Dr. Lubna Chaudhry, SUNY Chancellor’s Award Winner for Excellence in Teaching

If I had to pinpoint a single educational experience that became a direct path to where I am today, it would be taking Human Development (HDEV) 400: Social Justice with Dr. Lubna Chaudhry. My first experience with Dr. Chaudhry was in spring of 2011, my first semester at Binghamton University as a junior in the department of Human Development. As a non-traditional transfer student from the local community college, I was enrolled in her senior level course in Social Justice, and worked harder than I have ever worked before. EVER. The materials were challenging on many levels, and the output requirement was like nothing I had ever encountered at the community college. There was a main, theory based text that set the foundation for the supplemental readings we did throughout the semester, and it was through those scholarly works that the theories and policies we learned about were demonstrated in the lived experiences of people. It was the first time in my academic career that I had read these types of narratives of hardship, loss, and eradication of rights of people. She allowed space for reflection, as well. One of our assignments was a developed examination of our social positionality, through which I was able to contextualize myself and my relationships within and because of axes of power structures. It was through this assignment that I began to refine the critical ability to question structures of power from the intersectional perspective of a woman, a parent, and a non-traditional college student. Though the course was large, we had dynamic discussions about the meanings we were making with the presented materials, discussing ways these might impact us as future practitioners. These were both small and large group, and developed through critical questioning and engagement of the reading materials. Her instruction went beyond theory and allowed for active application in the community. Through a group project, I worked with peers on an assignment with a local shelter for battered families. This project was important to the learning process in that it encouraged active engagement with the community to become an advocate for justice, as well as to become more critical of the systems that perpetuate injustice. The depth of learning that was accomplished that semester was transformative, and laid the foundation for the educational track that I am on now.
My second semester with Dr. Chaudhry was the last semester in my graduate program. I was actively searching for PhD programs, and had sent Dr. Chaudhry an email requesting to enroll in her doctoral level seminar in Cultural Competencies and Social Justice. She was happy to register me for the course, and I am very grateful that she did. I had spent the last year and a half in a professional program that had a very specific focus, and Dr. Chaudhry’s course afforded me the opportunity to be more critical of the theories in my professional preparation, contemplating ways they were insufficient and identifying how structures and systems operate to keep people in the margins. This was done in an environment that allowed me to work through the material with her guidance as well as feedback from my peers, along with space for reflection on the material and its applicability to my own work. Unlike the undergraduate course taken with Dr. Chaudhry, this doctoral seminar was intimate, with only seven students. This gave us ample time and space to dig into the readings and discuss their relevance and applicability in our own work. Class sessions were spent actively engaging with each of the assigned readings and relating them to events taking place in society, as well as our own research interests.
Through a semester long project, I was able to explore a new research interest in a supportive environment with appropriate feedback. Dr. Chaudhry was available to me for my seemingly never ending questions, and it was this course experience that helped me visualize my own career trajectory. My experience in Dr. Chaudhry’s course was the deciding factor as to which PhD program I would matriculate into, along with what specific focus my work would take moving forward. The cohort of students that were enrolled in Dr. Chaudhry’s doctoral seminar feel very much the same way, and many of us have continued to seek out Dr. Chaudhry as a source of support and guidance even when not actively registered in a course with her. Simply put, Dr. Chaudhry is always teaching.
I am finishing my third semester with Dr. Chaudhry. I reorganized my initial schedule when it was announced that she would be teaching the qualitative research course in our doctoral program this spring (if you are unfamiliar with Dr. Chaudhry’s research in Swat Valley, Pakistan, you can read a bit about it here; she is a great instructor to learn qualitative research methodologies from). The experience has been intense, and I am a better researcher for it. I have also asked her to work with me as part of my dissertation committee and primary advisor because I know that, through her input and teaching, the learning experience this will be is invaluable to my education and my role as a practitioner.
Dr. Chaudhry has made me a better student, and she has also made me a better teacher. I teach at SUNY Broome, the institution that I came from as an overwhelmed nontraditional college student who was afraid she had bitten off more that she could chew. I now teach courses that reflect on the intersection of race, socioeconomic status, and gender and the myriad of ways these are depicted within the media. Much like Dr. Chaudhry, I begin with presenting theory based information from the main texts, along with supplemental materials that illuminate the lived experience of people. Very similar to Dr. Chaudhry’s teaching style, I present students with the information and then assist in reflection and active engagement. In order to begin to facilitate this, I assign my students a version of a social positionality paper. It is in the moments of reflection and engagement that meaning is made, and for me, Dr. Chaudhry has been essential in this.
Dr. Lubna Chaudhry has been awarded the State University of New York Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. She received her letter Monday, right before our scheduled class meeting. In true Dr. Chaudhry fashion, she mentioned it, beamed a little, and immediately went to work, helping us individually and as a class move forward with our research. As she does. I am honored to call Dr. Chaudhry my advisor, my mentor, and my friend.

Stephanie Malmberg
Doctoral Student, College of Community and Public Affairs at Binghamton University

Dr. Denise Yull, CCPA Faculty Member and Community Engaged Scholar

I spoke with Dr. Denise Yull, Assistant Professor of Human Development and newer CCPA faculty member, about how she approached her dissertation and about the wealth of data she collected, along with a sneak peek as to what she is working on now. A graduate of the School of Education, Dr. Yull was one of the professors I had as an undergraduate student whose curriculum and teaching philosophy opened up a new world of critical engagement and understanding for me. In speaking with Dr. Yull about the process of formulating research questions and determining research methodologies she would use in her work, she outlined to me a process where there would be many opportunities to present and aggregate the data collected into post-doctoral publications.

Dr. Yull had four specific research questions, and her dissertation was an undertaking of a significant amount of data collection. Her data collection included vast oral histories gathered in order to answer questions regarding the educational experiences of Black New York State residents across four generations. She collected oral histories from people living in Binghamton, Elmira, Syracuse, and Buffalo. One of the salient findings is that these participants valued education for themselves and their children, but one of the main differences are with regard to the level of education sought after. Those whose families were from the North were content to strive toward completion of the high school credential, whereas those families that emigrated from the South aspired to a higher level of education. Another theme was rural vs. urban sensibilities and differences in the salience of racism based on geographical locations, and that those who were from Binghamton and Elmira had a different sense of racism in the schooling experience than those from Syracuse and Buffalo, larger urban areas. She also discussed the notion of schools as reproducing racism, providing distinct criticisms of the institution of education and how it fails youth of color. A specific quote that stands out is that “black boys never get to be kids because they are always seen as men, who aren’t seen as humans.” Powerful.

This research project and the questions she asked are important because these stories are important. As a result of gathering this data, she has identified an opportunity to publish research on the Millennial generation of youth of color. Dr. Yull discusses her ideas on this as illuminating the experience and comparing it to the traditional discourse associated with the Millennial generation as a whole, noting the disparities among them. This has the potential to be very influential work, work that provides a representative voice and challenges commonly accepted ideas.

Dr. Yull had a strict deadline to finish writing, which was ultimately incredibly helpful, in addition to stressful and daunting. She had a job offer that was contingent upon her completion and successful defense of her dissertation. She had all of her data collected, and large pieces of her dissertation complete, however with vast amounts of qualitative data, she had a significant amount of coding left to do in order to arrive at some of her data driven conclusions, independent of assumptions and the output of essential critical thinking of the researcher. She defended in August of 2012 and then started in her current role with CCPA in September of 2012. Dr. Yull made it a point to tell me to use the data contained within the dissertation and immediately begin the work of extracting and publishing it.

Community engaged scholarship is demonstrated throughout the work undertaken by faculty in the College of Community and Public Affairs. Dr. Yull spoke briefly of the process of being tenure track and what that looks like at the level of collecting relevant experience and information that supports receiving tenure. Specifically, she outlined three key areas of excellence that must be demonstrated: teaching, scholarship, and service. In addition to providing students with a qualitative means of assessment that speaks to her capabilities as a teacher, she also sits on several boards locally, including the Broome County Urban League. These are just as important as maintaining an active research agenda.

Stephanie Malmberg

Doctoral Student, College of Community and Public Affairs at Binghamton University


How Do You Practice Self Care?

It’s the end of the semester. We’ve gotten through Thanksgiving and the December holidays are ahead of us. It should be an exciting time of year, right? Right, except for the pressure that comes from all of these things.

As I walk through the University Downtown Center and greet colleagues and students alike, there are a few common denominators, the look of exhaustion and the answers you get when you ask them how they are it’s “busy”, “stressed”, “overwhelmed”. Tis the season, right? In the MSW and HDEV classes that I am teaching this semester I have done my best to periodically check in with the students and ask what they are doing for their own self-care. Some of them are incorporating it nicely, others give me the understandable, “what self care, I am too busy”.

In the College of Community and Public Affairs we are training students to help others through Human Development, Social Work, Student Affairs, Public Administration and Doctoral Students who will one day teach. I fear that for many students though, helping themselves gets lost in the vision of helping others. I speak from experience as I suggest this.

As I have shared in my previous blog, I am a graduate of HDEV and the MSW programs at Binghamton University, I can speak to the rigor that I encountered as I went through both programs. They both took up a lot of time with classes, practicums and field placements. While I was a student I was not great at self care- I like some of the students I teach now would give the pat answer of “ I have no time!” That having no time and not making myself a priority translated into the field of social work for me.

Upon graduation I was hired as a Medical Social Worker where I worked with terminal illness, death, grief and bereavement. I worked ten years full time in this particular field. As I left that job this past summer and joined BU’s MSW department full time, I realized just how burnt out I had become and how I was not practicing what I was preaching.

Between working full time, being married, having two young children and a house to keep up with, my self care was on the bottom of my to do list. This made me irritable, exhausted and not the best version of myself, personally or professionally. I needed to make a change.

During the last year in the medical field I started to make a change. I went to a spiritual retreat sponsored by my workplace, during which we participated in making soul collages. What came out of my soul collage is how burnt out I was taking care of everyone else, personally and professionally, it was time for a change.

Over the last year I have started incorporating self-care into my life as a daily practice, it has been work. I have learned that self-care for me is time alone- meditating, running or practicing Baptiste Yoga. My journey into self care has been a challenging one, as everyone around me was used to me putting myself last, so making time for myself has not always been welcomed or even understood. I have been called selfish and even a bad mom because of it. Due to the self-care that I have incorporated into my life I feel that I am better both personally and professionally- I feel that I have more to give.

I am still just as busy, a husband, 2 young children, 2 dogs, teaching 2 MSW and 1 HDEV class, and facilitating bereavement groups part time. The difference though now is that I schedule my self-care in just like I do everything else. This may mean that I don’t have time to go out to lunch with friends, or catch up on TV shows, it means eating my lunch at my desk as I work, because I squeeze a run in during lunch or get up at 5 am to practice yoga at 6am.

While teaching my children and students about self-care, I also want to role model it for them. I love to see my students when I am out running, I love when my family comes to watch races, or when my daughter sees me dressed she will say have fun at yoga mom. I am now finally practicing what I preach.

As for those who have called me selfish and a bad mom, they need to do some self reflection and re-prioritize and make self care a priority for themselves. All it takes is 15 minutes a day- wake up 15 minutes earlier, stay up 15 minutes later. For me self-care is physical, but it does not have to be physical for you. How do you nurture your soul? What makes you feel at peace? Many people can not answer these questions, do a self inventory what do you need? Then try something new; journaling, meditating (try the Honest Guys guided meditations on Youtube, paint, walk the dog, take a bubble bath, read a book (not one that is assigned or that you will be assigning), make plans with a friend who you keep putting off, just pick something and try….

Through the holiday season and winter break, as you look for the perfect gift for everyone else, give yourself the gift of self care. In order to help others you need to start by helping yourself. My favorite line of thinking is what is told to us on the airplane- put the oxygen mask on yourself before you help someone else. Treat yourself how you treat others! Happy Holidays!

*Editor’s note: Binghamton University’s Dean of Students office offers some unique de-stressing events for students in the month of December. Find out more about it here.

Sarah E. Hopkins, LMSW

Full Time Lecturer

Department of Social Work

College of Community and Public Affairs

Grandparents raising grandchildren in Broome County

Grandparents raising grandchildren is a population that is growing fast. They are important in sustaining healthy family systems, but the caregiving is demanding and requires that the older adults make significant shifts in the roles that they hold in their families. Grandparents struggle with high stress and they tend to be depressed than non-caregiving older adults. Furthermore, the upheaval from unexpectedly taking on parenting responsibilities may hinder positive aging. Unfortunately, however, grandparent-headed families’ access to and utilization of professional services are limited, and current social services do not meet their needs. For example, grandparents need information on grandparent rights, programs for their grandchildren, legal advocacy, and respite care. These services are often unavailable or, when they exist, the custodial grandparent may be unaware of their eligibility for these services.

To explore needs and experiences of grandparent-headed families, I talked to twenty two grandmothers and one grandfather in Broome County from 2012 to 2013. Of the 23 grandparents, twelve were White, ten were African American, and one was Hispanic. The mean age of the sample was 60 years old (range: 44-76), and the mean age of their grandchildren was 11 years old (range: 5-17). The median annual income of the grandparent-headed families was $40,560, but varied greatly, ranging from $12,500 to $150,000. Economic hardship was prevalent. Of the 23 grandparents, 15 reported family incomes below 150% of the poverty line.

While the stressors impacting grandparent headed families were wide ranging and often unique to a particular family situation, they tended to cluster into four areas: (a) grandparents’ health problems, (b) financial stress of the grandparent-headed families, (c) social isolation, and (d) fragmented support systems. In addition, in all but two cases, the grandparent gained custody of the grandchildren following highly stressful, and frequently, traumatic crises in the family. Circumstances under which the grandparents gained custody included the brutal murder of a grandchild’s mother (the daughter of the grandmother), profound abuse and neglect of the grandchildren by their biological parents, and severe domestic violence that was witnessed by the grandchildren. There were also indications that some families had endured years of highly stressful situations that culminated in the biological parents either losing custody through court order, or voluntarily surrendering the children when they realized they were not capable of parenting. Others stated that they took custody when the adult children’s mental illness interfered with their ability to adequately parent their children. In many cases, the children showed signs of emotional problems that the grandparents attributed to trauma related to the circumstances with the biological parents.

Despite the traumatic events the intergenerational families have experienced, the grandparents show signs of family resiliency that can promote health and growth. Grandparenting gave them the ability to learn from past child-rearing mistakes and improve parenting skills. The grandparents also enjoy loving, rewarding relationships with the grandchildren. For example, one stated, “You learn with your children what not to do with your grandchildren. You become more educated and have more wisdom about what you did as parents.” Another grandmother said, “I’m learning more now and I am finding out the mistakes I made with my daughter and I’m not making those mistakes again. The grandparents shared that raising their grandchildren positive influence their life. One said, “I’m healthier because of him, I have to get up and do stuff because of him, and I walk to school to pick him up so it’s a positive impact.” Another stated, “At my age I am healthier than I was before, I run up and down the stairs, I’m taking them to the movies, putting up the pool, doing things that keep me fit.”

From the interviews, I learned that the multigenerational impact of the trauma is clear and impacts each generation differently. Understanding the physiological nature of trauma and toxic stress reactions and focusing on strengths and resiliency factors are important in working with the grandparent-headed families. Moreover, in spite of the family trauma, the grandparents whom I talked worked hard to protect their grandchildren, nurture them, and provide the stable home life they need. Interventions for the older adults should include efforts to access resources and help custodial grandparents build a coherent support network. While the children may need care to ensure their stability and social emotional development, attention to the older adult’s development is important as well. Linking the normal development process of all generations to the process of healing from trauma can help reinforce positive growth and the development of healthy family systems.

Youjung Lee, Ph.D, LMSW
Assistant Professor, Department of Social Work
Director, Center for Family, School, and Community Partnerships
College of Community and Public Affairs
Binghamton University