The Borough of Queens is often cited as the most diverse community in the United States, and Queens College CUNY reflects that diversity. Students trace their roots to 170 countries, and speak 110 different languages. Thirty five percent of students are the first in their families to go to college. Increasingly, there is no clear majority population on campus, and students are starting to identify themselves as multicultural, instead of as one specific demographic (Office of Institutional Research.)
While these demographics may seem unusual and unique now, they will not be for long. We are living in a country that has been moving towards increased multiculturalism. According to current demographic trends, by the year 2040 there will be no racial majority in the United States of America (Diversity Explosion p. 4.) In other words, sometime after 2040, the entire nation will most likely look something like Queens College.
If the entire nation might look like Queens College by the year 2040, then the college has a special mandate to serve as a “pilot for what is possible;” a model for what the country might look like if we learned to harness the power of our diversity for innovation and social change, rather than shying away from it and becoming polarized and disenfranchised. CERRU exists in order to work in partnership with the college to fulfill that mandate.
Who We Are
CERRU is a diversity education center that provides nonviolent communication tools to bridge social differences and create a more equitable society.
How We Do It
We use dialogue and undoing bias techniques to bring people together to discuss their views and listen to one another. Dialogue is a conversation in which people who have various and often conflicting beliefs, values, and perspectives listen mindfully to each other and ask questions to elicit more information rather than focus on making their point. They experience how to include differences, negotiate their social identities, find common ground, move forward with their own personal growth, and work with others to effect positive social change.
What We Do
CERRU works with students, faculty, and staff to create a safe, vibrant, and inclusive space for communication. We offer fellowships, dialogues, and trainings at Queens College. These activities prepare participants to become leaders equipped to navigate an increasingly multicultural society. We also host events exploring multiple perspectives on controversial issues, providing context, and opportunity for dialogue.
We host events open to the public, community trainings, workshops, and work with community members and organizations to develop programs that suit the population’s needs.
Why We Do It
We believe that cultivating the ability to listen in order to understand, even when we do not necessarily agree, can transform divisive debate into an opportunity for creativity and innovation. We also believe that in order to mindfully work with others, we must be aware of our own biases so we may work towards eliminating them.
CERRU is looking forward to expanding its reach in order to train more individuals. We are working to expand the fellowship program at Queens College, as well as to create fellowship programs on a variety of different college campuses, throughout CUNY and beyond. We are starting to work with other campus populations as well, and we aspire to act as a resource for entire campus communities in order to promote systemic change.
Meet our Staff
Aliyah Baksh, Graphic Designer and Intern
Aliyah Baksh is a sophomore at Queens College and is in the process of completing a dual major. She is studying Psychology and Early Childhood and Elementary Education. She is currently working as an intern at the Center for Ethnic, Racial, and Religious Understanding (CERRU) at Queens College. She loves working in that space because she is learning critical skills as well as developing her professional and personal self.
Aliyah is passionate about becoming an elementary school teacher and brightening the lives of her students. She volunteers at her local mosque as a teacher of Arabic and Islamic Studies to a group of wonderful kids. She also helps by event coordinating and co-facilitating the annual summer camp and other programs.
Aliyah is a CISCO certified Network Technician, and doubles as a web designer. Her achievements in web design include the CERRU website, websites for her religious affiliations and institutions, and a conference website for the Division of Education at Queens College.
Aliyah is in the process of writing her very first children’s book with the help of one of the most inspiring people in her life, her father.
Aysa Gray, Fellowship Director
I am Aysa Gray, the Fellowship Director for Center for Ethnic, Racial and Religious Understanding (CERRU) and co-facilitator of Dialogue Fellowship at Kupferburg CERRU Fellowship. I’m a learner, avid reader and world builder. I’m curious about how we can create spaces, mediums and relationships that center the values of consent, understanding, compassion, kindness, restoration, joy, reciprocity and accountability. It’s my belief that if we find ways to infuse these values more in our interpersonal relationships than there is hope for doing so on a mass level. Light work of course! I’m always interested in discussing how others are finding ways to live out these values in their life and world, my door is always open for those wanting to discuss. In my spare time, I attempt to create utopic fiction, explore economic justice in real time, and enjoy the music of Cardi B and Frank Ocean and the 70s Soul Era.
Sophia McGee, Director
Sophia McGee is the Director of the Center for Ethnic, Racial and Religious Understanding at Queens College (CERRU.) She is also an adjunct lecturer in the history department. Sophia McGee holds an MFA in International Affairs from the Graduate Program in International Affairs at the New School University. Her concentration was Conflict and Security, and her regional area of specialization was the Middle East, with a focus on the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict. Ms. McGee has lectured and presented both on current affairs involving Israel, the United States, and the Palestinian Territories, as well as the use of innovative pedagogy and trainings to foster inclusivity on campus. Most recently, she appeared at the CUNY TEDx conference, where her lecture was entitled “Learning to Take the Leap of Faith.”
Denise Pagano, Events Coordinator
Denise Pagano staff member since 1990 and full-time 1993.
I have worked with the Michael Harrington Center which merged with CERRU in 2012 then separately 2017. Michael Harrington Center as well as CERRU have been my own joint ventures.
CERRU has many tasks to perform which can be looked upon as wonderful achievements. I have been assigned to reserve rooms on campus for every event for CERRU, which includes overseeing set-ups of room, lighting, technical, dealing with staff and faculty and having a good rapport with everyone. Also setting up a personal account with Chartwell’s for all food orders and making sure delivery everything is correct and billing is also correct. Doing the invoices for Chartwell orders received, including stipends for fellowship, and honoriums. Problems that may occur, to oversee that all goes smoothly with accounting issues. Another task given is being in charge of hiring a photographer & DJ for the events and follow-up. There are several more tasks that I continue to do to maintain a good relation with my fellow peers.
I feel I am part of a team effort with CERRU, we all know what we have to do and do it well.
Monica Roman, Communications Coordinator
Monica Roman is the Communications Coordinator at the Center for Ethnic, Racial, and Religious Understanding. Her nonprofit career spans operations, development, and communications and prior to her time at CERRU, she has worked at the Center for Global Enterprise, Generation Citizen, and the New York City Urban Debate League. She is currently pursuing an M.B.A. with a focus on sustainable business at the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College.
Monica is a graduate of the Macaulay Honors College at Queens College, holding a B.A. in Political Science and English. During her time at QC, she was actively engaged with CERRU, completing both fellowships and an internship with the organization. As a Social Change Fellow, she focused on elevating women’s issues at the college and coordinated a year’s worth of campus gender-related programming.
Born and raised on Long Island, Monica is a self-proclaimed beach bum and breaks out into hives if she is not near a large body of water for an extended period of time. Her hobbies include running out of pages in her passport, drinking obscene amounts of coffee, and having her heart broken by New York sports teams. Go Knicks!
Yael Rosenstock, Associate Director
In November 2013, Yael joined the CERRU staff as program coordinator, transitioned into the role of Director of Programming in 2015, and has served as Associate Director since June 2017. She developed systems that transformed the logistics of how CERRU does programming and made the center more efficient, allowing for further and deeper reach on campus and in the community. Using the epistemology of participatory action research (PAR) across her work, she facilitated a youth participatory action research project with local high school students, teaches an annual Social Justice and Leadership College Now course, and co-founded QC Sexploration and Information Group, a PAR inspired peer sex education and research team at Queens College that collects research and hosts events for the community.
Yael has an MA in Public Health and Psychology from the CUNY Graduate Center and focuses on consent, sexuality, intersectionality, and identity work. Inspired by her work with CERRU and other experiences, Yael recently started her own company dedicated to identity work and sex positivity, Kaleidoscope Vibrations, LLC (KV), which includes publishing work by authors whose voices and topics are often left out of the mainstream. She published her first book, An Intro-Guide to a Sex Positive You: Lessons, Tales, and Tips in October of 2018, is collecting narratives for two anthologies, and working on a collaborative body positive photo-interview series entitled Diverse Bodies Project.
Meet our Advisory Board
Dr. Limarys Caraballo
Dr. Limarys Caraballo is an Associate Professor of English Secondary Education at Queens College-CUNY and consortium faculty in the Urban Education doctoral program at the CUNY Graduate Center. As Senior Research Fellow of the Institute for Urban and Minority Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, she co-directs Cyphers for Justice, an intergenerational program that supports art, research, and activism with youth and preservice educators. She has been a Cultivating New Voices among Researchers of Color Research Fellow of the National Council of Teachers of English (2010-12) and was recently presented with the Queens College Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Limarys’ research interests include students’ multiple identities and literacies, academic achievement, youth participatory action research, and preparing teachers to teach English in diverse sociocultural contexts. As a former English teacher, administrator, and consultant in public and private secondary schools, she is especially interested in culturally sustaining and socially-just literacy curricula and pedagogies. Her research focuses on reframing deficit conceptions of lower-income students of color and advancing the theory and development of curricula, pedagogies in K-12 and teacher education that support the multiple identities and literacies of minoritized students.
Rochelle (“Ricci”) Cummings
Rochelle (“Ricci”) Cummings is the mother of three adult children and the grandmother of four amazing grandchildren. She lives in Hamden, CT with her husband, Glen. Ms. Cummings earned her BA in psychology and MSW in clinical social work from the University of Michigan, and is a graduate of The Yale Law School. Immediately preceding her recent retirement from the practice of law, she directed a team of attorneys who handled national and international litigation for a financial services company. Ms. Cummings is president of the board of the Mid-Fairfield Child Guidance Center, vice president of the board of Clifford Beers Clinic, and serves on the boards of other not-for-profits. She sits on the Zoning Board of Appeals and was elected to the Democratic Town Committee. She is an enthusiastic participant in the Technology and Ethics Working Research Group, which is a project of the Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics at Yale, and an avid but novice birder.
Rabbi Heidi Hoover
Rabbi Heidi Hoover began her work with B'ShERT's predecessor congregation TBE as Rabbinic Intern in 2006, initiating programs such as Shalom Shabbat (our Friday morning Shabbat observance for young children and parents/caregivers), Saturday morning adult Torah study, Interfaith Adult Workshops, and more. She served as Acting Rabbi during the final year of her academic studies, and after receiving smicha in May of 2011, she began her full-time service as rabbi of our temple in July of that year.
Rabbi Hoover has been profiled in the New York Times, Jewish Woman Magazine, and other print and online publications. She frequently speaks on the topics of Jewish identity, interfaith issues and the relationship of the Jewish people to modern Germany. Her essay on ethnic diversity in today's Jewish community appears in “Studies in Judaism and Pluralism,” published in December 2016 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Academy for Jewish Religion. Her writing has also been published in the Huffington Post, My Jewish Learning, and the Washington Post.
She is a proud alumna of The Academy for Jewish Religion and Gratz College; she received smicha and her Master's degree in Jewish Studies in May of 2011. She holds a BA from Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, PA.
For the 2010/2011 academic year, Rabbi Hoover was a Rabbis Without Borders student fellow at CLAL, the Jewish center for learning and leadership. In 2013-2015, she was part of the first participant group of RWB's two-year Clergy Leadership Incubator Program for early-career congregational rabbis. She also has taught and led programs for Hadassah of Park Slope, the Institute for Living Judaism in Brooklyn, the Interfaith Center of New York, and Kutz Camp. Rabbi Hoover is active in the Interfaith Coalition of Brooklyn.
Rabbi Hoover lives in Kensington with her husband Michael Rose and their daughters Hannalina & Shoshana Hoover.
Rabbi Bob Kaplan
Rabbi Bob Kaplan is currently the founding Director of The Center for Community Leadership, (formally known as CAUSE – NY) a division of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC). He also co-directs the New York – Jerusalem Experts Exchange, a joint project of the JCRC and the Jerusalem Intercultural Center that exchanges best practices in building diverse societies. Mr. Kaplan is involved in a variety of issues including conflict resolution, coalition building, interracial/faith relationships, combating hate crimes, and community building. Rabbi Kaplan acts as an organizational consultant to many diverse community-based organizations — Jewish and non-Jewish on the issue of intergroup/faith relations and capacity building.
He served for five years as the Associate Executive Director of Hillel of New York. He has served on the Board of Habitat for Humanity- NY, Health Plus and the Lutheran Family Health Care Centers. He currently serves on the Boards of the NYU-Lutheran Medical Center, Mayor DeBlasio’s Clergy Advisory Committee, the Mercy College Advisory Board as well as the Advisory Board of the Center of Ethnic and Community Media at the City University of New York.
Mr. Kaplan is called upon by the non-profit and government sectors and as an expert and consultant in the arena of diversity, community building, leadership development, coalitions, and intergroup relations. In February 2009, Bob Kaplan, along with Mohammed Razvi, trained Jewish and Arab leaders in the skills of coalition building and coexistence work, in mixed cities in Israel on the behalf of the U.S. State Department. He also served as a consultant for the United Kingdom Foreign Office working with groups in London and Bristol on Muslim /Jewish Relations. He was also part of a team of community and policing experts that traveled to Belfast, Northern Ireland to train and teach local community leaders and police officials as part of a U.S. State Department sponsored program.
He serves as a mentor and fieldwork supervisor for Master of Social Work graduate students in the field of community organizing. He likewise serves as a Clergy Liaison to the Chief of Community Affairs of the New York Police Department (NYPD). He has been trained by the Community Mediation Services, Inc. in mediation and conflict resolution. As a member of the clergy, Bob Kaplan was a grief counselor for the American Red Cross assigned to working with relief workers at the respite center located at Ground Zero. He is a member of the Micah Roundtable on Social Justice.
Rabbi Kaplan serves as a member of the NYC Department of Education’s Diversity Council. He presented to President Clinton’s White House Conference on Race and was a member of the Plenary Committee for the United Nations Conference, Habitat II. Rabbi Kaplan was a member of the Design Team and faculty member of the Institute for Public Health and Faith Collaborations, collaboration between the Rollins School of Health at Emory University and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia. He served as the coalition consultant to the Black/Jewish Congressional Coalition in Washington DC.
Zena Kaufman is currently the President of ZGK Quality Consulting which provides quality & compliance consulting to pharmaceutical and medical device firms worldwide. This is an outgrowth of her career in Quality at major pharmaceutical firms such as Pfizer, Abbott, Searle, and Hospira where she was a Corporate Officer and Senior Vice President of Global Quality.
Zena is a recognized thought leader in Global Pharmaceutical Quality Systems having had the honor to participate as part of the Expert Working Group on International Conference on Harmonization Quality Guideline, ICH Q10, Pharmaceutical Quality Systems, representing PhRMA. She was also chair of the Technical Leadership Committee at PhRMA, and served on the Board of the Parenteral Drug Association.
Zena has always been active in her respective synagogues, serving on the Board of Directors for Oak Park Temple and then North Shore Congregation Israel. At her current temple, she has started a Lilith Salon for women to discuss relevant issues. As part of the Sisterhood of Salaam/Shalom, she has participated in the Building Bridges missions to Azerbaijan and the US Civil Rights mission.
Zena received a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Biology from Queens College in Queens NY, and a Master’s of Science Degree in Marine Environmental Sciences from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She lives in Manhattan NY with her husband and can be often seen running the loop at Central Park.
Lara Porter is an Associate at Morgan Stanley in the Institutional Equities Division. She focuses on quantitative hedge fund coverage for US equities within algorithmic trading. At Morgan Stanley, she serves on the Morgan Stanley Equities Philanthropy Committee to coordinate fundraising and volunteer opportunities with local non-profit organizations. Prior to working at Morgan Stanley, Lara was part of the graduate training program at UBS for two years in the equities division and was a member of the community service committee for the equities division.
Lara is focused on financial institutions and economic empowerment. She has served on the Microfinance Council of Accion Serving the East Coast since August 2016. At Accion, she has helped coordinate fundraising events as well as worked with Accion clients on preparing their loan applications and business plans.
Lara graduated magna cum laude in 2015 from the Macaulay Honors College at CUNY Hunter with a BA and an MA in Economics and a minor in Mathematics. She wrote her MA thesis on the relationship between commodity prices and the incidence of civil war in developing countries. During her undergraduate career, Lara studied abroad at CERGE-IE in Prague where she focused on the transitional economics. Her interest in international economics systems led to an internship in Economic Sanctions at the US Department of State in 2013, where she was selected as an International Affairs Fellow by the Council of American Ambassadors.
Lara was a CERRU Fellow when she was studying at Queens College, and she is currently the liaison to CERRU’s Advisory Board from CERRU’s Young Professionals Board.
Heather Raffo is a playwright and performer whose most recent play, “Noura” just finished a highly successful run at Playwrights Horizons in Manhattan. The show has earned a Helen Hayes award nomination. She is also the solo performer and writer of the Off Broadway hit, 9 Parts of Desire which details the lives of nine Iraqi women. For her creation and performance of 9 Parts and its national and international tour, Heather garnered many awards including a Lucille Lortel Award, and the prestigious Susan Smith Blackburn and Marian Seldes- Garson Kanin playwriting awards, as well as Helen Hayes, Outer Critics Circle and Drama League nominations, for outstanding performance. Heather first performed 9 Parts of Desire in August 2003 at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh.
9 Parts of Desire has been performed all over the U.S. and was one of the top five produced plays of the 2007-2008 American theater season. It has had international productions/translations in Brazil, Greece, Sweden, Turkey, Malta, France, Iraq, Egypt, Israel, Scotland, England and Canada. Publications are by Northwestern University Press and Dramatists Play Service as well as a number of anthologies.
Heather developed a libretto for an opera commissioned by the Annenberg Foundation and City Opera Vancouver. The opera details the life of a US Marine who served in Fallujah in 2004 and relates the haunting experiences of identity and belonging for both veterans and their families as well as Iraqis.
Heather’s recent acting credits include: Noura, The feature film Vino Veritas, dir. Sarah Knight; Food and Fadwa, (world premiere New York Theater Workshop); In Darfur (world premiere The Public Theater, Delacourt); Palace of the End (Drama League Nomination -Epic Theater Center); Seven (Skirball Center, London’s House of Lords, Aspen Ideas Festival); The French Lieutenant’s Woman (world premiere Fulton Opera House); Over The River and Through the Woods (John Houseman); Off Broadway/National Tour of Macbeth (Lady Macbeth), The Merry Wives of Windsor (Mistress Page) and The Rivals all with The Acting Company. Regionally with the Old Globe Theater: Romeo and Juliet (dir. Daniel Sullivan); Othello (dir. Jack O’Brien); As You Like It (dir. Stephen Wadsworth); Macbeth (dir. Nicky Martin).
Raffo served as 2010-2011 Artist in Residence at Vassar College, sponsored by the Mellon Foundation. She enjoys an ongoing residency in the Department of Performing Arts at Georgetown University. She has taught and performed at dozens of universities and arts centers both in the United States and internationally engaging students about the politics and arts of Iraq and about her own experience as an Iraqi-American playwright and actress.
Dr. Warren Spielberg, PhD
Dr. Warren Spielberg PhD is a psychologist, psychoanalyst, Fulbright Scholar and an Associate Teaching Professor at the New School for Public Engagement. He is co-author of “The Psychology of Black Boys and Adolescents – Two Volumes,” Praeger 2015. He is an acknowledged authority on the problems of boys and men and is a member of the American Psychological (APA) Task Force on treatment guidelines for boys and men. He is also the recipient of a Practitioner of the Year Citation from the APA for his work with the FDNY post 9/11. He maintains a practice in Brooklyn Heights, where he works with families, children, and adults. Dr. Spielberg consults on issues relating to boys and men worldwide to such organizations as UNICEF, FDNY and the NYC Mayor’s Young Men’s Initiative. Dr Spielberg is also visiting professor at the Child Institute of Al Quds University on the West Bank. For many years he served as a Consultant to the Peace Now/ Palestinian Authority Dialogue Project for young Adults.
Each year, CERRU chooses a social justice challenge that warrants further community exploration and action. We engage experts in various fields with differing perspectives in order to help us delve into a rigorous conversation. It is always exciting to feel the energy of varying ideas and perspectives combining to create innovative pathways forwards. Past themes for the Innovation Exchange have included "New Frontiers: Innovation in the Middle East," "Muslims, Jews, and Catholics: Standing Together Against Climate Change," and "Black Lives Matter." Last year was our first Susheel Kirpalani Innovation Exchange, named after the Innovation Exchange endower. We brought in colleagues from across the political spectrum in order to unpack immigration. Groups broke out to discuss running for office, immigration advocacy on college campuses, and immigration policies throughout US history. This year we have focused on the #Metoo movement in a five part series which included several events such as "Teach-In: Experiencing Sexual Assault," the "Susheel Kirpalani Innovation Exchange," "Introduction to Gender Bias", a film screening on "Feminist on Cell Block Y," and "Transforming Queens College into a Sexual Violence Free Zone."
Who decides our identity? As we go through life, we struggle to negotiate our connection to group identities and the need to express our own individual identities. Often, society assigns us inaccurate or uncomfortable social identities on the basis of our backgrounds, skin color, or religious beliefs. In the Social Identity Fashion Show, students walk down the runway in two outfits: the first represents the assumptions that society makes about them. The second represents the identities that are most powerful and important to them.
Lunchtime 2.0 is an initiative aimed at redefining the way we think of college cafeterias. Campuses across the US are becoming more diverse; however, not enough is being done to provide a mechanism for diverse students to engage and listen to each other. At various times during the semester, CERRU takes over a section of the cafeteria to pair up QC students and engage in discussion and understanding. Past discussions have included "Everyday Heroes: Who do you look up to?," and "Charlottesville: What does it mean for the US?"
Upcoming Lunchtime 2.0 to be determined.
Undoing Bias Fellowships
CERRU runs two competitive student fellowships, which are the backbone of the organization. Through these two fellowships, we mentor and train a next generation of leaders who will be operating in an increasingly multicultural world.
Race & Class
Racism, xenophobia, nationalism, Islamophobia, Antisemitism are all sources of inequities that affect our ability to treat each other as human through undistorted eyes. Often when we think of race, we view Black people as the single object of racist harm. This fellowship will take a semester to explore the ways race and class impact people of all races, including Black, White and People of Color.
The fellowship provides fellows a foundation for the following:
• How systems of racial bias were created in the United States
• The values of racist ideology
• Ways in which we as individuals uphold racist ideology and bias
• Ways the systems of race and class bias impact us and our relationships to self and others
Sexism, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia are all sources of inequities and traumas that affect our ability to connect with each other and live an actualized life. Often when we think of sexism, we view women as the single object of sexist harm. This fellowship will take a semester to explore the ways in which gender and sexuality bias, impacts gender non-conforming people, women, and men.
The fellowship also provides fellows a foundation for the following:
•How systems of gender bias were created in the United States
•The values of sexist ideology
•Ways in which we as individuals uphold sexist ideology and bias
•Ways this system of gender bias impacts us and our relationships to self and others
Center for Ethnic, Racial, and Religious Understanding
Delany Hall 215
65-30 Kissena Blvd.
Flushing, NY 11367
QC Sexploration & Information Group
Work Study Intern
QC Sexploration & Information Group is a peer sex education team on Queens College that collects data about all things related to sex to provide responsive events and workshops.
Different positions include Coordinators, Facilitators, and/or Researcher: These positions include working with the QC Sexploration team to collect, research, develop workshops, and create resources. You will learn how to coordinate with different group leaders to maximize team efficiency.
This apprenticeship is ideally for 5-10 hours a week.
Do you have Federal Work Study?
If you do, CERRU is hiring!
Artist-in-Residence: This person will have experience creating visual or performance based projects and can enhance CERRU's programming and events.
Campus Outreach: This position includes flyering for events, tabling at different locations on campus, assisting with social media, being in contact with the clubs on campus, taking care of event sign-in, and event marketing. One person will also work on data collection.
Other: If you have skills that you think would be valuable to CERRU and would like to share, please feel free to contact
email@example.com to set up an interview.
If you are interested in either of these positions AND you are eligible for Federal Work Study, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to set up an interview. Include your resume, position you are interested in, and a brief explanation of why you believe you'd be good in that position.