Yavilah McCoy Delivers Powerful Message to Campus Community

By Leah Aulisio-Sharpe ’22, February 24, 2020
Educator and anti-racist activist spoke on campus about the importance of intersectionality.

Last week, Yavilah McCoy, a Black and Jewish educator and anti-racist activist, came to Ithaca College as part of the college’s Black History Month programming and as a part of Better Together Days, a week of interfaith action and engagement.

As a pioneer of the equity and inclusion movement, McCoy has been deeply involved in organizing for change and spreading her message. In 2017, she spoke to over 470,000 demonstrators at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C.

Sponsored by Hillel at Ithaca College, the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, and the Center for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Social Change (I.D.E.A.S), McCoy took part in multiple events on campus. She facilitated a dialogue with faculty and staff members on the need to advance justice across interracial, intercultural and interfaith differences. McCoy also met with members of the college’s senior leadership team and facilitated a workshop for 15 student leaders.

On the evening of February 18, McCoy spoke to students and college community members about holding multiple identities and challenging their implicit biases, especially as it regards to their activism on and off campus.

“The way in which [Yavilah] thinks about intersectionality plays on the ideas that we wanted people to think about.”

Omega Hollies, assistant ddirector for the Center for I.D.E.A.S

McCoy’s main focus during her talk was about how honoring every piece of one’s identity is a crucial part of using intersectionality to address the injustices marginalized people are faced with. She shared her own experience about how being Jewish, a black woman, a mother, an activist, and a global citizen each bring a specific vantage point for how she understands the world.

“How can we consider the deeper aspects of who we are that might motivate us to care about injustice,” she asked. “That might motivate us to say ‘the injustice that persists in the world has something to do with me?’”

Yavilah McCcoy speaking

McCoy also spoke to administrators, students, faculty, and staff at events prior to her keynote address. (Photo by: Roshard Hercules ’21)

Another theme McCoy touched on was the issue of rugged individualism, where individuals are taught to be so self-focused that we don’t recognize how we are connected through individual and communal experiences of inequality.

“Equity and justice grows between people when we are not just offering each other our loving thoughts and prayers, but we are also saying your suffering needs to end,” she said. “When I see your suffering, I’m accountable to do all that I can do to be sure your suffering ends.”

McCoy also encouraged students to address what issues they cannot accept through the vantage points by which they see the world.

“We can take an empowered lens of intersectionality to help us to move the cause of justice forward,” she said. “Simply by just looking deeply into each other’s lives and experiences, and agreeing to have others’ lives and experiences have something to do with your own.”

The messages resonated deeply with those in attendance.

“I learned so much on how to be an activist, and what the importance of being an activist is” said Carly Fruchtman ’22. “Now I know that there are tons of resources, especially here on campus, on how to become more involved and informed.”

Hierald Osorto, director of religious and spiritual life, organized this initiative, working closely with Lauren Goldberg, Hillel's executive director, and Omega Hollies, the assistant director for the Center for I.D.E.A.S. Hollies believes that McCoy’s message was a powerful and needed one.

“A lot of people think and talk about intersectionality as a theoretical concept. To start thinking about it as a lived experience, I think, would be very powerful for students” she said. “The way in which [Yavilah] thinks about intersectionality plays on the ideas that we wanted people to think about. These are the types of conversations we are hoping to continue on campus.”