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Louis Cristillo

Louis Cristillo


TC Lecturer Secures Grant from Deutsche Bank Foundation

Louis Cristillo, a lecturer in TC’s Department of International and Transcultural Studies, recently received $25,000 from the Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation to create and provide teacher training and materials that promote tolerance and respect toward Muslim students in New York City.

Muslim students represent one in 10, or about 100,000, of all students in New York City public schools. In 2008, Cristillo published a compilation of oral histories by Muslim high school students. He followed it with a curriculum guide and reproducible materials for teachers to use in social studies and language arts classes. Both were produced by the Student Press Initiative at Teachers College.

“The oral history is groundbreaking,” Cristillo said. “There are no other sources of Muslim youth voices unfiltered by an academic lens.” Written in the students’ own voices, the oral histories are designed to spark discussions about racial and religious tolerance, not only toward Muslims, but toward all racial, ethnic and religious groups.

The Deutsche Bank Foundation grant will enable him and Jondou Chen, director of the Student Press Initiative, to reproduce the oral history and the curriculum guide and conduct a day-long training session in March for New York City teachers in the use of the materials. Of that group, up to 10 teachers—one social studies teacher and one language arts teacher from middle schools and high schools in each of the five boroughs—will be chosen to undergo another half-day of training, develop lesson plans that will be delivered over several weeks. Each teacher will receive a free copy of the curriculum guide, and their schools will receive 30 copies of the oral history.

Cristillo said Jondou Chen will also lead TC graduate students in observing the pilot classes and giving the teachers feedback. Graduates of the pilot program will serve as resources for their school in creating classroom discussions that foster tolerance.

Cristillo and the Student Press Initiative will also produce research aimed at determining how effective the program is, by administering a survey to teachers and students before and after the pilot classes are taught, and then analyzing the results.

Muslim youth in New York surveyed by Cristillo in 2008 reported that they sometimes face discrimination from their peers in and out of school. And the national discussion about Islam in America, which started after 9/11, was heightened this summer when a Protestant minister in Florida threatened to publicly burn issues of the Koran unless a proposal to build a Muslim community center near Ground Zero was tabled. The minister cancelled the burning, but not before it was widely debated in the media and became an issue in the November midterm elections.

Cristillo’s project, which also involves faculty members and students from the Department of Arts and Humanities and the Department of International and Transcultural Studies, is a response by Teachers College to “what we consider very dangerous discourse” about religious freedom, Cristillo said. “We are a nation that is incredibly diverse, racially, linguistically, and culturally. But our differences should not be the basis for discrimination and bigotry.”

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