In the 1930s, a black postal carrier from Harlem named Victor Green published a book that was part travel guide and part survival guide. It was called "The Negro Motorist Green Book" and it helped Black-Americans navigate safe passage across America well into the 1960s. Explore some of the segregated nation's safe havens and notorious "sundown towns" while witnessing stories of struggle and indignity as well as opportunity and triumph.
Rachel S. Harris is Associate Professor of Israeli Literature and Culture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her recent publications include An Ideological Death: Suicide in Israeli Literature (2014) and Warriors, Witches, Whores: Women in Israeli Cinema (2017). She is the co-editor of Narratives of Dissent: War in Contemporary Israeli Arts and Culture (2012), Casting a Giant Shadow: The Transnational Shaping of Israeli Cinema (2019) and editor of the forthcoming Teaching the Arab-Israeli Conflict (2019). She is the book review editor for the Journal of Jewish Identities, and Chair of the Women’s Caucus of the Association for Jewish Studies 2018–2020.
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.
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.