Yael Horowitz ’17 is completely unconcerned with being “cool,” but that does’t stop her from being the coolest person ever: She’s a highly visible activist on campus who once ordered a Domino’s pizza to President Michael Roth’s office, she’s deeply skeptical of Slurpees, and she’s working on a thesis that unites her majors in African American Studies and Film Studies. Horowitz sat down with The Argus to talk about her Myers-Briggs personality profile, growing up around the world, and stealing (just a little!) Weshop candy.
The Argus: Why are you a WesCeleb?
Yael Horowitz: Why am I a WesCeleb? The real reason, or the fake reason?
A: Let’s start with the real reason.
YH: Because I manipulated myself into being a WesCeleb. But not really. I think the reason that I’m a WesCeleb is because I’ve been involved in activism on campus, and I’m vocal about what I care about but do it in a way that hopefully makes people feel comfortable. So people trust me. That’s what I’d want to be a WesCeleb for.
A: What are some of the things that you’re passionate about?
YH: I care about a lot of different things. I care about, I guess specifically, the AFAM Department on campus. I care about divestment stuff and making sure that we’re invested in morally sound things, if we have to be invested anywhere. I care about campus being a space that’s safe for people, so justice, more generally.
A: You were part of the group that occupied President Roth’s office in 2015 for divestment, right?
YH: Yes! The sit-in. It was so fun. We had a person who was videotaping it, so that made it feel really official. We walked into the room, and they closed the door in our face, but we pushed our way past Dean Rick [Culliton], I think it was, to get into Roth’s actual office. And then I got to read out the manifesto we had written about why we were there, which was really exciting. And then we kind of settled in, and different people were working on different parts.
But I think my favorite part about occupying Roth’s office was that at night, after everyone had left and it was kind of quieter, we ordered Domino’s pizza into his office. And so we all just sat around his big, fancy round table and ate really shitty pizza in this really bougey office. It just felt like we were running the place for a little while.
A: Did you go through his stuff?
YH: No. We wanted to be really respectful so they wouldn’t write us off as these rowdy students. So we were there for a purpose; we wanted divestment, so we weren’t going to destroy his desk or anything. But we did accidentally leave a green pillow there, and he e-mailed me the day afterwards and was like, “Please pick up your pillow by the end of the day.”
A: How have you changed since freshman year? What are some things you’ve stopped or started caring about?
YH: I think freshman year, when I got here, I was just like, “I’m going to dive into a lot of activism stuff!” And I was really involved with some of the sexual assault stuff that was happening and the initial resolution about divesting from Israel that happened that year, so in terms of that I’ve stayed the same in how I’ve cared about those things. I think I care a lot less about cultivating a lot of friendships and care more about cultivating deep friendships with the people I care about.
I definitely feel more comfortable in social situations. Like, I can just go to a party and not care about who’s there, who’s not there. That’s good.
A: Do you feel caught up in trying being cool? That seems like something that occupies a lot of people’s brain space.
YH: No. I don’t really like being cool. I moved around a lot when I was a kid, and being cool meant really different things at all of those places, and so I kind of realized pretty early, because of that, that if you just stay the same and don’t worry about what’s cool, it’s better for you. And so I think I’m more concerned with being grounded in the communities that I’m in than what is cool in those communities.
A: Where did you grow up?
YH: I grew up in South Africa, Venezuela, [and] Tanzania, and I spent a year in Israel.
A: What have you learned about the United States since coming to Wesleyan?
YH: There’s a huge culture shock in coming here. I think the way race is talked about in other places versus here is super different. The United States operates on a total binary of what is whiteness and what is not, and I think other places have more of a question and more of a spectrum in terms of that. So that was huge for me, coming here and grappling with my own whiteness, and I learned a lot about that.
Also, Slurpees are so weird. And portion sizes are also super weird here. I’m just like, “Cool.” Land of plenty, but gross plenty.
A: Would you stay in the United States after graduation?
YH: I used to say I would never stay here, ever. I really don’t like the United States, fundamentally. I don’t think it’s a country built on good values. I don’t think countries are really built on good values. I don’t want to stay here, but I feel really invested in a lot of the struggles that are happening here currently, in terms of mass incarceration and Black Lives Matter. So if I did stay here, it would be to invest my time in those political struggles and struggles for liberation, and I don’t think I could stay here otherwise.
A: What’s the threshold for activism? Should more people consider themselves activists? Should fewer?
YH: I think that there’s a lot of different kinds of activism, and I think if more people start considering themselves as activists, there’s a bigger network. I think that it’s also a question of allyship, and I think fewer people should consider themselves allies, unless they’re doing something. I don’t think you can just say you’re an ally. It’s not a noun you can apply to yourself; it’s a verb that you have to be doing all the time, and if you’re not doing it actively in your day-to-day life, I don’t think that should be a word that you use. But I think artists and academics can be activists in their own right, as long as they are very aware of how they’re positioning themselves in relation to other activists, and other people.
A: What’s your favorite thing to get at Weshop?
YH: Ohhh. O.K. It depends whether I want salty or sweet. But sometimes I get one of those things of goat cheese, and then Wheat Thins, and eat that in the library, scooping up the goat cheese. And seltzer. I love seltzer. The ruby red grapefruit one. And then I also like to steal some candy from the little candy dispensers.
A: In what quantity do you steal it?
YH: Very little. Like three pieces. I’ll be buying candy, but then I’ll also steal some, so I pay less, but I’m still paying something. But now they’re going to watch me more.
A: Are you an extrovert?
YH: Yeah. I’m ENFP. Myers-Briggs. Everyone should take [the test], and then tell me what you are.
A: Do you follow politics?
YH: Yes. I don’t really like politics with a capital P. I don’t really think this country is a democracy, and I don’t really think democracy works all that well, so I’m going to vote and think that everyone should vote, but I don’t really have that much faith in it. But I definitely follow political movements and what’s happening in the world in terms of that.
A: Are you a nice person? Do you care whether or not you’re perceived that way?
YH: That’s a hard one. I once had someone tell me that I was so critical of the world, and so invested in the pain that’s in the world, that I was stopping my ability to love people. And that was like, “Woah.”
A: What a thing to hear about oneself!
YH: Yeah! I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was like, “Oh my God. Am I a horrible person?” But I think that that’s not true. I think I’m a very loving person. I think I’m a very kind person. I don’t really care about being nice. I’m not going to smile at you if I don’t like you, and I’m not going to move out of the way or be polite, because I think that’s also a gendered thing. But I definitely am kind and value empathy more than being nice.
A: Tell me about your thesis.
YH: I am doing a film thesis, but it’s housed in the AFAM Department. I’m making a film using Cardinal Pictures’ equipment about Black Lives Matter and family and how it affects different families. It’s a film, and I’m also doing a written component about how the visual imagery of violence against black bodies affects perceptions of white supremacy. I hope it works out. Right now it’s just a wild bunch of ideas.