On Wednesday, youth advocate Dr. Monica Brase gave a lecture and led a discussion about the problems faced by homeless teenagers in honor of Ujamaa and Black History Month. The presentation, which also included brief talks by some of Brase’s students from Classical Magnet School, served as a kick-off event for a campus-wide clothing drive that will begin this week and continue until the end of February. Collection boxes will be placed in residence halls, Usdan, and the Freeman Athletic Center. The clothes collected will be donated to a Hartford shelter that serves homeless teenagers and youth.
“I realized that there was a problem in Hartford [while working] at a nonprofit,” Brase said. “Over the course of the three years that I was there, there were a lot of young people I worked with who had problems with housing, either because they had problems with their parents, or they had just been evicted from their homes.”
Brase added that her experiences in education motivated her to work toward helping homeless youth, particularly teenagers for whom resources might not be readily available. She noted that many efforts to alleviate homelessness among youth focus on younger children and are not set up to properly serve the needs of teenagers.
“It wasn’t until five years ago when I worked at Classical Magnet School that I had that one student who had been in an abusive situation—there were no resources for her,” Brase said. “That was the tipping point when I knew that people weren’t doing anything and that I needed to do something and start speaking out about it. That’s when I started a student group, and since then it’s been our goal to raise awareness and meet the needs of homeless youth.”
Approximately 10 to 15 students at the magnet school participate in Brase’s advocacy group, Action Against Youth Homelessness and Hunger. Taylor Dauphin ’15, who was a member during her time at Classical, spoke first during the presentation. She said that her experience working with the group opened her eyes to the difficulties confronted by many teens.
“It made me realize how much I had to be grateful for,” she told The Argus after the discussion. “I definitely think that there really isn’t a focus on youth homelessness—not just here, but everywhere, and I thought that this [event] was a good start. I think it definitely got people thinking, especially with the privilege walk, and I hope that it doesn’t just stop there.”
After discussing common stereotypes about homelessness, Brase noted that about 1-1.5 million teenagers experience homelessness once a year in the United States, a statistic that may be underreported. She then asked students to participate in a “privilege walk,” during which students silently stepped forward or backward in response to questions about past experiences.
Chantaneice Kitt ’13, who organized the event, spoke about how pervasive problems of homelessness and hunger are, and the importance of bringing attention to these issues.
“Having this presentation also helps you explore your own experiences,” Kitt said. “It was definitely personal for me, and it was important for students at Wesleyan to understand that this was much closer to home than people would think.”
The presentation ended with comments from a few high school students who had accompanied Brase. They spoke about some of the advocacy group’s past efforts, including setting up food pantries, organizing food drives, and starting awareness campaigns.
Ashley Ramos, a senior at Classical, has been working with Brase for almost five years.
“I joined [Dr. Brase’s group] because I know what I’ve been through—homeless-wise and hunger-wise, not having a place to sleep, not having meals to eat—and I don’t want a lot more people to go through the same thing I’ve been through, so I joined the group and I’m doing as much as I can to raise awareness of the issue,” she said.
Those who participated in the discussion activities were receptive to the concerns brought up by Brase’s group.
“[The presentation] was really mind-blowing,” said Phabinly Gabriel ’13, who attended the event. “It made me realize that you have to be really cognizant of different issues that pertain to students and teens in general. It elucidated an issue that hasn’t really been talked about.”
Yu Vongkiatkajorn contributed additional reporting for this article.