c/o Chris Sime

c/o Chris Sime

Chris Simé ’23 is, in his own words, chronically outside. From critically engaging with Western representations of Caribbean history in his classes to leading staff meetings as a Head Resident (HR) in the Butterfields, Sime’s packed schedule keeps him flitting across campus. Simé sat down with The Argus in an Exley classroom—in which he said he’s pulled many all-nighters—to discuss his time learning and leading at Wesleyan for the last four years.

The Argus: Why do you think you were nominated to be a WesCeleb?

Chris Simé: I think [it’s] because I’m chronically outside. I don’t think I’m a “celebrity,” but I’ve made myself very visible in my time here because I wanted to. No one can ever say that I don’t live life.

A: And I love that for you. Let’s talk about your academic experience at Wesleyan. What drew you to your major?

CS: I’m an American Studies major and Caribbean Studies minor, [with] a Social, Cultural and Critical Theory certificate. I ended up coming to these topics way before I came Wesleyan. I grew up in a crazy college town: Providence, Rhode Island; I went to high school right across the street from Brown [University]. I [had] a lot of friends and tutors who were Ethnic Studies majors or Africana Studies majors at Brown, and they would invite me to their lecture series after school, and they always had free food. I would go for the free food, but I met so many cool professors who were doing cool research. I came to Wesleyan knowing that I wanted to be a professor and wanted to focus on Black Studies and Caribbean Studies. [The] American Studies [major has] allowed me to do that in a fun way.

A: What was it like growing up in Providence, surrounded by rich, white college students? Did that inform your expectations coming to Wes?

CS:  I’m a first-generation, low-income [FGLI] student, and that 100 percent informed my experience back home and here, but I’ve had the privilege of navigating predominantly white institutions for a while…so that informed my reality in the sense that I knew what to expect before [I got here]. I think that allowed me to know what harm was [possible] in these spaces and to protect myself [and my community]. I’m not sure if I’ve done it well all the time, but it’s something that I’ve been able to share with other [FGLI] students on this campus. 

A: What made you choose Wes specifically?

CS: It’s a funny story. I didn’t know anything about college [when I was applying]. I actually didn’t know what a small liberal arts school was. I went to my first college counseling meeting, and my college counselor asked me where I wanted to go. I said, “I want to go to a small liberal arts school,” because everybody in my school wanted to go to a small liberal arts school. So he gave me like the wildest list of schools—half of them were in Ohio. I remember asking him, “Do you think that I could find a Black barber in these towns? If they don’t, don’t put them on my list.” Later, I came [to Wes] for an admissions event. There was [a Black student] on the panel, and I pulled him aside afterwards, and I was like, “I have literally just one question to ask you. When you’re at Wesleyan, who cuts your hair?”

A: That’s so important. You have your priorities in order. 

CS: It’s not even funny. I identify as a pretty, pretty princess, so I have to keep certain things in check.

A: Are there any professors in particular that have had a significant impact on your time here?

CS: I have been guided by so many beautiful, talented, scholars. I’m a Mellon Mays undergraduate research fellow. In that sphere, I’ve been exposed to so many wonderful people. I want to shout out [Dean of the Social Sciences and Professor of History] Demetrius Eudell and [Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Faculty Director] Tushar Irani for being my coordinators and guiding me through that process. On a scholarly level, [I want to mention] a historian named Andrew Walker. He was a postdoctoral fellow when I was a freshman. He influenced me to pursue Caribbean history. However, my mentor here who has shaped my work and my research and has taught me ways to think revolutionarily about the Caribbean has been [Associate Professor of English and African American Studies] Ren Ellis Neyra. It’s kind of crazy to even think about how their brain works. I think they actually have cared about my learning and taken particular interest in pushing me to think in different ways. They have taken me very seriously in my [scholarly] thought. Not every professor takes you seriously when you make an inquiry or follows up with you about if it’s something you seriously want to pursue. Neyra has pushed me and connected me with other scholars, given me things to read, and given me so much advice that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to repay.

A: That moment of connecting with a professor on a higher level can be groundbreaking. What’s your experience being a Mellon Mays undergraduate fellow been like?

CS: I made really close friends and mentors when I was a freshman, who were Mellon Mays fellows and brilliant thinkers, and who I still [am in contact with] to this day. They told me about the program and [encouraged me] to go for it. It has been a crazy experience. Academia [can be] such a violent place, but it’s also such a fruitful one…. I have a lot of things to say about the world and about history. I have a shit ton to say about how the world has silenced the Caribbean, and why hemispheric discourse is of importance.

That’s what I’ve been doing: running my mouth with this platform. My research studies political censorship of Dominican peasantry post-emancipation, and how popular Western historiography and projects of white nation-making have obscured their efforts, under the guise of criminality, and disregarded them. I’m reading [those efforts] through traditions of voodoo and Black Atlantic religions that memorialize their actions in ways that Western historiography would never think to do. I’m following folkloric songs and traditions, ceremony, [and] divinity. I’m calling [Caribbean ancestors] to speak through my writing and my research in ways that I believe they haven’t been given a voice. Mellon Mays is also a possible stepping stone to future graduate studies. Maybe I’ll be Dr. Chris one day. That would eat!

A: I can definitely see that in the near future. Can you tell me a bit about the internship that you had at Bloomberg last summer, and your work with them now?

CS: First and foremost, I want to highlight the Wes alumni network. An alum, who’s a Black woman who also studied American Studies, got me that opportunity in a really unexpected way. I reached out to her on LinkedIn one day and asked, “How did you go from studying American Studies to being a big-time recruiter in London for this financial and tech news company?”  She told me and I wanted to try too. Like I said, one of my mottos is they can’t ever say I didn’t live life. I like doing things to say that I did it. I never wanted to second guess if being a corporate baddie was for me, so I tried it. I don’t think it is for me, but I lived [that experience].

After working there over the summer, I got an opportunity to keep working with Bloomberg as a campus ambassador and helping recruit people on campus. So I made it one of my biggest goals last semester to be the Bella Hadid of LinkedIn… and it worked. Other students were hitting me up, wanting to talk about my experiences and [find out] how they get jobs at Bloomberg. I was actually on a date recently with someone who recognized me from my LinkedIn. 

A: That’s kinda insane.

CS: It was a little weird. But I learned so much [from this experience] about the power of connecting with Wesleyan alumni, and about what the world has to offer you. When I was in that [corporate] space, I just took the opportunity to learn and grow and to see what was out there. 

A: How’d you get involved in Psi Upsilon [Psi U]?

CS: I got involved in Psi U in my freshman year, largely by accident. I got involved because I was chronically outside, as usual, and I saw that there was an event one day that was being very generous with their resources and having fun on a Friday night. And it was specifically targeted toward queer people of color. So I went, and I met some people and didn’t think about it too much. I told my sister about it later and she was like, “Go have fun! Submit your application. Whatever happens, happens.” So I submitted my application as a joke, then I got picked to be part of a pledge class of people that I never would have been friends with if I hadn’t taken that risk. 

A: What kind of experiences have you had in the frat?

CS: It’s a space that I’m constantly critiquing. It’s a space that I also have found a sense of family and of groundedness on this campus. It’s a space that exists to be whatever you make it. In my time I have [gained] an appreciation for Psi U that I didn’t have when I was a freshman, because I’ve seen how much it’s grown into a really open space, one that has made space for people of color to do whatever they want.

A: You’re also Head Resident of the Butterfields. I feel like it’s a position on Residential Life staff that’s less known than being a Resident Advisor (RA), Community Advisor (CA) or a House Manager (HM). What does that role entail?

CS: For context, I was an RA in Nicholson during my sophomore year, coming right out of lockdown. Then I served as the HM for Psi U and Well-Being House during my junior year. Within all of those positions, I learned how to make community in the strangest of circumstances with a different group of people every year. I think that’s why I have this role, because ResLife has trusted me to make community among [RAs] to help [them] make community among the people [they] live with. It’s not always an easy task, but it’s not always a hard task. It’s about maintaining order and giving what you can to support this wonderful group of people who I supervise on a day-to-day basis in whatever way they need me. So on one hand, it’s leadership.

On the other hand, my role [is] hella organizational and administrative. I overlook feedback forms and lesson plan evaluations. I check in with my RAs to make sure that they’re alive and that their residents haven’t eaten them. I like that part. That’s the part that makes it relatable and human, that makes it feel like I have an ear on the ground. I’ll have an RA call me if there’s a flood or if the fire alarm goes off at 11 p.m. Not a lot of people on campus can say that they know how to deal with that. Ultimately, I’m the RA for the RAs. That’s how I like to say it.

A: What is it like managing a diverse group of staff members?

CS: It’s been a cool learning experience. It’s about managing those personalities with care, flexibility and a sense of humor. At the end of the day, my job is to support all these people, no matter who they are, or what’s going on in their life, and help them support other people who are in a similar boat. To me, it’s not even [that] difficult to manage an eclectic group of people. It’s so fun. As someone who wants to be an educator, hopefully, for the rest of my life, I love the opportunity to practice taking myself seriously, in a professional sense, but also to connect with people who are different and fun and challenge me to be better. 

A: What advice would you give to the incoming cohort of HRs?

CS: Have fun, live, and connect with people. I think that goes beyond just this role. I would say this to anybody at Wesleyan. You’re here to be in a space with people from all over the world who think in so many different ways. Be open and get to know them! Don’t cast judgment, and protect your peace. [Wesleyan] is a place that does not care about your peace all the time. It’s a space that takes your time to do [academic] work. It takes your time doing jobs, it takes your emotional labor. Protect your peace. Whatever that means to you.

A: What about pre-frosh Chris from four years ago? What would you say to him if you had the chance?

CS: Shoulders back. Take a deep breath. Giggle a little. And go on with it.

A: Besides being the Bella Hadid of LinkedIn and the RA of the RAs, is there a legacy you want to leave behind at Wesleyan?

CS: Honestly, no. I think all the memories that I have and all the connections that I’ve made are going to follow me for the rest of my life. In that sense, I don’t think anything is going to be left behind. I think the things [I experienced here] will live with me and live alongside me. If something is left behind, I left my kindness in this space.

A: What’s next for you after Wes?

CS: People like to talk about work. I’m not gonna [do that]. I’m talking about life. I’m gonna live after I leave here, and how do I want to do that? I’m gonna start a book club and get back into pottery and making ceramic sculptures. I’ve been taking pole dancing classes so I’m going to keep shaking my ass on a pole. I’ve neglected my family for a little bit by being away from them. I need to go show them some love. I’m going to talk my shit in a scholarly way. I’m going to read hella books. I’m gonna be a disrupter. I’m gonna live.

A: If you had to choose an album to define your life so far, what would it be?

CS: First of all, this is a shout out to everybody who has Apple Music. The Spotify girls will try to tear us down but you know who you are and you’re that girl. CTRL by SZA will always make me feel 1000 things. But that’s not my life’s truth. That’s why a girl goes to therapy. I’m gonna say Renaissance because, like Beyoncé, I am an earth sign and I am that girl and I am a boss. I love to be fun and dance and giggle.  I love Beyoncé. She’s just so creative and restrained and intentional about everything she does. I think it comes off in such a queer and fun way in Renaissance that I think personifies me [right] now.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Sulan Bailey can be reached at sabailey@wesleyan.edu.

Comments are closed