Why Open Access?

Below is the second in a series of posts by participants in the Summer 2020 Open Pedagogy Fellowship, coordinated by the Mina Rees Library. Fellows will share insight to the process of converting a syllabus to openly-licensed and/or zero-cost resources, as well as their experiences in the Fellowship. 

Amy A. Martinez is a PhD Candidate in Criminal Justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice— CUNY Graduate Center. Upon completing the Open Pedagogy Workshop in September 2020, she revisited her syllabus for the course “Penology,” to find ways to making it as open as possible. 

Why Open Access? by Amy A. Martinez

As a working class, first-generation Xicana Indigena, my identity and positionality has informed my pedagogy. And as someone who’s whose life has been impacted by the carceral state, having experienced the imprisonment of many loved ones, I intentionally create spaces where the voices and experiences of students of color, and those whom we study, are centered. I encourage students to critically relate their own experiences to class topics and foster independent thinking skills by connecting their lives to structural conditions.

This encourages them to assert their own intellectual agency by being active participants in their own learning. Inspired by a former professor of color, I invite students to respond to class material through poetry, spoken word, music, or even silence to achieve this goal. This invites students to sit with course material (which oftentimes speak to their own lived realities) without any pressure to respond in dominant expectations of demonstrating comprehension or processing such information (e.g. speaking in class, essays, powerpoint presentations).

These teaching practices create transformative learning experiences by leveraging the existing diversity of experience in the classroom—my students have identified as Black, Asian, Chicana—Puerto Rican—LGBTQ—Formerly Incarcerated—Undocumented—among other identities. This has allowed them to learn from each other’s’ analyses that are often rooted in their situated epistemologies. By affectively engaging cross-cultural students’ experiences in the classroom, their ability to use personal narratives to generate intellectual conversations is made possible. This demonstrates the influence a diverse body of faculty can have on students of color, by bringing them together, even across socio-cultural differences. To this end, students can become thoughtful and contributing members in the struggle of social justice, and for the most vulnerable populations. 

But what kind of emotional, spiritual, physical, financial labor does it take for our CUNY students to even show up in our classrooms? How do our students’ realities allow them – or not – to be ready to engage in classroom spaces, even one like mine, which centers a decolonial pedagogical approach? Navigating one of the most expensive cities in the country, balancing the choice of higher education against the need for basic human necessities, and seeking social mobility/stability – these are all active concerns for CUNY students. 

As we are currently facing unprecedented and challenging times amidst racial civil unrest and the COVID-19 global pandemic, I have found myself further reflecting on these questions. This is why I was deeply motivated to apply for the Summer 2020 Open Pedagogy Fellowship – because I wanted to continue seeking innovative ways to find and use open resources to ensure that our students (especially those whom have been most negatively impacted amidst this global pandemic) successfully continue to push on in their pursuit of higher education. It is imperative that we as educators recognize now more than ever, that our students, whom already come from working class and marginalized communities, are finding themselves having to choose between spending the minimal economic resources they (may) have on their essential human necessities (e.g. food, housing, etc.), as well as books and course materials.

 The reality is that while the cost of living continues to increase in New York City, our students are having to take on multiple jobs just to financially support themselves. It is disheartening to hear students’ shock when arriving to my classroom that they will have to spend very minimal (if at all) any money on course materials. With all the money the university already extracts from every student (through tuition and other university fees), on top of that, the onus of having to pay for course materials is placed on students whom are struggling to survive. 

I am personally committed to ensuring that in my capacity, I can reduce – if not outright eliminate – any and all unnecessary expenses for course material to ensure my students are not faced with such predicaments. And more importantly, that they can come into my classroom without any unnecessary stress so that they may enjoy what has now become a luxury to learn. As a working-class doctoral student and adjunct faculty of color, I seek to develop a supportive community for students, where mindfulness and compassion is central. What do students care if I/we create a loving and warm classroom space – if they are sitting in our classrooms thinking about how they are going to pay for their next meal or rent?

About the Author

Elvis Bakaitis is currently the Head of Reference at the Mina Rees Library. They're also proud to serve on the University LGBTQ Council, and as a board member of CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies.