedicated to my work, the pursuit for which continues to be my first priority.  Milano has given me a good set of skills, and I’m eager to apply them out in the field.

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It’s been three weeks since classes started, but it feels closer to three months. The hardest thing so far has been finding a schedule that works for both the personal and the school stuff as well as realizing many of the great talks on campus happen while I’m in class during the evenings. As a Year One my schedule consists of schoolwide and program core courses and so far it’s been a mixed blessing. The biggest benefit has been the heavy concentration of other Year Ones in the classes, this has served to take off some of the hesitation about being vocal during class for fear of sounding  ‘stupid’.  On the other hand having core courses have given me mixed feelings about the collection of courses I am taking this semester. By far the most difficult course for me this semester is my economics class. Initially I was considering taking Quantitative Methods, but after the student panel during orientation I decided to go with the economics core course – Economics for Management and Public Policy.  Part of the difficulty lies in having the dominant part of my grade determined by the midterm and the final (80 percent), with homework and classroom participation making up the remainder of the grade. Essentially, it’s a microeconomics course and while supply and demand may work for widgets and widget consultancies, it is hard to map that on to the nonprofit sector which is essentially answering the need for services that the for profit sector was unable to find a profit driven response too….

By far my favorite course has been Making a Difference: Global, Organizational and Individual Perspectives of Social Change.  This class demands my engagement and then once engaged it smacks me around a bit … just to send me out into the school week a little pissed (which is a good thing). The readings test my base knowledge and understanding of critical thought while giving me enough gristle to wrestle with the stuff I don’t know yet. This is one of the rare classes over my college career (both undergrad and grad) that I’ve found myself looking for other readings to supplement the assignments for the week because I want to be better prepared for the class.

As it stands my Theory and Practice of NonProfit Management class is my least favorite course this semester. Essentially, it’s a survey course and I believe for me after 5 solid years of nonprofit experience I was looking for more ‘theory’ and less ‘practice’. We read …. we talk…[we are] getting bored and it’s only week four. Hopefully, the professor will recognize the lack of participation as a cry for help and will shift to meet our needs.

The tally thus far for reading (in pages): 114 (week 1), 201 (week 2), and 234 (week 3)….


PS  – I’ve added a couple of pics from this week’s ‘snow day’….school was canceled which was good for me (as my new notebook was delivered) but was a dud for the snow enthusiasts. NYC only received 8-9 inches while my hometown of Philly (a 2-hour drive away) is sitting in 88 inches worth of snow (over the course of back to back weekend snow sessions).

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My first week this Spring semester was notable only insofar as I noticed, by Wednesday, that I had only seen or run into one other student I knew.  Where have all the policy students gone, I wondered?  Graduated, further along in their programs and PDR’ing (that’s Professional Decision Report, our final project here), or who knows where.  Sitting outside waiting for class there are not too many familiar faces, reinforcing the reality I have known all along, that many other colleagues and friends will have graduated before I do.

I had a happy surprise when I arrived at my Social Marketing and Media Advocacy class to look over and see Laura! It wasn’t a given that as Nonprofit Management and Urban Policy students, respectively, this would ever happen.  That class will include a project for a client, and on hearing that formulation, I became a little nauseated, recalling the insanity of our Policy Lab a year ago (was it only 1 year? it feels much longer!) and its grueling schedule.  (I remember one day I forgot where I put my lunch, which was sitting, reheated, in the microwave waiting for me.  Good times.) Rest assured to you folks just embarking on this odyssey, it will be taxing, hopefully not too frustrating, and you will feel very accomplished at its end.  Then you’ll have to talk to yourself in a soothing voice henceforth when “group work” is mentioned, reminding yourself that Lab’s pace is not the same as in other courses.  You’ll be fine.  This was my psychological task this week.

There are other, more systemic changes, underway at the New School right now too. Ironically, I could not attend a meeting which might have helped clarify some of these since I was in class, but there will be some sort of reorganization of Milano and the New School’s Graduate Program in International Affairs (GPIA).  Details are forthcoming, including those relating to any changes that will kick in next year as I complete my program.  So far, there are some immediately noticeable cultural evolutions: more students from GPIA in my classes this term (several are in my Quantitative Methods course), and schoolwide emails addressed, on occasion, to “the Milano/GPIA community”.  It’s hard to frame an appropriate reaction when little information is at hand, but I’m human, so I have some concerns, certainly.  Upon more reflection, (this part is personal, so please do not hold this against Laura, Tushar, or Eulalia, dear readers) they center on the possibility of not claiming a space/division/location whose primary purpose and function is the creative, principled pursuit of progressive social change.  There are so many values both stated and implied at Milano, largely responsible for my decision to come here as opposed to pursue policy studies at any number of other graduate programs lacking such a philosophical commitment.

I’m not clear as to how dramatic or structural any reorganization of Milano/GPIA is to be, but I hope whatever we become remains committed to the progressive pursuit of social justice.  While these can be values individually held by  students elsewhere at the New School, there truly is something important in having an academic division whose structure and population share such goals-as does Milano.  I know my friends in GPIA are also concerned with making the world a better place, and have these values in mind, so my concerns are more structural than personal.  (You can take the theorist to policy school, but you can’t….well, you get the idea by now I hope.)

In any case, I’m sure we’ll all be hearing more about this as the term progresses, and I am curious to see what happens.

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At the end of August (2008) I was gearing up for our EOY (end of year) individual appeal, and had drafted a letter which referenced the recession. Our ED who received his letters in economics, and according to him was the youngest tenured professor at Wharton at one point, summarily told me there wasn’t a recession. While technically Bernake/Paulson/ or whomever had not declared a recession I decided it was a point worth arguing. My ED argued that there are certain parameters that must be in place for a recession to be called and mentioning the ‘R’ word was tantamount to screaming the ‘sky is falling’, and I argued that while I didn’t possess a PhD I knew enough about economics and more importantly understood hood economics to warrant using the “R” word. I explained to him the hood tenet of black folks as the first to suffer from a recession and the last to recover from one, and coupled this with the anecdotal information coming from our own nonprofit. Typically summer was a slow time of the year for us, but we had seen a steady stream of people looking for work and more importantly folks with jobs coming in looking for a better (or second) job. Also, many participants noted that it was difficult to purchase the basic necessities … particularly staples such as milk, paper goods, and meat. During lunchtime it was not odd to hear participants speaking about running up larger tabs at the local bodega (where many poor New Yorkers do a hefty portion of their food shopping) and ‘cutting back’. For the hood, cutting back takes the form of buying a gallon of milk one quart at a time (eventhough this results in a higher gallon cost for families)….or by replacing the staple of chicken with the less expensive substitutes of ox tails and pork parts.

Despite everything I knew I couldn’t convince my ED we were in the right to use the ‘R’ word and that our funders would appreciate the forethought by us of calling a ‘duck’ – a duck. While I am a big proponent of finding professional mentors who you can count on for learning the concrete tasks of your profession I found myself just lacking the background knowledge to articulate my insights, and for me this was the beginning of the realization it was time to go back to school. By the time the holidays rolled around I used vacation time to visit Columbia and NYU to look at program options and to get a sense of the application process. Through acquaintances I had secured inauguration tickets for me and my mom, and while the cold weather kept my mom from heading to DC with me, I decided to do a post-inauguration brunch in Philly with her. By this time there was no doubt we were in a recession and at brunch I decided to share with my mom my desire to go back to school. After almost ten years of giving my mom reasons for not going to grad school, I found myself articulating why this was the time to go. My mom’s main concern was the cost prohibitive factor of returning to school. My youngest sister is still trying to get her undergrad degree and my mom was clear that she wouldn’t be able to help me financially as she was still committed to helping my sister. She also felt that I should be happy that I still had a job and that if I was serious about school I should wait until the recession ‘blew’ over before returning. I had hoped to leave the brunch bolstered by my mom ready to commit to applying to school, but instead I left riddled with anxiety at the thought this perhaps wasn’t the smartest choice to make.

While reticent about the country’s future, my future and more importantly about returning to school I moved forward with applying to school. I prepped for the GRE/GMAT, and took the GRE, visited classes, read blogs by current students and alumni, talked with friends who did various programs, collected immunization/transcripts/recommendation records …. basically I started the process that would dominate 2009 for me. As I visited the various admissions offices I learned that many other folks were applying to school (thanks in part to the recession) but many schools would not be increasing the number of accepts – thus making it ‘harder’ to get into school. I initially had hoped for a fall admit, but ended up waitlisted at one institution and denied by my fail safe. I was ready to chalk it up as maybe my mom was right (it isn’t the right time to consider returning to school), but instead I decided to double up. I increased the number of institutions I applied to and decided to push for a January admit. The strategy paid off …. and I found myself with a few choices for January. I think I have made the best choice in Milano and only time will tell. Overall I am looking forward to being challenged by my classmates and reading material. I am looking forward to challenging myself to embrace the new and lastly to be a bit more proactive than I was as an undergrad. With classes starting tomorrow I am still unsure what to expect (other than more complex math and reading things I don’t like) and I find myself as equally ambivalent as I was starting out the process….on some level I believe this ambivalence will be the only certainty about the next two years.

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