Courses in the Spring 2017 Harlem Semester Initiative

Harlem Semester

About the Harlem Semester

Organized by the Barnard Center for Research on Women and the Department of Africana Studies and launched in 2016, the Harlem Semester Program is an ambitious public humanities initiative that explores the complexities of Harlem’s social, political, and intellectual histories, its leaders, its culture, and its artists.

The curriculum of the Harlem Semester engages Harlem not as an inert site or abstract concept, but as an intensively peopled place of complex interaction. Pairing faculty from Barnard and other colleges with Harlem-based institutions, these place-based courses teach Harlem’s diverse cultural and political legacy through participatory, interdisciplinary, multi-directional learning modules.

The Harlem Semester Program offers a critical intervention in approaches to diversity, inclusion, and in- equality on campus. The program offers an innovative pedagogical model that directly engages controversial issues by creating learning spaces where social issues can be debated openly and students’ capacity for interpersonal awareness, solidarity, and respect can change and grow. Harlem Semester courses put diffi- cult issues front and center and enable students to engage with those who are actively grappling with these issues in their lives and work.

Central to this program’s intervention is an engagement with Harlem’s cultural institutions as sites of com- munity activism; spaces that continue to be crucial to exploring thorny questions of inequality and social jus- tice. Students participating in the program will gain a unique perspective on the extraordinary contributions of Harlem’s residents through the institutions and community workers who have sustained it, and through frank discussions of topics such as access, prejudice, recognition, and respect.

Spring 2017 Courses

AFRS BC 3532 – Romare Bearden: Home is Harlem
Diedra Harris-Kelley, Instructor
Wednesdays, 10:10-12pm
This seminar explores one of the greatest American artists finding an inspirational home in Harlem. Romare Bearden (1911-1988) noted painter, collagist, intellectual and advocate for the arts, spent his childhood and young adult life in Harlem. The Odyssey, one of Bearden’s most well known series, was created in 1977 and inspired by Homer’s Odyssey. The course takes up the issues in The Od- yssey series, and beyond, examining Harlem as home through Bearden’s eyes, from an artistic perspective, and around what inspired him most – the history, the people, and jazz music.

AFAS UN 3930 002 – “Blackness” in French: From Harlem to Paris and Beyond
Kaiama L. Glover and Maboula Soumahoro, Instructors
Monday 11AM-12:50pm
What distinctions must be made between US-black American fantasies of Paris and realities for Blacks in Paris? What are the his- torical linkages between black Americans and Paris? Using an internationalist approach and covering the 20th and 21st centuries, this course explores these and other questions over the course of the semester through a close consideration of the literature, arts, culture, history and politics emanating from or dealing with Black France and the unique, long-historical relationship between Harlem, Paris, and the wider French empire.

AFRS BC 3552 – Black Women, Performance, and the Politics of Style
Shirley Taylor, Instructor
Wednesdays 10:10 am – 12:00pm
Black Women, Performance, and the Politics of Style provides a historical overview of Black women in entertainment. Beginning in the early 20th century, the course will explore various Black female archetypes presented on stage and through audio and visual media, performance as both an intentional/unintentional political stance, and consider the impact Black women have had on the entertain- ment industry overall.

AFRS BC 3551 – Vibrations: Harlem Jazz and Beyond
Loren Schoenberg, Instructor
Thursdays, 2:10-4pm
This course explores some of the multiple vibrations emanating from Harlem in all of their diversity. Our jumping off point will be music that emerged in Harlem starting a century ago and the visionaries who created it: James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Mary Lou Williams, Billie Holiday and Dizzy Gillespie. We will follow their influence all the way through to contemporary artists such as Ken- drick Lamar, Cecile McLorin-Salvant and Robert Glasper. This course will partner with the National Jazz Museum in Harlem (NJMH) and Harlem Stage and work toward understanding the relationship between the jazz and the people who created.

ARCH UN 3202 – Architecture Design Studio: National Black Theater
Irina Verona, Studio Coordinator
Monday/Wednesday 9:00am-11:50am
Architectural Design 2 partners with the National Black Theater (NBT) to examine how architecture and design can support multi-fac- eted cultural and social narratives. NBT will serve as a lens into Harlem’s layered cultural, social, economic and physical histories, as well as into Harlem’s future. As an organization currently in the process of expanding its current facility, students will explore the unique symbiosis between NBT and Harlem and design a new performance center that repositions the theater as a key component of social urban interaction, activism, and community participation.

A&HH 5051- Harlem Stories: Oral History (Teacher’s College)
Ansley Erickson, Instructor
Wednesdays, 5:10-6:50pm
How do historians learn about communities and their educational past? How has Harlem educated its children? How do stories about the past matter for education today? In this course we collaborate to document and understand the history of education in Harlem. We focus on the history of Harlem’s 117-year-old Wadleigh school. Students conduct oral history interviews with Wadleigh communi- ty members and create public digital projects to share their knowledge.

AHIS BC 2018 – Freestyle and Displacement in Contemporary Art Practices
Leslie Hewitt, Instructor
Thursday 10:10am-12:00pm/12:00pm-1:00pm
“Freestyle,” the important 2001 exhibition held at the Studio Museum in Harlem in New York, helped usher a generation of artists into public discourse and scrutiny by challenging the art world and questioning conventional thinking about art made by artists of color in the twenty-first century. Taking this exhibition as a point of departure, the seminar will explore the multiple modes of expression apparent in contemporary art practice, and the complex set of aesthetic, philosophical and political motivations that these modes of expression expose.

For more information on courses and to enroll, visit the Barnard College Course Catalog.

For more information on the Harlem Semester, visit our website, or contact us by emailing bcrw [at] or calling 212-854-2700.

Envisioning and Transforming: A Dialogue Between Students and Faculty

At the request of the Barnard College Department Chairs, BCRW is hosting an open discussion between faculty and students on the future of diversity on our campus. This much-needed forum will provide an opportunity for open discussion and exchange between us as scholars, educators, and students, on issues we face together as a community. From this conversation will hopefully emerge a new collective vision.

To effectuate institutional change, we must challenge and push against normative and insufficient standards of diversity. That change must determined by those who are most marginalized:

  • Students and faculty of color
  • Black students and faculty
  • Low-income students
  • Queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming folks
  • Folks with disabilities

Last semester both students and faculty expressed deep concerns in the face of disturbing incidents at Yale and the University of Missouri. Those concerns continue and we would like to begin a direct conversation between faculty and students on how we can work together to more concretely address the issues of diversity (which we conceive broadly to include race, ethnicity, gender, class, ability, and sexuality, among others) we confront on our campus.


  1. Taking stock: Why are we here?
    • priorities
    • lines of communication
    • mutual support
    • coordination
  2. Aspirations: What do we want to achieve?
    • If there is one thing you could change that would impact diversity at Barnard, what would it be?
  3. Updates: What has been done so far?
    • Reporting from students and faculty on conversations with BC administration.
  4. Bridging the gap: How do we get from what’s been done to what we want to achieve?

Resources for Accessible Classrooms

BCRW—a collection of students, researchers, professors, activists, and the intellectually curious—is dedicated to enacting the feminist philosophies that compel our research, publications, events, and activism in Barnard and Columbia classrooms. A key and invaluable aspect of engaging feminist pedagogies is striving for accessibility of the classroom and education spaces. In the hope of making Barnard and Columbia classrooms more accessible for queer and trans people, people with disabilities, first generation students, undocumented students, and all of our community members, we've rounded up a brief collection of resources for students and educators to utilize and share. Conference group shot. First off, our own Offices of Disability Services at Columbia and Barnard host a wealth of services and resources for students with disabilities seeking accessibility and accommodation. The Barnard ODS website, for instance, has information on how to register a disability with ODS, networks and services of peer support, information about the truly invaluable Project OWL: Options in Writing & Learning, a jointly developed and sponsored project by ODS and the Barnard Writing Fellows, necessary information for faculty members, and an extensive list of online external resources. Many U.S. colleges and universities put together practical guides and tip-sheets for faculty and classroom facilitators on how to make classrooms accessible. Here's a few of the best we found: Here's a few academic (but highly readable) essays and essay collections about disability, accessibility, and trans issues to inform and provoke. Columbia's First-Generation, Low-Income Partnership (FLIP) describes itself as a "student organization aimed at creating safe spaces for those who identify as first-generation and/or low-income." FLIP is working on a textbook library and bi-weekly dialogues. Reach FLIP at The Columbia Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) hosts a broad range of resources and programming for students of color on Columbia's campus, and for students looking to support an inclusive university environment. OMA provides and supports programming and services in such areas as critical intellectual inquiry, mentoring, advocacy, social justice, leadership development and training, diversity development and training, etc. Interested in continuing the broad conversation about accessibility at Columbia/Barnard? There are several peer-led education and discussion-based groups around campus.
  • AllSex (formerly know as CU FemSex) is a "peer-facilitated, semester-long discussion group dedicated to the empowerment and fulfillment of the sexual self." AllSex meets twice a week, for two hours each session.
  • ROOTEd (Respecting Ourselves and Others Through Education) is "dedicated to facilitating respectful informed discussions about diversity in the United States with regards to power and privilege issues." ROOTEd creates and facilitates dialogues on race, class, gender, allyship, and more for all members of the Columbia/Barnard community. Find them on Facebook.
  • The Collective Advocacy Project, a subgroup of the Barnard Writing and Speaking Fellows, is launching a discussion series at Well-Woman this fall.  CAP’s series will be a space for peer-directed personal and political expression in the service of self-care and student well-being. 
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Do you have a resource you want to share with the Columbia/Barnard community? Add it in the comments!

No Such Thing as Neutral

On November 8, 2014, members of the Flex and Lite Feet dance communities joined Ali Rosa-Salas ’13 for a lecture demonstration and discussion. NO SUCH THING AS NEUTRAL highlights movement-based artists who engage notions of subjectivity and materiality of the body in their work while utilizing the technical formalities of Abstraction. The project celebrates Flex and Lite Feet, looking at their evolution and the indelible impact they have had in the contemporary dance world. At the event, Rosa-Salas engaged Flex and Lite Feet dancers in a spirited discussion about their artistry, their techniques, and their personal experiences dancing a style considered “street” in a dance world that values formal training and classical technique.

NO SUCH THING AS NEUTRAL is the culmination of Rosa-Salas’s year-long work as a 2014 Barnard Alumni Fellow with BCRW. Much of Rosa-Salas’s research is interested in examining what she calls the false and problematic binary between “formal” dances and “street” or “vernacular” dances. The “formal” side of this binary houses ballet and modern techniques; “street” or “vernacular” styles like tap, jazz, hip-hop, voguing, Flex and Lite Feet make up the other half of the dance binary. While “formal” dance is privileged with forming the “bedrock of all contemporary dance,” with the highest levels of training necessary to perform these styles, “street” styles are thought to be “natural,” with very little formal training or technique necessary. Rosa-Salas also examines the ways in which “street” styles are appropriated by mainstream pop-culture and how race and class factor into the construction of hierarchies in dance. Her intersectional critique framed the lecture demonstration and discussion. “These false categories bare a hierarchy that trouble me,” Rosa-Salas said in her opening comments. “Because they relegate certain dance forms into this ‘otherizing’ realm.” NO SUCH THING AS NEUTRAL strives to make these categories visible and ultimately attempts to upend them.

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Transformative Justice Workshop Resources

On Friday, February 27th, BCRW Research Assistants and Ejeris Dixon (Founding Director of Vision Change Win Consulting) will facilitate “Transformative Justice Approaches to Sexual Violence on Campus and Beyond”, a workshop at the 40th Annual Scholar & Feminist Conference on education. We (BCRW Research Assistants) have compiled a resources guide to concepts that will be explored at the workshop with the hopes of extending knowledge and continuing conversations around these very important issues.

Scholar & Feminist XL Conference: Action on Education, featured image by Pete Railand,

Scholar & Feminist XL Conference: Action on Education, featured image by Pete Railand,

Alternative vs. Restorative vs. Transformative

I have become familiar with the terms “transformative justice”, “restorative justice”, and “alternative justice” since the beginning of my time at Barnard, in the sense that these terms are buzzwords on the current student social justice scene. However, these terms are frequently used interchangeably, and until recently I did not have a deeper understanding of their differences. Generally, alternative justice refers to justice practices that take place outside of the criminal justice system, and restorative justice seeks to repair harm through accountability practices rather than punishment. Transformative justice takes restorative justice one step further by aiming to not only respond to individual acts of violence, but also to transform communities so that structures that enable and perpetuate violence are eradicated. Transformative justice envisions communities in which responses to violence are not solely reactionary but also preventative. It is also important to acknowledge that transformative justice draws upon generations of work carried out by women of color and queer activists.

Carceral Feminism and Transformative Justice

Feminist activists and organizers initially theorized a framework of transformative justice in response to the state’s inability to stop sexual violence. White feminists have traditionally turned to the state to combat sexual violence and abuse through legislation to reform the criminal justice system (e.g. rape shield laws) and to increase police power (e.g. the Violence Against Women Act). This approach to sexual violence, labeled “carceral feminism”, does not recognize or criticize the role of the state in enacting violence and enforcing oppression. For instance, women of color who have turned to the police to escape domestic violence have in turn been brutalized by the same police officers that were supposed to help them. Clearly, we must look beyond the possibility of state justice in order to create communities in which all forms of violence would be unthinkable.

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Welcoming our new Associate Director, Tami Navarro

BCRW would like welcome Tami Navarro as our Associate Director. Tami holds a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Duke University and is also a proud graduate of Wesleyan University (’03). She is currently at work on a manuscript entitled Virgin Capital: Financial Services as Development in the US Virgin Islands, which engages with a local program (the Economic Development Commission, or EDC) to explore the ways that neoliberal initiatives are often built upon existing inequalities, particularly those related to gender and race. This project is based on 16 months of fieldwork Tami conducted in the US Virgin Islands, a time during which she worked closely in the newly-formed banking sector with a number of local women and one billionaire who was later convicted of using the EDC program to run a multi-million dollar fraud.


Before joining BCRW, Tami worked at the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix, a direct-service organization co-founded by Audre Lorde, an experience that solidified her commitment to feminist organizing. Just before coming to Barnard, Tami was a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality (IRWGS) at Columbia University where she shared her work on contemporary development policies in the Caribbean in a talk entitled “Easy Money and Respectable Girls: Neoliberalism and Expectation in the US Virgin Islands” as part of IRWGS’s Embodiments of Science series. In this talk, she outlines the features and gendered effects of neoliberal policies in the Anglophone Caribbean.

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Dean Spade on Trans Students at Women’s Colleges

On Wednesday, April 9th, Barnard alum Dean Spade spoke at Student Government Association (SGA) town hall. At the event, entitled “Gender & Barnard: What Does it Mean to be a Women’s College?” Spade discussed the implications of Barnard’s policy of only admitting students who are legally recognized as women. After a Q&A session, the audience members broke out into small group discussions facilitated by members of FemSex, where we discussed the steps Barnard can and should take to make the campus more accommodating for trans students. As it currently stands, Barnard’s policy regarding admitting trans students is “determined on a case by case basis,” as Dean Fondiller, an enrollment administrator, stated at a recent SGA meeting. For students, this means that all documentation, including financial aid, must indicate that they are legally considered female.

Dean of the College Avis Hinkson, and Dean of Student Life Alina Wong were both in attendance. This conversation is one of many in the context of a national conversation about trans admission to women’s colleges, such as the ongoing discussion at Smith. Many members of the audience were deeply engaged, as the forum was the largest event here that placed the issue of trans students’ rights at the forefront of the discussion.

Dean Spade spoke about the enormous violence and discrimination that trans women confront on a daily basis—an experience that Janet Mock, CeCe McDonald, and other trans women and gender nonconforming panelists discussed recently at the Redefining Realness Salon honoring Mock. Barnard, whose mission claims to provide an education to those who face gender oppression, effectively perpetuates and condones the violence against trans people in denying them admission to the college. Spade addressed the practice of accepting trans women based on their legal status, stating that legal measures are inaccurate and inaccessible. In addition to the ways trans people are denied access to services and face barriers in applying for governmental documentation, Spade emphasized that there is no such thing as “legal gender” and that standards and regulations on changing gender differ from state to state.
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“At the Intersection of Queer Studies and Religion”: A Summary

As part of a larger research project hosted by Utrecht University, the BCRW and Barnard’s Religion Department held a roundtable discussion in November on the intersections of queer studies and religion. Grappling with definitions of ‘queer’ and the thorns of importing contemporary Western terminology to ancient religious/transnational contexts, 10 scholars, theologians, and activists furthered the interdisciplinary study of religion and gender. Here’s what they had to say:

What does ‘queer’ mean?

  • Identity without an essence; impossible possibility; a remainder that cannot be accounted for
  • Verb, not a noun
  • Perspective; a body of theory
  • Political intervention in the normalization of heterosexuality
  • Multiplicity; movement; flow; yes & no

The panelists’ (dis)locations of ‘queer’ placed the term not only in identity politics, but in the divergences of practice and knowledge. One scholar pointed out race issues involved with using ‘queer’—to them, queer studies is often associated with whiteness, and as pointed out by another panelist, with Western discourses. Nothing flows entirely in one direction, but the flow is driven by political power: such is the case with the colonial exportation of terms (e.g., gay, lesbian). We cannot examine queer studies and religion without incorporating postcolonialism as a major component. There must be a stronger queer body of color critique, as well as space for critical studies of whiteness. After all, queer theory originates from queer women of color feminism.

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On DJing: A Workshop with DJ Reborn

This blog post is part of a series of student reflections on the Gender Amplified Music Festival from September 2013. 

Titled “Turtablism 101” the Gender Amplified program, this workshop at last month’s day-long music festival filled quickly. DJ Reborn, a versatile artist who has spun for the likes of Lauryn Hill, Common, and The Roots, used her equally impressive background as an educator to engage nearly every participant in the session. Introducing herself, she explained that as a child, music represented for her a means of escape, and she soon became drawn to its powerful capacity to change the energy among a crowd of people. “I’m like a sonic practitioner,” she stated in a tone serious enough to reveal the dedication with which she approaches her work. The fact of being a woman in the male-dominated field of DJing only motivated DJ Reborn to pursue her craft more strictly; when she moved to New York, she explained, she began to work at DJing with the same systematic rigor as a worker in a nine-to-five job.


Before asking participants to introduce themselves, DJ Reborn concluded, “I was a really shy person, and DJing is a way for me to communicate without saying anything.” As a black woman, she said, she feels her music selections are doubly significant. Making conscious choices about which songs to include in a set and which to leave out, she remains creative throughout this process. She offered an example: if the lyrics of a song are misogynistic but the track is otherwise appealing, DJ Reborn will use the instrumental version.

This aspect of the discussion seemed to resonate well with the participants in the room, many of whom were young women of color. Some individuals who hailed from Black Girls Rock had already learned the basics of DJing and others sought to connect with more female DJs. DJ Reborn facilitated that process in a hands-on manner by inviting everyone to take turns DJing behind the booth at the front of the room. After a group-wide pledge in which everyone raised their dominant hand and repeated in unison, “I do solemnly swear to be the best DJ that I can be…until 1 o’clock or however long this session is,” participants filed to the front. One after another, they stated their DJ name–if they had chosen one–and, after selecting a song, tentatively scratched the standard four beats per measure before releasing the vinyl record with the help of DJ Reborn.

Speaking to the larger theme of the music festival, Reborn addressed some of the gender dynamics at play in the music industry. She also shared her belief that unlike men, who tend to spin for their own enjoyment, women DJs can better intuitively read a crowd. Succinctly, she imparted sound advice to the workshop attendees: “Don’t just play the hits.”

Here is a recap of the Gender Amplified Music Festival:

Emilie Segura is a senior at Barnard majoring in sociology and is a BCRW Research Assistant.


Interfering with the Status Quo: A Radical Documentation of History

This week I took some time off from archiving here at BCRW to visit the Interference Archive, an activist collection located in Gowanus, Brooklyn that is open to the public. The high-ceilinged industrial space houses a wide range of visually gripping materials on historical and contemporary social movements. Recently featured in the New York Times, the collection contains everything from tee-shirts and political pins to radical newspapers and posters. I managed to catch the last day of the exhibition that opened in May titled “Strike Then, Strike Now!” a display of political art that includes union posters, leaflets, and political cartoons on work stoppages and covered the three main walls at the entrance of the room. Although it is continuously expanding (as I scoured the shelves, two women worked at reorganizing and indexing some materials), the Archive boasts a no-gloves-policy that allows visitors to handle and examine any of its items. In addition, the organizers regularly host educational community events in the space—recent events include a Kid’s Day and film screenings on labor struggles.

Image of Work Stoppage Exhibition

I met with Blithe, one of the core organizers and archivists there, who gave me a brief tour of the space. While we weaved through the row of shelves, she explained that the Archive is run completely by volunteers, and hopes that the management structure will be even more horizontal in the future. After I picked up a sturdy copy of Radical America, part of the Archive’s current exhibition, I learned that the Archive generally does not accept materials that are too fragile when receiving donated items, and makes sure the donors are aware that the materials they contribute will pass through many visitors’ hands. While the Archive takes care to preserve the documents, Blithe explained, the organizers acknowledge that the rips and tears that come out of the process of sharing those materials eventually become part of the document itself, its accessibility adding a unique vitality to the item.

Image of Feminist Documents at the Work Stoppage Exhibition

Free posters and activist literature greet visitors at the entrance; I picked up a copy of a newly printed Trayvon Martin poster (you can download and print your own here). When I asked her how she foresaw the future of the Archive, the archivist envisioned a building with plenty of room for the collection and an even larger space for community events. As we continue to move forward in indexing the BCRW archive, it is powerful to keep the radical philosophy of the Interference Archive in mind: because it contains documents from groups who educate, agitate and organize, it also uses the history on its shelves to perform those very actions and keep their legacy alive.

Image of Union Buttons

Emilie Segura is a senior at Barnard majoring in sociology and a BCRW Research Assistant.