But on Wednesday, during spring break, she was using stencils and ink and abbreviated English to write her current message — “Homeless Prof.” — on a white ski vest she planned to wear on a solo trip to Albany two days later to protest working conditions for adjunct college professors.
Ms. Cerasoli has been an adjunct for several years at Mercy College in Westchester and several other places in and around New York City.She says she uses film, music, culture and food to shape her lessons and to tell students, “Worlds open up to you when you learn a foreign language.”But while encouraging students to major in foreign languages, she does not encourage them to follow her path into adjunct college teaching. The work is rewarding, she said, but not the pay: several thousand dollars per course, with no benefits.Ms. Cerasoli, a former New York City schoolteacher, currently teaches two Italian classes at Mercy, splitting time between its Westchester and Midtown Manhattan campuses. For her, the professorial lifestyle has meant spending some nights sleeping in her car, showering at college athletic centers and applying for food stamps and other government benefits.After being unable to keep several apartments, Ms. Cerasoli began couch-surfing a year ago, relying on friends. There was the unheated basement in Bronxville, and the room in the Bronx with no hot water. She is currently living in a small room in a Co-Op City apartment, also in the Bronx, courtesy of a friend — who is about to be evicted.
“We’re basically squatting here,” she said, while preparing for a trip to Albany for her one-woman demonstration in front of the state’s Education Department building. She planned to urge officials to improve conditions for adjuncts at public colleges as more universities save money by reducing their full-time teaching staffs.Until recently, Ms. Cerasoli taught at Nassau Community College on Long Island, but lacking seniority, she was not assigned any classes this year, she said.“They call us professors, but they’re paying us at poverty levels,” she said. “I just want to make a living from a skill I’ve spent 30 years developing.”Ms. Cerasoli cuts a cheerful figure riding her bicycle to class, and otherwise scraping by. Last year, a used-car dealer in Westchester who pitied her gave her a car and allowed her to keep her library of foreign language books in his office.Ms. Cerasoli regales people with stories from her years living in Rome, when she worked as a tour manager and interpreter for Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder and other stars performing in Italy.
The stories include stumbling upon a shirtless Mr. Dylan backstage, and ordering a talkative Mr. Wonder to butt out of an argument about concert logistics. She inspires students with tales of working with Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joe Strummer, Rickie Lee Jones and Chaka Khan, she said.“I tell my students, ‘I got to do all that because I was bilingual,’ ” she said.A teacher in New York City high schools for 10 years, Ms. Cerasoli quit in 2006 after sustaining an eye injury. She then spent some years selling jewelry and cars.Ms. Cerasoli, who grew up in Hartford, completed her bachelor’s degree in foreign languages at Hunter College and earned her master’s from Middlebury College in Vermont in 2010. That has left her with unpaid student loans, she said, adding that she has no health insurance and faces sizable unpaid medical bills related to a thyroid condition.