Open Access Takes to the Streets

Below is the fourteenth and final post in a series by participants in the Winter 2021 Open Pedagogy Fellowship, coordinated by the Mina Rees Library. Fellows will share insight into the process of converting a syllabus to openly-licensed and/or zero-cost resources, as well as their experiences in the Fellowship.

Alex Viteri is a performance maker and scholar. She also likes to collaborate as a dramaturg for choreographers and visual artists. Lately, she co-facilitated the residency THE BODY OF WATER: Experimenting with Form in Playwriting and performed next to the choreographer Juliana Piquero and light/sound designer Catalina Fernandez in Fan de Ellas, Berlin. Alex is doing her Ph.D in Theatre & Performance at The Graduate Center & teaches at Hunter College.

Students in Colombia are once again in the streets. Their calls, actions and methodologies inspire my thoughts on Open Pedagogies as I write this post. The messages on the streets are proof of a generation’s critical analysis of Colombia’s history. Students and their allies are revisiting, questioning and challenging the nation’s heroes. From the streets, and through the proliferation of alternative ways of gathering, they propose practical solutions and open the possibilities for a fairer future. 

In November 2019, the students had started a strike to demand better access to education. At the beginning of 2020, they agreed to quarantine. This year, provoked by an enraging tributary reform, a diverse and multitudinous crowd joined the students in the streets. This time, they were peacefully marching against systemic poverty, police brutality and many other forms of State violence–the list is long. 

Image from Camilo Naranjo, Facebook status update, May 29, 2021. “Quiero estudiar la naturaleza sin un fusil en la cabeza [I want to study nature without a gun to my head]. #Biologiaresiste.” Used with permission of photographer.

More than a month later, the government still delays entering into dialogue with the protest leaders. Instead, we’ve seen students attacked, sexually abused, tortured, and disappeared. Cities are militarized, shooting is arbitrary. Inside and outside Colombia’s presumed frontiers, our government disregards the strike and ignores the many calls to stop its ambush. Human rights are constantly violated. 

Against the horrors of the State, protesters and their allies have developed strategies to avoid physical attacks and pedagogies to redress the deceptive information and misrepresentation of their progress by the traditional media and some members of congress. The strike continues. 

Photos by Leonard Mikoleit [@mikolente], December 2, 2021. Left: “Resistencia Afro. No más etnocidio del pueblo negro en Colombia. Acuerdo Humanitario Ya [Afro Resistance. No more ethnocide of the black people in Colombia. Humanitarian Agreement Now].” Right: “Hasta Dios que es paciencia pura; se cansó de la situación en B/ventura [Even God, who is pure patience, got tired of the situation in B/ventura].” Used with permission of the photographer.

I feel the students’ struggles and strategies are meaningfully close to our discussions during the fellowship. Grassroot collectives, along with public and private universities, have opened and facilitated spaces to reflect on the country’s history and its current crisis. Temporal ollas comunitarias transformed into permanent cooperatives. Mothers, teachers, and lawyers formed first lines to defend the right to protest:#madresprimeralinea; #profesprimeralinea; #PimeraLineaJuridica. Civilians turned the streets into an experimental playground on empathy. Artists flooded the streets and armed the squares with gigantic graffiti, turning pavement into poetry. The streets became classrooms: in this sense, open access is their mojo. 

Espacio Humanitario Portal Américas. Facebook wall, June 2, 2021. [“Invitamos a toda la comunidad a ser parte de la construcción colectiva de la Biblioteca Popular Resistencia. ¡Bienvenidas ideas e iniciativas! [We invite the whole community to be part of the collective construction of the Biblioteca Popular Resistencia. Ideas and initiatives are welcome!].” Used with permission of the photographer.

I felt drawn to Mina Rees Library’s Open Pedagogy Fellowship as it centered thoughts on social justice and addressed academia’s exploitative history and our institution’s role in the prevalence of western over many other forms of knowledge. The fellowship offered a space to theorize and practice alternative pedagogies, against the forever mutating colonial grips that turn education into a currency.

Meme submitted by Nikki Quesada as her spring break reflection. (See the description of the assignment here. )

Months before our class gathered on the now familiar Zoom landscape, protests against police brutality and racism had surged in Minneapolis. At the time, the protests were also a source of inspiration, a constant and urgent reminder of the necessity to question the normalization of racism within our universities.

Theatre History, an obligatory class in many performance departments, usually follows a linear trajectory and usually showcases a male western canon. In earlier iterations of the class, students spoke about the absence of plays that related intimately to them. They needed to see themselves and their ancestors within the syllabus. They longed for herstories, looked for artists and performance traditions connected to their experiences of the world and asked for a class not bounded by linear time but rather by topic. For spring 2021, it felt logical to participate in the Open Pedagogy Fellowship to workshop the class. I hoped to change the student’s and my assumptions that history classes are and will always be stagnated in a past too white and too male. 

World Theatre Histories was conceived during the fellowship and practiced over the spring semester at Hunter College’s theatre department. It was meant to be a space to critically approach performance history, and to question the sources that inform and shape our understanding of theatre’s origins. 

During the fellowship and later in class, broadening the canon was of course part of the discussion. The absence of Black and Brown voices within our general history syllabuses once again made evident. The Alternative Canon, a collectively gathered list that follows an open source model, provided meaningful resources. We visited resources that reflected many of the Black, Indigenous, people of color, women and queer artists and traditions mentioned in the document. Plus, the open access list was a reference pool for students’ final projects. 

Shaking the canon is the tip of the iceberg. During the Fellowship, we had discussed and felt enjoined to adopt radical honesty and critical lenses as part of the labor to resist the ingrained exclusion in our classrooms. And so, World Theatre Histories proposed to revise our own practices as researchers, pedagogues and artists, and to look for public outputs for our academic research. Final projects include podcasts on plays from the Alternative Canon, adaptation of canonical scripts into student’s local realities, scholarly essays, and interactive web pages.

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About the Author

Katherine Pradt is the Adjunct Reference and Digital Outreach Librarian at the Graduate Center.