Welcome to Kaleidoscope! Orientation 2017

104 applications rolled in from all five boroughs for this year’s Kaleidoscope Project at Columbia University. The students who made it to the final cut are intrepid, sharp, well-spoken, audacious, and honestly just plain fun.

On Thursday, June 1, most of us met for the workshop’s introductory session. The theme was origin stories. Students had been asked to read a short memoir from Native American writer Yvonne Lamore-Choate, who passed away in 2015, and replace the material in her opening lines with details from their own lives. Here’s the template we used, in case you’d like to try the exercise out at home:

“I was born in ______________[Location] in ______ [Year]. My mother was ____________[Mother’s race/ethnicity], and my father was _________________ [Father’s race/ethnicity]. I was always taught that to be _________________ [Your race/ethnicity] was something to be _________________ [Feeling], and I always felt it was a _________________ [Noun] to be ______________ [Your race/ethnicity].”

Lamore-Choate’s urtext (in literary studies, “urtext” is a fancy way of saying “the original text that inspired this new work”):

“I was born in the Ft. Yuma Indian Reservation in 1945. My mother was Quechan and Mojave Indian, and my father was half Maricopa and the other half we didn’t claim. I was always taught that to be Indian was something to be proud of, and I always felt it was a privilege to be Indian.”

In my own presentation, I introduced myself to the class using this same prompt, explaining not only where I’m from and what experiences have made me me, but also why I believe participating in the activities I assign to my students is important. I intend to serve our class not only as a university instructor and academic mentor, but also as a future colleague who learns just as much as my students in our exposure to each other.

That was why I especially appreciated the courageous, constructive spirit our class showed in the guidelines we crowd-sourced for the qualities we believe make a good classroom conversation. For future reference, I’m listing those qualities below (and also adding one or two that I forgot to add myself!):

  • Aim for good communication; be thoughtful and clear.
  • Share in creating a safe space, where no one needs to fear being shut down immediately.
  • Follow the one mic rule: if someone’s talking, let them finish until they’re ready to pass the invisible mic along.
  • The “3 before me” rule is new to me, but I love it– not just for its catchiness, but also for its sentiment. Let three students speak before you speak again– a really concrete way to make sure everybody is getting the space to contribute.
  • Put people before technology; leave our phones to the side unless we’re on a break.
  • Project your voice, or don’t be offended if someone asks for a comment to be repeated; the room echoes, and every idea we have is valuable.
  • Practice open-mindedness, which means striving to be non-judgmental and curious about other people’s perspectives.
  • Contribute to niceness in the atmosphere; try not to be foreboding, and employ positive verbal and body language in the classroom.
  • Throw glitter, not shade: respond to peers’ writing by acknowledging their strengths and offering questions, not criticisms, to push the piece forward.
  • Give credit where credit’s due: generate discussion by responding to and citing peers’ preceding comments, not always simply offering your own two cents.

Beyond generating these best practices, we also came up with an anonymous word collage of all the qualities we are as a group. You can see some pictures in the slideshow below, though I apologize that the dirty chalkboards didn’t provide the best backdrop:

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Next week, we have A LOT to look forward to for our first full session!

  • Novelist Kaitlyn Greenidge, the author of We Love You, Charlie Freeman, which won The Paris Review’s prestigious Whiting Award this year, will be visiting the first 30 minutes of our session for a craft talk and intimate Q&A. So, don’t be late (!) and, if you’re curious, read rave reviews about her debut novel on The New York Times and The Huffington Post.
  • Once Kaitlyn departs, we’ll be talking about gender, so make sure to read the two short stories and poem in the reading packet for this week. Also don’t forget to view Lee Mokobe’s spoken word poem (instead of just reading the transcript).
  • Swap an hour in front of TV or social media to hash out a response to one of the writing prompts for this week! Remember, every week you’ll have the chance to ask for my feedback, and you’re welcome to post finished work to this blog at any time! We’ll talk about how to do it yourself this Thursday.

So, get pumped about meeting an award-winning novelist, keep working on your own craft, and get something ready to share with us this Thursday.

If you need a conversation starter with your parents this week, ask them where your name came from and what it means, if you don’t already know! We’ll be sharing these roots as an icebreaker for talking about gender identity this Thursday, so make sure you have an inkling (even if you just check out yours on babynames.com).

Don’t forget your consent forms and questionnaire if you’ll be meeting us for the first time this Thursday!

Oh, and if you wanted feedback on your origin story, and I forgot to collect it, please, just email the draft to me at nmg2138@columbia.edu. See you soon!


Kaleidoscope Project Orientation

Thanks to everyone who made it out to orientation today! This is our class blog, and it’s now up and running. I will share details with you for posting to it at our next meeting. You should feel free to share it with your world– family, friends, teachers, and each other.

If you weren’t able to make it, here’s a recap of what we did:

  1. Introductions and Origins.
  2. Icebreaker: What makes you different? On small slips of paper, we all filled in the blank for the sentence “I am _______,” crumpled them up, passed the anonymous answers around, and then read them aloud. In the discussion that followed, we determined that we are:
    1. Self-aware
    2. Open-minded and nonjudgmental
    3. Artistic, creative, smart, and accomplished!
    4. Curious about other cultures and our own
    5. Generous of spirit
    6. Proud of ourselves
    7. Committed to encouraging each other
  3. Creative Writing Exercise: Opening Lines from Yvonne Lamore-Choate’s “Untitled.” We used Lamore-Choate’s introduction to her untitled memoir about growing up Quechan-Mojave on a Native American reservation as a template for outlining the beginnings of our own backgrounds. A sort of literary Mad Libs, we each filled in the blanks of her identifiers (location, race/ethnicity, feelings, etc.) to inflect her strategy with our own spin.

Next week: Gender with Jamaica Kincaid (Antigua) and Lysley Tenorio (Philippines)