c/o CJ Joseph, Ava Olsen, Olivia Adams

CJ Joseph, Ava Olson, Olivia Adams, c/o Wesleyan

The University’s Embodying Antiracism Initiative (EAI) has hired three student fellows to join the initiative’s think tank: CJ Joseph ’25, Ava Olson ’25, and Olivia Adams ’23. These students will work with fellows representing community members, faculty, and guest artists in the inaugural Embodying Antiracism Think Tank to put together individual and group projects centering antiracism. They will also attend workshops focused on community organizing and participate in a Leadership Intensive in March 2023.

The EAI, which the Office of Academic Affairs and the Center for the Arts started in 2021, is an arts-focused interdisciplinary initiative focused on developing and strengthening antiracism efforts. It aims to create leadership training and peer support networks for students of color.

At the end of the 2021-22 school year, the EAI opened nominations for student fellows, with respondents able to nominate themselves or any other students who would be on campus in the fall. After this, virtual interviews were held for the finalist candidates, who were notified of their acceptance or rejection a few weeks later. For the student fellows, the EAI offers an opportunity to both achieve personal goals relevant to the initiative and be part of larger projects in the community. 

“[Professor of Science in Society] Anthony Hatch told me about the initiative before the end of last semester and that I would be a strong candidate to apply,” Adams wrote in an email to The Argus. “I may have been nominated by professors, but I also submitted an application…. I thought it would be a great opportunity to connect with other creatives from across the country and receive help and research resources for my thesis.”

Olson, a College of Social Studies (CSS) major, hoped that applying for the fellowship would bring her closer to important conversations about antiracism.

“I heard about this opportunity in May 2022, and I wanted to apply because I was looking for different ways to be more involved in discussions surrounding diversity and inclusion at Wesleyan and this seemed like a great experience to accomplish these goals,” Olson wrote in an email to The Argus.

Joseph, a pre-law student who plans to major in American Studies, Education Studies, and theater, first became aware of opportunities in the EAI while she was in the play “Oedipus El Rey” in Fall 2021.

“I was far too scared of rejection to apply so I just let it be,” Joseph wrote in an email to The Argus. “But then it turns out that I was nominated anyway, and once I found out I was a finalist, I was stoked because I knew about the organization and who they would be collaborating with. I was also so intrigued by the idea of working with other people passionate about the arts and making the world a better place for BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] students.”

Though the application process wasn’t designed to be stressful, Joseph expressed that she was still very nervous at the idea of not getting the position. After combing through every resource about EAI online, Joseph put together a comprehensive presentation of everything she had done relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the past few years.

“[I]t wasn’t required that I do a presentation, [but] I was just so nervous that I’d lose track of some of my thoughts that I figured it was best for me to show my personality and my wants,” Joseph wrote. “I truly complicated it for myself I guess. After that, I had to wait a couple [of] weeks to get the big news! The waiting was definitely the most stressful part.”

Now that the student fellows have been selected, they will begin work on antiracism-focused projects, aided by collaborators in the Think Tank. They will work with the EAI’s three community partners—Junebug Productions, The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB), and Urban Bush Women—and the other fellows on the Think Tank to complete their research projects.

Adams, who is a Film Studies and African American Studies double major, is working on a television series that can communicate antiracist ideas in entertaining and digestible ways. This television series is both her research project for the Think Tank and her thesis. She hopes that participation in the EAI Think Tank will help her along this path and that she can make connections that will improve her thesis work as she goes.

“My major goal is to write a strong and cohesive television show with dynamic characters and a fun storyline,” Adams wrote. “I want to create a show that I’m proud of and can build upon once I enter the workforce and show to others in a portfolio…. My vision is to be in an intellectual community with other creatives whose work integrates ideologies and theories on racism and social activism into their art.”

Olson hopes to be an advocate for Asian Americans through her project and plans to focus both this project and her personal work on her own identity as an Asian American student.

“I’m really interested in looking at Asian American archives from Wesleyan and the greater Middletown area that will ultimately come together to create a historical narrative that I can present artistically at the end of the year,” Olson wrote. “I’m also really looking forward to learning from all the people who are working on [the] EAI team because I think that hearing different perspectives and seeing what other people have accomplished will be super inspiring.”

Joseph, who is still working to narrow down the topic and medium for her project, hopes that it will be a wake-up call for both the University and the greater Middletown communities.

“My major vision is to discover how acting, film, and/or dance can boost intersectionality comprehension in society,” Joseph wrote. “I am still figuring out which topic I will [choose] (I narrowed myself down to 2), but they both address cultural understanding. I want to include Wesleyan students as teachers or test subjects, so if anyone is interested in learning more about what I do, please let me know! I’m excited to wake up the Wesleyan campus and possibly the Middletown community with my project.”

The challenge of these projects, Adams noted, is that the topic of antiracism is so broad and all-encompassing that there is not a simple or single resolution.

“We are trying to find answers to a question that has no easy answer, and find solutions to a problem with no easy solution,” Adams wrote. “The question and issue of race and antiracism efforts on campus is such a broad and large topic that involves the greater campus community. Trying to broach this topic in a focused and purposeful way will be difficult.”

Additionally, Olson explained that the EAI fellows’ lack of a single common goal is another major hurdle.

“I think that once we all start meeting and get the ball rolling on our individual projects, and as soon as we start interacting with each other in the Think Tank, everyone will be able to start to come together and create a focused mission statement that embodies the spirit and vision of the team,” Olson wrote.

Joseph’s greatest frustration so far is the lack of awareness and enthusiasm on campus about major societal issues. She attributed this to the way that antiracism is seen in academic settings.

“Many of our topics are things that we try to get more attention to on campus, but not enough people care,” Joseph wrote. “There is little to no publicity, and if there [is], then people just brush it off. This is the next step in American [education,] learning more about others. Caring about other people shouldn’t be as optional as it is, but it seems negligible because of the framing of the initiative and the subject matter.”

However, Adams emphasized that the EAI’s artistic focus is a uniquely potent way to tackle this complex subject in a well-rounded manner. 

“The great thing about art is that it’s an expressive medium where feelings and emotions can be used to answer difficult questions,” Adams wrote. “Instead of trying to fix and find resolution, the initiative is a space to express our research, findings, and art as we wrestle with this grand topic.”

The initiative and the Think Tank, Joseph emphasized, are not simply exercises in personal enrichment. Rather, they mark a major shift in the University’s goals and culture going forward.

“This is just a starting point to some big academic and institutional changes on the Wesleyan campus,” Joseph wrote. “The student fellows are just people testing projects to see what sticks with the student body and with the community. The initiative and the mindset doesn’t end after the fellowship is over. This is our next step. Be a part of the change and don’t think that this is temporary.”


Sam Hilton can be reached at shilton@wesleyan.edu.

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