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04 Jun
Hybrid (In-Person and Virtual)
Jun 4, 2022 | 11:00 AM-5:00 PM


Alumni College 2022


Welcome to Gallatin's first-ever hybrid Alumni College! We are thrilled to offer the engaging classes you have always known with the excellent Gallatin faculty you have always admired, now offered both online and in-person. Please note that Alumni College is open to NYU Gallatin alumni only. 

This year, alumni have the opportunity to attend either virtually or in-person. Please note: this means you will have to choose your preference for participation, registering for either all online classes or all in-person classes. Unfortunately, we are unable to offer a combination of both online and in-person classes at this time. Due to space limitations, in-person classes will be capped when they reach capacity so be sure to register as soon as possible.

If you wish to participate online: All classes will be taught via Zoom. 

If you wish to participate in-person: Proof of vaccination is required in order to gain entry to the NYU campus and enter the Gallatin building. You will be asked to provide your phone number and then be prompted to upload your proof of vaccination via the NYU VEOCI system. 


Explore the full schedule, class details, and course descriptions below.


Please note all classes are scheduled in Eastern Time. 

10–10:30 am, Alumni Check-In (for alumni who are attending classes in-person)

10:30–11 am, Alumni Welcome from Dean Susanne L. Wofford

Live-streamed from the Jerry H. Labowitz Theatre for the Performing Arts

11 am–12:30 pm, Session One

Moya Luckett (in-person), “Bad Celebrities: Scammers, Digital Media, and Fantasies of Success”
Stacy Pies (online), “The Poetic and the Political: Poetry and The Spirit of Gallatin”
Matt Stanley (in-person), “Carl Sagan’s 'Pale Blue Dot': A Meditation on Humanity in the Cosmos”

1–2 pm, Lunch Break

2–3:30 pm, Session Two

Greg Erickson (in-person), “Introduction to Finnegans Wake: Reading One Page of the Hardest Book Ever Written”
Vasuki Nesiah (online), “Critical Race Theory and the Law”
Myisha Priest (in-person), “Slavery Happened Here ↓”

3:45–5:15 pm, Session Three

Steve Duncombe (in-person), “Utopia, Dystopia, and Social Change”

Sara Murphy (in-person), “Memory, History, Law: NourbeSe Philip's Zong!”
Peter V. Rajsingh (online), “Thinking about Albert (on Gallatin's 50th)”

5:30–7:30 pm, Reception

If you are attending Alumni College in-person or online in NYC, we invite you to celebrate with Gallatin at The Ready Rooftop Bar located at The Moxy Hotel in the East Village.



Steve Duncombe, “Utopia, Dystopia, and Social Change”

For millennia, advocates for social change have conjured up utopian dreams of a promised land of milk and honey alongside dystopian nightmares of a future hell on earth in order to inspire, frighten, and motivate people into action. Both utopia and dystopia function as a means to look upon and critique the present, yet they offer very different paths toward the future. Beginning with a close reading of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and moving into contemporary case studies of artistic activism from around the globe, this class will examine how advocates for change use utopia and dystopia for their purposes, and will explore the politics that flow from each of these visions of imagined futures.

Greg Erickson, “Introduction to Finnegans Wake: Reading One Page of the Hardest Book Ever Written”

James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (1939) is often described as the most difficult work of literature ever written; in fact, it is still debated whether the “novel” is a masterpiece or just an elaborate hoax. The text is written in a largely idiosyncratic language filled with multilingual puns and invented portmanteau words, literary allusions, dream associations, lists, songs, and an almost total abandonment of narrative conventions. For many readers, it is also an intensely fun book to read, with Finnegans Wake reading groups meeting all over the world. In this course, we will get an overall introduction to the novel—its basic form, structure, theme, ideas, and characters—and then take a crack at reading one page of it together: “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.”

Moya Luckett, “Bad Celebrities: Scammers, Digital Media and Fantasies of Success”

Over the last few years, media has focused on a series of high-profile scammers who cheated their way to success, all while avoiding conventional paid employment. Tracing dreams central to the digital age and foundational to its celebrity culture, these con artists carve out perverse forms of fame that speak to the importance of visibility, self-branding and entrepreneurship in contemporary culture. Figures like Anna Sorokin, Elizabeth Holmes and the “Tinder Swindler,” events like the Fyre Festival and corporations like WeWork further epitomize the role fantasy plays in shaping concepts of modern business and idealized lifestyles, concepts themselves tied to dreams spun by Instagram and images of alternatives to the office. Recent documentaries, dramatizations and films about the likes of Sorokin, Holmes, McFarland, WeWork’s Adam Neumann and Remnant Fellowship’s Gwen Shamblin further foreground these scam artists proximity to celebrity, both in terms of their self-branding and the cultural reception of their rise and fall. Even in the aftermath of their trials and convictions, these scammers represent a particular iteration of celebrity that we will discuss in this session, as we consider what the circulation and reception of their stories tell us about public perceptions of social mobility, individualism and the role of work in contemporary society. 

An elastic term, celebrity sometimes has pejorative connotations, particularly when it is applied to those who are considered “undeserving” of fame. This usage typically signifies public outrage, judging and vilifying those who corrupt fragile routes to success in a world where paid employment seems increasingly incapable of delivering social mobility. There are, however, those who celebrate scammers for taking advantage of a corrupt economic and social system. As the likes of Sorokin recognized, they could not achieve what they wanted through conventional, professional hard work in a society that was already geared towards the super-rich. But they could dazzle with images and stories, a strategy that, in a digital age, appears more democratic and accessible. In a world where attention is capital, these figures ironically become more visible as a result of their fall, a move whose implications we will discuss during this session.  

Sara Murphy, “Memory, History, Law: NourbeSe Philip's Zong!”

In 1781, the Zong, a slave ship heading from the West Coast of Africa to Jamaica, found itself in dire trouble. It had not only run out of water, but it was 300 miles off course. To secure profits and to make sure that insurance would pay for the “losses,” the captain ordered 133 individuals thrown into the Atlantic. When the insurance company initially balked at paying, the shipping syndicate sued. The slim records of this legal event are how we know about the Zong massacre. Although abolitionist Granville Sharp’s efforts to “commence a criminal prosecution for murder” failed, the Zong massacre became a key moment in the process of abolishing the slave trade in the British colonies. M. NourbeSe Philip, a Canadian/West Indian poet and lawyer, wrote Zong! as a way of exploring "law's untold stories,” of memorializing the lives of those lost. In this work, she seeks a form to tell “the story that cannot be told, yet must be told, but only through its untelling” (207). What results is a complex text that marks the intersection between memory, law, and poetry. In this seminar, we’ll explore some of this work, engaging the questions of legal and literary form it poses. How does the language of law make and unmake realities and persons? What possibilities does literary form offer to memorialize a catastrophe whose victims we cannot even name?

Vasuki Nesiah, “Critical Race Theory and the Law”

Over the past two years, there has been an unprecedented assault on Critical Race Theory (CRT). In September 2020, Donald Trump denounced CRT and suddenly CRT caught the national spotlight. In the two years that have followed, a series of state legislatures and school boards have banned its teaching, senators have criticized supreme court nominees for perceived links to CRT, and government agencies have issued memos indicating funding cuts for programs seen to sponsor the teaching of CRT. Suddenly, thanks to Trump, a tradition of scholarship that few outside the academy had encountered has now provoked front page editorials and prime time segments on legal scholarship.

What is CRT? An approach to law that was birthed by legal scholars of color in the 1980s, CRT has offered both a critical assessment of the legal victories of the civil rights movement, and an analysis of the role of law in the struggle against structural racism. In this course, we will get an introduction to this tradition of legal analysis in different areas of law such as voting rights and employment discrimination. On the one hand, CRT has argued that racism is knit into the fabric of American jurisprudence, including its celebrated constitutional promises; CRT has exposed the ways in which liberal legalism can reproduce racial injustice even in the adjudication of terms such as "fairness" and "equal opportunity" in ways that lead to unfair and unequal outcomes. On the other hand, CRT has contributed to American jurisprudence by creatively strategizing about political struggles in legal terrains to challenge white supremacy and the racism embedded in American institutions. As Patricia Williams has famously argued, “To say the blacks never fully believed in rights is true. Yet it is also true that blacks believed in them so much and so hard that we gave them life where there was none before.” This course will explore this paradoxical positionality and vexed terrain of struggle against racial injustice in America.

Stacy Pies, “The Poetic and the Political: Poetry and The Spirit of Gallatin”

In the spirit of Gallatin’s 50th anniversary, this class will examine the poetry of the 1970s as an embodiment of the quest for radical change and a new language for living. We will read poems by Adrienne Rich, June Jordan, and Gwendolyn Brooks, among others, as well as the work of Sylvia Plath, whose poetry influenced many poets and activists of the 1970s. We will discuss how the world that these poems sprang from, responded to, and brought forth inspired Gallatin’s founding history. We will also discuss how the values of Gallatin and poetry itself have affected our lives.

Myisha Priest, “Slavery Happened Here ↓”

We should begin with a set of questions: Where did enslavement happen? When did it happen? Who are its actors, and what should we call them—“slaves” and ‘masters”? How and when was freedom achieved and where were the free states?

The answers to these questions are challenging, surprising, and unsettling to our fundamental assumptions about how enslavement happened in the United States, and why. This history is deeply buried and rendered invisible, not only beneath our city’s streets but within our national narrative about enslavement. 

Yes, enslavement did happen here, in New York City. In fact, enslavement was the centerpiece of this city’s economy until its legal end in 1865. This session explores the hidden history of enslavement in New York City in order to trouble and reconsider our understanding of the history of enslavement in the US more broadly. The answers to our questions reveal the ways that enslavement gave shape to ideas of democracy, individual rights, and notions of justice and freedom, exposing the ways that enslavement was not democracy’s foil, but its foundation. Examining NYC will help us unpack our narrow sense of enslavement’s geography and temporality and help us to begin to grapple with it as something that has presence in the here and now, opening us up to one final question: why does the history of enslavement matter at all?

*Please note: this class begins outside at the Washington Place entrance to Washington Square Park (Washington Place and Washington Square East). If you walk straight down to the park from Gallatin, you’ll arrive at this entrance.


Peter V. Rajsingh, “Thinking about Albert (on Gallatin's 50th)”

Albert Gallatin, founder of NYU, and after whom the Gallatin School of Individualized Study is named, is a fascinating figure who was at the center of many constitutional moments that shaped the direction of the American Republic. Lesser known than Madison or Hamilton, he was, nevertheless, a significant force in government. This seminar examines a number of Gallatin's contributions and their legacy, which continues into the present day.

Matt Stanley, “Carl Sagan’s ‘Pale Blue Dot’: A Meditation on Humanity in the Cosmos”

In 1994, the iconic astronomer Carl Sagan took a simple, even crude, photograph and found in it profound connections between humanity and the cosmos. He managed to turn a single pixel into a discourse about what makes us who we are, the meaning of human civilization, and the possible futures of our species. This class will explore the image and Sagan’s analysis of it, where we will grapple with what science can (and can’t) tell us about the universe and our place in it.



New York University and Gallatin provide accommodations to people living with disabilities who wish to attend events at the School, whether in person or virtually. To request accommodations or should you have questions regarding accessibility for an event, please contact Gallatin’s Office of Special Events by emailing