Rohan: My name is Rohan Naik, I am a senior in the class of 2018, majoring in history and pursuing an academic certificate from Human Rights, and I’m from Houston, Texas.
Oriana: Great. So, Rohan, could you talk a little about being from Houston, Texas, and what it was like to grow up there?
R: Yeah, I really enjoyed growing up in Houston. I think it’s, you know, a really really diverse city, it’s grown a lot, it has a large immigrant population, good weather, relatively inexpensive compared to a lot of other big cities in the U.S. It’s pretty sprawling, so a lot of people maybe haven’t been to Houston but maybe know or have been to Los Angeles, so it’s very similar, I think, in composition and also in terms of urban—how it was built. Like Houston is very spread out, it can take you an hour or two to get from one point in the city to another. I think you might really enjoy growing up there, and I think a large part of that was because I had a really nice family life. I went to a pretty conservative middle school and high school which wasn’t very diverse, so there weren’t that many Asian Americans, but my parents were involved in Indian American communities so I felt like I got to experience that.
O: Who… like who is part of your nuclear family? You said your parents—
R: My nuclear family? Yeah, so it’s my parents, my mom and my dad, and my sister, and my mom’s mother has also spent a lot of time with us in Houston.
O: Younger sister, older sister?
O: Okay. How much older?
R: Three years older.
O: Okay, cool. Could you talk a little bit about your parents, maybe?
R: Definitely. So my parents were both born in India, my mom was born in [Hyderabad], which is this city in the south of India, and my dad was born in Mumbai, and they both moved to the U.S. to get graduate degrees in engineering, and then they met in Silicon Valley where they were both working. They were not super enjoying that, and they, my dad, decided to buy a Burger King, he wanted to become a business owner, so he bought a Burger King in Houston and my parents moved to Houston with my sister, she was like one or two years old, and then I was born in Houston, and my dad, over the years, bought many more. So that’s what they do, and my mom now works in real estate, so it’s kind of funny because neither of them do anything related to engineering at all. Yeah, I think for my parents, you know, their whole… I mean like yeah, for me, my sister, the priority has always been on our education, always, every single decision that my parents have made has been for me and my sister, and I think that’s something that I really appreciate.
O: Do you feel like they had a certain philosophy while you were growing up about how they were bringing you up?
R: Besides education?
O: Yeah, or like, what specifically about education—like, we’re going to make sure you can get the best education, or education is valuable because of these reasons, or?
R: Yeah, so my parents were thinking, what could we do to make sure our child is the most successful, in places that are safe and where they’re learning, and use education as a tool to success in the future, so I think a lot of it was that mindset. Yeah, I don’t really know how to answer your question.
O: Yeah, I mean, how do they define success?
R: I think being… I think first being happy, which is a much longer conversation, but also having—being able to support oneself, and be financially independent, and financially secure, I think that’s something that’s really important to my parents, and has become really important to me too, because I think that—I think that people from backgrounds of privilege are able to romanticize that in a way that people of other backgrounds aren’t, so I think part of being successful is that. I think also success for my parents is realizing the importance of family—for my nuclear family, family is the most important thing. So my parents’ idea of success is not just having a good education or having a good job but having flourishing, strong relationships and being responsible to everyone in my family. And the same with them as well, and making sure my family in the future is… together and connected and flourishing.
O: So you mentioned that your high school and middle school were pretty conservative. So did you go to a public high school?
R: No, I went to a private school my whole life. So I went to a school that was K through eighth grade, but I left that school in fifth grade and then I went to another private school that was K through twelfth but I joined in sixth grade.
O: I see. What was that like, was it a big school?
R: Yeah, I think it was hard because the first private school I went to was much more diverse and there were many more Asian Americans, and then I went to this other school from sixth to twelfth, which was a really hard transition just because there were very few Asian American students and it was also about forty-five minutes to an hour from my house. So I already didn’t know anyone but was already different from other people and I think that was the first time that I conceived what different was and how difference can make someone feel really vulnerable. And I think—you know, my time, I really enjoyed my time at that school in some ways. I think that the teachers and the students, you know, really… caused me to learn in different ways, and I really appreciated my academics there, and my extracurricular projects and my service projects. But I think it was challenging, being—like, learning to bec—like, conceptualizing for the first time that you’re a minority, and also not being comfortable with that and not having an avenue necessarily to become comfortable with that, so I think in that, you know, people can conceptualize difference as powerful in certain situations, but I didn’t have the understanding or vocabulary to do that at the time, and I think I felt very negatively about being Asian American and being Indian American.
O: Do you have specific memories associated with that? Like, do you have a moment that you think of where you’re like, oh, suddenly I realize I am different.
R: Um… You know, I think a lot of my friends throughout school kind of made jokes about my being Indian, and it wasn’t anything offensive, they did not mean anything negatively about it, but I think when other people make those sorts of comments to you it’s like you are different, you’re like, well, why am I different, why do people view me as different? And feeling negative and bad about that. I also did have an incident where someone—I remember I was on the track team in sixth grade and someone referred to me as “Osama,” which was something that was really upsetting for me, and that obviously is like… you kind of know what someone’s saying when they say that to you.
O: Yeah. So what were your friend groups like in high school and middle school?
R: Yeah, I mean the school itself was very well-off and pretty wealthy, so my friend groups reflected that. So I didn’t have that many Asian friends and I think that, you know, being an Asian wasn’t cool and I wanted to be cool, so I didn’t necessarily seek out Asian friends, either. Yeah.
O: Did you—are you still in touch with any of your friends?
R: Yeah, I’m still in touch with some friends. Not most, though.
O: Mmhmm. How about here at Yale, has it changed, the makeup of your friend groups?
R: Yeah, I mean definitely. I think at Yale, Yale’s resources in terms of, um, in terms of connecting students to aspects of their heritage or aspects of their identity more broadly, I think through—I kind of got excited about getting involved with the South Asian community at Yale because that’s not something I really had at my school, so I really wanted to do that. And through the Asian American Cultural Center, I really learned to become comfortable with who I am, and have friends who look like me, and be excited about that, and talk about things we shared, whether through family or food or just general stuff, that’s been really awesome and I think that has really been reflected in my friend groups.
O: So what are some of the things that you’ve done with the South Asian community?
R: Yeah. Yeah, so kind of exciting that I joined the South Asian Society as a freshman, and every year we put on a few cultural showcases, which is kind of a fun thing to, like, show—teach people about South Asians and South Asian culture. And then last year really excitingly we got to put on a big conference called the South Asian Millennials Conference at Yale, which hosted a bunch of different speakers and panels related to South Asian experiences in the U.S. So what are major issues facing South Asians today, we talked in panels about immigration, islamophobia, representation in Hollywood. And I was just excited to see so many students come out for that and students from different universities, and, like, to see a cohesive South Asian community at Yale as well. And… yeah, and also having some of my friends who aren’t of that background come out and be really excited to learn about that was really exciting. Um, trying to think what else. Yeah, and through being a Peer Liaison with the Asian American Cultural Center for two years, it’s been exciting to get to mentor underclassmen Asian and Asian American students as well, and I think I’ve really benefited from having Asian and Asian American mentors. And when I say mentors, not even that much older, just a few years older than me, and so wanting to give that back to the community.
O: Have you… learned from the people that you’ve mentored?
R: Definitely. I mean I think one of the most exciting things about the mentorship program is that—so of PL [Peer Liaison] programs I believe that the AACC’s PL program is the largest because it is the largest cultural center, it serves the most students. And so it’s just really endlessly exciting how diverse our population of Asian and Asian American students is, which I guess this whole project has kind of the goal of displaying that, but I mean as a purely—interacting with two of my freshmen is like night and day. And I think learning that what students face cannot be reduced to one aspect of their identity is really important. And just in general I think with learning—with teaching—with being with students and really talking to them, I feel like I’m also learning that a lot of mentorship is leading students to come to their own conclusions, so there have been times when people have expressed their situations to me and I’ve given them advice, and in my mind I’m like, I know I’m giving you this advice, but I know you’re going to leave this room and not take it, and that’s not because they didn’t value me or didn’t believe what I was saying, but I think a lot of personal change and personal growth has to come from within. I’m sure this happened to me when my FroCo [First-Year Counselor] told me things freshman year and I was probably like, oh, that’s a good point, I guess, but whatever, and now three years later I’m like, yeah well I should have done that. So I think leading people to come to their own decisions rather than giving blanket advice. Yeah. So that’s something I’ve learned.
O: Yeah, absolutely. I definitely feel the same about some of the stuff FroCos told me. Um… how about… let’s talk about academics, maybe?
O: So you study history. What is the area that you’re focusing on?
R: Yeah, I’m focusing on American history. I’m really most interested in twentieth century American history.
O: Like a specific aspect of that, like prewar, postwar?
R: Um… yeah, I think mostly prewar, like late nineteenth century, early twentieth century.
O: Do you want to talk a little about what your senior thesis was about?
R: Yeah, so my senior thesis was about the involvement of the Puerto Rican community in New York in the Civil Rights Movement. So I focused on the period of 1959 to 1963, so tracing Puerto Rican racial consciousness and how Puerto Ricans worked alongside African Americans and how they saw their own view within the Civil Rights Movement. I kind of came to that topic because I took the Long Civil Rights class with Crystal Feimster last spring, and I was really fascinated by the class because it kind of portrayed a history of the Civil Rights Movement that had not been mentioned—well, had been mentioned, but had not been taught to me, and I think has not been taught to many people, so we focused on a lot of more obscure Civil Rights heroes, especially women who were involved in the Civil Rights Movement, a variety of student groups, so kind of beyond the Martin Luther King narrative. And I wanted to focus on an aspect of Civil Rights that was outside of the norm of what is normally taught in schools, and I was really interested in this one boycott in New York that was in February 1964. It was a one-day boycott, it involved 400 schoolchildren in New York, so it’s one of the largest Civil Rights demonstrations in American history. Yet we—most people don’t know that it happened. We talk about Civil Rights in schools, we talk about Selma, we talk about Birmingham, and we should be talking about those, but it’s just interesting that this event which was so large is really just not widely known. So I was really interested in that. And as I started researching it I became interested in that one of the reasons why it was successful was because it relied on two communities, not just African Americans but also Puerto Ricans in New York. So these two communities kind of came out in full force, and that kind of got me thinking about the role of other minority communities within the Civil Rights Movement—within the traditional Civil Rights Movement—and I started getting interested in the larger Puerto Rican Civil Rights Movement and the larger Latinx Civil Rights Movement. So I think, yeah, kind of from the boycott went there, and then was looking at, you know, a lot of Puerto Rican history that’s well-studied is the Young Lords onwards, so a lot of scholars have heard about the Young Lords and Black Panthers in the late 60s and the radicalism and the war on poverty, et cetera. But there really is not nearly as much on the period before. So I was kind of like, What gave rise to the radical nature of the Black Panthers, what did this period before look like that allowed those two groups, the Panthers and the Young Lords, to come together and work together? And so my thesis was trying to piece that together.
O: Very cool. How about the Human Rights Program? You do a capstone for that, right?
R: Mmhmm. Yeah, so I did a capstone project, and then I organized a gun buyback program in New Haven, so I was working with the Yale Police Department and the Yale-New Haven Hospital to do that. And… yeah.
O: Cool. How do your parents feel about the stuff that you do academically?
R: Yeah, I think they’ve always been really supportive about it, there’s always been a stereotype that Asian parents want kids to do math and science, and I think to an extent for many people that is true, and my parents both come from math and science backgrounds. But I think for my parents it was more, You should pursue scholarship and excellence and leadership to the highest degree, but do that in a discipline you like. So it’s still kind of Asian parent-y, but applied in a different situation. So I think they’ve been really supportive. Yeah.
O: Did you always know you wanted to do history, or was it something that kind of happened?
R: Yeah, I was always kind of interested in history. I mean it was my favorite subject in high school as well. But then I came to Yale and was kind of like, Maybe I’ll do economics. And that just… red flags after my first semester. And, you know, I was deciding between history and poli sci [political science], but I really just liked the intellectual approach to history at Yale, whereas I really did not like the intellectual approach in poli sci. I feel like in history there was a lot of value in, like, we are going to study this even though this might not have direct relevance to my life today, we can still draw connections and analyze whatever this thing is, and I think exploration was really encouraged in all of my history classes and within the broader history department. And I felt that poli sci—well, for me, I felt like it was kind of, well we need to learn this because of this, and this is directly related to your life and this and this, and that’s really useful knowledge, but I also think there’s something really awesome about learning about things that are seemingly more removed, and I think that was more encouraged in history. And that was really exciting.
O: Mmhmm. But I mean your project has a lot of relevance to—
R: Definitely. I mean definitely my project does. I think I’m talking more about classes I’ve taken about, like, seventeenth century Iranian history, or I took a British art seminar about, like, the sixteenth and seventeenth century in British art, I’m taking a class right now called Life and Death in Ancient Athens. And of course all of history has relevance to my life, of course, but the connections between seventeenth-century British art and my life today is a little more tenuous than, you know, studying the evolution of the American health care system, or something like that.
O: Yeah. Definitely. What are some of your favorite classes that you’ve taken?
R: Yeah. So I mentioned Crystal Feimster’s Long Civil Rights Movement. I love classes that challenge narratives that I know and expose me to new information and new sources of knowledge, and that class definitely countered the traditional Civil Rights narrative. So in addition to that I took Health Care for the Urban Poor with [XXX] last spring [spring 2016], which was a really wonderful class—I didn’t really know much about the history of health care, and she looks at medicine through the lens of race, so how different racial and ethnic communities have had access or have not had access to medicine. And that was really interesting. I think when I’ve taken classes before that were ethnic studies courses they didn’t really focus on access to medicine. A lot of them were focused on education, or inter-group relations, or poverty, which of course all of these things are related to medicine but in my mind they had not made that clear connection yet. I really enjoyed that. I’m taking a really wonderful class, Life and Death in Ancient Athens, right now, which is really fascinating and has made me really wish I took more classics courses. And then also I really enjoyed my human rights capstone course that I took last [fall 2017] semester.
O: Um… I guess, what are some of the things you wish other people could get out of learning history?
R: Yeah… you know, I really wonder the extent to which we take classes out of our comfort zone, and I mean one of the things I love about history is the history department at Yale is pretty broad, and they could definitely have many more classes on Latin American, African, for sure, but as a history major I’ve taken such different courses and that’s been really exciting. And I think people could, you know, you can really draw connections to I mean a lot of things today but it’s also just really fascinating to see how insane debates come over and over, so my class on ancient Athens, we talked a lot on citizenship and immigration. What constitutes citizenship, who was seen as a citizen, who was not, who was at risk of losing citizenship, who was not. And I think we are discussing that all the time today. So seeing how these debates have been repurposed and refashioned throughout society is so interesting. I remember also I took a class on early modern England last semester, and wrote my final paper on homelessness and vagrancy in sixteenth-century England—in sixteenth-century London. And the way that the state regulated and criminalized poverty is very reminiscent of today. And the whole time I was writing it I was like well this is exactly what’s happening today, which is alarming for many reasons but also a fascinating intellectual connection to make. And I think that at Yale we, you know, we are obviously drawn to fields we are comfortable with, but I don’t know how much we take—how many classes we take outside of our comfort zones. And maybe I’m even a little hypocritical when I say that, because when I say take a class out of my comfort zone it’s like I’m taking still a history class about a different topic, I’m not taking, like, a mechanical engineering class, but, yeah.
O: Yeah. How did you get into human rights as a—just like, as a topic?
R: Yeah, um. I mean I had the opportunity to work on community service topics in high school, which I really enjoyed, and a lot of my courses at Yale, I think, kind of emphasized imbalances in access and imbalances in privilege, and I wanted to connect my academic work with personal extracurricular work, so I wanted to pursue service in some way at Yale and then the Human Rights Program seemed like a great way to bridge my intellectual interests with my own personal interests, and I think that’s kind of how I became interested in it.
O: Mmhmm. Um… what—if you’re comfortable talking about this, what do you plan on doing after graduation?
R: Yeah. I’m not sure.
O: Not sure?
O: Do you have an idea, like what direction you want to move in, like do you want to do academia, or do you want to move into…
R: Um… no, I don’t want to do academia. Yeah.
O: Okay. Cool. Yeah, let’s go back to your family quickly for a sec. Would you be willing to talk about your relationship with your sister?
R: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, my sister and I are very close. We always have been. I think that she’s someone I can go to, really for anything, she’s always been looking out for me and very helpful. Yeah, it’s funny, when I was taking Spanish, I would send her things at, like, 12 AM and be like, “Can you please send this back to me by my 9 AM class?” and she’d always do it, which is sort of a somewhat trivial and silly example, but we are really close and feel responsibility towards one another.
O: Yeah. What is she doing now?
R: She’s working in Boston.
O: Cool. Do you still see her often, now that you’re both out of the house?
R: Yeah, we do see each other a fair amount. Usually at home, she’ll usually come back for the same breaks that I come back at, and it’s hard to go up to Boston or New Haven during the school year, but we still make time for that.
O: How about, like, the two of you and your parents, what’s that relationship like?
R: Yeah. I think we’re very close to our parents because obviously we spend a lot of time with them, like that’s been a huge priority for my parents is that we speak on the phone often, we see them often, and I think that I very much look up to my parents as well.
O: What do you like to talk about?
R: Well, really just filling them in on my life. My parents really like to know everything that’s going on in my life, and I think it just also brings them a lot of happiness to feel really connected to what I’m doing at Yale, to know what’s going on. So I talk to them about that, I talk to them about how to navigate academic situations or social situations or stress or pretty much everything. So yeah.
O: Are you closer to one parent over the other, or?
R: No, pretty equally.
O: Mm. What about your relationships with your friends here? What’s that like?
R: Yeah. I think I’ve been incredibly, incredibly lucky to find a really supportive community of friends at Yale. Yeah, I think people who really are always there for me but also push me intellectually in many ways, and also people who are extremely humble, which is a quality that I really enjoy. Like people who are not only humble within personal relationships and personal interactions, but bring a humility towards intellectual inquiry. And what I mean by that is admitting what we don’t know, and pursuing activities and events or whatever that broadens our scope of knowledge.
O: Did you kind of gather them through extracurricular activities, or through classes, or how?
R: Yeah, it’s really hard to say. I think it’s kind of a mix. I became really close to a few people I lived with freshman year and that’s kind of stayed constant throughout Yale, and a few other people I just met through classes, through—you know, not really through extracurriculars, but through classes, and once you meet one friend, they introduce you to another, and it kind of spirals from there, and I think that’s how I gained many friends, yeah.
O: Yeah. I guess—do you see yourself as the person who—do you have, like, many different friend groups or do you hang out with people one or one or everybody’s kind of around?
R: Yeah, I think I do have many friend groups by this time at Yale, through different activities, or that I met at different points at Yale, yeah.
O: Yeah. Do you—are you sad to be graduating?
R: [sigh] Yeah, I think Yale has given me a tremendous amount, and when I stepped on campus three years ago, I never in a million years would have imagined who and how I would be leaving Yale as. I think Yale has challenged me and changed me in so many ways, it’s made me kinder, it’s made me smarter, it’s made me a better person. And I know not everyone leaves Yale with that feeling, so I really am tremendously grateful for that. So I’m sad to leave Yale, both because it’s introduced me to people who have definitely changed my life, and it’s also exposed me to so much knowledge that I never had before and allowed me to learn in new ways. And I’ll definitely miss that, but I think I’m also really excited to apply that to the real world, and kind of start a real life.
O: Mm. Why did you pick Yale?
R: Yeah, I think that Yale—I applied early to Yale, got in, and that was kind of it for me. And I don’t even know that I had a conception of why Yale. I think at the time I was actually really attracted to New Haven because at the time I saw New Haven as a city that, like, was a medium-sized city that I wanted to go to college in. I didn’t want to go to college in New York City or a city of that size, I didn’t want to go to college in a rural area, so I think that was a large part of it. And also the idea that pursuing, you know, urban studies, and living in New Haven and working in New Haven was exciting to me. I think the residential college system was also exciting to me at the time. And the strength, you know, obviously, of Yale’s humanities programs.
O: You didn’t want to stay in Texas? Like you knew that for sure?
R: [sigh] I think so. I think that my parents also saw college as a time for growth and growth happening away from home. As much as they wanted me to be close to home, they were really excited about Yale.
O: Did they ever have this expectation that you would end up at an Ivy, or was that kind of a self-driven thing?
R: I think it was very self-driven. I think that my parents wanted me to pursue education to—at a very high degree, and I think naturally there are some schools in the U.S. that have more resources than others, though obviously you can pursue education to a high degree at any school, so—that was a really bad answer. [laughs] Don’t put that in. What was the question again?
O: [laughs] Did you parents push you to apply to an Ivy.
R: Oh. Yeah. No, so I think my parents wanted me to take college seriously and wanted me to take academics seriously, but going to an Ivy was my choice.
O: Mmhmm. Um… when you got here, what was that like, I mean the transition? I mean, there are so many different things—like the climate…
R: Yeah. Honestly, the transition was very easy. [laughs] Which I think is something that I’m very lucky for because I know for many students it isn’t, but I think I felt well-prepared academically, I went to a private school that had rigorous academics where most students form relationships with professors, so I knew how to interact with TAs [teaching assistants/teaching fellows] and professors, I felt prepared. Socially I was, you know, in a suite of people that I really enjoyed. I was living on the first floor of Lawrance, so by virtue of that I got to meet many people, joined a lot of clubs, was really just excited to immerse myself in Yale, so really the transition was very smooth.
O: Mmhmm. Do you still live on campus?
R: No, I live off campus.
O: What’s that like? Or—why did you—when did you move off campus?
R: I moved off campus after my sophomore year, and the main reason was that most of my friends were moving off, and I wanted to live with friends in different colleges, and that’s made harder by the residential college system. And—you know—I’ve absolutely loved the community in [Ezra] Stiles [College, one of the residential colleges], I also cannot speak more highly of the leadership in Stiles from Stephen Pitti and Alicia Schmidt Camacho [the Head of College and Associate Head of College, respectively], and our dean, Nilakshi Parndigamage, who have really reared the community and I think make it a really welcome home to students of all backgrounds, so I was really grateful for that but I was also excited to be a little bit more of a real adult, living off campus with friends from different colleges.
O: Mmhmm. Do you cook?
R: No. [laughs]
O: Do your friends cook?
R: Some of them—they definitely all cook more than me, but they definitely don’t cook all that often either.
O: Mmhmm. What are some of the things—you talked a little about SAS [South Asian Society] and about the AACC, but how about other extracurriculars? What other things do you spend your time with?
R: Yeah, so besides the AACC I did a lot of journalism stuff at Yale, so I’ve worked for the YDN [Yale Daily News], I was on The New Journal board, I worked at the New Haven Independent and ProPublica, so that’s been something that has always been really exciting to me, like learning the stories about others and sharing them and also making complicated events digestible to an audience. That’s a hard skill, and I think through journalism you learn how to be a sharper person but also a sharper writer. So I pursued journalism at Yale, and in addition to that I’ve had the chance to get involved with outdoors activities at Yale, so I’m a FOOT [Freshman Outdoor Orientation Trip] leader and a member of Yale Outdoors. Those have been really exciting things because I didn’t really have access to that before Yale. And then I guess finally I’ve been interested in public service projects, so I was a Communication and Consent Educator my sophomore year. As CCE, I started running sexual consent workshops and bystander intervention workshops, and then had the opportunity to intern at IRIS [Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services], which is the local refugee center, and then obviously I worked on this gun violence program this past year.
O: So for the YDN, you were a WKND [Weekend, a weekly arts and culture insert] editor?
R: No, I was a reporter for Mag [Yale Daily News Magazine] and WKND.
O: Cool. What was that like?
R: Yeah, you know, I really enjoyed it. Like I said, I really enjoy journalism because it allows you to be exposed to, you know, a worldview far beyond yourself—when you’re interviewing people, if you’re doing it right, it’s a humbling exercise because you’re dedicating your time and your energy to someone else’s stories. And that is a great way to learn, not only about them, but also about yourself. And yeah, as I mentioned earlier, putting complicated events—making complicated events digestible is not easy, so it really helped my writing a lot, so I think I really enjoyed it. It was a lot of time, definitely, but I think I got a lot out of it.
[Office1] O: Why longform, versus the shorter stuff?
R: Yeah… I think there’s something really compelling about creating—crafting a narrative, and a narrative involving people, and people are so fundamentally complicated that you really get to explore that complexity, and often that paradoxical complexity, in longform in a way that you don’t through news briefs. So if I write, you know, a short YDN article about the YCC [Yale College Council] election, I mean there’s a lot there and that certainly displays some complexity, but through longform you’re able to trace someone’s identity and someone’s own story in a way that I find really appealing.
O: Do you prefer writing or editing or vice versa?
R: Um… yeah, I think I definitely prefer writing. I think the craft of writing is challenging and difficult, but also really rewarding, and I think you—yeah, I think it’s a great experience.
R: It’s hard, but it’s enjoyable.
O: Yeah. Do you do other kinds of writing, or is it mostly journalism?
R: Mostly creative nonfiction.
O: Okay, cool. Have you taken the creative nonfiction classes?
R: I really haven’t taken that many English courses at Yale, journalism-specific courses. I think in part because I really view my time at Yale as, like, I want to take classes about things that I don’t know about, and I felt like I kind of had some sort of journalism background, and I’m sure I would have gained a tremendous amount as well, but I felt I was sort of attracted to classes about things that I didn’t really have any idea about.
O: Mmhmm. [pause] So in terms of journalism—I don’t know, I mean, so I’ve also done a little reporting, and something that I’m always thinking about is if I’m flattening people’s stories. I always feel a little guilty about, like, am I presenting something correctly. How is that process for you?
R: Yeah. I think there’s an interesting intellectual exercise, like what is the role of the journalist, how journalists should depict someone and what rights—like who is a journalist, even, to use someone else’s story. And I think at the end of the day that is sort of a, a, it’s a really fascinating intellectual debate, but it could go on for the rest of my life, I could never know the answer and I probably will never know. But I think of journalism as a tool to… cause and highlight social change is something that’s drawn me to it.
O: Do you want to do more of it?
R: I think I definitely do.
O: This is going all over the place, but going back to Houston. Did you grow up in Houston itself, or did you grow up in a suburb?
R: I grew up in a suburb.
O: Okay. And you also said your high school was an hour away, so how did you get there every day?
R: Yeah, so my parents would drive me until I was able to drive, in which case I would drive myself to school.
O: So you had to get up so early then.
R: Yeah, I mean I was getting up around like six, so I mean now, that seems really early, but I think for high school it wasn’t, like, I think a lot of high schoolers get up early, though I definitely would have liked to live closer.
O: Yeah. Was there a reason why you picked—or I guess your parents, or whoever—picked that school?
R: Yeah, I think the school is really well-known for having really great academics and also having great extracurricular options, and that was something that was really important to my parents.
O: Mm. And how about the previous school that you went to, for elementary school?
R: Yeah, I think that school also similarly had very strong academics, and that was something that was important to my parents, so.
O: Mmhmm. And you also mentioned that school was more diverse, so did you ever—did you maintain any of the friendships that you had at that school, or did most of them—
R: You know, not really, just because I was so young and that was kind of a hard thing to do.
O: Mmhmm. What was the suburb that you grew up in like?
R: Yeah, the suburb’s called Katy. It’s kind of a standard, you know, American suburb in a lot of ways, yeah.
O: Like, houses—like pastel-colored houses, and like—
R: Yeah. Yeah. In terms of that, in terms of, yeah. Like, the local high school football games, strip malls, the usual.
O: Mmhmm. Was it hard to have friends at a high school that was so far away? Like, did any of them live close by to you?
R: Um… it honestly wasn’t that challenging, because I think in Houston, driving forty minutes is pretty normalized, and I was going to do it regardless, because I wanted to hang out with my friends and go to school and stuff, so it was like, it would have been more ideal had I lived five minutes away, but it wasn’t the end of the world by any means.
O: How far were you from the downtown of the city?
R: Probably forty-five minutes.
O: Did you go there a lot?
R: Um… no. Downtown Houston is not necessarily a place that people hang out, it’s like commercial and office buildings, business.
O: But did you go into the city itself?
R: Yeah, definitely. Like all my friends—most of my friends live in the city. Yeah, even where I live is like the border of Houston and the suburbs, so it’s still like Houston, per se, but yeah I visited friends in the city all the time.
O: What were some of the places that you like to go? Things you liked to do?
R: Yeah, I mean mainly just hang out at my friends’ houses, we used to do that a lot, I used to play tennis a lot, so we’d play tennis within the city, yeah.
O: Did you go to—I mean, places to eat…
R: Yeah, definitely. I kind of grew up eating out, because neither of my parents really love cooking, so we really had—Houston has a great food scene, so, yeah.
O: What kinds of food?
R: What kinds of food—what, in terms of?
O: Like in terms of, like, did you often eat Indian food, or did you eat…
R: Yeah, so my parents would make Indian food sometimes, but also Houston is a really diverse city, so I was exposed to a lot of different cuisines. Houston has a really large Mexican population, so a lot of Mexican food, a lot of Japanese food, Vietnamese food, all of which there are large populations of in Houston.
O: Do you have a preference?
R: Yeah, I just love Mexican food, I think I’ve eaten it just so many times, yeah.
O: And how about here, in New Haven?
R: Do I have…
O: A preference.
R: Well actually I think New Haven has a great food scene, especially for a city of its size, it’s really amazing. And the wealth of options is exciting. I wish there were more options in the medium-price range, like between fast food and the very expensive. There are a lot of options in both, but there’s not a lot of middle ground, but yeah, I mean, I can go on and on. I mean I love Thai food and there are lots of Thai options in New Haven, I really like Pad Thai, I really like—I love seafood so there’s [Atelier] Florian, the list could go on. Unfortunately, yeah. [laughs] Yeah, not the best for my wallet, but.
O: [laughs] What are things that you do for fun?
R: Yeah… you know, it’s funny. I think at Yale, one of the things I’m going to miss the most about Yale is living with my friends. Like my friends—the farthest that my friends live from me is like two streets away from me, and that is such a luxury now that I’ll probably never have again in my life. But I think spending time with my friends in any sort of setting, casually, is just something that I love. I also love the outdoors, so I love going hiking through mini trips with Yale Outdoors, FOOT, I’ve been able to do that, I try to get off campus with friends every now and then. Yeah, and I think also just like, hanging out.
O: What do you do when you’re hanging out? Just, like, talking?
R: Yeah, just like talking with my friends, watching—I love really bad TV shows, so—
O: Like what?
R: Like reality shows, like, things that—really embarrassing, and I’m sure there’s a larger commentary about why I should not be watching those, but, you know, doing things like that, and just talking about our lives, going on a hike, I love going running with my friends.
O: Do you have a favorite place to go—favorite place to go hiking?
R: Um, you know, not really. I’m just really excited about—I went hiking two breaks, this past winter break and the winter break of my junior year, in Death Valley and then in Joshua Tree, and I just love—I think this country has so many amazing national parks and avenues for hiking and the outdoors that it’s just endlessly exciting to think about where I can go next.
O: What do you love about it?
R: Yeah, I think that at Yale, or when we’re at school, or in the city, we’re constantly surrounded by so many things that… are constantly pushing us one way or another, whether, you know, I’m on my phone, like, every five minutes, I’m sending an email or I’m watching TV or I’m doing this and this and this. I feel like my life at Yale—I’m sure this is true about the vast majority of Yale students—is so segmented, I think about, like, I have my discussion section, and then I have my presentation, and then Friday I have my paper, but then my friend’s having a birthday party Friday. That’s kind of how I view my life in terms of what I need to do and events, and I think something really exciting about being outdoors is you are with yourself and you are with your friends in just like, like an expansive whatever. So it’s—I just think it’s a really humbling experience that removes you from a lot of… a lot of the world and from a lot of concerns that maybe you create in your mind and allows you to reflect and sort of… be at peace. Which sounds very cliché, but. [laughs]
O: When did you start hiking?
R: Yeah, so I actually had very little—I didn’t really have any hiking experience growing up, like Houston is a metropolitan city, it’s the fourth largest city in the country, and so I really didn’t have access to that. And so I went on FOOT and I really enjoyed it and then… became a FOOT leader and a lot of my friends at Yale had outdoors experience, and through that, went hiking, and got to pursue more outdoors experiences, and then became a trip leader with Yale Outdoors. I kind of just gained confidence with the outdoors, but also just absolutely loved how it made me feel and what I felt like I was getting…. I mean, that’s—I was going to say what I felt like I was getting out of it, which is sort of a perverse way to look at the outdoors, but what I felt I was getting maybe emotionally and personally out of it. Yeah.
O: Yeah. So then—what were some of the things that you did when you were in high school? Extracurricular-wise?
R: Yeah, um. I was involved with the newspaper in high school, which I enjoyed. And I was also on the tennis team, and I pursued community service projects.
O: Like what?
R: Like what?
O: Like—yeah, like what.
R: Oh—so I was involved in this tutoring program. So launching a tutoring program where students in my high school which was a private high school in Houston would go tutor students in an elementary school, primarily low-income students of color elementary schools. So that was one of my major involvements. And I was also involved in, um, a… program called Meals on Wheels, I don’t know if you know about it—
O: Yeah, I think I have.
R: It delivers meals to elderly people.
O: Cool. And you also mentioned you do some community service in New Haven.
O: Could you talk a little about that?
R: Yeah, so I worked at IRIS, and that was something that I really enjoyed, and I also worked at No Closed Doors, which is a, I think it has now closed but previously it was a group that was started by Yale students that helped homeless people and people who had lost jobs on job applications. So helping them with resumés and connecting them with potential employers and opportunities. So I did those two and then worked on the gun buyback program.
O: Mmhmm. What’s that been like?
R: The buyback?
R: Yeah, I think it’s been really rewarding. I think that it’s, you know, I actually just read about a gun buyback in San Francisco last summer. Actually, it was funny, I was in East Rock Coffee, reading the physical New York Times, which I love doing, and it was like July, and I came across this buyback that had happened in San Francisco and became really excited about the idea of doing something. Because I’ve been kind of—paralyzed about gun violence for some time, and it’s really hard to even conceive what could be helpful in terms of gun violence and how you could begin countering it. And that seems like sort of an opportunity for ordinary people to work together to create a program that could maybe alleviate some sort of suffering. So it was really—you know, it was challenging, but really rewarding.
O: Have you gotten a lot of people coming in to sell their guns?
R: To what—yeah, yeah, so we had our buyback in late December, last semester, and it was really successful. Like I think we got 140 weapons? Most people across New Haven and across identities and backgrounds.
O: Yeah. For some reason I never think about how many people here must own guns. I always think about it as, that’s a thing that…
R: Yeah, I don’t know if you want to think…. [laughs] It might be better to just… not.
O: [laughs] Yeah. Was that it surprising to you, the number of people who came in?
R: Um…. You know, not really. We were hoping for a high turnout.
O: Yeah. Is that something that’s something that is going to continue happening?
R: The buyback?
R: I think it—I think it will continue happening in New Haven, but I think it’s a challenging program to run because it involves such a large investment of capital. And that’s hard to raise, so. It’s challenging, so I think it will continue happening, but it’s a difficult program to keep going on.
O: Mmhmm. Are—is the money raised from donors, or is it like?
R: Yeah, it’s primarily from donors, as well as the Yale-New Haven Hospital, and the Injury Free Coalition for Kids.
O: Okay. So those are—I guess those would count as organizations that are donating?
R: Mmhmm. Yup, and private donors.
O: Cool. Yeah. Was there anything else that you wanted to talk about?
R: Um… [sigh] I don’t think so.
R: Yeah, thank you. This is such an awesome project.
O: Thank you.