Date of Degree

6-2022

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

English

Advisor

Carmen Kynard

Committee Members

Amy J. Wan

Michelle Fine

Vani Kannan

Todd Craig

Keywords

composition-rhetoric, urban public universities, archival/historiographic methodologies, community writing, abolitionist approaches to education, intersectional feminism

Abstract

A transdisciplinary archival project, this dissertation uses counter-institutional student literacies emanating out of the City University of New York (CUNY) in the 1990s—placing them within much bigger political, educational, and geographic contexts—to think through the dynamics of ground-up resistance in the face of profound, institutionally sanctioned raced-classed dispossession. In this decade, New York and the US were marked by increased racial-economic inequality, notably via intensified policing and incarceration in Black/brown neighborhoods alongside cuts to public resources like schooling. As the city’s only public college option, serving mostly multilingual, low-income students of color, CUNY was especially targeted by such budget cuts. Most vulnerable were programs, such as “basic writing,” supporting minoritized students accepted via Open Admissions, a 1970 policy won by Black/Puerto Rican student organizers guaranteeing college admission for all New Yorkers. Yet budgetary attacks culminated in the policy’s 1999 reversal, and a move toward a more exclusionary CUNY. In response to these classist, ableist, xenophobic, and anti-Black policy shifts on and off campus, multiracial, cross-institutional student activist coalitions organized and spoke out, turning to grassroots rhetorical practices to do so. Across varied student-run publications—feminist zines, radical newspapers, hip-hop literacies, organizing materials, early blogs—“The Act of the Paper” traces these students’ insurgent rhetorics to re-write a more just education system and world, and the ways that they cultivate community and activist praxis through writing.

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