Breaking Out of the Silo

Breaking Out of the Silo

I have been at Graduate Center for seven years.  Not, in the grand scheme of things all that long, but sometimes I think I know a little bit too much about which $1 pizza joint in Midtown is the best (definitely the one on 5th between 33rd and 32nd).  In the last few years, however, I’ve learned that I know almost no one outside of my own cohort in my department and don’t really have much of a sense of what’s actually going on inside of the GC. I’m sure this isn’t too far  removed from most graduate students’ or academics’ experiences, but there’s something particularly unfortunate about this happening here. Beyond the fact that the siloing that generally happens because of the exigencies of disciplinarity, CUNY being the largest urban university system in the country makes for a particularly isolating experience. As graduate students and faculty members whose work often requires them to be spread around all five boroughs, it would seem particularly important that the GC be a place where these wandering scholars can come together and feel some sort of community. As anyone whose actually roamed (and/or gotten lost in) the halls of the Grad Center well knows, though, this is far from the case.

There are oases, however. The New Media Lab , where I am thankful to have a space to work because of the Digital Fellows program, is definitely one of them. At the NML, students from a multitude of departments work in a true Lab environment where conversation and skill sharing leads to better work and new perspectives.  It’s one of the most truly interdisciplinary spaces I’ve experienced.  Particularly, the NML general meetings bring together a broad swath of the GC (from Environmental Psychology to Audiology to History to Physics to Computer Science to English to Art History) to discuss current and future projects in an open format that makes me really feel like a part of a vibrant, interdisciplinary community in action.

As a scholar of the Internet and a Digital Fellow, though, my focus is also on those virtual places and spaces where work like this can happen.  The CUNY Academic Commons, home of this very blog, is a flourishing platform where CUNY faculty and staff and Grad Center students can develop groups and projects that are visible (or not) to the entire community (and beyond).  Both visitors and users can browse around to see some of the great projects and working groups that this platform is housing.  I’m particularly fond of The Internet Research Team and The CUNY Games Network as I think they really highlight the dynamic nature of the Commons and its ability to connect people from across disciplines and campuses.

My experience as a Digital Fellow (and as a Community Facilitator at the OpenLab at City Tech) has exposed me to burgeoning community of scholars and pedagogues who have opened my eyes to the possibility of demolishing the silos of the GC. Sure, sound resonates well within the silo (things you learn growing up in the Midwest) but no one can hear you outside of it.  It’s been my hope as part of the Graduate Center Digital Initiatives that the work of moving towards a Digital GC can in part develop a more open community whose voices can be heard not just across disciplines but by the public at large.

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