Cause for Applause
With inaugural guest Khalid Taylor, Student Life
By Lucas Fortney | | February 23, 2018 @ 4:42 pm
Khalid Taylor (OC ‘17) is the Multicultural Resource Center’s newest Student Life Program Coordinator and The Grape’s first guest in a series of student (graduate) spotlights—and, according to the research I conducted before our interview, an aquarius.
Although I don’t know much about astrology, a Google search of ‘Aquarius facts’ tells me that they’re “affectionate, independent, and charming.” When I met Khalid in his office in the MRC last Wednesday, I was reminded of what I already knew to be true: that he’s no exception.
Obviously you’re still involved with student life on campus, but you’re seeing it from another perspective: from behind the desk. What is that like for you?
It was initially really difficult in that I felt stuck between two worlds, if that makes sense. A lot of my friends were still here and I would like to hang out with them, but as a staff member developing a professional relationship with them, I recognized that I couldn’t hang out with them in the same ways. It felt weird to be a staff member but not necessarily feel like it immediately, especially because the position of the Student Life Program Coordinator is very student-oriented. Most of my job is not necessarily being friends with students, but being friendly, cooperative, collaborative and engaged with them. That was definitely a lonely process at first, because Oberlin is small. Most of the young population is student-based. It took quite some time to find other staff and faculty that wanted to hang out and not just at meetings or not just over dinner. Part of what I did to address that was start a staff and faculty a capella group. That was really powerful, because I realized that I was missing my creative outlets from the year before, like the Obertones and capoeira. The MRC is not a job that ends to be quite honest, unless you draw the boundaries. Having a 10-6 job that didn’t end was tiring and I didn’t feel too inspired to do independent creative expression outside of that.
How have you worked to redefine the relationships that you have with current students?
Because of the identity that I bring to this job, part of what I’m here to do is support my friends. I have made a lot of friends at Oberlin over the course of my time here. I’m here to support everyone, but I care so much about the people here. It’s never really been a question of whether or not I can be present, it’s about changing the spaces in which I’m present with them. I invite people to the MRC more. I’m not really trying to go to people’s houses or attend parties. Not only is it unprofessional, but it puts my position at risk with underage drinking.
At the end of the day, I also need more time to myself now. Something I learned in my time at Oberlin, and especially now, is that I care a lot about other folks and I take on a lot of what other people take on. As someone whose job it is to specifically hold communities, it’s a lot of work and labor.
The friends that I’m closest to, we just had conversations about it. We talked about where I was at and how I could be present for them. Something that I see in the POC community generally and what I hope to see more of is having folks support you in what you’re trying to do. My friends who understood really just wanted to see me succeed and were willing to negotiate my relationship in a different form.
And also, we go out to dinner. I have money now. I’ve always worked for the money that I’ve had and so it feels good to not worry about financial security. I can help my friends out in that way too. One of my close friends used to say that you don’t give back to your community, you take them with you wherever you go. I feel like I’m able to do that. When I tell people I understand the struggle, I mean it. There were points when I did not think was not going to make it through this place. For that reason, I am a really good fit to help people who are in the same struggle.
It’s showing people that you can actually make it through as someone who is not jaded and who cares and cares passionately. Someone who is imperfect, but who is still doing their thing, and coming from places where people don’t really get out of the spaces they come from.
You said it’s not about giving back to your community, but about taking them with you. Where are you taking them?
Generally on campus there’s a desire to heal. I think that there have been a lot of traumatic experiences that have happened over the last couple of years that some people have been for and some people haven’t, but that everyone feels the reverberations of.
There’s also been the loss of a lot of people recently with faculty and staff members leaving. Certain communities have been feeling not necessarily lost, but confused and frustrated. I personally identify as a healer and I tend to give that energy wherever I go. Sometimes words come out of my face and I don’t feel like they’re coming from me, but they tend to be the right words.
Also, I’m specifically trying to support men of color. In my time, I recognize that’s something I didn’t get as much of. A lot of the work that I’ve done in this job has been to support black men in particular, but I hope to expand that to be men of color generally. I hope to bring the communities that I work with and care for to a place of peace and a place of self-awareness, to a place of empowerment to do what it is that they hope to accomplish.
You’re talking about the experience of black men on this campus. What has that experience been in your time at Oberlin College?
Identifying as an Afro-Latinx queer man, there aren’t a lot of people who look like me on this campus, and the people who do are kind of spread out. It was not always easy to feel comfortable being all the parts of myself at the same time in certain spaces. When I was struggling being in the conservatory and being in the sciences, I didn’t feel like there were many people I could talk to about my experience or where I come from and how that has impacted how I perceive things.
Men in particular can struggle with reaching out and accepting help because it is not seen as masculine or manly. Coupled with coming from a place that is about survival or is about making sure that you have yours, it’s also a matter of pride. You don’t want to be seen as weak, or as incompetent or incapable. There were a lot of points when I struggled alone and was stoic about it. I see that happen a lot here. I’d like to change the general stigma about expressing yourself as a man.
Do you have any ideas about how you’re going to do this outside of being an example and a resource?
It’s funny you ask because I have a meeting later today for a theme hall that was approved by res-ed. It’s called the ‘Brotherhood Hall.’ It’s going to be in A House. It’s specifically for black men but welcome to all men of color. We will be talking a little bit more about what that looks like, but I met with some current students on campus that wanted to see it happen.
I’m hoping to create a living and learning community for men of color to engage with each other and feel supported by each other. Not just in small clusters of three or four folks but rather in a large community. The theme hall is going to start next fall. In the meantime, I’ve done two programs specifically around black men. Last semester, there was something called “Black Boy Joy,” talking about blackness, masculinity, and emotional freedom to express yourself. I think about 15 men came out to just talk, which is a pretty big number for this campus to be honest.
What has been unexpected about the work that you do, for better or worse?
One thing that’s new this year is there are no longer community-specific coordinators. There’s no longer a Latinx, Africana, or LGBTQ community coordinator. So moving to that intersectional model as opposed to community-specific or multi-cultural model has been a process for everyone. Both from our end to the communities that we serve.
That’s something that takes time to continue to grow. It’s been a process to understand how to hold space for different communities simultaneously or in different settings and being prepared to help them as necessary. I identify as black, latinx, and queer and those are the communities that I feel most helpful with right now, but that is definitely not to say I don’t want to help the other communities. I just am figuring out how to do that better. As I grow to do that better, I hope to be able to help bring Oberlin’s communities together more.
When we collect our resources, when we recognize our common struggles, when we recognize our ability to support each other better, we create amazing things from that. The moments in which we’ve done that have been really beautiful, and it takes a lot of time, organization, sweat, and sometimes even tears. But it’s so worth it.
In your work so far, how have you negotiated supporting folks who have identities different than the ones that you hold?
The most important thing is being present. When people recognize that you see them for who they are from what they’ve shown you, that creates trust and that creates space for people to open up about what they need. It all starts with building the trust first. That’s how communities work. It’s knowing that people have positive intentions and are willing to be present for you and have shown that.
Amid all of this talk of supporting other people, who’s supporting you and how are you keeping this up?
I’ve had a lot of experience naturally taking care of other folks but have definitely found myself at Oberlin being a fountain that has run dry. Many, many times. In the past, I’ve been so overwhelmed with caring for other folks that I have lost touch with myself and am able to serve no one, including myself. I’ve learned from that mistake (or series of mistakes) and am better able to catch myself now.
Especially in the last couple of weeks, I have grown to love my coworkers in the MRC. I feel like they are my family. I have struggled to actively receive support when I need things in the past. I have felt pretty tired and unsure of if I could do things but I have felt nothing but support and kindness and love and respect and empathy and understanding from them. I’m so grateful that we enjoy hanging out so much that we don’t just do it in the space but actively want to hangout outside of here too. All I’ve wanted is to not just work all day, but to be able to have friends that understand what I do during the day.
I’m going to let you go, but I want to make sure that we talk about the Black History Month programming. As Student Life Program Coordinator, what has your role looked like this month?
The large portion of the programs that took place last week were programs that I put together or was directly responsible for. There was an Afro-Latinx panel. There was a samba masterclass. There was a self-care night where I brought barbers to A-House and basically created a barbershop. There was “My Name is My Own,” which is a queer and trans POC speaker series. And, of course, there was the Winter in Wakanda ball.
Winter in Wakanda was a tremendous success. I’m not trying to brag or boast about it, but that was me. The MRC definitely helped, but that was my vision and it was so beautiful to see somewhere between 200 and 300 folks all looking so good, in their finest, in a space that was positive and black and how people were not upset about that. People who were not black supported that and I think there’s a beautiful way that we can hold each other, hold space for each other, and celebrate with each other without it being like people taking up space.
I know the Student Life Program Coordinator is a one-year position. Are you going to be here in the fall?
I’m not done. I’m definitely not done. If everything continues to go well, and as long as I don’t heck up tremendously, I’m pretty sure that I’ll be back to do it again. I really have felt nothing but love and respect and admiration from all of Oberlin, damn near. That’s something that has made me feel validated in the work that I do or feel that I have the space to grow and not be perfect but to bring the best of myself as much as possible.
Contact Editor-In-Chief Luke Fortney at firstname.lastname@example.org.