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Breaking Open: Open Pedagogy as Intentional Interruption

By Allison Cabana

It is not possible to fully represent the “Breaking Open” #GCOpenPedagogy Symposium in only  500 words. Hosted by the Graduate Center Library and developed by Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz, the event featured scholars and activists working to interrogate academia, the role of Open Pedagogy and Open Educational Resources (OER), as well as insight into our practice as scholars, students, professors, and activists. Presentations included Keynote Speaker Clelia O. Rodríguez (author of Decolonizing Academia), a morning panel of Open Pedagogy Fellows Inés Vañó García, Jacob Aplaca, and Adashima Oyo and an afternoon panel with Wanett Clyde and Matt Brim. The full program may be found here, but what I hope to share is what I’ve come away with: an abundance of questions and even more inspiration.

Throughout the day, discussions all seemed to link back to keynote speaker Clelia O. Rodríguez’s imperative to seriously engage in decolonizing academia. Rodríguez’ talk provoked many questions: How can open pedagogy relate to decolonizing the academy? Does “open” necessarily mean transformative? And how must we be a part of decolonizing? Rodríguez challenged and inspired attendees to consider the conditions of the academy. She spoke to the structures of white supremacy, colonialism, patriarchy, and imperialism, and invited scholars to interrogate our own practice. What are we teaching for? And, what are we fighting for?

As she shared her experience of the necessity of knowing one’s own history, recognizing oppression, and making visible those connections, Rodríguez challenged the audience to rethink pedagogy, and include students’ own history – “What would a curriculum with the known look like? Sounds, faces, first and last names, places where they’re from, where they belong, recipes?”

Rodríguez shared her view that, “to me, everything is a text,” and pushed for teachers to include the built environment as a legitimate academic source. In connecting open pedagogy to the wider possibilities of dismantling structural oppression, Rodríguez pushed toward the concept of ‘breaking open,’ especially, in her words, in the sense that “communal exchange of knowledge knows no borders.”

Another highlight was when Clelia Rodríguez addressed a student question about the experience of fear and struggle in this context. Rodríguez responded: “Fear is real. There is a reason why we’re angry, pissed off, emotional. We’re being killed. Think: what are the chances of me being killed today?”

Although I’d like to share everything from the Symposium, I will continue by sharing the questions raised by other presenters that directly engage with the task of how to  decolonize the academy. The presentations were interwoven with  reflections on oppression within/by the academy, open scholarship vs. ownership, who profits, and the transformative change necessary to truly decolonize the academy.

A few highlights from presenters in conversation with Clelia O. Rodríguez’s keynote address: Wanett Clyde asked us to consider intersectionality, multiple roles, and being a Black woman scholar. She interrogated the relationships between systems of oppression, and the implications for  people of color maintaining ownership over our own work.

Matt Brim asked us – what are the material conditions of our academic work, institutional history, and knowledge production?

OER Fellow Adashima Oyo asked: “Why aren’t there CUNY faculty and administrators in these rooms? They need to be hearing these as well.”

And finally, an attendee reflected: “Is it possible to decolonize the academy? Is the structure of the academy itself a function of colonialism and exclusion? What would be left?”

I don’t have an answer to the questions above. And I don’t think having an answer is the point. From using Open Educational Resources to transforming Open Pedagogy, each can be tools in what Rodríguez, the organizers, presenters, fellows, and participants were in conversation about: we must decolonize the academy. To answer the very last question of “What’s left?”, and how the work can be done  Rodríguez offered the inspiring response that we collectively create it.


Allison Cabana is a doctoral student in the Critical Social/Personality Psychology Program. Her research has utilized Participatory Action Research and collective knowledge making. Allison is currently an adjunct instructor at La Guardia Community College.