“The thing that you always want as a professor is that moment when the students get what you’re talking about… see something and connect it to their lives, or see [something] in their lives and connect it to [what’s] happening in the classroom… When you do something in a class and the students say it was the first time they did that, or the first time they saw the point of something.”
There is little that Associate Professor of Sociology Dr. Alia Tyner-Mullings has not done as a Guttman Founding Faculty, joining in 2011, a year before the College’s doors opened to students. Colleagues assume, she laughs, “that any committee that exists, I’m on it, which obviously is not true.” Dr. Tyner-Mullings has chaired Guttman’s chapter of the Professional Staff Congress since its inception, a position she has held through several election cycles and crucial contract negotiations. A vocal advocate for establishing the Academic Senate, she presently serves as its Vice Chair. Dr. Tyner-Mullings has collaborated to revise Guttman’s unique two-semester Ethnographies of Work (EoW) sequence and, subsequently, to create an Open Educational Resource (OER) for these courses. In addition, the acronym she coined for the Guttman Learning Outcomes that articulate educational goals and reflect the institution’s vision for our students – GLOs – has been heartily adopted.
Calling herself a “progressive educator,” Dr. Tyner-Mullings has taught Critical Issue during Summer Bridge, nearly all of the offerings in the First-Year Experience, including Quantitative Reasoning and Statistics, and a number of courses in the Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) – Humanities and Social Sciences Program of Study. Her most frequently taught course, Introduction to Sociology, is also her favorite. As she describes, “I learn so much from students when we talk about New York culture. There’s always something they bring up… that I’ve never heard of. It’s always interesting to hear what new things students are engaged in.” Focusing on their interests and concerns, Dr. Tyner-Mullings has students free-write and identify a question to examine more closely. “How do you think you could answer this question? What are some sociological aspects of this question?” she asks them, sharing that, for her, “it’s always about the sociological imagination… I want students to leave my class understanding… all the different things that are behind individual social interactions,” such as gender, race, and class. Dr. Tyner-Mullings illustrates this with the “point in The Matrix where, all of a sudden, Neo can see things in binary code.”
This reference to film in the context of teaching indicates Dr. Tyner-Mullings’ disciplinary background in the sociology of education and the sociology of popular and US culture. Currently, she is analyzing qualitative and quantitative data she collected on “how representation in Disney movies has changed over time” in terms of culture, race, and gender. In so doing, “I’m challenging… people to think more about the general content of Disney” animations, ultimately “changing the way we catalog them and how we think about them chronologically.” Long-term, this inquiry will expand to the values communicated through worldwide exposure to Disney films and products by age 11, and “what effects these messages have on people later in their lives.” Students in Dr. Tyner-Mullings’ first LAS Capstone course have the opportunity to participate in conducting this research, strengthening “the argument that Disney movies are a type of education,” the content and impact of which require in-depth study.
Simultaneously, Dr. Tyner-Mullings is investigating the practices of high schools within the New York Performance Center Consortium, a group of small NYC schools that evaluate students’ knowledge and skills using portfolios instead of Regents exams (with the exception of English Language Arts). “It’s a lot of project-based work, groupwork, small classes, close relationships with teachers – all of those things that we pride ourselves on here” at the College. Dr. Tyner-Mullings sees Guttman as an extension – “the college version” – of the alternative high school models at the heart of her scholarship and prolific publications since her doctoral work at the CUNY Graduate Center. It matches her educational philosophy and ambitious research agenda perfectly. In addition, “I really wanted to be a CUNY legacy,” becoming the third generation in her family who has graduated from and taught in the system. “I love being here at Guttman,” Dr. Tyner-Mullings shares emphatically. “I love the students, I love the work that we’re doing, and I want to do everything that I can” to ensure that the institution remains at the forefront of student-centered, innovative higher education.