Interview with Gabby Ballard

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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

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Interview with Jerron

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 11.32.26 AM jerron-hermanAfter 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.



Interview with Mary Pelletier

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.”


NYTimes hack:

Link to the audio:

Link to written transcript:

Interview with Food Not Bombs Member

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.”

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Interview with Abishkar Chhetri


photo of Abishkar by Bryce Vickmark

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.

For the full interview, click here.

abishkar nytimes

Interview with Lisa Lozano of CASE

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


Audio file of interview can be found here.

Link to hypothetical headline here.


Reflection on Reading

Design is part of capitalist movement. In order to be taken seriously (i.e.not just another capitalist value) it must create set of values for itself so it will be taken seriously.


Critical Design: “Social, cultural, and ethical implications of design objects in practice.” Objects that get the user to think.


Associative Design: “Artistic speculation > design for production”, straightforward, but objects = conceptual.


Speculative Design: Science and tech in design. Thinking about ethics of science. Design = syn bio, robotics, etc. “Process of science considered part of the design process”

Interview with Joddy

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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:

Local Hot-Shot Attorney Appointed Director of USCIS



Nicole (right) representing at ECAASU 2017 Conference. Image credit ECAASU 2017 FB page



In 10 years, that is also what I hope the headline will be. Nicole Fink, a mentor, friend, and attorney, is an amazing example of how we as individuals can affect change in a community. Today, she is an immigration attorney and legal consult for NGOs, but in ten years, I think America’s families would benefit greatly from her appointment as USCIS director, bringing families together, making immigration easier, and ending the immigration backlogs. When I asked her if she wanted to become president, she kindly declined, “I would gray hairs so easily!”

Last week, I interviewed Nicole Fink, who I worked under at the East Coast Asian American Student Union. She was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule, amidst all of the immigration-related chaos and consults to speak with me about how she got started as an activist and community organizer, and where she sees herself in the future.

We discussed a variety of issues pertaining to her work, but what stood out to me was how she pinpointed where our issues with organizing and engaging lie— empathy. We discussed how it was difficult to engage youth because many feel that they have to be personally affected in order to become involved and be engaged with these social and political issues.

Nicole discussed with me the ways that she believed we could start engaging more youth, and I actually had a moment of realization; she discussed the importance of mentorship and how that is needed to kickstart each person’s activism.

The media was also a big point of discussion, and as AAPI activists, we agreed that the problems that Asian Americans faced were not being represented in mainstream media, because they were not the stories that people bought into. (We wanted to clarify, though, that we were advocating for all people of color, and for fair representation of everyone).

If you’re interested in hearing the full interview, in which we also talk extensively about North Carolina’s political climate and the recent ECAASU conference, go to this link of all associated files, where there is an audio file and a transcription as well.



Interview with Avery

Avery is a senior at Brookline High School. She developed a curriculum to educate elementary students about feminism  the goal to empower young people. She also has been doing activist work at an organization called My Life My Choice which is an organization that fights human trafficking.