Multicultural Issues in Urban Affairs

Seminars are normally embedded in the site visits.
3 credits

This course uses New York City as a classroom. The landscape, built environment, and people in it are our texts. A great teacher, Paolo Freire, once said that we need to learn how to “read the word and the world.” This is what we will do in this course with an emphasis on reading the world.

Two parts direct our attention. The first part focuses us on the formation and development of this multicultural city. We will traverse lower Manhattan and imagine New Amsterdam and then New York City as Europeans came to settle and dominate the landscape and the people. The second part focuses on the contemporary meanings that this multicultural physical and socio cultural environment produces, interpreted through the prisms of social and cultural stratification, division of labor, and historical context.

In the first part of the course we will be led by the Big Onion Tour through the social history of lower Manhattan. In the second part of the course we will visit a number of neighborhoods to speak with local leaders. At this time we learn about multicultural issues in context, in-practice, and in use, how multicultural issues are experienced by people and how they make sense of it.

The questions we address are the following:

  • How did New York City become multicultural? How has the nature of multicultural life changed?
  • What are the conditions, forces, and processes that generate multicultural issues in any specific point in history, particularly the present?
  • How do people experience the multicultural and how do they live it in different parts of New York City?
  • What is the impact of multicultural issues in a variety of localities and on the people who live and work there?
  • How do multicultural issues influence policy and how does policy impact on the lived experiences of people who deal with multicultural issues?

Readings support site visits. I have selected readings to illuminate conditions and processes in a more general sense to assist you to think about the course trajectory as a whole. This means that many of the readings should be used to clarify site visits through out the semester, not only the site visit for which the reading is assigned. These readings should be understood in relationship to more generalizable phenomena then the specificities to which they refer. The readings complement the course’s framework and provide texts for critical study and the interrogation of the assumed, “obvious” or “natural.” You should question the reading materials and not assume they present truths or reality.

Service Syllabus

This is a community service learning course through which the Urban Semester Program, a number of schools, and select service organizations, mostly in North Brooklyn, are developing a University Community relationship.

Included in the notion of “service,” as an aspect of service learning, is your responsibility to understand the school, the teachers and staff, the children, and the communities they represent from a “cultural relativist” point of view. This is the view that holds the following: values are a produced as a result of historical processes. This means that we should not assume that the values of our own society, socio economic group, ethnic group, status group, political group, religious group, and etc. are more legitimate, superior, or universal than the values of other groups and societies. It is your obligation, your responsibility, to learn how to view situations from another’s point of view, as if you were in their shoes, from their perspective by understanding the conditions that contribute to the formation of that point of view.

We must be careful in using “cultural relativism.” Cultural relativism can be abused by immobilizing a response to horrible atrocities. For example, we can understand why Nazis wanted to eliminate those people and groups who were not included in the “master race” of the Third Reich. The murder of millions of people, Jews, resistors of Nazism, gays, and political opponents, among others, can be explained relative to the ideology espoused by the Nazi Party. However, most of us would agree that the culture and society that Nazism produced is abhorrent to all of us who believe in the existence of fundamental human rights that apply to all people of the world.

Cultural relativism, as I prescribe it for this course, is used only as a tool to understand the “other” from their point of view. It is not and should not be used to support anti human rights behavior. Once having used cultural relativism to understand other societies and their cultures, we then may make judgments about their points of view from the perspective of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In this course we will support the idea that there are universal standards of behavior, particularly as they concern the behavior of states (countries) toward their people and those of other countries. Moreover, we have a right and obligation to make judgments about their behavior as well as ours. They, of course, have a right to do the same.

Students participate full days in school settings and in community service projects. We focus our attention on building a civil society in which “democracy” is defined as people actively engaged and participating to change society, to improve life chances, to make society more just, and to protect human rights.

Students are in the school for a total of 10 12 weeks, working in an assigned classroom (or organization) with a teacher (or supervisor) from 8:00 AM 3:30 PM (or, under other circumstances and time constraints). Students will also perform service in the afternoon, as assigned. This course enables students to demonstrate their leadership, self direction, and creativity.

In this course, we want students to develop an understanding of those parts of North Brooklyn in which they are involved in school and community settings. We will focus particular attention on Williamsburg. By spending more time in a particular neighborhood or community, students will gain access to a daily round that is not possible by visiting different places at different times. As a community service learning course, we want students to learn from their experiences in context. We want you to use your knowledge, acquired over the course of your schooling and socialization at home, to understand your experiences. Over the course of the semester, we want you to surface your assumptions about your experiences and discuss alternative understandings about children, youth and their families in low income neighborhoods, inter group relations, and urban change. Readings and discussions will complement your experiences and reflections.

In many ways, this is not a course about teaching you. It is about stretching you, taking you to areas that you may not have explored before, and taking you to different levels of understanding, pushing you outside of your comfort zone. We want you to be better prepared to challenge conventional views and dominant cultural representations. In learning how to ask pertinent questions in this context, you should be able to transfer this skill and ask pertinent questions in other contexts. Think about yourself and multicultural issues outside the conventions with which you have been raised.

The readings we have provided are tools for you to think about issues you are confronting in these communities or that are relevant to discussions regarding communities that are similar to those of North Brooklyn. Some reading assignments mean to inform, others mean to challenge. You are not to assume that we wish you to agree with any of these readings; rather, we want you to challenge the ideas and explore meaning based on the experiences you are having.

I stymied the temptation to assign even more readings to give you the background necessary to understand different ethnic groups. I resisted this. This means that when you are reading examples from one particular group, it will be necessary for
you to think about other groups to which the specific issues you are reading about in an article can be generalized, could be applied in other areas and other contexts. For example, much attention has been paid to bilingualism among Spanish speakers in the United States. However, this controversy has implications across all the immigrant populations who have come to the United States with their particular languages. This controversy equally can be applied to the Ebonics discussion as well, with one twist. While Spanish is considered a “bona fide” language, Ebonics (Spanglish, too) is often considered “jargon”. Cross cultural comparison, comparing the characteristics of one culture with others, is an important methodology and especially important in multicultural studies. By applying what we learn from contact with one group to other groups, much can be learned about cultural and social diversity and the conditions, processes and forces that have generated difference or similarity.

One important thematic we are introducing into this course is to explore the integration of what is happening in the United States with the movement for Human Rights. We will touch on this only at the start of the semester. However, once we have focused on it, the intention is for students to keep human rights issues in mind as they proceed through the semester. The other important thematic is what we need to do in the communities represented in North Brooklyn to provide children the opportunity to enter that educational stream and provide them with those resources that would bring them to Cornell University.

Our assumption is that you will attend your school or community assignment each week and that you will fulfill all assigned tasks. Failure to do these will result in a lowered grade for each event or task not completed. Make sure that you understand what is expected of you well before the due date and not the day an assignment is due or an activity takes place. We assume that all students will attend all program events and will participate in discussions at appropriate times in an appropriate manner. This means that you will arrive on time and depart when appropriate. Please note that, given the nature of this program, changes will take place rapidly. Be prepared to be flexible and allow yourself enough time to do so. Schedule changes are ubiquitous. Please stay tuned to changes by checking your email and coming into the office. Patricia is the keeper of information. We also try to post information on the door.

Participating Institutions

(Bet. Harrison & Union Aves.)
718 388 8847
718 388 8936 fax
Sonia Ortiz Gulardo Principal
Take the #6 train to 14th St., take the “L” train to Lorimer St. (get on the back of the train), take the 11G train going to Brooklyn to Flushing Ave. Look up Flushing Ave. for Amoco station school is right there.

(Bet. Willoughby & Myrtle Aves.)
718 330 0480
718 330 0295 fax
Michael Lupinacci Acting Principal
Take the #6 train to 14th St., take the “L” train to Lorimer St. (get on the back of the train), take the “G” train going to Brooklyn to Clinton Washington Ave. When you get upstairs, exit the Clinton Washington exit. Take Lafayette Ave. (walk against
traffic) to Clermont Ave. Turn right onto Clermont Ave. between Willoughby and Myrtle Aves. Look for the handicap ramp at the front door.

(Bet. N.8″ St. & Union Ave.)
718 782 1110
718 782 3344
Sister Helen Principal
Take the #6 train to 14th St., take the “L” train to Lorimer St. (get on the back of the train), when you come out of the station you’ll be on Union and Metropolitan Aves. walk north to Withers St.

384 SOUTH 4 1h ST.
(Bet. Hewes & Hooper Sts.)
718 963 1555
718 963 0240 fax
Miriam Cruz
Take #6 train downtown to Chambers St., take the back of the J or M trains to Hewes St. Exit to the right to the street. Walk on Hewes St. 2 blocks to South 4th Street, school is on the right side.

New York, NY 10003
212 674 2400
212 674 8650 fax
Debra Smock ext. 257
Take #6 train downtown to Astor Place. Entrance is next to a barber shop. Take the elevator to the 2nd floor.

Southside Mission
More information forthcoming

Journals (every Thursday) minimum one page 10%

Reading annotations

Due: Monday mornings Mid term on Human Rights (5 pages) 30%

Due date: February 27, Thursday @ 5:00 PM Term Paper (no more than 10 pages) 30%

Due date: May 2, Friday @ 5:00 PM 30%

Your Midterm paper is based on your understanding and use of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The question is: What Human Rights of Children, as they are stated in the UN documents, are not being met, based on the observations and experiences you have had in North Brooklyn.

Your Term Paper is based on the following question: What would it take to provide “your kids,” those with whom you are involved in your school settings, the opportunities and resources to make it to Cornell University. You should respond in a grounded, realistic manner. This means that you will need to know quite a bit about the lives of your kids, the neighborhoods in which they live, and the communities and families of which they are a part. We want you to structure your essays in the following manner.

I. What did you find out about “your kids.” Here you must use the statistical information we handed out at the beginning of the semester and data you have collected that up dates this information( use the Web). You must include information based on the experiences you have had in the schools and in the community.

II. What do you think needs to be changed, or what changes do you think need to take place to create the opportunity for children to make it to Cornell University. Be realistic and not so abstract that it becomes wishful thinking, rather than something that actually can be achieved.

III. How do you implement these changes? What would you have to do to make your suggested changes real? Be very concrete. Do not be overly abstract and general. Mention specific programs, curricular changes, mentoring, and any other changes and additions that you can think of to improve the quality of education for these children (not only schooling).