YohelyWesCeleb MediumIf you’ve ever attended a Monday-night lecture on campus, chances are you’ve encountered this week’s WesCeleb energetically participating in discussions or presenting her latest intellectual endeavors. Throughout her time at the University, Yohely Comprés ’24 has harnessed her interest in African American and Latin American Studies, coupled with her creative passion for art, to delve into her academic pursuits. As a resident advisor (RA), member of WesQuisqueya, Mellon Mays fellow, and more, Comprés has undeniably maximized her university experience, leaving an indelible mark on the community as she transitions to new endeavors. This week, The Argus had the privilege of sitting down with Comprés to discuss her academic journey and the numerous projects she has undertaken at the University.

The Argus: I know you’ve been involved in a lot of different things during your time at Wesleyan, but what have you been the most excited about getting involved in during your time here?

Yohely Comprés: Going to the Dominican Republic [(DR)] with the Africana Research Collective was one of the experiences that I will always remember because I was able to see my country in a different way. I also wrote a grant and I wrote a proposal for this, so it gave me a lot of professional development as well. Bringing people who were not Dominican to the DR was also dope. But also I wasn’t just showing people; I was also learning with them. I met community members, community organizers, and artists that I still keep in contact with.

A: What has been something that you have been excited about getting involved in during your time at Wesleyan? 

YC: So when I got here, we had WesQuisqueya, but then sophomore year [it] kind of died down, and then junior year I [wanted] to bring [it] back [after being] inspired by people who graduated. We met last week to organize all our events for the semester. We do a theme each semester. The theme for this semester is art and music, so we’re doing collaborations with WesLatin and Ballroom, and one of my professors is bringing Dominican artists to campus. For Latine Affirmation Month, I applied to be the coordinator because I wanted to show people that Latinidad isn’t a monolith. I felt like in a lot of spaces, it is assumed that Latinidad is very Central American or South American and the Caribbean gets forgotten, and I couldn’t graduate without bringing awareness to that. I kind of focused the whole month on the formal and bringing an Afro-Latine scholar to talk about Reggaeton and music. And I wanted people to have fun and enjoy the music while learning about it. Bringing a scholar also allowed people to have fun, build a community with each other, and build solidarity across WesQuisqueya and LASO [Latin American Student Organization]. I know LASO was new, so involving them in the process was important. I couldn’t have done the work that I did for Latine Affirmation Month without Kimberly [Sanchez ’25] and Keely [Grande Torres ’25], who were the presidents last semester. 

A: As an RA, do you see your interest in building solidarity as informing your approach to community building at all? 

YC: Yeah. I applied to be an RA because I wanted to build community. [During my first year], I lived in Clark Hall. I was one of the few people of color on my floor. You have to not only work with your coworkers but also with the residents. I was very big on asking my residents what they wanted. I didn’t want to have power over my residents because that wasn’t my job. I wanted to build a community. Now I’m the head resident for the Butterfields, so that means I manage all the RAs that work in the Butts, which is another way to build power. I’m peoples’ supervisor, but I’m also a student like them. I have to have one-on-one meetings with the RAs, and those are so much fun because you get to meet people one-on-one, and discuss the issues that they’re having and give them advice while also letting them know that they’re equipped to make good judgments. The other side of that was the union, and I was involved in WesUSE [Wesleyan Union of Student Employees] and doing something that I knew was gonna benefit not just me but other people and waking up early as hell to be in the negotiating room so that we can get a fair contract. 

A: Can you talk a little bit more about your fellowship with the Center for the Humanities? Did this fellowship at all relate to your work in the Mellon Mays Fellowship? 

YC: So, four seniors get picked each semester for a certain theme. The theme last semester was personhood. I attended each lecture of the Monday-night lecture series from the Center for the Humanities. After that, we did workshops for each lecture. The speaker would bring questions that they had for us. We would also prepare questions for the speaker to give them the space to think of the limitations but also the successes of their project. At first, it was so scary and I’m so thankful that I had my fellows with me, Chris Hadley ’24, Ethan Park ’24, and Josh Kleiman ’24. We continued communication after, and helped each other with our theses. Presenting alongside them about their theses was dope. With Mellon Mays, we just met weekly and the seniors talked about our thesis and grad school. We have people like [Assistant Director of Fellowships] Erica Kowsz from the fellowship office come and talk to us about fellowships, or librarians here at Olin who come and talk to us about the collections that we can take advantage of. It’s a really cool experience there too of building community with people that have the same professional interests as you. I went from being a junior who was looking up to the seniors and now being a senior who can give advice to the juniors.

A: What was the final presentation like? 

YC: Each semester we have a conference at Yale with all the northeast region Mellon Mays cohorts. So my first year of junior fall, I was there as an audience member. Junior spring, I was there in a research group sharing the ideas [behind] our thesis and workshopping that; it was very laid back and low-key. But then senior fall, I presented the first chapter of my thesis. It was really cool because I got to meet other Mellon Mays fellows from the region.

A: What professors or people have been important to your academic journey at Wesleyan? 

YC: [Assistant Professor of African American Studies] Garry Bertholf taught AFAM101 [“Introduction to Africana Studies” during my first year]. I’ve taken three other classes with him, and out of those classes, I’ve always come out with an idea for my thesis. [I’ve been] very inspired by the work that he does centering Black feminist thought, and I think I came to that because of him. [Assistant Professor of Latin American Studies] Carolina Diaz is so smart and so attentive to the work that she does. My favorite class with her was called “The Other 9/11” [SPAN283] and it was centered around the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. We watched films and read books that talked about the dictatorship. We analyzed art, and it was such a dope experience. For our final project, we had [to make a] sculpture of sorts and that was cool as well to tap into that creative element, to say a message without having to write it. She’s one of the greatest things that I will take away from Wesleyan. And then there are other professors like [Assistant Professor of English] Tyrone Palmer, who I’ve taken multiple classes with and who helped me think through my thesis; [Assistant Professor of African American Studies] Professor Zaira Simone-Thompson as well [who teaches] on geography; [and Professor of English] Natasha Korda, who’s the director of the Center for the Humanities. Kristin Oberiano, who was a fellow last semester, has given us so much advice about things like thinking about graduate school and, you know, being a scholar. 

A: Can you talk to me a little bit about your thesis? How did you come to your topic? 

YC:  So again, it all begins in AFAM101. I bombed the first exam that we had for [that class] And I met with Garry over office hours and he was like, ‘Read this book, “In the Wake,” by Christina Sharpe.’ It was an extra credit activity [where] we had to read the book, analyze each chapter, and write 250 words. I did it because I needed the extra credit badly. [But] in one of the chapters, she’s talking about ‘the hold’ of the ship, and thinking about the people who decided to jump overboard, or the people that were thrown overboard during the Middle Passage and how the elements that were in their bodies are still in the ocean. That’s how I came to think of the water and the ocean as a symbol, but also, as material space and geography that combines all the things that I want to talk about, and so my thesis now is thinking about how the water and the Atlantic Ocean allowed for people to do what I’m calling by way of the Paul Taylor, ‘Black Life World Making,’ and how Black people resisted the conditions they were in and the influence of the water in that resistance. So in the first chapter I look at maritime metaphors and the blue humanities, and then I’m thinking about Erzulie who’s a voodoo spirit and [other] Afro-Dominican creative writing. There’s this book called “Erzulie’s Skirt,” which is kind of at the center of my thesis, and the work of Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley, who’s going to be on campus in April, so I’m excited about that. I wrote a chapter from my Caribbean geographies class with Professor Simone Thompson. I wrote a chapter on the Dominican Yola, which is a small boat made by people who travel to Puerto Rico. Thinking about the Yola as an archive of people migrating and thinking about maritime migration as a way to escape the conditions of being in the DR but also the hope and the dream of getting a better life in Puerto Rico as a stepping stone to get to the United States. In all of my chapters, there’s art, film, and music. That comes from Carolina Diaz again and just like thinking about the ways that water shows up in all these different forms. 

A: Moving into something less serious, what has been your favorite Wesleyan memory? 

YC: I don’t think I have a singular one. I think being home with my friends, watching movies and cooking together, and baking cookies at 3 a.m. [are some of my favorites]. I love doing that. I will always cherish the ability to be able to do that and be in such proximity to my friends.

A: What advice would you give your first-year self? 

YC: Freshman year was tough. Just do what’s best for you, center yourself, and the connections that you’re making on campus, because I think those are the memories that I’m taking with me. 

A: Where do you see yourself after graduation? 

YC: I’m pursuing a PhD. I applied to grad school. I’ve gotten into two of the six programs that I applied to; I’m really excited about that. For me, pursuing my PhD is a continuation of the work that I’ve been doing here with my thesis. I applied to programs in African American studies but also romance studies and English. [I’ve been] thinking about the different spaces I can continue to do the interdisciplinary work that I’ve been doing here at Wes.

A: Any last words? 

YC: I’ve just been doing my thing! 

Correction notice: This article initially stated Kristin Oberiano’s name was Christina Buriano. This has been fixed in the article. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Jo Harkless can be reached at jharkless@wesleyan.edu.

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