October 17, 2023
Professor Kate Walter retired from the BMCC Department of Academic Literacy and Linguistics in 2018, having joined the college in 1992 and having worked for 15 years as an adjunct, then 11 years as a full-time lecturer at the college’s Chambers Street campus.
“In the last 30 years, Tribeca has really changed,” she says. “Looking out from my office, I watched it go from the funky piers to yachts and landscaped piers with mini-golf and volleyball.”
Alongside the changes in lower Manhattan, says Professor Walter, is one constant: “BMCC was always diverse, with students from all over the world.” She adds that from the perspective of these many cultures, as early as the nineties, classroom dynamics began to evolve in her classes in the Academic Literacy and Linguistics classes as well as in her College Prep/GED classes in the Center for Continuing Education and Workforce Development.
For example, “I saw students who were gay begin to have more of a voice,” she says, and describes a class in which a student made a homophobic comment, “but then another student turned around in his seat and said, ‘I’m gay,’ and told him off. Another time, a student derided the homeless people in our neighborhood, and woman who lives in a shelter told him off.”
Addressing bias relates to critical thinking, and Professor Walter was chair of BMCC’s Critical Thinking Committee. “We developed rubrics to show that students were learning outcomes for critical thinking,” she says. “I’m proud that we started the conversation for the 200 series of courses, and advocated for the development of critical thinking courses that involved religion, science, sexuality and other areas.”
One important time in her tenure at BMCC was the period after 9/11. “I tried to run the class normally, giving midterms and holding conferences, but we jumped every time a plane flew overheard,” says Professor Walter. “The campus was encircled by a gigantic crime scene, protected by police and the National Guard. Every day, we walked past the smoking ruins and breathed the acrid air. Keeping the class moving forward with their assignments began to feel like my patriotic duty, not just my job.”
Another concern was air quality in lower Manhattan. “My class was held in a trailer across from the barge port,” she says. “Every dump of debris sent giant plumes into the air. I felt angry about being exposed to chemicals, then guilty about feeling angry. After all, I was alive and had a job. I contacted the union and lobbied for better air filters on the trailers, which arrived in December.”
A highlight for Professor Walter was meeting one-on-one with students and talking about their writing. “I was a dedicated teacher interested in students’ lives,” she says. “I enjoyed our conferences. A lot comes out in students’ writing, such as the problem solving they were engaged in, and this affected their learning. One student talked about coming out to her mother. Another student was being sexually harassed at her retail job, which she finally reported and thankfully, he got in trouble. These are the kinds of problems students wrestled with then and still wrestle with today.”
Today, Professor Walter applies her teaching skills as a writing coach, and has focused on her own work. She published with Heliotrope Books both a 2021 memoir of essays, “Behind the Mask: Living Alone in the Epicenter” and a 2015 memoir, “Looking for a Kiss: A Chronicle of Downtown Heartbreak and Healing.”
If you have taught or worked at BMCC for several decades or more, and have a unique perspective on BMCC’s growth as the college reaches its 60-year anniversary, share your stories in an email to email@example.com.
- As BMCC reaches its 60-year anniversary, long-time faculty and staff are invited to reflect on how the college has grown
- Professor Kate Walter retired from the Department of Academic Literacy and Linguistics in 2018 after 26 years as a full-time lecturer as well as teaching in the Center for Continuing Education and Workforce Development
- Among other institution-changing events, including 9/11, “I saw students who were gay begin to have more of a voice,” she says