Narih Lee is a Junior at Wellesley College, majoring in English and Mathematics. Narih is a counsellor at PBHA’s Chinatown Afterschool Program (she has been volunteering with the program for 3 years now), she also attended the Women’s March in NYC and did a photo-blog on the same. In my interview with Narih, we discussed her journey into volunteering and her views on volunteering. Narih emphasized the need for effective and unbiased media coverage, especially with regards to the rapid gentrification of Chinatown Boston.
Narih said that most of her students get their news through Facebook and other forms of social media. Very often, the headlines and summaries of the articles students read on social media are misleading or provocative in nature. Narih believes that the current rhetoric on “illegal” immigrants, combined with the media’s representation of illegal immigrants, pressures certain immigrant populations to visibly differentiate themselves from others. Narih claimed that amongst her students, many had developed a hatred towards “Mexicans” for ruining the way that all immigrants are perceived. Additionally, she highlighted many issues with gentrification –– parents are forced to move away from Chinatown and away from their communities, very often children are sent back to China to complete their education, gentrification in Chinatown is causing families to be torn apart and having a negative impact on the mental health of children who lose the homes they grew up in.
She emphasized the importance of ending the gentrification in Chinatown; she also stressed on the importance of unbiased and informative media coverage on the current situation. She identified the language barrier to be one of the biggest obstacles for folk living in Chinatown.
Talking to Narih Lee was an incredibly rewarding experience. Narih changes and drafts her curriculum based on the needs of the children from Chinatown Afterschool Program. She is especially proud of her class, who is invested enough in the program, to want to come back and volunteer PBHA and help other students like themselves.
Julia Leslie is a sophomore at Wellesley College potentially majoring in French and Political Science. In her first year, she joined the Wellesley SLAP (student labor action project) chapter. At the time, Wellesley was one of the last college campuses in the nation that still did not compensate student RAs and house presidents, and one of SLAP’s biggest goals was to fix this. After a few years of constant dialogue with administration, this school year, our RAs and HPs are paid – including Leslie herself, who is a RA this year. But, that doesn’t mean SLAP no longer has a purpose. SLAP’s wider goal is to address issues of financial accessibility, encouraging on-campus discussions of class and continuing to work with the administration for things like securing on-campus jobs for work-study students.
Leslie also works with a non-constituted (does not receive funding from the college) on-campus org that aims to provide leadership, communication, and community organization skills training under the model of Harvard professor, Marshall Ganz. Non-constituted orgs are usually not as well known as their college-endorsed counterparts, so this was my first time hearing about it. She is also seeking deeper involvement in Wellesley Raiz, a latinx org that has been a key on-campus presence post-election.
Leslie believes that most people become involved in activist work related to their personal, lived experiences. For her big victory in 2030, she wishes for universal healthcare for all people of Maine, including children and undocumented immigrants. She said she would have perhaps gone to law school before returning to Maine, her home state, which she describes as being very politically divided and currently led by an extremely conservative governor. She also expressed interested in public school education reform.
I was fortunate enough to sit down and have an interview with Gabby Ballard earlier this month. Gabby Ballard is currently an undergraduate at MIT, class of 2019. She is the co-chair of the Black Women’s Alliance (BWA), who is working to provide a forum to address the needs and concerns of Black women undergraduate students at MIT.
During our interview, we were able to talk about Gabby’s activist work. Her desire is to create an inclusive environment for black women on MIT campus. This includes social programs, events/parties, and partnering with other student organizations on campus who share similar goals. She’s found that her main struggle right now is trying to include other groups of people in the movement to support her cause. For instance, BWA was initially supposed to include black men to further promote the importance of black women’s rights, but advertising the association to that demographic would take away from the work it could designate toward supporting black women.
We were also able to talk more about what inspired Gabby to start her activism work. Gabby grew up in an area where there wasn’t too much diversity in her community, so her parents imbued in her the idea that other people will grow up having different perspectives from her — yet she should respect them all the same. She brought this viewpoint with her to MIT, but she found that not all people were being respected there, and in many other places around the US. She wanted to make a change in the MIT community starting with the demographic she most identifies with. For example, from her experience doing debate in high school, she was always told to try and break down the systematic barriers which prevented others from participating in debate styles. She took this perspective and applied it throughout her life, and especially to the BWA organization once she became co-chair. She also has plans to apply for executive positions in MIT’s Black Student Union (BSU).
Lastly, we talk about Gabby’s visions of the future once her activism work is successful. She stated that her goal will most likely be accomplished through education. Gabby said that with more diversity in the teaching staff of school and university, children will grow up understanding the different perspectives of society and be more accepting and understanding of others subconsciously. Her headline for the victory would be the following: Super Schools: America’s Education System on the Rise
Featured Audio: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B2NhJ7UxMYutaWw5SWtXaWwyLWc
After interviewing Jerron, I learned a lot about him. At NuVu we had already interviewed him to create a wearable sculpture for him to wear in a performance. I loved the energy that Jerron gave off when he was talking about his dancing and work that he does and I think you can hear his excitement in the recording. Before talking with Jerron, I thought of activism as protests, writing, art, or movies. I never thought about dance as a way of activism. Jerron works with On Display which is a dance group that invites people to look at people with disabilities. It is fighting the social norm and showing off the uniqueness of people in every way. As someone who used to dance, I would have never thought to use dance to get my point across. I think by doing this, Jerron and the rest of the dancers are really putting themselves out there in a way that people will love and understand.
I interviewed my friend Mary Pelletier, who advocates for plant-based eating and animal welfare. She’s also been engaging people in conversations online and face-to-face for the past year, and she spends her free time volunteering at a farm animal sanctuary. She makes beautiful artwork as well:
Live and Let Live. (Work-in-progress, courtesy of M Pelletier.)
We talked about the challenges of engaging people— who to approach, and how to approach them. Especially in face-to-face engagement, there was opportunity for people to shut down, and take information personally.
Food is such an integral part of everyone’s life… It’s almost like attacking the very core of who they are.
She mentioned she’s found success when tailoring an approach to the individual and their motivations.
I listen to see if people—if they give any indication that they’re looking to clean up their diet, or be more environmentally friendly, if they’re interested in other social justice movements. I try to build repertoire with them and work that in.
For her, face-to-face is the one of the most effective ways to start a conversation. She finds this approach works way more powerfully when combined with documentary media:
It’s one thing to have a conversation with someone, talking about the ethics of animals. But if they never go, find a video, or look at pictures, or listen to the audio of the inside of a slaughterhouse… It can’t be understated how much the impact of that.
A few other things that stood out to me:
There is so much resistance built into government, fed into education, and reinforced by money and power. Mary imagines reducing resistance into the vegan conversation by aligning her motives with movements people already care about—feminism, reducing community hunger, or the environment.
On a plant-based future: what societal conditions will this create or require? By the time we get to a world without animal products, we will already be in a world without conflicts with human beings, “[because] we wouldn’t be practicing classifying others as commodities.”
I interviewed an 18-year-old activist involved with Food Not Bombs, as well as Black & Pink and a few other groups. (They have asked me not to disclose their name, although they did consent on tape to the interview.)
Their work at Food Not Bombs involves cooking and sharing vegan food with the broader community. As a whole, Food Not Bombs is a self-organized (anarchist) chapter “dedicated to nonviolent social change.”
That Saturday, they had a table setup in Central Square like this, with a giant canvas banner that said: “ALL WAR IS CLASS WAR” in black paint. In front of it, they had written messages in colored chalk in different languages; for example, an Arabic: “Down with the regime!” In Spanish, “No human being is illegal.”
Last week I interviewed Abishkar Chhetri, my friend and housemate, and an inspiring advocate for young refugees. His work encompasses both education and mental health for refugees.
His passion for helping refugees stems from his own experience coming to the United States as a refugee from Nepal. He managed to excel in school in Atlanta, Georgia and eventually find his way to MIT, but he considers himself one of a lucky few.
For many refugee children, school poses a variety of challenges. Many had missed months or even years of schools in their former country, and therefore enter American schools far behind their classmates. They also struggle with language barriers and mental health issues, which make it hard to catch up.
Abishkar has worked with organizations in Atlanta that help provide supplemental educational resources to refugee students entering public schools. While most schools offer ESOL classes to immigrant students, they are ill-equipped to handle the unique needs of refugees, and these groups step in to pick up the slack. Unfortunately, Abishkar says, there are not nearly enough of these groups to support all the refugee students who need help succeeding in school.
He also is currently doing research with the Harvard School of Public Health. His lab is trying to reduce the high suicide rate among refugee communities. They are partnering with local organizations to work on developing and testing new mental health resources that fit the needs of refugees.
My interview was with Lisa Lozano, the president of a MIT student group called Class Awareness, Support, and Equality (CASE). Lisa and other students founded CASE last semester to address problems that they saw affecting peers from low-income backgrounds. For example, while many students receive financial aid, some still struggle to make ends meet due to the high cost of living in the Boston area. Others send remittances to family members to mitigate the burden of medical needs, leaving little for themselves. CASE has hosted a series of forums to raise awareness of these issues; they have also worked to connect students in need with sources of Techcash cards.
Lisa identified bureaucracy and the Institute’s hesitancy to change to be main barriers in her work. Although many student services have Techcash cards available for students, such support is unofficial and exists in an area of uncertain legality. The same sort of snag was encountered when CASE attempted to publicize their program for matching families of graduating students with faculty willing to provide housing during commencement; CASE was told that until approval was cleared with the many contractors that run MIT’s dorms, they would not be able to contact students using official mailing lists.
While Lisa is graduating soon, she hopes that CASE will gain enough momentum for its work to be continued by younger members. Their website can be found at https://www.studentsonthecase.com/
Last week I interviewed a fellow Beaver student named Joddy Nwankwo. She is a very active member of the feminist movement and she also does a lot of work with minorities. Over the past couple of months, she has attended the Presidential Inauguration Leadership Summit where she got the chance to see many important women around the world speak including Malala Yousafzai. She has also been interviewed by important news organizations like NBC and Teen Vogue. One key thing Joddy talked about in her interview was how people needed to take pride in who they are and their culture, and she also stressed the importance of fighting for what you believe in because if you don’t then you are falling under oppression. Something that Joddy really wanted to see in the future was to have more men be apart of the feminist movement because you can’t get anywhere without everyone’s support. Here is a link to the interview: https://soundcloud.com/alexander-jin-837384517/joddy-interview