Dr. Regina A. Bernard Instills a New Way of Teaching at Baruch
Dr. Regina A. Bernard is breaking the mold at Baruch College. As assistant professor of black and Hispanic studies at the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences, she’s attracting students to courses that might seem unexpected at a business-minded college. Just this semester, 40 students enrolled in her Women of Color course. “I think one of the things that makes my classes so attractive is that they are relevant. The material is current, and a lot of the things that we read have to deal with real-life experiences. It’s very important that professors assign work that the students can relate to. Because no one likes to walk out of class feeling, ‘What was that for?’ You want to make some type of connection.”
The Hell’s Kitchen native has been with Baruch for six years, but she’s already a veteran to CUNY. Bernard received her bachelor’s in criminal justice from John Jay College, a second master’s from the CUNY Graduate Center (the first was from Columbia University), and a PhD in urban education, also from the Graduate Center. She has taught graduate-level courses at Hunter College’s School of Education as well as courses at Boricua College. The scholar also holds a deep interest in feminism and women’s studies and looks for ways to incorporate the subject matter into her classes.
Bernard recently published her first book, Black and Brown Waves: The Cultural Politics of Young Women of Color and Feminism, which she says was inspired by her students. “When I started teaching at Baruch, I saw a lot of what I had experienced growing up, so I wrote the book as a response to my female students.” The book is currently one of the readings required for her Women of Color course, which examines the role of women of color in traditional societies of their origin. “I first offered the class in 2006. It had existed on record, but people weren’t teaching it. And I thought, ‘Wow, what a great opportunity.’”
Bernard has become well-known around Baruch for her nontraditional style of teaching. Last semester, as part of their course work, her students organized the production and screening of their very own documentary film. Required to go out and film women and men all over New York City, the students asked them the question, "Are you a feminist?” The result was quite successful, with around 110 people attending the film’s premiere. “One of the things they also had to do was put together this book [which they] called Not Your Mother’s Advice: Problems & Solutions for Urban Women. They were required to write down the problems they were encountering when interviewing women of color and to design solutions. So each article comes with a problem and a solution. And they fundraised to get it printed. So we have our own self-published version of our Women of Color class.” During the Spring 2009 semester, Dr. Bernard had her class organize an open-mic event at the Nuyorican Poets Café, where students performed poetry readings and raised money for the Critical Pedagogy Foundation.
Students in Dr. Bernard’s classes have also been required to take on volunteer assignments that last through the whole semester. Last term, students partnered with the National Organization for Women (NOW) to write campaign letters against advertisements negatively biased against women. The students located advertisements all over New York City and wrote letters to the companies describing what they found offensive. According to Bernard, Calvin Klein seemed to be the biggest offender for her students. That same class also worked with the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault: “They required 20 hours of training on how to do street surveys. So my students went around New York City and administered surveys on whether girls felt safe in New York City. My students are licensed surveyors now.”
When she’s not teaching at Baruch, Dr. Bernard is invested in research not just on ethnic studies but women’s studies and education theory and practice as well. This coming fall, she will be teaching a capstone course under the Women’s Studies Program, part of the history department, on gender and education. The course addresses how girls experience college based on their race and gender. The professor believes it’s very important for colleges to offer ethnic and women studies courses. “Not everyone is just interested in the traditional subjects. Our department and programs like women’s studies give students an opportunity to relate their lived experience with collegiate culture, so that it’s not just about going to school and becoming a mathematician or becoming an entrepreneur, but that you’ve found an understanding about yourself, that you’ve become a well-rounded person.”
—Johanna Marie Ferreira