Blog Post

Announcing Structuring Equality: A Handbook for Student-Centered Learning and Teaching Practices

Banner Announcing "Structuring Equality: A Handbook for Student-Centered Learning and Teaching Practices"

Written by The Graduate Center Learning Collective

Arinn Amer, Zebulah Baldwin, Joshua Belknap, Erica Campbell, Cathy N. Davidson, Michael Druffel, Iris Finkel, Lisa Hirschfield, Nicky Hutchins, Kelly Lerash, Danica Savonick

​Edited by Hilarie Ashton.  CUNY Undergraduate Student Editors: Sujoy Bhowmik, David Brandt, Cherishe Cumma, Cassandra Castelant, Yelena Dzhanova, Brenell Harrison, Hurriya Hassan

Cover: Estefany Gonzaga

Design and Production: Chad Weinard

A HASTAC Publication. A collaboration between the Futures Initiative, Graduate Center, CUNY, and HASTAC @ Duke.

Published with generous support from the Teagle Foundation.


We at HASTAC are very proud to be publishing Structuring Equality:  A Handbook to Student-Centered Learning and Teaching Practices by the Graduate Center (CUNY) Learning Collective and professionally edited by a team of undergraduate students from throughout the City University of New York.

The book includes essays, lesson plans, and assignments that turn the principles and theories of engaged, active learning into ways to structure equality in the classroom and also throughout academe, through a variety of our innovative assessment practices and methods.   

The book includes

  • an inspiring new multilingual approach to teaching English as a Second Language based not on the "deficit model," but on a model in which the 150 first languages spoken by CUNY students add to the understanding of how language works;
  • a careful, research-based essay with practical exercises for how to add movement to a classroom for better learning (and happiness too!), useful for K-12 or graduate school, and especially useful for those with different cognitive abilities (or who are just plain bored or, shall we say?, human);
  • a Reacting to the Past game designed to teach a key episode in Black history (the key late 19th century debates between W. E. B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington);
  • a new and practical method for teacher observation where the senior observing professor has as much to learn as the junior person observed—applying student-centered egalitarian principles to how new professors can learn their craft and senior ones can learn too;
  • a beautiful animated GIF that illustrates the theory of interactional professor observation and ties these new practices to key progressive educational theory;
  • a clear, direct lesson plan for incorporating literature into a student-centered learning exercise in an introductory classroom; and
  • a play-by-play multi-media "how to guide" for turning any classroom into a student-centered classroom.

All of the essays in this collection were written collaboratively, with feedback, insights, discussion, and inspirations from the dozen students in “American Literature, American Learning,” a graduate class taught by Cathy N. Davidson, Distinguished Professor and Founding Director of the Futures Initiative at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and co-founder and director of HASTAC.  We especially thank Zebulah Baldwin for his beautiful cover design for the initial draft of the book that was posted and available for comments on the Futures Initiative website.

During that time, in addition to collecting feedback on the essays, a team of undergraduates in the CUNY Peer Leadership and Mentoring Program, directed by Lauren Melendez and co-directed by Futures Initiative Fellow Michael Rifino, worked on the essays while mastering professional copyediting, proofreading and book design skills under the direction of GC doctoral student Hilarie Ashton.  This program was generously funded by the Teagle Foundation which has also made possible the online and (forthcoming) physical book publication.  

Everything about the thinking, collaboration, writing, and production of this book, undertaken jointly by HASTAC teams at the City University of New York and Duke University exemplifies the engaged, active learning experience that is the focus of this book.  A slideshow created by Zebulah Baldwin and Lisa Hirschfield gives a glimpse at the process and thinking that went into this project from the very beginning.

The book also models the principle at the heart of this venture, embodied by our title, Structuring Equality.  We do not believe one can have innovation with equity, without a concern for use, distribution, contribution, participation, and access.  Higher education can be brilliantly innovative, but as long as it contributes, for example, to income inequality and to racial or gender bias (conscious or not), it misses the true goal of education in a democracy.   

For all of the academy’s critical race, gender, sexuality, and intersectional theory, our profession remains over 80% white and over 70% male at the full-time, full professor level.  That does not reflect our incoming students nor does it reflect our graduating students.  

We argue that the apprenticeship model of teaching (where the professor holds the knowledge and the student passively receives it) and the apprenticeship model of graduate training contribute to a problem where professors replicate their own demographics, over and over, despite their convictions.  The apprenticeship model, in its structure and founding ideology, replicates existing power structures and hierarchies and those demographics rather than our espoused theories of equality.  All of the essays in this book—like the process of writing and producing this book on HASTAC, an open-access website—are designed to provide a more equitable model of teaching and learning.

Our basic idea is that you cannot counter structural inequality with good will.  You need to structure equality or it won't happen.  

So how do you structure equality?  The essays in this book explore that topic and show how any reader, tomorrow, can adopt new practices designed to scaffold or structure equality by granting students agency, activism, responsibility, and full participation in the experience of learning.  This is a model of higher education where the objective is not to learn from an expert but to learn how to become an expert, how to achieve expertise in any situation, in the classroom and in all the areas of life beyond the classroom.

We hope you enjoy, share, and learn from this book.  It has been a tremendous experience and a singular honor to be part of the Graduate Center Learning Collective.


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