Wang uses they/them pronouns.
I emailed Karen Wang ’24 about whether they would like to be the subject of a profile. While receptive, they were a little hesitant, and perhaps confused, as to why they would be chosen to be interviewed. But it’s often people who think they are uninteresting that have the most appealing characteristics to find.
For our first meeting, Wang and I met at Pierson for dinner. I showed up first and got us a table, and a few minutes later Wang walked in wearing a dapper outfit, one that was 70’s-esque. They donned a brownish tweed coat and worn-in Doc Martens, both of which I thought paired nicely with their mullet, which has dirty blonde streaks that frame their face. Immediately, I complimented this hairstyle, as it was the first thing about Wang that captured my attention. Throughout the interview, though I insisted against calling it that — “it will be super informal and chill” I said, through the email. “it won’t feel like a clinical interview in any way. just two people talking!” Wang recognized and said hello to many different people in the dining hall. We laughed about funny things that happened that week in class and somehow, the topic of Yale Twitter came up. I was embarrassingly excited to find out that they were active. We scrolled through their timeline and joked about a couple of tweets, then began to talk.
To ease any awkwardness, I decided not to bring any questions with me for this first interview. We started with the usual niceties. Wang is a sophomore in Branford College; I’m a first-year in Pierson but live in L-Dub. They are from Indiana; I’m from Long Island. They’re an ER&M major, considering doubling in Theater Studies; I remain undecided. But after some time, the questions began to center more on them. Wang is involved on campus, which explains why they know so many people. They coordinate events for Dwight Hall and tutor English — although, they’re a “reformed English major.” I made a mental note to ask more about this later. They are involved in Broad Recognition but are focusing their efforts on starting a radio show with their friend that will showcase not only music, but poetry.
At this point, or maybe a little later, Wang asked me about my day. “Ah, this is literally the hardest question for me to answer,” I said. “I honestly don’t know what I do or am doing on any given day.” Wang nodded sincerely, “Me too.” I had said this in the most literal sense; as in I honestly don’t remember what I do during the day, so I find it hard to recall when asked. But I suspected that Wang took my words to mean something deeper than what I intended, that I didn’t know what I was doing with my life in general. I didn’t correct them because I figured the two interpretations mean essentially the same thing. “I do remember,” I said, “seeing a dick drawn in the snow on my way here.” At this, Wang’s eyes glimmered playfully and they smiled saying, “Huh. I wonder what shape Old Campus would be if it were a dick.” We both laughed, agreeing that it would be frighteningly curved and deformed. We disagreed on what section would be the scrotum— they argued for L-Dub, I insisted on the Vanderbilt circle. Wang objected, “No, that would mean that I’m living in a ballsack.” I gave a shrug that meant “oh well.” Next, we bonded on being shit-talkers — “You really are a hater,” they said. “I love it!” talked about their plans to move into an apartment next year with a couple of friends and complained about the dining hall food. Wang offhandedly revealed that they were planning on dyeing the blonde streaks in their hair blue or shaving their hair off completely. I took that as a personal offense. They also said, while giggling, “To be honest, I imagined your face to be slimmer.” I gasped, offended, but then they quickly said, “I mean with a more narrow jawline! Not so… round.” I laughed, “That’s going into the profile.” And again over their protests, “Nope. That’s going into the profile!” But I knew what they meant. Their face was different from what I was expecting too. I had pictured them to have a softer, fuller face rather than the angular and defined countenance that I saw. We seemed to imagine each other to have features similar to our own.
The next time I see Wang, their hair is blue. I was out of breath because I was late — “i’m so sorry!” I text them, “literally running. almost there!” they respond, “sure… i’m about to write a whole novel waiting for you.” I smile when I see them, “Look at you being so productive,” I teased. We walked out of the library and ended up sitting outside the Schwarzman Center. I came prepared with questions, and things that were revealed in our first meeting took on a fuller shape. Wang is from a working-class family in Indiana. They were born in Massachusetts but sent to live with their grandmother in China for a couple of years, until returning to America with their siblings, an older sister and a younger brother. Their grandmother was not a good caretaker, so they were brought back to America out of necessity. And it was a relief, at first, when they arrived.
But as Wang grew older, the pressure placed on them as child and heavy misogyny started to take their toll, causing Wang to question their identity. They were happy to get into Yale, although they are vocal about the school’s faults. I used this as a segue to revisit why they were no longer an English major. “It’s too constricting, I think. I’m only interested in the creative writing classes that are being offered, but not the other classes I would need to take. I’ve never been super sure of what I’m going to do anyway. But I know I won’t kill people for a living.” No consulting or government job either. Maybe academic work on the secondary or postsecondary level but no private schools. Students in public schools need love too, and after all, Wang thought they probably wouldn’t be here if not for the support of their public high school English and French teachers. They came into college thinking they would be a “STEM baddie,” but they no longer have an interest in pursuing STEM nor identify as a woman. They are okay with that change. “Whatever I do, hopefully I’m writing and telling stories about people I care about.”
After Wang said this, I looked up at them and analyzed their expression. It was contemplative, almost grave. More serious than how I figured we’d been taking the interview so far. “You’re so serious,” I tell them. “I don’t think I would survive a day in your brain.” “It’s important to reflect,” they said. “People don’t usually take the time to do this.” I sat straighter as we continued. While Wang talked, I refrained from telling too many personal anecdotes out of respect for their story and the vulnerability that they shared. But the more they said, the more I found in common about truths we both keep.
It was getting colder then, so I asked Wang to tell me fun things about themself. They love Amine — “I used to love Willow, but now she’s weird, Indie Pop and R&B, rom coms, Marvel superheroes and Pixar movies. They don’t like the news, but love consuming media. They use Twitter instead of TikTok and say “comparison is the death of all joy” instead of “comparison is the thief of joy.” They are addicted to buying cheap things off of Depop. We talked about our tattoos — I asked why they chose a dragon. “I just love dragons,” they said. “But it also has cultural meaning” — IBS, whether we prefer to use debit or cash, the indie scene at Yale, their violent dreams. And then we speed round. Favorite movie? “A Sun.” Favorite song? “buff baby” by tobi lou. Music artists? “SZA and Frank Ocean, but in a shallow way.” Most recently read book? “‘Severance’ by Ling Ma.” Favorite part of the day? “Calling my partner and listening to soft rock while I fall asleep.” Someone rides quickly past us on a motorized scooter; we got told by security not to sit on the ledge.
I closed my notebook and told them that we’re finished. I had all the information I needed. “Cool, cool,” they said. We walked back to Old Campus, and while crossing the street, Wang stepped on a shaky manhole cover. “Oh shit,” they said while laughing. “What would you do if I fell?” I acted out what I would do, which is stand wide-eyed in the middle of the street and say an emotionless “oh.” We both laughed and entered our scrotums.