About Us

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 to understand, even when we do not necessarily agree, can transform divisive debate into an opportunity for creativity and innovation. We also believe that to mindfully work with others, we must be aware of our own biases so we may work towards eliminating them.

Strategic Plan

CERRU is looking forward to expanding its reach 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 to promote systemic change.

Meet Our Staff

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Aliyah Baksh

Valerie Hannibal

Aliyah Baksh

Graphics/Web Designer and Intern

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Aysa Gray

Valerie Hannibal

Aliyah Baksh

Fellowship Director

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Valerie Hannibal

Valerie Hannibal

Valerie Hannibal

Program Manager

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Sophia McGee

Denise Pagano

Valerie Hannibal

Director

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Denise Pagano

Denise Pagano

Denise Pagano

Events Coordinator

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Monica Roman

Denise Pagano

Denise Pagano

Communications Coordinator

Aliyah Baksh

Graphics/Web Designer and Intern

Aliyah Baksh is a junior 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 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.  

Valerie Hannibal

Program Manager

 

Hi, I am Valerie Hannibal. I was born and raised in Brooklyn NY. I graduated from Earlham College with a B.A. in African and African American Studies. After college, my passion for service led me to become a student advocate at the Harlem Children's Zone. My journey then led me to becoming a paralegal with the Legal Aid Society, working with incarcerated women at the Rose M. Singer Center on Rikers Island.  


Outside of my professional experiences, I am also a registered 200 hour yoga teacher, with a Reiki level 1 attunement. For me, self care is extremely important to keep our cup full so that we can help others. I am a firm advocate of the power of yoga, Reiki, and other healing modalities in helping us reconnect our mind and body with the natural world around us, to create a state of peace so that we can continue to serve. All living things are of equal importance and value. I strive to live my life according to this principle.

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

 

Hi, I'm Denise Pagano, staff member at Queens College since 1990 and full-time 1993.

I have worked with the Michael Harrington Center, which merged with CERRU in 2012 then separated in 2017. Michael Harrington Center as well as CERRU have been my own joint ventures. I currently have been transferred to CERRU only and am extremely happy to be acknowledged as a full-time team member.

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 details, dealing with staff and faculty and having a good rapport with everyone. When it comes to accounting, I see to it that everything goes smoothly. I oversee the payment of stipends, and keep track of a personal account with Chartwells for all food orders and make sure everything is correct in terms of delivery and billing. Another task given is being in charge of hiring a photographer & DJ for the events and follow-up. These and more, I continue to do to maintain a good relationship with my 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!