Dr. Angelina Tallaj, Assistant Professor of Arts and Humanities and FYE Course Coordinator for Arts in New York City, dances in the classroom. A required first year course, Arts in NYC exposes students to the creative movements, artistic genres, and cultural institutions of the city. Anchored in Guttman’s unique Instructional Principles, this course includes and emphasizes the students’ own experiences. Their eyes light up, says Dr. Tallaj, “when I dance bachata and then teach how the steps reflect gender history. I love having my students dance because I want them to know that their bodies have histories and that those histories are legitimate.”
Asked what brought her to Guttman, Dr. Tallaj doesn’t miss a beat before answering: the students, specifically first-generation CUNY students, in whom she sees herself. “My whole education was in CUNY,” from her undergraduate studies to a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology. Newly arrived from the Dominican Republic, “I didn’t have relatives, I didn’t have money, I spoke no English. I want to make possible for students what CUNY made possible for me.”
Dr. Tallaj is a classically trained pianist and an ethnomusicologist specializing in how Dominicans use music to articulate different racial, gender, and diasporic identities. She was selected for the 2017-2018 CUNY Faculty Fellowship Publication Program to work on her manuscript in progress and currently takes part in the CUNY DSI Archives and Library Research Awards Program. Also an accomplished teacher, Dr. Tallaj was named 2017-2018 Outstanding Educator of the Year by Education Update.
While pursuing her degrees, Dr. Tallaj braved barriers against immigrants, women of color, and working class people, both within the academy and in US society. She remembers living in the South Bronx, in the home of a family friend, waking up at four in the morning to work at a bakery, and bringing a thermos of mashed plantains to eat during breaks between classes. “For me, studying was about giving up who I was to learn somebody else’s culture.” This attack on her self-esteem led Dr. Tallaj to the opposite approach. Instead of trying to replace their identities, she advises her students that, “they will be more successful and happier if they actually bring who they are – their way of moving or being or talking – to whatever job they have.”
With her Arts in NYC and LAS Capstone students, Dr. Tallaj does “as much hands-on as possible.” She leads walking tours of public art like murals in East Harlem, graffiti in Bushwick, and art on the subway. Inside the classroom, she hosts musical guests – from African hand drummers to DJs – and conducts immersive activities, like writing raps, creating graffiti tags, learning DJing techniques, and of course, dancing. “In my teaching, I would like the students to get the sense that their cultural experiences matter. And I have seen this as very transformative.”