In this conversation, Faculty Lead Bianca Williams and Director Stacy Hartman share their visions of what they hoped PublicsLab could be, and reflect on the successes and challenges of the work accomplished. They offer context to where and how PublicsLab sat within CUNY’s Graduate Center, and present possibilities and provocations towards radically reimagining what a healthier culture for graduate education could be.
This interview was recorded by Nic Benacerraf on March 9, 2023.
“The promise of higher ed, at least for folks I come from, has always been: let’s come in here and take the resources and do with it what we can and let’s try to make the world better, freer, less oppressive for the folks who oftentimes don’t have access to this space. Let’s use those resources. Let’s teach, and try to free our minds, and teach alternative histories or alternative realities, and then see what we can build from that.”
– Bianca Williams
“If you’re going to do public scholarship, in a way that is not apolitical to the point of hollowing out everything that it can and should mean, you have to attend to the way that power functions in the university, but also in the larger ecosystem that every university is a part of. And you have to be prepared to have that be deeply uncomfortable at times.”
– Stacy Hartman
Bianca C. Williams (she/her) is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Faculty Lead of the PublicsLab at CUNY Graduate Center. Williams is an ethnographer of race, gender, and emotion in higher education and organizing communities, with a focus on Black women’s affective lives. The investigative thread that binds Williams’ organizing, teaching, and research is the question “How do Black people develop strategies for enduring and resisting the effects of racism and sexism, while attempting to maintain emotional wellness?” She has written about Black women, travel, and happiness; radical honesty as pedagogy; white supremacy, anti-Blackness, and emotional labor in higher ed; and anxious writing. Williams is the author of the award-winning book The Pursuit of Happiness: Black Women, Diasporic Dreams, and the Politics of Emotional Transnationalism (Duke U 2018), and co-editor of the book Plantation Politics and Campus Rebellions: Power, Diversity, and the Emancipatory Struggle in Higher Education (SUNY 2021). Williams received the 2016 AAA & Oxford University Press Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching of Anthropology, and the Mellon/ACLS Scholars and Society Fellowship Award in 2021, where she served as Scholar-in-Residence at Well-Read Black Girl.
Stacy Hartman is the director of the PublicsLab at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. At the PublicsLab, she manages the Mellon Humanities Public Fellowship program, which trains early career graduate students in the humanities in the methods and practice of public scholarship. The first interdisciplinary cohort of 12 public fellows begins in September 2019. In addition to the fellowship program, Dr. Hartman is responsible for developing the PublicsLab internship program, managing a robust slate of events related to public scholarship, and serving as the managing editor of the program’s website. Before coming to The Graduate Center in 2018, she was the project manager of Connected Academics at the Modern Language Association. Her co-edited volume, Graduate Education for a Thriving HumanitiesEcosystem, will be published with MLA Press in Fall 2023. She holds a PhD in German Studies from Stanford University. Learn more about her work at stacyhartman.com.
In this jointly written article published by the Los Angeles Review of Books, Director Stacy Hartman and Faculty Lead Bianca Williams call for a culture of higher education that moves beyond business mentalities and disciplinary legacies, and instead centers principles of justice and the concrete needs of students.