Field Trips – Met & Staceyann Chin!

Although I plumb forgot to take photos of our intimate group at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this past Sunday, I wanted to share some resources from the field trip in case you weren’t able to make it! Whether you’re a Kaleidoscope student or a New Yorker interested in art and writing, you can take advantage of these scavenger hunts.

Last year’s activity focused on underrepresented art in the Met; students hunted down relevant artworks based on the attached clues and then contemplated the influence art could have on their own writing and poetry.

This year’s itinerary was more specifically focused on creative writing exercises. Four writing prompts jumpstarted different kinds of ekphrastic writing for participants. “Ekphrasis” comes from the Greek word for making an inanimate object, like a painting, “speak.” Our activities helped us figure out how to create personae, settings, historical fictions, and stories based on images, abstractions, and aesthetic choices in art.

One side note if you’re going to the Met in the next two months: their permanent photo galleries have been overtaken by special exhibitions on mobile phone photography and American Civil War photography. A good alternative for the prompt on “place-based poetry” would be the period rooms throughout the museum.

Lastly, don’t forget that the historic Nuyorican Poets Cafe, in collaboration with City Parks, will be hosting an epic poetry slam with Staceyann Chin (author of the poem “All Oppression is Connected” from our syllabus), Ntozake Shange (award-winning author of the play for colored girls who have considered suicide, when the rainbow is enuf), and Jewish-Japanese poet Sarah Kay this Wednesday evening. This free event starts at 7pm at the East River Park Amphitheater’s SummerStage (299 South St, New York, NY 10002) in the Lower East Side; get there early if you want to snag space, and bring a snack!


How to Date a Brown Boy, a Black Boy, a White Boy, or a Halfie

By Nina Reyes

The brown boys from your hood will smile at you as their hands stray past your back in the reluctant hug you gave them. You shake them off you and quickly laugh. Excuse it as a shiver. They smile at you, teeth glinting like sharp knives. They lean in and whisper things into your ear that make you laugh as goosebumps spring up all over your arms. You tilt your head to the side and look at them real hard. They may not be the most good looking, but if you never known anything else these are your options. You smile, giving them your number. You hope he texts, or calls. He won’t. He’ll text back after hours. He is merely playing with you. And you know. Oh do you know.

This game that seems to never finish. Of the flirting, the looks. The lies, the deceit. You don’t want to play, but it’s not as if you have a choice in that matter. All the other girls from your hood do it, and all your tias have been bugging you, asking if you have a novio or an amiguito. Some part of you likes the game, likes the small thrill that shoots up your body from the chase. Everybody you know does it. So you might as well join in.

The black boys will regard you at a higher standard than they do the black girls. You don’t think about it for a while. Loving the attention, you kiss them and date them. You never bring one home. You know what your parents will say. And if you do introduce them, you say sorry. You don’t know what your parents will say. They put up a good face while he’s there, and start commenting once the door closes behind him. He loves everything about you, mentions how your hair is beautiful. He’ll smile at you. If he’s from the hood, he’s probably cheating on you. You smile tightly. You know this game too well. Yet you’re going to keep playing.

The white boys will call you “exotic.” As if they never seen a brown face before. They say they like “spicy” girls like you. Girls full of fire. They say mami, and a bunch of other things in Spanish, butchering your mother’s tongue. They make jokes about those who look like you, and in the next minute whisper in your ear how different you are from “those people.” Your people. You shrug it away and laugh. You are told you hit jackpot. They mention how lucky you are and you respond with an “I know.” He meets your parents. They love him and his whiteness. Poking fun at him because of how lost he is in the conversation. He laughs and clutches your hand. Your mind eventually wanders to the ugly thought of when he will leave you for another girl. Or even worse. When he will leave you for a white girl.

This flash fiction was inspired by Junot Díaz’s short story from Drown, “How to Date a Brown Girl (A Black Girl, a White Girl, or a Halfie).

Congratulations, Kaleidoscope Project 2017!

Last night was so much fun! Thank you all for showing up for a tremendously successful closing ceremony and open mic night. Your writing was inspiring. Even more importantly, the solidarity you showed yourselves and each other was so powerful. Many of us audience members were literally moved to tears by your strength!

Whether you read or not, thank you for being present. And for those of you who weren’t able to make it, let’s make the Met this Sunday our last hurrah! (That goes for those of you who already said goodbye at the open mic, too, if you’re free this weekend; the field trip is going to be a lot of nerdy fun.)

Check your email for this weekend’s field trip details. Hope to see you there! And if not…

Here are some images of you all being brave last night. I apologize that I was mostly only able to get videos of students who performed twice; in that case, I had enough time to get back to my seat without fumbling the camera. (I also learned from this adventure that “ugly cardboard box of books” is the public event photobomb analog to “empty pizza boxes” in all our classroom pictures.)

If you’re a student in this class, you can download the videos and images from this private Google Drive folder. (If you’re a student and this link doesn’t work for you, email me separately with your preferred email address.)

Don’t forget to a) formally request a letter of recommendation from me (if you need one) via email by September 1, and b) send me your writing if you haven’t already shared anything with me! I can only write you a recommendation if I’ve read your writing– and the more of it I’ve read, the better.

Lastly, this blog is still here for you if you want to publish your work! You’re welcome to log into our account anytime and post your work (I’ll resend the login instructions via email).

Your posts here will automatically be shared to our Kaleidoscope Project Facebook page, which you should “like” and share with friends if you haven’t already. Not only is the Facebook page an appropriate way for all of us to stay in touch, but I’ll also post news about contemporary literature, new books being published by underrepresented writers, college advice, and upcoming teen writing awards at least once a week.

Hope to see you at the Met this Sunday for a final bon voyage!

Final Class! Writing on New York City & Last Words of Publishing Advice for Now

I have been procrastinating from updating you all on our final class last week because I can’t believe the Kaleidoscope Project is over for this season! For our final discussion, we had five readings on surviving in New York from five very diverse perspectives.

Returning from last year’s syllabus, the Kenyan poet John Mbiti and Pakistani poetess Fahmida Riaz, writing in Urdu, gave us new perspectives on familiar settings in New York: our skyscrapers and our underground trains. We talked about why it’s powerful when poetry defamiliarizes elements of our everyday lives.

Mbiti is also a Christian philosopher and retired professor at the University of Bern in Switzerland. I found his poem in an anthology on Modern Poetry from Africa (if you’d like to read more African poetry, you can check it out here and here at the Schomburg in Harlem).

Riaz has dedicated her career to progressive activism in South Asia, even though her political work has permanently exiled her from Pakistan. Although it is difficult to find her poems published in English, her nonfiction on the history of Pakistan is available at the NYPL.

JM-Servin-1One student, M.L., jumpstarted our thoughts on For Love of the Dollara brand new memoir by an undocumented Mexican immigrant, J.M. Servín, by informing us of just how effectively this new voice captured her home borough’s complexity. M.L. said it’s hard to write about the Bronx because the borough is so huge and changes so much from block to block.

In his dryly humorous, enlightened memoir, which makes a little fun of James Joyce’s Irish coming-of-age novel, The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Servín recounts arriving in the Bronx, living undocumented, and struggling to make money in the service sector in the early 1990s.

Next to the immigrant, Argentine feminist Luisa Valenzuela‘s flash fiction, “Who, Me a Bum?” brought us into the mindset of another familiar urban stock character– the homeless person. (Much of her fiction is available in both English and Spanish.)

image439Her protagonist’s descent in social status, from a Spanish teacher to a proverbial “bum,” sparked an interesting conversation for us about the contradictions of public and private life in the city. Even though millions of people are in unimaginably close physical proximity all the time, almost everyone is visibly uncomfortable with the slightest emotional intimacy, like eye contact. In Valenzuela’s hands, homelessness becomes an ironic extended metaphor for loss of identity and privacy– everything about his life is public, yet his humanity is invisible to everyone.

We struggled a bit with another image-heavy, place-based poem, the late St. Lucian poet Derek Walcott‘s “Bleecker Street, Summer.” Together we worked through how and why poetry is an exceptional form for communicating feelings like elation, desire, and sorrow in abstract ways– language that often defies the logical conventions of narrative and storytelling. Poems can be frustrating for this reason, but as J.B., another student, mentioned, their uncertainty “multiplies their interpretations and meanings.” Thus poetry, even when aggravatingly opaque, is unique for reopening our minds to glimpse new ideas on each read.


Considered the greatest poet laureate of the West Indies, Walcott died at the age of 87 this past March. The New York Public Library has many copies of his works for you to borrow.

Here is our final slideshow of chalkboard notes; you might also be interested to peruse last year’s class notes on New York.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Walcott’s elusive poem allowed us to segue into the only craft talk on writing and publishing poetry this semester, which I led with my own experiences. Although I forgot to mention it in class, my poetry career officially started with winning the Kathryn Irene Glascock Intercollegiate Poetry Competition. Those of you attending college in the Northeast (cough, J.N. at Smith and M.K. at Hunter next year!) should keep an eye out for it at Mount Holyoke College, the all women’s/Seven Sisters school where the competition is held every year. (Their winners’ list is the only Wikipedia page on which my name appears.)

My Mount Holyoke victory launched me into the most (to be frank, only) energetic period of publishing poetry in my short life so far. Here are the bare remnants: “Jazzmeen Autry,” a poem on Word Riot; “The Wrong Way,” creative nonfiction about my adolescence on The Cynic; and “Missing Persons,” the printed poem you read from Descant, a Canadian literary journal that, I just learned, officially shut its doors in 2015.

The fact that I have not lifted a finger to publish a poem in 5+ years is a mistake you yourself should not repeat. Here’s a recap of other advice for publishing poetry specifically:

  • Collect your poems in batches. Think in twos or threes or fives. Editors will often want to read/consider publishing multiple short poems at once, and the poems you send them should share a clear link– a theme, a stylistic device, and/or a tone.
  • Set quantitative goals to keep yourself on track. At this point, I would have been better off if I’d forced myself to sacrifice even one full day a year to formatting, printing, and mailing out poetry manuscripts to literary journals. For your stage in your careers right now, I recommended setting a goal that feels reasonable– sending out one poem (or set) every six months, for example.
  • Should I double dip? In other words, should (or can) you send the same poem to multiple editors? Technically, the answer is no, you shouldn’t. But in practice, it can take 8-12 months to hear back from a submission, and it seems insane to sit on a good piece for that long, right? So my advice is to keep track of any multiples you send out. Create a spreadsheet of dates, contacts, magazine names, and relevant details (formatting requirements, numbers of copies requested, etc.), so that you don’t forget when and where you sent work to. Then, be ready to either accept or reject a premature offer from a potentially lower-ranked publication. You should also be prepared to rescind that work from any publications that show interest in it after you’ve given the first journal the go-ahead; you are not legally allowed to publish the same work in two different magazines.
  • Reserve time for the post office. Poetry publishing is weirdly archaic; many print magazines (and even some online ones) still expect to receive hard copies of poems for review through snail mail.
  • Decide for yourself how much money you’re willing to spend on your early publishing endeavors. This is going to sound unthinkable, but some magazines not only refuse to pay contributors but also REQUIRE a “reading fee” (usually ranging from $10-20) to consider work. Yes, that means you’re not only paying them to publish your poem, but also potentially paying them to reject your poem. Why is the world like this? In short, because poetry is a poor industry, as we talked about in class. The genre literally doesn’t have the entertainment capital to generate any profit whatsoever, so publishers counterintuitively need to rely on impoverished poets, the source of all their material, for survival. It’s a vicious, cannibalistic cycle.
  • But don’t lose heart! Just don’t become a poet to make money. Thinking of poetry as your economic livelihood would be ludicrous; making money off poetry (at least, in a dignified fashion) is nearly impossible. Take, for example, this blog post on ways to make money on writing poetry, which enumerates some truly depressing suggestions, like exploiting your own talent at a greeting card company. But I think the lesson in all this is simple:
    • If you DO make some money, consider it a pleasant, humbling surprise– not a rule. I was unspeakably thrilled when I learned my publication in Descant came with $100 Canadian, and there ARE still magazines that pay poets to publish. You’ll be most eligible for publication in these titles once you reach a slightly later stage in your career (start trying in college).
    • Otherwise, think of poetry as art you must write because it nourishes your soulYes, the tendency to associate poetry with “high art” is a little elitist, but really, like I told you in class, I don’t write poetry because I want to be famous. I write poetry because I can’t not do it, and sometimes, a message that I wrote for my own consolation just happens to inspire someone else if I let it go public.
  • The best action you can take now is to start gaining publishing credits. The more publishing credits you’ve listed on your job resumé, the more likely you will be to get published more frequently. And the better known your name is in the literary public sphere– even if you made zero cash getting your name out there– the more likely you will be to land the actual book deal, which usually involves a monetary contract (here’s an exhaustive but trustworthy rundown of all that nitty gritty business stuff).

“But HOW do I get started?!” you ask. Tap into the resources at your fingertips!

  • Check out the Publishing Opportunities and Writing Awards for Teens pages on this website. The magazines listed here are purposely geared towards teen audiences (which means those of you who are under age 18 would have an easier time getting published even though you are not legally adults yet). Awards also amplify your public persona, even if they’re not tantamount to publication.
  • Email peers you know who HAVE already been published, like Rahat– your new peer mentor who just visited us a couple weeks ago! You can email her anytime for tips on how she got her writing resumé started. And if you know other published young writers at school, consider asking them to share their success stories with you over coffee. I know personally that it can be very difficult to replace jealousy (a natural feeling) with earnest curiosity, especially when you’re comparing yourself to someone high-achieving in your own peer group. But your equals know best how to help you succeed!
  • Choose ONE favorite poet, preferably one whose style reminds you of your own, and reverse-engineer his/her/their career. Where was this person born, and when? What schools did they go to? What kinds of life events did they encounter before they published their first book? How old were they when they first published their poetry, and in what magazines? Are the magazines still around today? Peering into the backstories of your favorite poet or writer might not only give you new ideas for where you want to go to college someday but also clue you in on titles of magazines and websites that might also be willing to consider your work. Less practically, gaining some perspective on how long it takes to become truly “successful” might calm your anxieties about whether it’s taking you too long.

Thank you all for such a magical summer. Here are the class pictures we took last week, and I hope to see you all at our closing open mic this Thursday, 6:30-8pm! Check your emails for details about the location.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What is Intersectionality? Writing Race & Disability

Before I recap last week’s class, kudos go to Meril for bravely posting her work on our blog! If you missed it, make sure to check it out. And if you’re a current student who would like to publish your own work, remember, you can log in anytime! Even after our final official class tomorrow.

Having to combine themes from the past two weeks of classes– race and disability– provoked unexpected, exciting connections. We realized that the blind poet Robert Hayden‘s “The Tattooed Man,” a reading originally assigned to disability, was not only about the privilege of seeing. The poem also comments on the dangers of being seen primarily through the lenses of prejudice and otherness, as someone Black, queer, and disabled.

In a similar move, Audre Lorde, a Caribbean-American poet with roots in Barbados and Carriacou (part of Grenada), connects ableism, feminism, and racism in her early childhood memoir, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. With dark humor, she details the presumed incompetence ascribed to her by teachers because of her race, class, and disability in her early childhood. (By the way, an entire study was recently published on the subject of Presumed Incompetence, and their Facebook page offers a lot of interesting resources.) For more on Lorde and Hayden, check out last year’s post on disability.

The lesbian Jamaican-Chinese slam poet Staceyann Chin, slotted for our week on race, alleges it is politically irresponsible to pretend oppressions can be separated in her performance of “Homophobia.” A recent revision of an earlier poem appropriately titled “All Oppression is Connected,” she first presented this poem at a celebration of the civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. at the Apollo Theater in Harlem this past winter.

We also finished our previous discussion of Toni Morrison‘s “Recitatif,” which traces an interracial friendship between two female orphans in the 1960s but never reveals which woman is black and which is white. Reportedly the only short story the great literary octogenarian ever published, “Recitatif” pushes the reader to rethink racial stereotypes in relationship to gender and social class. One student, J.D., tried her own hand at sketching ambiguous characters; in her story, centered on sexuality, two individuals, one ace (asexual) and one pansexual, fell in love to disprove stereotypes about queer desire.

If you’re feeling energized, read and annotate “Recitatif” on;  help the public understand what Morrison is doing! Also, if you enjoyed Morrison’s writing, you might be interested to read her political piece on whiteness in the U.S., “Making America White Again.” You can also find her novels across the New York Public Library system. And if you’re interested in preparing for college, you might be interested to know that her novel, Song of Solomon, recently became the first novel by a Black woman added to Columbia University’s Core Literature Humanities Curriculum (hard to believe they didn’t add a Black woman before 2015, huh?). And for more on Chin and Morrison, go to last year’s post on race.

A new addition to the syllabus on race, Peruvian writer Julio Ramón Ribeyro‘s short story, “Alienation,” charted an Afro-indigenous-Peruvian boy’s lifelong attempt to whitewash himself. Descended from indigenous genocide and African slavery, López wants to transform himself into a successful white man. He renames himself Bobby and drives himself crazy trying to assimilate in the U.S., but his methods for passing aren’t terribly convincing. He can’t get past a certain class barrier in American society, and it’s obvious he’s powdering his skin. In the end, he can’t escape who he is. If you’re curious to read more fiction like Ribeyro’s, check out Beings: Contemporary Peruvian Short Storiesthe anthology where I found “Alienation.” (If you have trouble tracking down a hard copy, let me know; I can send you scans from Columbia.)

The last segment of our class took a very personal turn while we talked through our own experiences of depression and the stigmas associated with mental illness in communities of color and working-class America. The first chapter from Ghanaian-American writer Meri Nana-Ama Danquah‘s memoir on depression, Willow Weep for Me, got us started. Willow is the only memoir on mental illness that I personally have ever encountered from a single mother of color. Her honesty opened us up to work through some of our own pain together and contemplate how our communities could rethink vulnerability as evidence of resilience and strength.

Although we didn’t have time to discuss lesbian Jamaican writer Michelle Cliff‘s short story on American slavery’s aftermath, “The Hanged Man,” or ScottishPakistani writer N.S.R. Khan‘s short story on bipolar disorder, “Familiar Skin,” you should totally check out their work! Cliff’s story can be found in her short fiction collection, Everything is Now, and Khan’s story appears in the anthology Too Asian, Not Asian Enough(Again, if you’re interested but can’t track it down, email me about Columbia’s access!)

If you’re a teacher looking to gain access to any of these readings or lesson plans, check out the resources on the Teaching Aids page. For young writers, these are strategies we learned from writers in last week’s class.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Remember, tomorrow is our last official class! We’ll be figuring out how to live and write in the epicenter of the literary world, New York City. I’ll also share some advice about publishing poetry. Tomorrow’s packet is here, as are the writing prompts. Be on time! And dress nice– we’ll be taking a class photo at the end!

Special Guests: Storyteller Sahar Ullah and Kaleidoscope Alum Rahat Huda

Last Thursday’s extended class session was supposed to cover race and prejudice, with interludes from two very special guests on storytelling and success. However, our visitors, Sahar Ishtiaque Ullah, co-founder of The Hijabi Monologues, and Rahat Huda, an accomplished Kaleidoscope alum, were so generous with their time and knowledge that we put the syllabus aside for the day. So, be prepared to discuss two readings from last week on race (Morrison & Ribeyro) and two from this week on disability (to be voted on in class) in TOMORROW’S session (rescheduled from this Thursday) at our normal time, 6:30-8pm, but WEDNESDAY, July 18.

Sahar talked to us about how the Hijabi Monologues grew out of her desire for a venue where Muslim American women could tell their own stories. Playing off Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues, each hijabi monologue spotlights a different character’s personal experience of religion, race, gender, sexuality, and xenophobia in the U.S. To start her talk, Sahar showed us “I’m Tired,” a monologue whose themes resonate for many young people. She wrote “I’m Tired” and other monologues while studying abroad at the American University of Cairo in Egypt.

Sahar described living in Cairo as “the first time I was seeing the U.S. from the outside, and how violent the U.S. was.” She had never lived without family before, though she acquired her bachelor’s degree at the University of Miami (with a triple major in religious studies, political science, and English literature!) and her master’s degree at the University of Chicago. Watching cheesy family dramas on TV in Cairo, she realized for the first time “how we do violence very well in the United States.” Meanwhile, she was also experiencing what it felt like to blend in for the first time; earnestly wondering about her ancestral roots, strangers would ask her, “Where are you really from?” The freedom not to perform a perfect stereotype of Muslim femininity liberated her to express negative feelings like aggression and indignation in public– another first.

Upon returning to the U.S., Sahar became frustrated with professors who were interested in studying the Middle East and yet behaved uncomfortably around her in general. “Why are you so interested in the subject of ‘Muslim,’ but you’re not interested in me?” she wanted to know. Her experiences gave her the idea to create a platform where Muslim women could give voice to the everyday, insidious psychological violence they sustain.

In the U.S., her team has overcome many hurdles both from within and outside the Muslim community during public performances. At a prominent Miami bookstore where the unapologetically outspoken Jamaican-Chinese poet Staceyann Chin (whose poem, “Homophobia,” was assigned for last week’s readings on race) had just performed the week prior, the manager cut out the microphone for the Hijabi Monologues performance when a white patron complained about Muslim women cursing on stage. In another performance in Washington, DC, Sahar had to concede to bleeping out the F-word with a bike horn to quell the public’s discomfort over Muslim women “behaving badly.”

Within the Muslim American community, the Hijabi Monologues have provoked both enmity and empathy in unexpected ways. Audiences demand to witness either the “real Islam”– i.e., terrorism, ISIS, etc.– or Muslim women as devoted saints, angels of the household. Sahar described keeping secret a monologue titled “Light on My Face,” in which a hijabi woman decides not to keep a pregnancy conceived outside of marriage, because she “didn’t want the Muslim community to feel betrayed, but also wanted to make sure women had a breathing space.” To her surprise, whereas some female viewers bristled at other women not being represented piously, many elders– notably, one older man who “was the image of the stereotypical Muslim male who would be oppressive and unsympathetic to women’s experience”– regularly thank Sahar for constructing such a complex vision of Muslim femininity.

Writing about serious, sensitive issues from a humorous perspective also carries real risks, she warned. “We know our communities best, so we know how to make fun of our communities best,” she said. But she also named numerous instances when risk incurred costs. In one, a director tried to convince Sahar to perform only “Light on My Face” for a segment in her film because, in the documentarian’s words, “it’s not every day you hear about Muslim girls getting knocked up;” Sahar was relieved when the Hijabi Monologues didn’t appear in the film at all.

Xenophobia against Muslims long presaged 9/11, Sahar explained. She remembered a hate-mongering film called Obsessionwhich attested to “how inherently violent Muslims are,” being freely distributed in her part of Florida, and then a mosque being gas-mobbed in Ohio; in the first Gulf War in the early 1990s, a boy at school named Hussein became Omar to disidentify himself from Saddam Hussein; and even with Malcolm X popularizing the Nation of Islam as early as the 1950s, non-Muslim Americans have all too easily conflated religion with fanatical terrorism, and Islam with any non-white races.

Sahar recently finished her higher education with a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia. Now she is working on a production of the Hijabi Monologues to be staged in London, England this September. If you’re curious to see more of the monologues, like “Hitting on a Hijabi” (a nice analog to Junot Díaz’s “How to Date a Brown Girl (Black Girl, White Girl, or Halfie)” from a couple weeks ago), subscribe to their YouTube stream.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our second but no less esteemed guest, and first “TA for the day” this semester, Rahat Huda graduated from Stuyvesant High School this spring and the Kaleidoscope Project’s inaugural cohort last summer. A new initiative for the 2017 Kaleidoscope Project, TAs for the day are alums who return to our summer workshop to pass on tried-and-true methods for achieving success in high school and college applications; in some cases, they are willing to become peer mentors for new K-scopers pursuing the college process.

Recipient of regional gold key and national gold medal awards from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, which current Kaleidoscope students may want to apply to this winter, Rahat was also a mentee and intern at Girls Write Now, a nonprofit that supports aspiring teen women writers in New York City. This fall, she will be attending Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont as a Posse Scholar, a nationwide scholarship program that funds tuition in full at partner universities and provides young scholars a “posse,” a diverse group of talented peers, in which to navigate college together.

Rahat shared her insights alongside Julissa Nuñez and Milana Khaitova, two college-bound high school graduates currently in the Kaleidoscope Project who will be attending Smith College in Northampton, MA and Hunter College in New York City, respectively, this fall. Most of their takeaways are captured in the slideshow above, but here are the practical lessons that really stayed with me:

Visiting College Campuses

  • Ideally, you would visit colleges that interest you this summer and fall.
  • To find out information for applications and campus visits, type in keywords like the name of the college that interests you and “admissions” or “campus tour” into Google.
  • Campus tours are free; you could sign yourself up for one at Columbia before class, for example.
  • Colleges also often host high school students with current undergraduates for free in dorms during the school year.
  • However, colleges are hardly ever willing to pay for a student’s transportation to/from their location. If you want to visit a campus farther away but you and your family don’t have the financial means to do so, here are some alternatives to consider:
    • Ask your high school guidance counselor about whether your school has any funding for college visits, which might not be widely publicized.
    • Focus on visiting different kinds of colleges in the New York metropolitan area, which you can visit easily and which will give you a sense of how different kinds of college campuses feel. Granted, the overcrowded space of the city distorts size for everything, but take this grouping as an example:
    • Once you’ve visited different kinds of universities, you’ll have some sense of what to expect of an academic space based on its type, even if you can’t visit a school in person because it’s far away or in another state.
    • You can also look up photos of universities that interest you (especially Google Earth) and check out their social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube) to get a sense of a campus’s personality.

Letters of Recommendation

  • If you’ll be entering your final year of high school this fall and haven’t already requested letters of recommendation from teachers, you should make a plan for doing so ASAP.
  • Choose recommenders who a) know you and your most recent work best (focus on junior and maybe sophomore year) and b) can either attest to your strengths in your intended major OR comment positively on your performance across the humanities and sciences, if you’re still figuring out what you want to study.
  • If you have your teacher’s email address, you should politely request a recommendation over the summer (if you want feedback on a draft of a request, email it to me first!).
  • If you’ll need to wait until school recommences, ready your pitch and make a plan for checking off this box by the first week of school.

Other Application Requirements

  • If you struggle with standardized tests, consider prioritizing applications to schools that don’t even require test scores for admission.
  • Write a personal statement that spotlights the values, mindset, and personality you would contribute to the community– not unlike the “What makes you different?” question you answered to get into the Kaleidoscope Project! And remember, both Rahat and I are willing and eager to give feedback on personal statement drafts! Make it a personal goal to get a draft to one of us by the end of the summer.
  • If an on-campus interview is required, capitalize on it as an opportunity to explain any obvious gaps in your academic performance and/or resumé.
  • Instead of spreading your resumé thin (community service! internships! honors! clubs!), think about your interests in terms of academic engagement and leadership skills. You don’t need to have a resumé a mile long– you just need to do a few things you really care about really well, and be able to talk about your passions compellingly!
  • This summer, double-check whether your favorite colleges require any supplementary essays. You should devote nearly the same amount of care and polish to supplementary essays as you do to the personal essay you submit for your Common Application.

Financial Aid & Scholarships

  • Look into national scholarship applications early and create a spreadsheet for keeping track of deadlines, application requirements, and benefits (ex: “full scholarship” is a wishy-washy term– for some, it actually means full tuition but not room and board is covered, whereas others cover everything).
    • Some scholarships, like Posse, have prerequisites, like being nominated for consideration in the scholarship in the first place. If you’re interested in being nominated as a Posse Scholar, talk to me or Rahat, who both have connections that could benefit you.
    • Questbridge is very similar to Posse, emphasizing inclusivity and leadership as central values, and it also covers room and board; however, not all Questbridge Scholars get to attend their “first choice” of college, because awards are prioritized based on a “match system” (meaning, a student who names a less prestigious college in the Questbridge network as their first choice has a much better shot at receiving a scholarship than the student who lists only Ivy Leagues).
  • Kaleidoscope Project students are especially lucky for being New York State residents! Not only are there many kinds of need-based college aid for NY residents, but by the time some of you apply to high school (2019?), Governor Cuomo’s recently pledged Excelsior Scholarship, promising free in-state tuition for students from families making less than $125,000/year, should be in effect.
  • Private universities, especially small liberal arts colleges, can be less generous with financial aid at first because the sizes of their endowments vary (an “endowment” basically refers to the college’s investment fund– the amount of money, largely from donations, it has to devote to all necessary costs, like professors’ salaries and students’ financial aid). If a private school is your top choice, but their “financial aid packages,” the combination of scholarships, grants, loans, and work-studies they assemble for you, are less than stunning, don’t give up! Do your research:
    • Merit-based scholarships are often specific to certain institutions, so you should look up possibilities for your favorite colleges this summer– especially if their merit scholarships require different deadlines and additional essays. Google the name of the school and “merit scholarship” to locate resources. Some colleges automatically consider every applicant, with no additional effort, for merit-based scholarships based on essays, transcripts, and standardized test scores.
    • Of course, there are also athletic scholarships as well; if you’re a top-notch athlete, you should talk to your coach about how to be scouted for a scholarship.
    • Keep an eye out for colleges that identify as need-blind” or “need-sensitive.” There are catches to both identifications.
      • “Need-blind” means that your financial need won’t factor into your eligibility in the admission committee’s eyes, which is good because it means you can’t be rejected immediately for your socioeconomic background. However, “need-blind” also does not guarantee that the college can fully remit a student’s demonstrated financial need, so many students who are accepted often find themselves choosing less costly options anyway.
      • “Need-sensitive,” on the other hand, means that financial need can be reason for a school rejecting an applicant. But at the same time, acceptance of a high-need applicant means the school is more willing to remunerate the full cost of the need the student has demonstrated.
      • In short, if you apply to a need-blind school and can’t get them to give you a full ride despite having no college savings, don’t be discouraged; consider any loan (especially government loans, which are much more stable than private for-profit lenders) and work-study options the university offers you alongside grants (which you never have to pay back). On the other hand, if you don’t get into a need-sensitive school despite being a high achiever, don’t beat yourself up about it– it very well might be that the school just couldn’t provide the financial backing you needed from them.
    • Don’t be afraid to call up the Financial Aid Office at your favorite school and ask about whether there are any funding options you’re not aware of.
      • Ask your guidance counselor or parent for help if you’re nervous about making the call yourself.
      • Be prepared to make your case for why you really want to attend this school. You need to make it clear that would be an outstanding addition to their community but simply can’t afford the tuition with the financial aid package they’ve initially calculated. Be diplomatic, patient and earnest, not demanding and aggravated (even though the money situation is stressful).
      • Upon calling, if the Financial Aid Office won’t budge on reviewing the package they’ve offered you, you might learn you qualify for a first-come, first-serve funding pool, like the Higher Education Opportunity Program (specific to New York State) or another institution-based “opportunity program,” which have been devised by universities in recent years to accept more students from underrepresented backgrounds.
  • Remember, it is extremely common for colleges to refuse financial aid for room and board, which seems hypocritical. What college student goes to college without living and eating in the dorms? And why does living and eating in the dorms have to cost ~$10,000-12,000 on average? But again, don’t give up hope; student loans are becoming an increasingly common (and therefore, normal) financial burden for young adults to shoulder, and there are A LOT of bumpers built into loan repayment plans to help you manage your debt.
    • For example, a “grace period” straight after college suspends your loans for long enough for you to get a job.
    • If you continue your schooling with a master’s degree or Ph.D., your loans go into “deferral”— meaning, you have a certain time period wherein you do not have to be paying on your undergraduate loans since you’re still studying (and not making much money– this is the situation I’m currently in).
    • Income-based repayment plans” allow you to adjust your monthly loan payments to align with a reasonable amount you should be expected to pay, based on your salary.
    • Consolidating” your loans can vastly diminish the “interest” over time (racking up “interest” is the most expensive element of any kind of debt– it’s the additional monthly fee the bank charges you for not having the debt fully paid).
    • In general, $30,000 is the amount of loan debt the average American student carries right now. I just looked up my own balance, and it’s $42,181.17— 140% of the national average! On the one hand, the number terrifies me. On the other hand, you’ve seen me: I’m living my best life in New York City, far from starving or homelessness, and I’ve been privileged with an education fifteen-year-old me would never have known to even dream up.

The bottom line is this: if you really want a college– and the college really wants YOU too— you’ll figure money out. Get in first, then worry about the rest!

Besides this blog post, don’t forget the college preparation resources available in the “menu” dropdown for this blog:

Whew, that was a lot, huh? I’ll see you for our rescheduled class TOMORROW, Wednesday, July 19, 6:30-8pmremember, bring back reading packets for both race and disabilityAnd our deepest thanks go to Sahar and Rahat again for sharing so much with us.

Girl by Meril Mousoom

This was based off of the Jamaica Kincaid poem of the same name on the week of gender. I detail the society’s expectations of people who identify as a female.

Your skirts must be as long as your fingertips, else you are a slut. Only call out for rape if you are a virgin. Act like a sex object and satisfy our fantasies, but don’t make it too obvious. We may be tempted.

Be fat, we want to see the real you. Oh wait, be skinny and have a thigh gap. You know what, be curvy, that’s what a real woman is.

Let me explain every little word, excel in every little thing and don’t complain. I may not call you a pussy, but you bet that you are one. Just let us be better than you, it’s the natural way.

Your body parts are my business, just like everything else. I’ll do whatever I want with them, talk about them all day long. But you know what’s not my business? Periods. I don’t wanna hear about them. I never liked fertile girls anyway.

Oh, and once we get together, do the laundry. I have work to do, with the boys and all. Do what women should do. You’ll rule the kitchen, I’ll have the living room. Shh, honey the game’s coming on in a few minutes.

I’ll hide the fact that I’m actually projecting all my insecurities onto you and this is the only way I know how to take control. You won’t ever know the real me, no one will and I’ll continue burying you in commands just like my father did to me.