Extending Learning Beyond the Classroom with Cultural Enhancement Activities

Ana Ozuna, Assistant Professor
Black Studies Unit, Humanities Department

 

New York City’s cultural institutions and organizations feature world-class exhibitions, symposiums, film screenings, and artistic performances representative of the city’s ethnic and cultural diversity. These educational opportunities link New York City residents to a variety of cultural histories and traditions as well as contemporary artistic expressions and, thus promote the appreciation of local and global cultures. In Spring 2015, I decided to bridge course content with the critical inquiry of Latinx, Caribbean and Black identity and culture by identifying course related educational programming for students at local and citywide cultural institutions. Since then, all of my students complete two to three Cultural Enhancement Activities that require them to critically reflect on course content by attending lectures, film screenings, theater performances and art exhibits; and then writing self-reflective essay to reflect on their experience. Since implementing Cultural Enhancement Activities, students have attended a wide range of cultural activities at The Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture Longwood Art Gallery, Pregones Theater, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute, the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute, among other cultural institutions.

 

During the Spring 2015 semester, the Caribbean Club hosted a forum titled, Afro-Hispaniola, which featured the Legacy Women, a women-led Afro-Dominican and Afro-Puerto Rican group founded by Manuela Arciniegas. They performed the rhythms of Dominican Palos, Congos, Salves, and Puerto Rican Bomba. The event also included the presentation of “Birthright Crisis” a 15-miunute documentary video, produced by Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees and directed by Miriam Neptune. “Birthright Crisis” examines the violence and legalized discrimination against Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent. The latest version of the film features the passage of the TC 168-13 ruling a law in September 2013 that strips citizenship from over 200,000 thousands of Haitian-Dominicans and Dominicans of Haitian descent. After the event my LAC 106: History of the Dominican Republic students engaged in a stimulating discussion with Miriam Neptune and the Legacy Women. Students commented in days that followed that this experience enhanced their understanding of racial politics in the Dominican Republic.

 

In the Fall 2015, my Black Studies and Caribbean Studies students attended the ¡Presente! The Young Lords in New York exhibition at The Bronx Museum of the Arts. This experience prompted students to better understand how the Young Lords addressed social, political, economic problems such as income inequality, environmental racism, educational and health disparities, and police brutality.

 

In Spring 2017, my Black Studies students toured one of the first free Black communities established in 1838 at Weeksville Heritage Center located in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. After the excursion, students better understood how free Black civic leaders, professionals, and entrepreneurs challenged racist ideas by building a viable community that featured a wide range of educational, social and cultural institutions. Black Studies students also critically examined the literary, political, economic, and cultural aspects of the Black Power Movement by viewing the “Black Power” Exhibition at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. In addition, students in my LAC 118: Caribbean Society and Culture class explored the trajectory and contributions of the twentieth century Puerto Rican pioneers in Spanish Harlem, El Barrio during a guided tour of the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute located on 125th Street in Harlem.

 

Cultural Enhancement Activities extend learning beyond the classroom by reinforcing content knowledge and providing students with the opportunity to engage in the open exchange of ideas on a wide range of issues with scholars, activists, artists, and local residents. These experiences also serve as scaffolding activities to help students explore local and global cultural histories while developing writing skills, and the ability to synthesize content in meaningful ways. Moreover, these activities encourage exploration of local and citywide cultural organizations and thus promote independent learning beyond the classroom.

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