by, Gabriella DePinho, Senior Writer
When Cory Blad, the interim dean for the School of Liberal Arts, knew he would be taking over that role, he began the search for someone to work as an adjunct faculty member to take over his class this semester. Anthony “Tony” Capote ’17, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the City University of New York Graduate Center and a Manhattan College alum, saw the posting and decided to apply. In a quick turnaround time, Capote was hired and has now taken over the class.
While Capote is new to teaching at his old stomping grounds, he has been teaching sociology courses at Hunter College for the past two years.
“So coming back here and getting to teach after you know I’ve already had some time to refine my craft, you know it’s not the first time I’m teaching,” he said. “I would be really nervous to do that at Manhattan College, but it’s nice to come in and work with some really, really talented students, and get to live out kind of a dream right which was, when I was going here I really, really wanted to teach at Manhattan, so it’s cool.”
Capote’s dream started as he double majored in sociology and communication with a concentration in journalism as an undergraduate student at Manhattan College. During his time at the college, he wrote for The Quadrangle as a staff member and rose to the roles of Assistant News Editor and News Editor.
“I loved being on The Quad, it was so much fun,” he said. “From the moment I started, I got onto The Quad basically having no idea what I wanted to do and knowing that I really liked this thing called journalism. And I didn’t know what I wanted to do within that field. So at the time there were a lot of really really talented reporters that were sort of going through the sports section … And so I got there and immediately it was like those couple of students wanted me to be a sportswriter, and it was kind of like ‘this is sort of boring,’ like I don’t really just want to go to games and write about them all the time. In that sense it informed me that I really cared about news, hard news. It also equipped me with a lot of tools when I was the news editor … And so what it taught me was sometimes you just got to write four stories in a week and call it a day. So, what was great about The Quad is it just was a great place, especially as a journalism student, to cut my teeth.”
One of Capote’s favorite stories he wrote was about adjunct faculty who were attempting to unionize, which he calls “sort of ironic now.” The story covered how the faculty had cast their ballots, voting to unionize three years prior, but college leadership was stalling the process.
“When I wrote that story that was probably the first time that I had an experience where individuals in power, namely, President O’Donnell, were telling me not to write something or they were trying to not necessarily stop it, but they wanted to approve whatever I was writing and they wanted to see it in advance,” said Capote. “And I was like ‘No, I can’t do that.’ It was a great chance to learn and practice ethics in real-time, in a way where the stakes felt really high. Whether or not they were that high, I don’t know but they felt really high in the moment.”
After graduation, he started working full-time at The Riverdale Press, where he had previously interned. He stayed in journalism for a little bit but realized he had different aspirations.
“After a while, I kind of felt like I missed school and I kind of felt like I missed writing about whatever I wanted and not necessarily catering what I was talking about to the wants and desires of an editor,” he said. “I wanted to do some research so I started applying to Ph.D. programs.”
Now in his fourth year at CUNY, Capote recently passed his doctoral exams and is considered “ABD” or “All But Dissertation,” but that dissertation is well underway. Capote’s area of research is in surveillance or data capitalism, which is an “umbrella term” to talk about how companies such as Google and Facebook collect users’ data and resell it to advertisers.
“The idea is that you can not just predict how people are going to behave, but you can enhance their behavior,” he said. “You can actually target it, you can give them an ad at just the right time and just the right moment and that will literally change their regular behavior.”
In his research, Capote is more interested in the advertisers in this economy, rather than the big companies that resell the collected information, and in how those advertisers use politics.
“Right now they use political ideology, as sort of a means of interacting with cancel culture, for lack of a better word,”
Capote said. “So, what is it that makes Coca-Cola, put a rainbow filter over their profile picture during Pride Month? What makes Nike release a Black Lives Matter ad? And on the other hand, on the other end, how is it then that companies that advertise on Fox News sort of make themselves conservative companies? So on the one hand you have people that are saying ‘we’re woke, and therefore you should give us money because we’re woke,’ and on the other hand you’re saying, ‘we’re not woke we’re anti-woke and you should give us money because we’re anti-woke.’ So that’s what I’m really interested in is that dichotomy and how ultimately what it does is it contributes to sort of an increasingly divided and disconnected population.”
He cites his experience with The Quad as inspiring him to write things that help others, which as a goal, has informed some of his sociological work. Right now, Capote is focused on finishing his dissertation and getting his teaching experience in, but he has certain career goals he is looking ahead towards.
“I love teaching, it’s very much a calling for me that I just, I love doing it,” he said. “I like translating information for people and watching someone get something for the first time is always really fun. Having said that, in the past year, I’ve sort of learned that I also really care about my research, so if you’d asked me a year ago I would have said, ‘No, I want to go to a teaching-based institution’ but I’m also at a point where I like my research and maybe this is hubris, but I think it’s important. So I’d like to go somewhere in the middle. Somewhere where I can do research, and it’s valued, and I have the space and the resources to do that, but also I get to work with students.”
As a Cuban-American, part of his goal of working with students is to be a mentor to Black students, Indigenous students and students of color.
“Ultimately, what I’m really interested in is identifying students of color, right where, you know, especially in higher education students of color are disproportionately sort of left at the wayside and they have a really hard time finding mentors, because frankly white professors don’t really look for them,” he said. “You know, you just kind of find a ton of talented white kids and mentor them. So that’s a long term goal is being able to identify really talented students of color and helping them succeed and giving them the mentorship that they need to live really successful influential lives.”
For now, Capote is happy to be back at an institution that is familiar to him and gives him a place to continue strengthening his teaching skills.
“It is really nice coming back to a space that I know, in an institution that I can work in, and it coming back, it reified for me, how much I love small schools,” he said. “What’s nice is getting to come back here and feel like, to a certain extent, nothing changes. All the same people that you knew are still here, they’re still doing the same job and they remember you. You know, every time I see someone that I haven’t seen in a while they’re like ‘Oh my God, Tony, how are you, it’s so good to see you.’ And that’s a really great feeling. It’s always nice to like come back. It really does feel like coming home … and seeing your family, which is really great.”