Farewell to Professor June

For 20 years, Professor June Foley, who is the Senior Director of the Writing Program at NYU Gallatin, has been teaching an advanced writing class here at University Settlement. June has also been responsible for the editing and publishing of the Literacy Review, an annual collection of writing from adult education students throughout NYC. A new compilation of writing from University Settlement students, 20!, will be released soon and Friday, August 26, will be her last day leading her class. We sat down to talk with her about the past, the present, and the future.

Tell us a little about yourself…

I was born and raised in Trenton, New Jersey, into a working-class family, in what sociologists have called an “urban village.” I was the first of an eventual 40 first cousins, with dozens of relatives living within a couple of miles. I received my M.A. and Ph.D. in English and American Literature from NYU. My husband, Bob Stark (a native New Yorker) and I have been together for 38 years, and I have a 50-year-old son, Max Lindenman, from a previous marriage.

How did you first get involved with University Settlement and whose idea was it to start the writing class?

As the new Writing Program director, I was asked by the Writing Program chair to audit the first “Literacy in Action” (now “Race, Social Justice, and Adult Literacy”) class. The “volunteer work” the six students and two auditing faculty did was all at our first partner—University Settlement. Everyone else taught conversation, but I chose to teach writing. And I’ve been doing it ever since. 

Can you describe the format of the writing class?

Though I facilitate the class, with two Gallatin undergrad student teachers, the class is student-centered. The students write on any topic, in any genre. The student teachers and I edit the works (minimally), each writer reads her work aloud during class, and the other students offer comments about both the content and the style. The students are inspired and encouraged by one another. 

Any special memories of the writing class? Any memorable students?

To tell my special memories of the class, I’d have to write a book. Instead, I’ll quote from my introduction to 20!, our new book. In my introduction to one volume, I noted that almost all the original students came from China and many had survived Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. Lisa Lee wrote that when she was growing up, many neighbors were so poor that “they sold their children to the rich”; Yuqing Gu wrote about being ordered, as a physician, to perform a forced abortion on a woman eight months pregnant because neighbors had informed the authorities that she already had one child; Biming Long remembered the Communist Party labeling a beloved teacher a traitor, hounding him into suicide. Many stories set in New York City described working many hours every week in sweatshops or restaurants. Nelson Feng described how his restaurant delivery bike was stolen, he was threatened with a gun, and a customer whose dinner cost $57.75 tipped him 25 cents.

There was joyful writing, as well: Ofelio Chen’s about his “first friend,” a calf on his family farm in China; John Cheng’s about meeting his father in New York City, after running away from home many years earlier in China; Wen Fei Liang’s whirlwind trip to Europe, using her wheelchair; David Chen’s about receiving two unjust summonses as a mini-pancake sidewalk vendor, writing careful descriptions of the experience, reading them in court, and having the summonses dismissed.

Over time, the class became increasingly diverse, with students from Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern and Western Europe, and the writing also became more varied. Jackie Leduc’s brilliant introduction to the previous compilation, Remember, mentions the political issues of Bangladesh, passionately discussed by Afroza Yasmin and her son, Mahir Rahman; and the complex, frequently dark stories of the Brazilians Marilia Valengo, Vini de la Rocha and his wife Mariana Lemos Duarte. This year, we read Jennifer Alonzo’s love letter to her husband; Gabriela Robles’s story from the point of view of a Central Park bench; Annette Huang’s exhortations toward love and compassion; Grace Zhang’s writing about neighborhood tensions in Brooklyn; Fatima Sore’s fictionalized tales of women’s lives on the Ivory Coast, and much more.  

Did you learn anything from your students?

Again, I could write a book. As I also say in my intro, they’ve taught me much more than I’ve taught them. I’m in awe of their intelligence, thoughtfulness, courage, resourcefulness, resilience, patience, determination, compassion–and their writing talent. 

Can you describe the genesis of the Literacy Review?

LR started after I compiled that first little book of USS writing. The students were so thrilled to see their words in print that my class expanded. Soon I asked a few Gallatin students if they’d like to get together to create a book of the best writing from all NYC ESOL and adult education students. 

What are some important things all writers should remember?

The writer Henry James said, “Observe perpetually.” In addition, I’d say never stop reflecting, reading, and writing. 

What do you plan to do now?

I’ll be teaching one Gallatin course per semester in my field, the Victorian novel, at least for a year. 

Who will take over the writing class and Literacy Review?

Allyson Paty, a graduate of Gallatin who has an MFA in poetry from NYU and has been the Writing Program associate director for a number of years, will succeed me as WP director on September 1st. Corinne Butta, who was the WP’s graduate assistant for two years, received her M.A. from Gallatin in May, and has experience as an editor, will take over the advanced writing class. They are terrific!

Anything else you’d like to add?

Many, many thanks to the director of the Adult Literacy Program, Lucian Leung; to Jon, the assistant director; and to Leanne Fung, program associate. You have all been so wonderfully supportive over the years. I’m honored to have had the opportunity to work with you at University Settlement. 

Thank you, June! We’ll miss you!

To check out past blog posts about June, the writing class, and the Literacy Review, click here!

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Juneteenth

Juneteenth, always African-American, now American!

Juneteenth is a newly recognized American holiday, but has always been recognized by African-Americans. It celebrates African-Americans finally being freed from slavery.

Although, July 4th is officially America’s independence day, Juneteenth has been independence day for African-Americans for centuries.

The history is not complicated. In the year 1619, Africans were brought to The United States as slaves. Many different tribes, ethnic groups, and people were stolen from Africa and brought to America. It was a sad and horrible time for Black people in the Americas.

“In the year 1863, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued1 the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared more than three million slaves living in the Confederate states to be free. More than two years passed before the news reached African Americans living in Texas. It was not until Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, that the people finally learned that slavery had been abolished. The newly freed slaves immediately began to celebrate with prayer, a feast, song, and dance.”

On June 15th 2021, Juneteenth finally became a national holiday, not only for African-Americans, but for all Americans, to celebrate the freedom of every American.

issued1– To give or deal out; distribute.

References: Juneteenth | History, Meaning, Flag, Importance, & Facts | Britannica

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopedia. “Juneteenth”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 19 Apr. 2022, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Juneteenth. Accessed 14 June 2022.

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Memorial Day Weekend

Memorial Day is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Memorial Day 2022 will occur on Monday, May 30. 

Memorial Day 2022: Facts, Meaning & Traditions – HISTORY

Many people visit cemeteries and memorials on Memorial Day to honor and mourn those who died while serving in the U.S. military. Many volunteers place an American flag on graves of military personnel in national cemeteries. Memorial Day is also considered the unofficial beginning of summer in the United States.

Memorial Day – Wikipedia

We also use Memorial Day weekend to start the summer! During Memorial Day weekend you will see many barbeques, parties, and people at the beach! Remember to be safe ad have fun!

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The Power of US

Last week University Settlement held its annual gala, City Stories: The Power of US. City Stories: The Power of US is a celebration of human connection and the community strength that is possible when neighbors are engaged in their powerful individuality. Honoring difference, insisting on complexity, and forging relationships are the pillars of this approach, one University Settlement has cultivated with their neighbors for the last 135 years.

If you weren’t able to attend, you can watch an inspiring conversation with Charles B. Stover Award Honoree Cathy Park Hong, a spoken word and dance performance by Drew Drake and Angelica Mondol Viaña, and a behind-the-scenes look at our programs in honor of our frontline staff.

This year’s gala may be over, but our work is far from done. We are going to keep pushing forward to make NYC a more equitable place for ALL.

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Student Writing: Changes

white and black UNKs kitchen

Here’s a piece of non-fiction from Class E4 student Silvia Cortes about some changes she decided to make in her life. When you’re finished, take the quiz to test your understanding!

Changes

by Silvia Cortes, Class E4

I realized that every big change in my life started with “Why not? Let’s do this!” This is how my journey here in the USA began with a simple “I am going to leave my job as office assistant and put my catering business on pause. Let’s see, why not? We all need a vacation.”

So there I was making government appointments to start the paperwork for my passport and visa, checking on what I should put in my suitcase for the couple of weeks I was thinking of being here.

I was nervous because it was the first time I traveled outside of my country and if it was a good decision to quit my job and pause my business just for vacation. But then again, why not?

So there we were, my mom, my brother, one uncle and two cousins and we made it to the airport and the adventure began. For them it was their second time here, but for me it was all new.

On the first day of our adventure, an accident happened to me. In the subway station, a tired man dropped his heavy suitcase and instrument case from the top of the stairs and it all came falling down towards us. My mom was in front, so I jumped in front of her to block it. The suitcase and bag sent me falling down the stairs, I hit the platform, and my leg, ankle, arm, and head were injured. That was my welcome to NYC. After a paramedic checked up on me and asked many questions about my health, we continued with our adventure. So with the help of painkillers we went to see the most famous tourist places around NYC. I didn’t want to miss anything.

We went to Rockefeller Center—the views were amazing, even for being a cloudy day. For the night my cousin bought us tickets to the Rockettes’ Christmas show. Even though I am not fan of Christmas I had to admit it was a totally cool show.

We went to visit the Statue of Liberty. Well, that was our plan but we got fooled by some people to avoid waiting so much time in line. They took us to another ferry to take a boat around the Statue but it was far away. It was disappointing because the one who was most excited was my mom. She really wanted to be there on Ellis Island, but in the end to see her face on the boat, despite the distance was worth it. She enjoyed it so much, and I cannot imagine her face if we had gotten closer.

After discovering the most popular places, I made the decision to stay in New York. Again I said to myself, “Why not?” A few weeks later I got my first job as cashier and server (among other things) at a restaurant nearby my

place of residence. Everything went good, I was good with customers, and I was everything that the manager was looking for in a person.

Nobody was aware of the pandemic that was going to impact everyone lives so much, so I thanked God that my brother decided to stay in New York too. Unfortunately my brother and my aunt lost their jobs, and I was the only one working. I could not leave my family in that situation, so I decided to stay indefinitely.

The time passed and I did not feel comfortable at all, many obligations came and people started doing nothing, waiting for me to do their stuff. I was getting tired of it, but at the same time I was thinking how convenient my work was. It only took 25 minutes walking from home, and even when I did not have time to eat, they gave me food there. During the pandemic the manager and the owner kept me as a worker so I had the opportunity to support my family by paying rent. It was so convenient but not enough. There were still things that were annoying me, and again I decided to make a change, and in the end I had nothing to lose besides my financial support—but the universe provides. Besides I wanted to take days off, so why not?

One Sunday I told the owner, “Next week is going to be the last for me working here. You have the opportunity to hire someone else and for me to train them.”

That week my best friend told me that she had tickets to come and visit. The timing could not have been better: I was free and with some savings we could go and discover some other places in the city together.

And so it was: we went to so many places, we had the opportunity to talk face to face again, to hear about our own lives in real life and not just from the chatting over the phone. I missed her so much and I didn’t want the time to pass that fast but thankfully the timing was perfect and the decision of making a change was a good one.

Click here to take the quiz!

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Teacher Orientation!

Before student orientation that will kick off this weekend, we just finished our 3 day teacher orientation, 2 days online and 1 day in person. We don’t have any new teachers this year because everybody is returning either from last year or many years ago! Welcome back, everyone! We talked about our teaching materials, lesson planning, classroom management especially for this COVID-era, and a bunch of other things. Good luck and health with a new school year!

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Free Pfizer Covid-19 Vaccine

There will be a pop-up vaccine event on Saturday, August 28th from 5 PM to 9 PM for anyone 12 years of age and up.  Minors must be accompanied by parent/guardian.  No appointment necessary.  The event will take place at our host site, East Side Community High School, 420 East 12th Street, NY NY 10009 (between 1st Ave and Ave A). Please feel free to spread the news widely!

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