Farewell CUNY and Mina Rees Library!

This post is quite personal, and I am thankful to the GC library for allowing me space to publicly say goodbye.

As of February 18th, 2020, I will begin a new journey as the Associate Dean for Teaching, Learning, and Engagement at New York University Libraries where I will lead a new unit that will bring together undergraduate teaching, graduate teaching, online instruction, instructional design, teaching/learning with technology, reference services, programs/events, and outreach, providing vision for NYU instruction and outreach activities as well as establish priorities in order to support learning of all kinds across NYU. My last day (before a brief vacation) at the Graduate Center as your Head of Reference will be Friday, January 24th, 2020.

The Graduate Center has provided me with so many opportunities to work directly with students and scholars of color and the anti-racist white comrades who support transformational scholarship. Of that list includes the innovative work of our many Centers and Institutes that have collaborated directly with the Mina Rees Library over the years: the Futures Initiative, the Academic Commons, the Center for Women and Society, the Center for LGBTQ Studies, the Center for Humanities and James Gallery, IRADAC, the Teaching and Learning Center, the CUNY Pipeline Program, the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, and others, – thank you for your continued collaboration with library Public Services and my own professional development.

To close out my last year, I’d like to point to the 2019 successful completion of a PSC-CUNY Research Grant B, for which I participated in a network of black lesbians on an international scale to transform an archival collection into a traveling exhibition for the Salsa Soul Sisters, the first known lesbian of color organization in New York City. Thanks to the partnership with the Lesbian Herstory Archives, Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop, the Brooklyn College Library, the New-York Historical Society, and the Studio Museum of Harlem many walls in the city of New York exhibited maps, flyers, photographs, writings, and ephemera of lesbians of color. Highlights are below in reverse order.

New-York Historical Society – On November 15th, 2019, one-hundred open seats filled the Dexter Hall of the New-York Historical Society’s second-floor rotunda where the neighboring room held the By the Force of Our Presence Stonewall 50 Commemorative exhibition.

Salsa Soul Sisters standing affront NYHS exhibit

Salsa Soul Sisters standing affront Lesbian Herstory Archives NYHS exhibit

An exhibit of holdings at the Lesbian Herstory Archives, curated by its Graphics Committee Flavia Rando, Elvis Bakaitis, Ashely Louisa-Santangelo, Saskia Scheffer, and Colette Denali Montoya-Sloan. The exhibition held a timeline of lesbian herstory which included the Salsa Soul Sisters 1974 founding in New York City as an official Third World Women organization. Opening remarks were provided by Chirlane McCray who recalled her first encounters with Salsa Soul meetings when she was in her early twenties, sitting beside Audre Lorde who voiced to her, “Overwhelming, isn’t it.”

Here are images from the New-York Historical Society exhibition by photographer Ponvishal Chidambaranathan (chidp388@newschool.edu).

Brooklyn College Library – Lining the walls of the main entrance of the Brooklyn College Library, with the support of Miriam Deutch, Rosamond King, Asya Dodina, Elvis Bakaitis, and Ruby Lowery, two altar spaces, a wall of flyers, four large posters, and images from the LHA Graphics Collection greeted visitors in the main entryway. Exhibition altar at Brooklyn College Library

In addition to the images and flyers, there were two digital overlays, photographs, and another of audio that streamed to reveal voices of lesbians of color discussing issues of dating, colorism, and their recalling of the past. One class took place and another catered public event called upon the ancestors., pictured here.

Here are images from the Brooklyn College Library Exhibition provided by the Wolfe Institute and Brooklyn College Library.

Studio Museum of Harlem – An event co-sponsored with CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies, Syd Balou, the CLAGS event coordinator interviewed Cassandra Grant, an original member of the Salsa Soul Sisters and donor of the collection (along with Imani Rashid, Brahma Curry, and Nancy Valentine) to the Lesbian Herstory Archives.

Group photo at Studio Museum of Harlem

Group photo at the Studio Museum of Harlem,

Grant recalled her life preceding Salsa Soul and the organization’s subsequent impact. We learned later that Dr. Gloria Joseph, author of the Wind is Spirit became an ancestor that very same day. The event recalled Joseph’s book for Audre Lorde where an interview was published recalling Lorde’s impact on the women of Salsa Soul during their weekly meetings.

Each of these exhibitions were following a Stonewall 50 precursor at the Robert Printmaking Gallery where Program and Exhibitions Manager for the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop, Essye Klempner, supplied the original concept of the exhibition hanging, the Metropolitan Library Council’s Digital Studio for use of the Vinyl Plotter station to list ancestral names, and the Lesbian Herstory Archives’ Flavia Rando for being our in-house curator.

My nine years at the Graduate Center were not all encapsulated by the Salsa Soul Sisters exhibitions. There were in-house exhibitions on-site at the GC with Lesbian Graphic Posters, the Louis Armstrong Museum House Artist in Residency Program, and my first, the Activist Women’s Voices exhibition. Currently, still up is the CLAGSNews Archive project. Reference Librarians Elvis Bakaitis and Katherine Pradt worked with library students Carrie Jedlicka and Marybeth Coscia-Weiss and most recently Repository Curator, Sadie Rain Hope-Gund to get CLAGSNews into the Academic Works Repository. The home for these materials is finally up and soon, so will be its contents.

I am CUNY.

I am a Brooklyn College Academy graduate, a CUNY Pipeline alum, a CUNY BA Alum, a Queens College MLIS and MFA alum, and have worked in Bronx Community College Library with LaRoi Lawton, as well as for the past nine years at the Graduate Center Library. Both of my parents from immigrant families graduated from Brooklyn College and York College, CUNY, and so I imagine that I was conceived in the stacks of a CUNY library. CUNY is where I have my repository uploads, and truly has been my academic home.

And to that end, I will miss Polly Thistlethwaite’s directed leadership, Elvis Bakaitis’ optimism, Awilda Ojeda’s institutional knowledge, Adriana Palmer’s hopefulness, Jill Cirasella’s candidness, Curtis Matthew’s consistency, and the colleagues, too many to name, whose tireless work sets a high bar for any library. Mostly I will miss the one-on-one appointments with doctoral and masters students who were brave enough to enter a space and ask for help, taking control of their research questions, especially to those women of color students who through necessity formed their own network, those LGBTQ students whose work is more than a research question and those queer students of color who refuse to work in any other way than a decolonial practice that cites to black feminists – keep pushing.

CUNY, you inspire me to no end. Thank you for this brief goodbye. Or, as President Jim Muyskens tipped, goodbye for now. There are collaborations to be made. Until then, it was so swell to be here.

Please find me now at shawnta.smith-cruz@nyu.edu or shawntasmithcruz.com

Yours in struggle and in spirit, Shawn.

About the Author

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