1. Please introduce yourself, the year you graduated, and what was your major when you graduated?
Hi, my name is Griselda Rodriguez. I am an Afro-Dominican Brooklynite, who graduated from Syracuse University with a PhD in Sociology in the Summer of 2010.
What makes me me? Great question. I think my belief in spirit makes me me. I believe that we are more than our bodies, more than what we see. There is a whole other world beyond our sight that, if we tap into it, can lead to much happiness and peace. In connection to my deep belief in spirit is a belief that “we are” because of those who came before us. Ancestors are vital to my existence. From the immediate folks in the campos of San Jose de las Matas, Dominican Republic to the African ancestors who built pyramids and communed with the stars 10,000 years ago…they all walk with me.
2. What was your Syracuse University experience like when you attended?
My experience in Syracuse was quite a ride. I literally went into SU kicking and screaming. I graduated from SUNY Binghamton and was determined to move closer to home. Fate would have it that I earned a full fellowship/scholarship to SU via the Ronald E. McNair Scholars program. Considering that my twin sister, Miguelina, and I were the first in our family to graduate college, money was a huge factor in my graduate studies. I initially kicked but eventually trusted that God would lead me to the best place. My initial intentions were to earn a Masters in the Cultural Foundations of Education and then leave. But then, as per the advice of Dr. Linda Carty in African American Studies (AAS), I applied and was accepted into the Sociology PhD program in the Maxwell School. There, I was blessed once more to earn a full scholarship via the McNair Scholar’s program for 4 years of study.
At one point, I felt I hated Syracuse. It felt small, archaic, and frozen in time (literally and figuratively). My first year, 2003-04, there were record-breaking snow falls in Syracuse. And that is ALOT, when you consider that Syracuse is right on the US’s snow belt. My family, friends and boyfriend (now fiancee) encouraged me and helped me realize that my purpose was bigger than the PhD. I was paving the way for many others like me who would follow. After my first year of moping, constantly crying, and visiting Binghamton and NYC often, I decided to give SU a true try.
During the next 4 years, I became the President of the Black Graduate Student’s Association (BGSA), joined the Board of Directors of the IMAGE Initiative (non-profit catered to high school-aged women of color), and made some AMAZING friends who are now life-long family. I also realized that I was in the middle of one of the most beautiful places in New York State. The winters were intense, but they often led to breath-taking summers, and jaw-dropping foliage in the fall. I visited several parks, walked, and just enjoyed the majestic trees. In the end, I didn’t quite kick and scream on the way out of Syracuse, but I did leave with a sense of peace and acceptance that this chapter of my life had closed gracefully.
3. What did you do post-SU?
Post SU I tried to remember who I was outside of academic institutions. I had been in school for 25 years, since the age of 4, and had to learn about those parts of me I was unable to nourish as a student. In addition to taking up West African dance, I also committed to my health and committed to a regular routine of seasonal fasts and detoxes.
Professionally, I was what we call a “road scholar” in the adjunct world. Adjuncts are part-time faculty who either do not have a PhD yet or who are not on a tenure-track. I was therefore on the “road” as I traveled from Brooklyn to teach for Latino Studies at The City College of New York, and then to Queen to teach for the Sociology department at LaGuardia Community College. I have also taught for the Ethnic Studies Department at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) and have taught writing for Mary Mount Manhattan’s Summer HEOP Program. During the Spring-Summer 2011 I was blessed with a Post-Doctoral Fellowship with the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute (DSI). As a fellow, I worked closely with Dr. Ramona Hernandez, the institute’s director and Anthony Stevens, the co-director, on their “First Blacks in the Americas” web project. Under that position, I co-published an article with Dr. Hernandez on “Caribbean Identities” for the Encyclopedia of Race and Racism.
Currently, I am the Assistant Director for the International Studies Program of City College. I am also an Adjunct Assistant Professor for the same program. As a professor, I have been able to design and teach my own course on “Transnational Feminisms” for the past 3 semesters. I continue to serve on the board of the IMAGE Initiative and have assisted in the planning of our annual Sisters Empowering Sisters Conference, which takes place every March in Syracuse. Though I am not physically present, I continue to pay my dues towards a city and school that truly assisted in shaping my character and worldview. I was able to foster a deep sense of community in Syracuse and continue to pay it forward by creating that same sense of community among my students and colleagues.
4. What’s the best advice you would give to current students?
The best advice would be to trust in your instinct. It is sometimes hard to do so because we live in such an overly-stimulated world that creates much mental chatter. But with some meditation or consistent quiet time, you will be able to listen, via your heart, to that voice within. That voice will assure you that, though things may look different than what you expected, where you are is exactly where you need to be. I would also advise current students to participate in the SU and larger Syracuse communities. For those that come from bigger cities, we often look down upon cities like Syracuse, Binghamton, etc. This often leads to limited experiences as we are constantly looking for NYC in Syracuse, NY.
I realized that Syracuse is someone’s beloved home. Someone was born and raised there and they love it as much as I love Brooklyn. I learned to respect the city the same way I would love for someone to respect my home when they visit. I ventured out and found Jerk Hut, Las Delicias, Green Lakes, and the parties at the Chinese Buffet (yes! but that is another conversation…lol). One of the main things that helped me learn to respect Syracuse was the Onondaga Nation who have called Syracuse home for generations upon generations. I learned to view the hills, snow, and the overall landscape as sacred. Being in Onondaga land truly centered me. I can’t quite put it into words, but I know that the sacred aspect of that land truly helped throughout my development as a student and a human being. I am humbly honored.
5. What do you think about the LANSU Scholarship?
I think it is amazing. As one of the FEW Latinas in graduate school at SU I often found solace among the Latino undergraduate communities. Syracuse University can also be a rather lonely place for someone who has little experience with college life. Creating a scholarship, with perhaps a mentoring component, will definitely alleviate some of the financial stressors associated with attending college and also help students feel a sense of belonging when they can often feel alienated among the sea of white faces who predominate in Syracuse University.
You can visit her website: http://www.griseldarodriguez.com/