“We All Bleed Red” Opens in the Academy Building
January 29, 2016
“What is it like to be ______ at Exeter?”
That’s the question Carissa Chen ’17, Pranay Vemulamada ’16 and Kevin Zhen ’16 invited their peers to answer as part of “We All Bleed Red,” a social awareness project they organized in conjunction with MLK Day programming and other social justice initiatives on campus. The project uses storytelling and the arts to build empathy and intimacy among members of PEA’s diverse student body.
Zhen began to develop the idea of using stories to promote deeper connections and understanding among his Exeter peers while attending a youth summit sponsored by Global Citizens Initiative. There, students were challenged to address a global problem by designing a local initiative.
“I had been thinking about how I could have an impact and give back to this community,” says Zhen. “I thought it was a pity that there are so many kids who spend time with each other in the dining halls and in classes [who] don’t really know one another on a personal level,” he adds. When Zhen returned to campus, he reached out to Vemulamada and Chen, who helped him flesh out the idea of using an arts platform to tell individual stories.
Zhen first recognized the power of sharing stories during his prep year in Cilley when a senior encouraged him to come out of his room, where he’d been studying alone for a physics test on a Saturday night. He had been struggling with anxiety and a sense of isolation during his first few months on campus, but that night was a pivotal experience for him: As the senior “expressed his vulnerability” and shared stories about his family, Zhen says, that openness and compassion helped ease his loneliness. “Before that night, this was just a school,” he says. “After, it was a home.”
The opportunity to create a similar sense of belonging among fellow Exonians inspired the three friends to launch their project. Calls for submissions within the PEA community yielded nearly 40 entries — from poems and photos to videos and memoirs. Zhen and Vemulamada say they’ve been impressed by the quality of the work and moved by their classmates’ honesty. They’re hoping others will feel the same way.
“If we can help at least one person to see, through stories or artwork, that they’re not alone and that others have been through [similar experiences], we’ll count that as success,” says Vemulamada.
The exhibit opens Friday, Jan. 29, in the basement of the Academy Building, near Mayer Auditorium. The opening reception is from 8-9 p.m. on Friday, and will include student performances and a screening of The Phillips Exeter Screen Tests, a video by Callan Mallone ’15.
— Genevieve Moriarty