The Gittell Archive Project & Library Exhibition

The library will hold the Marilyn Jacobs Gittell Archival Exhibition in its display cases for the unveiling of the November 26th, 2013 Evening In Honor which will include a Welcome by President Chase Robinson, an address by Prof. Michelle Fine, and a reception.  Below is a paper by Project Collaborator Rachel Jane Liebert with more information and what I see as an invitation to the Evening In Honor.

Honoring the legacy of Marilyn Jacobs Gittell

Written by Rachel Jane Liebert
PhD candidate in Critical Social Psychology at The Graduate Center
Adjunct Instructor of  Interdisciplinary Studies at  John Jay College

Marilyn Jacobs Gittell, 1931 – 2010, was a CUNY scholar and community activist, deeply committed to racial, gender and educational justice. At the time of her passing she was a Professor of Political Science and Director of the Howard Samuels Center for public policy at The Graduate Center.


Marilyn had a distinguished career at CUNY. After earning a Master’s of Public Administration and a PhD in Political Science from New York University, she returned to CUNY to teach at Queens College in the 1960s and early 1970s, before becoming Assistant Vice President and Associate Provost at Brooklyn College – the same campus where Marilyn had earned her Bachelor’s degree in 1952. She then moved to the Graduate Center in 1978, continuing her dedication to training young urban scholars of color and women in the principles and practices of a grass-roots, participatory democracy and rigorous field research.

Marilyn was perhaps best known for her research and involvement in school decentralization and public school reform. This included a Brooklyn-based effort in Ocean Hill Brownsville to move control of local schools to their black and Puerto Rican residents. In the best traditions of activist scholarship, Marilyn helped to source funding, undertake research, advocate politically and support local organizing for this important struggle.

With her friend and colleague Maurice R. Berube, in the Prologue to their 1969 edited collection of essays about the subsequent strikes, she wrote:

Few events in the history of American education have been as portentous as the strikes that closed New York City schools in the fall of 1968. The dispute underlying those strikes is no parochial issue. The battle for control of city schools, waged between school professionals and the black community of Ocean Hill Brownsville, had political, educational, and social implications for the whole nation. The outcome would affect not only public education in the nation’s cities but also the political and social fabric of a democratic society, for on trial were some of our most cherished concepts: politically, the public’s right to determine the policy and course of education; educationally, the moral imperative to provide quality education for all in publicly supported schools; and the socially, the egalitarian ideal of a just, interracial society.[1]

Gittell Banner

Honoring the Mystery of Activist-Scholarship

We, a small group of doctoral students in Critical Social Psychology at the CUNY Graduate Center, were charged with constructing the archives of Marilyn Jacobs Gittell. Also engaged with activist-scholarship, feminist praxis and racial and educational justice, we committed to a reflexive, iterative process that would enable Marilyn’s story to unfold with/in the dynamic, creative tensions of her work and (thus) this project.

That is, drawing on the critical theory and radical practice of Angela Davis, María Elena Torre, Andrea Smith and Michelle Fine, among others, we sought to witness and value, yet not reify or adore, the role of the individual in collective struggle, academic expertise in participatory projects, white privilege in anti-racist projects and applicable techniques in activist-scholarship.

GittelEventIn doing so we hoped to lift up the generative potential of these tensions; taking flight from Gloria Anzaldūa’s notion that (r)evolution comes through difference and disagreement. It is thus to the policed – yet magical – borderlands of activism and scholarship that we turned to document the complexities, necessities and possibilities of Marilyn’s legacy.

A task that we approached in terms of ‘mystery’; nodding here to Gabriel Marcel, who argues that while a ‘problem’ is separate from, and fixable by, the problem-solver, a mystery generates an infinite line of questioning inseparable from the questioners themselves. Such a lens allowed us to engage with this project as something that is inherently insoluble and participatory – two elements that resonate with the project of activist-scholarship itself.

This exhibit, then, was designed to enter the mysterious. Starting out in a storage unit in Queens during the winter of 2012, our journey began with thermals and 250 boxes of Marilyn’s materials and has emerged as one digital and one material exhibition. Both exhibitions honor her activist-scholarship with/in collective struggles around public education in New York City, with an emphasis on that which occurred in Ocean Hill Brownsville during the black resistance movements of the 1960s.


Nearly fifty years after Marilyn’s activist-scholarship with/in Ocean Hill Brownsville, the need for educational justice has only intensified. In an age of high-stakes testing, charter schools, voucher systems and campus policing, expanding the academy’s capacity for projects that ‘walk the talk’ of participatory democracy seems urgent. We thus believe that witnessing legacies such as Marilyn’s with/in CUNY – ones that show us how we can make change from and to public education – is more timely than ever.

And so, while the full online archive of Marilyn’s materials can be found in our digital exhibition,, the eight panels presented here (be)comes without signs, blurbs or a ‘map’ – instead presenting a critical pastiche that honors viewers’-cum-questioners’ participation in the mystery of activist-scholarship.

For more information, email,

 Sponsored by SAGE Publications

[1] Berube, M. & Gittell, M. J. (1969). Prologue: The struggle for community control. In M. Berube & M. J. Gittell (Eds), Confrontation at Ocean Hill- Brownsville: The New York School Strikes of 1968. Frederick A. Praeger: New York, Washington, London. Pp. 3-10. (p. 3)

About the Author

Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz is an Assistant Professor and Head of Reference at the Graduate Center Library.