Sammy Morreale ’19 is a Center for the Humanities Fellow, a Questbridge scholar, and a pre-med student turned Second Stage director. He has a reputation for telling tour groups to promote anarchy, and for thinking deeply about identity and space on campus. The Argus sat down with Sammy to hear how he has navigated his four years here, and what he has taken away from them.
TA: You came here as a Questbridge scholar. Can you explain your coming-to-Wesleyan story?
SM: It’s definitely a complicated one in that I didn’t really choose to come to Wesleyan. I didn’t really choose to come to college, necessarily. I didn’t think of myself who was a potential candidate for higher education in most spaces, being that I’m first-gen and low income. I very luckily found out about Questbridge, which is a not-for-profit program that just helps high-achieving low income students who are first-gen to get into these kinds of elite spaces. I didn’t realize that these kinds of schools have an endowment that help people like me come here and graduate debt-free, essentially… I feel so privileged to be here, and I hope I do it justice, leaving Wesleyan. But I truly just threw an application to the wind and hoped for the best. And it landed here, and I found out I was going here December 1st and I knew nothing about it, hadn’t set foot on campus. And then I came during WesFest and fell in love with this place, and I knew that it would be home.
TA: And now that you’ve been here four years, how do you feel like the University has supported you and other first-gen/low-income students?
SM: I grilled Michael Roth about this last semester. Full transparency, because I think that’s really important and something that I value: I will graduate from this institution debt-free. I pay a very small amount of money to go here that is really doable for my position. I think one thing that really bothers me about this school is that we call people “low-income”, which is so vague. I am poor. I identify with poorness. I think there are other “low-income” students who do not come from that background. I think it’s really amazing that the school gives me the opportunity to come here and get an education, but I think that the resources for students once you’re actually here are lacking. Psychological services, career services…I know that they exist, but they don’t necessarily help you with the factors that come with this identity. Especially right now, I am really feeling the pressure of graduating so soon, and I have to get a job in the way that my peers do not have to get a job. I think that puts a lot of pressure on a student, that a school should talk about. We should have those conversations more, so that students feel supported in the ways that they need. Class on this campus is something that we should talk about, and that we never talk about enough. Especially working in Admissions; like I know now that fifty percent of students can afford $70,000 a year here in tuition. That’s a huge income bracket to be in, that I am so unfamiliar with.
TA:. That’s something I wanted to ask you about—you’re someone who pushes for change, who grills Michael Roth, and you’re also someone who works in the Office of Admission. A lot of people would see those things as being at odds with each other. How do you feel like you’ve navigated that relationship?
SM: It’s been such an eye-opening experience, to not only get into this institution but also to understand how this institution perpetuates itself, in good and bad ways. I’m one of those people that definitely thinks that anarchy has its places, I definitely talk a lot about doing away with the institution, and corrupting it. But I think in order to do that, you also have to know the institution. I also think that you just have to be the person in the room, the person pushing for change. I definitely think that people with social power should be willing to take risks without me having to push them. But frankly, I don’t trust people with power. Like, I see people abuse that all the time. So I think it’s important for me to be in that room, and to make them see what they’re doing. I totally think that my job is to sell this school. I totally think that I convince people to come here. But I think that I convince the right people. Because I think it’s a great place, as a tour guide, as a senior interviewer, to have such great power over what kinds of people apply. There have been like 30-some-odd people who have come up to me and said, “You’re the reason that I came here.” Which is actually so flattering, and so frightening. But it means the world that they resonate with the story I tell. I will be unapologetically me in all spaces, and I think that when I’m giving a tour and I’m talking about my disdain for white people, my frustration with richness and class, my own gender and sexual identities, if they can’t handle that conversation then they shouldn’t come here. I see the space that I get to hold as pushing away the wrong kinds of white people, and to encourage the right ones to apply here. And also to help people who historically don’t see themselves in these spaces to see themselves here.
TA: A lot of those ideas are related to the show you’re directing this semester. Can you talk a little about it, and also about your experience with Second Stage in general?
SM: I am so fucking excited about this show. I think to start, I need to give some context around Second Stage. I think that artists have social responsibility. That’s not me saying that you can’t do theater for fun. I think theater for fun is very necessary, but I also think that is a political act. To have joy is a political act. What I found so frustrating is that in producing twelve shows a semester, we don’t artistically program at all. Before I was on staff, there was no affirmative action for how we chose staff or how we chose shows…I want to see people use the privilege they have to offer space and to teach people. I have produced 71 productions in my time here, and what’s baffling to me is that they’re all the same show. It’s a group of white people, with white people problems, acting like they are so marginalized. There’s that one queer character where queerness is their personality. That’s it. And I think that it’s so important that theater focuses on intersectionality. Cause when I see myself on stage as just a brown body puppet, that’s how I start to see myself. And that’s ridiculous. Especially on a campus as critically thinking as this one. So I want us to push ourselves to use all of the privilege that we have. To see white people with all white teams doing all white shows, and then bringing all white audiences back into this theater, is wild. And sad. I think we should be able to do better as a community.
And I also think we need to put this in social power under more pressure. It’s always baffled me that we talk about Blackness, but we don’t talk about whiteness. We don’t realize that they are intricately linked. Next semester, we are producing lots of amazing work that is explicitly racialized, new and old people working on it, people who are really teaching each other. And I decided that I wanted to put up a work, and it’s called “Appropriate”, by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, a Black queer playwright. It’s his only show that is all white people. Which is so not me, like, why would I put that production on? This man wrote these characters as white, and focuses on their white experiences. And how they can’t deal with their white guilt, and run away from their white guilt, and how that perpetuates violence. It thinks about white trauma, as much as that can exist, through generations. And how our inability to teach our children perpetuates hurt and pain, on both sides. I think there needs to be more room for conversations that hold whiteness accountable, instead of focusing on one side of the racial coin. That’s the goal of the show.
TA: Thinking about your experience with Second Stage, how can these ideas extend to the Wesleyan community as a whole? What does the community need to do better?
SM: I would love to see a campus that is more self-aware. It’s not hard. I don’t find it hard to recognize, like, hey, I’m a man in this space and I’m surrounded by women, I need to make sure I don’t take up all the conversation space. I wish I saw more of that at every point. I have a very particular lived experience, I don’t want to generalize, and what has frustrated me about Wesleyan is that it’s full of people who have privilege racially, financially, at every point of intersection, who are like, “I’m not racist, I’m not sexist, I’m not classist. That can’t be who I am. Those things don’t exist in me.” Like, bitch, they DO exist in you! In all of us. I am racist, and classist, and sexist. And I think those things are so important to say about yourself. I think the way we make social change is by naming and defining these problems.
TA: Congratulations, by the way, on being selected as a Center for the Humanities Fellow. Can you tell us a bit about that, and how you arrived here?
SM: I started out pre-med. And then I came here, and I was just suffering in courses. I just realized that I could complicate my education and my path. The real kicker was when I took a theater class, and I just fell in love with it in the cheesiest fucking way. I couldn’t imagine not learning about theater and not studying it. The thing I like about theater is that when you study it, you’re studying everything. Theater is the study of life, I think. Bold claim, but I think that theater has such a capacity to change people, and to teach people about themselves. And I think that if we can fix that, we can fix the rest of it. And that’s what my research is about [for the CHUM fellowship]. I’m thinking about the way that the material teaches us to perform, and the way that performances then, as a material moment, teach us to interact with each other, to make the argument that reality is much more malleable than we think. And if we make direct choices, all of us, we would get a lot more done. It’s thinking about the mass effects of things.
TA: Is there anything else you want to leave us with?
SM: Don’t be afraid to fuck shit up. I wish I could be who I am now as a freshman. It took me so long to gain confidence. I don’t think I wasted time, because I grew a lot while I was here. But I also had a lot of this freshman year, and I was afraid to use it. Like, I’ve been saying those things about Second Stage since I joined. And it wasn’t until this year that I was finally like, fuck this place. I’m ready. To all of the underclassmen, it’s a cheesy thing to say don’t wait, but don’t wait. If you’re feeling bad about something, there’s probably a reason, and you should do something about it. Talk to your peers, and let them help you. Don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable. I think those things are so important. And I hear them so often, but I don’t see people practicing them. Y’all, theory is practice. You have to embody that stuff. And I think that’s all I wanna say.
Spencer Arnold can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.