Courtesy of Davenport College

Amid the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, several of Yale’s residential colleges have taken steps to encourage discourse on the conflict and celebrate Ukrainian culture.

Davenport College held two discussion sessions for students with professors and fellows who are experts on the conflict. Organized by Davenport Head of College John Witt, the events were “impromptu, late-in-the-day conversations” that brought students together with academics. This weekend, Pierson College also hosted a fundraiser that benefited a human rights organization currently helping in Ukraine.

“There were a lot of students who were glued to their Twitter feeds, as I was,” Witt said. “I knew also that we had a bunch of faculty members who were fellows in the college, who had real expertise in and around Ukraine and Eastern Europe, geopolitical strategic questions and military history. It felt like the kind of thing we should talk about.”

On Feb. 25, Witt brought in Marci Shore, an associate professor of intellectual history; Louisa Lombard, an associate professor of anthropology; Graeme Wood, a staff writer for “The Atlantic” magazine and Jim Silk LAW ’89, the Binger Clinical professor of human rights at Yale Law School. Lombard and Wood are residential fellows of Davenport College. 

The second Davenport event, held on Tuesday, brought students together with Paul Kennedy, a history professor, and Arne Westad, a history and global affairs professor. As Witt noted, the events were not designed to be lectures; rather, they were intended to create informal spaces that gave students an opportunity for discourse about the Ukraine crisis.

“It was partly drawing on their expertise, and then partly also giving students an opportunity to talk about what they were seeing and what they were feeling,” Witt said. “And we on the faculty side, we were all really interested to hear what the students’ reaction was, what [the next] generation was thinking about.”

The Davenport discussions were held in the Head of College house. Witt noted that his living room was “packed to overflowing,” with roughly 60 attendees on Thursday and 50 on Tuesday, which reflected an “outpouring of interest.” 

Several Davenport students who attended the discussions expressed positive feelings about the events as well as appreciation for Witt’s efforts to support students.

“For me, both conversations came at a time when I wanted context that news articles couldn’t provide,” John Brockmeier ’23 wrote in an email to the News. “Some of that context came from history professors and their academic research.”

Brockmeier added that some of the professors invited to the discussions had previously lived in Eastern Europe for many decades. He said this personal experience added important context to the talks.

Dominick DeFazio ’22 said that the discussions reminded him of “how incredibly dense with talent and expertise Yale really is” and that they epitomized what Yale should be for students — “a place of both insight and comfort.”

“Having gone to an international school near NATO headquarters in Brussels, I was close friends with many Ukrainian students in high school,” DeFazio wrote to the News. “At a school like Yale, there are so many students like me who have ties to the current situation in Ukraine — through friends or through family — and I feel like these discussions with experts on the subject … were incredibly calming in an insightful and informed type of way.”

On Saturday, Pierson College also hosted a fundraiser to benefit Razom, a Ukrainian-American humanitarian relief organization. Organized by Grace Zdeblick ’22, the event allowed students to decorate pysanky, or traditional Ukrainian Easter eggs, while raising funds to benefit Razom.

The practice of creating pysanky is an ancient Ukrainian tradition that predates Christianity. Zdeblick told the News that decorating pysanky is a “very significant tradition in Ukrainian culture,” and Ukrainian folklore surrounding the practice suggests that the number of pysanky made each year affects ”whether good or evil will triumph in the world.”

“My family’s Ukrainian-American,” Zdeblick said to the News. ”And I was talking with my family about how this was affecting us and reflecting on how I’ve felt connected to Ukrainian culture in the past, and a lot of that’s through this art. And so it felt important to try to get more people to partake.”

The event, which was hosted in the Pierson Dining Hall, included a suggested donation of $20 for all attendees, all of which went to the Yale College Council’s ongoing fundraiser for Razom.

In the future, Zdeblick hopes to run a second pysanky-decorating event, with the goal of placing the pysanky into an “egg mural” depicting the flag of Ukraine.

“People seemed to have a really fun time,” Zdeblick said. “People got really into it, which was really heartening for me since it’s such a special tradition.”

The Russian invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24. 

Giri Viswanathan was a Science and Technology Editor for the News. Previously, he served as a Photography Editor while covering the School of Public Health for the SciTech Desk. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, Giri is a junior in Timothy Dwight College majoring in Global Affairs with a certificate in Global Health Studies.
Alex Ye covers faculty and academics. He previously covered the endowment, finance and donations. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, he is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight majoring in applied mathematics.