Tag Archive: Black Lives Matter

  1. YANG: Coloring the margins

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    Anxiously awaiting my Yale admissions decision in early spring 2015, I was ecstatic to receive a letter of admittance from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The college was relatively close to home, offering in-state tuition to Minnesotan students and a well-established pre-med program. It was everything I could ask for. However, as I opened an invitation to the “UW Day for Students of Color” a week later, I felt an unexpected jolt of confusion. Me? A student of color? Sure, I was a proud first-generation Chinese American, but I didn’t strictly identify as a person of color and certainly not as “yellow.” After a week of staring at the enthusiastically-worded invitation on my desk, I dropped the packet in the trash.

    Weeks later, I eagerly responded to my acceptance to Yale, where I would be free of such identity crises. As someone who had attended predominately white public schools in both Pennsylvania and Minnesota, I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity on campus and by the familiarity and comfort with which people seemed to host and partake in cultural events. Here, I wasn’t a token “person of color;” I was a uniform piece of the student body, just another mind in a sea of brilliant ones. For many months, I felt a sense of community that made me feel safe and finally at peace with my skin color.

    The Halloween Christakis email incident struck in my second quarter at Yale — not just campus-wide, but nation-wide. Suddenly, I felt intensely aware of my cultural background, of my skin color, of my quiet Asian voice in a torrent of angry ones. “Safe spaces” were declared the fantastical product of spoiled elitist children unprepared for the “real world,” and college students as a whole were labeled “cry-bullies” for speaking out against problematic language and behavior. In this flood of conflict, many black students stood together as an inspiring wall of solidarity. They spoke out, and they spoke out proudly. Questions about the name of Calhoun College, highlighted by President Salovey at the class of 2019 freshman assembly, came to the forefront of campus discussion. Black Lives Matter fought for a platform in a siege of national dissent, police brutality and unearthed racism. Meanwhile, the Asian community, including myself, stood in support of “people of color.”

    Even so, our voices were mostly lost in the crowd. Standing at the center of these racial tensions, I became intensely aware of issues that I had happily buried and ignored since coming to Yale. Even in this haven of cultural diversity, I felt as lost about my status as a woman of color as I had a year before. Was I truly a POC? Could I call myself “yellow” with the same pride as the black community? Did I even want to — and was it wrong not to?

    Even now, one year after the Halloween email incident transpired, I stand with one leg in the box and the other lifted in suspense. If I step out, I sever myself from the pride of my identity; if I step in, I lose a piece of myself to the stereotypes of my skin color. I am afraid of enclosure, but in this pivotal time for race relations in the United States, I am even more afraid of exclusion. These issues have burned deep into my sophomore year, ignited by presidential debates and troubling news segments. The “Watters’ World: Chinatown Edition” Fox News segment galvanized a surge of Asian American solidarity on campus, bringing students together for social media campaigns and discussions. In these moments, it feels as if all the sides of me — the side that loves my culture, the side that fears racial conflict, the side that wants to be heard, the side that wants to hide — have been mobilized in a battle around the yellowness of my skin.

    Do I take on a label? Do I wear it with pride? Perhaps the decision isn’t mine to make. Perhaps it was made already by the color of my hair and my eyes and by the UW-Madison flyer proudly inviting me to celebrate myself — a person of color.

    CATHERINE YANG is a sophomore in Trumbull College. Contact her at catherine.yang@yale.edu .

  2. Exhibit merges art and social justice

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    This October, the act of bridging the gap between Yale and the Elm City can go beyond just public outreach and community service.

    On Sunday, the Yale Humanist Community sponsored “Art as Social Justice,” an exhibit and panel discussion featuring seven Connecticut-based artists. The exhibit, which is on display in Silliman College’s Maya’s Room until early November, highlights the role of art as a tool for social activism and building movements. The panel also served as an opportunity to introduce the Green Light Project, a community-based initiative that focuses on creating stronger bonds between New Haven and Yale through the installation of a sculpture on the New Haven Green. The piece, which stands 17 feet high, has nine sides that represent the nine squares of the original New Haven Colony plan. The sculpture will be done in aluminum and plexiglass and will glow brighter as more people surround it.

    Chris Stedman, executive director of the Yale Humanist Community, said that he believes the sculpture has the potential to foster closer ties between the city and the University. He said that it celebrates Yale and the Elm City’s “shared humanity,” encouraging interpersonal relationships among all the city’s residents.

    “We hope that the seasonal interactive sculpture will create opportunities for people to stop, gather and connect with one another in the center of New Haven during a time of year that can feel challenging, even isolating, for so many,” Stedman said.

    Ted Salmon, owner of EWS 3-D — an architectural metal fabrication company — and the sculptor heading the Green Light Project, said he got inspiration for the images directly from the local community.

    Community building and representation were also themes central to the panelists’ works. Sculptor Eóin Burke raised questions about representing figures and bodies in his work through the “lens of privilege” as a white male. Arvia Walker discussed her photography, which features protesters in the Black Lives Matter movement. She emphasized her desire to “change and elevate” the narratives surrounding black and brown communities, something she hopes to do by documenting the movement’s children. Similarly, Susan Hoffman Fishman and Elena Kalman, who work with mixed media, created an interactive installment called “The Wave.” The project was intended to serve as an educational tool to raise awareness about the global water crisis.

    Painter Tracie Cheng noted that even pieces that do not overtly address social justice issues can take on meanings of their own separate from the artist.

    “I really enjoy seeing the amount of questions that come up when people look at my paintings. I like when they answer the questions themselves,” Cheng said. “In instances when they’re really struggling with something, they see so much more depth in my work than I can offer them.”

    Other artists agreed that the role of emotion is central when connecting to a broader audience. Walker said that emotion allows for the piece to become a catalyst in addressing a larger issue, adding that it invokes a human response within the viewer.

    Juancarlos Soto, a graphic designer, emphasized the universal quality art can take on when creating bonds and organizing movements. Soto, who moved to the U.S. from Puerto Rico when he was 16, initially struggled with English and communicated through drawing.

    “Often, when I couldn’t get what I wanted to say out, I would sketch it out. People could then understand what I was trying to say,” Soto said. “Art transcends language, and it amplifies our voices in ways that regular organizing can’t usually do. It’s also something that lasts much longer than the person who created it.”

    On Nov. 13, the Green Light Project will host a fundraising event featuring food from local restaurants and comedy followed by the conceptual unveiling of the interactive sculpture on the New Haven Green.