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Campus Celeb: Tashi Shuler-Drakes

Hometown: Bridgeport, CTMajor: Sociology, Psychology minorCareer Aspiration:  Licensed professional counselingClass Year: 2015

How did you begin your interest in poetry?

It started when I was 15, I joined the poetry club in my school and then a year later I joined the poetry team when I was 16 and we went to the nationals.  We didn’t win but it was an experience that shaped how I saw myself in the world.  It was something that seemed so insignificant but it became so overwhelmingly important to me.

Your voice is always one of your biggest strengths.  No matter how little I have, I’ll always have my voice.  For me it was something that really changed my high school career.  When I was a junior I participated in Princeton University Summer Journalism Program.  I still did poetry but it gave me a chance to explore different types of writing.  It taught me a lot about writing, but more importantly it also taught me a lot about myself.  It taught me that I could handle pressure and being away from home more than I thought I could.

How many poems have you written and performed?

When I went to nationals I already had 3 that I had in mind to perform, but before that I had a solid 5 to 6 in high school, and in college now – if not 20 – around 25 that I’ve performed. But I’ve written way more than I’ve performed because some poems are just personal and only for me. So I’ve written around 50.  Some poems I perform more than once and sometimes I do poems for particular shows and never touch again.

How many shows?

My first performances were in high school, and then I hosted an open mic and I did a performance at the Peabody Museum and my career started to launch from there.  And then I went to the nationals.  I’ve done about maybe 40-50 in accumulation of high school and college as well.

Sometimes I have to know when to say no and when it’s too much for me but I love doing it.

What’s your favorite poem of your own work?  Why?

I have like two poems that I wrote that are more personal to me.  One of them is about my experience in dealing with moving back and forth when I was younger and what that did to my understanding of self.  I wrote it for last years African Caribbean Day.  I compared myself to a tree and how each time I moved, the experience took a little from me.  I had to understand that wherever I go the home was in me.  It was moving because I was moved a lot and I was bullied since I was the new kid.  I became sort of bitter and mean when it came to making new friends as I grew older but it was like a reflex that if I wasn’t mean first, then they’d be mean to me.  But this wasn’t who I really was and this was what I put up.  I can be more than that but I’d trained myself to protect myself.

Another one was about gun violence and I was inspired by the fact that I have little brothers and my city is really dangerous.  It’s to a point that they have a curfew because young kids get hurt if they’re out after a particular time.  It was important for people to understand that this is not a coincidence that you end up more hurt from where you’re born than from your actual choices.  For example, like the community that you’re raised in is at the same time encaging you.  And people always say they can move and have the ability to change it but it’s more than that when you’ve been raised in a particular setting. 

My bros are still there and I can’t fully separate myself because my family is there and my drive is to say that I’m from here and I’m going back to help there when I’m financially and emotionally successful enough.

Who are your biggest inspirations?  Why?


I really loved Queen Godis and I really loved Floetry growing up.  I listened to a lot of different things.  My grandmother was a big  Maya Angelou fan and even wanted my mother to name me Maya when I was born but Toni Morrison was my favorite author.  My mother made sure I grew up knowing of and being surrounded by influential black artists and black writers especially women in particular.  I really get my inspiration from black women artist.  Being black and being women are two different struggles and they carry that burden.  It’s always a wonder for me to watch because everyone deals with it in a different way.  There’s so much potential for any writer who wants to be in their shoes.  In order to be successful, you have to keep in mind the positives.  I look to them and surround myself with their influence because I want to be successful.  I can picture myself like them, like self-visualization.  

What topics do you usually write about and what draws you to those topics?

I like to focus on womanhood especially being a black woman.  Because a lot of the times we are pitted against having to defend our culture or our sex and I feel like that’s something you can’t separate from yourself and they’re deeply intertwined.  I like to make sure that people understand from me that I’m here for you.  I’m a black female and that is the basis of my identity.  I talk about that a lot and my city and where I come on.  I focus a bit on rape and teen pregnancy.  A lot of the time, as a poet I learned that I had to be in an actor in public for people who’ve had experienced this but didn’t have the voice or ability to talk about it.  Just because it didn’t happen to me doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be addressed – these things need to be exposed.  And even though some people may find certain topics inappropriate, I have no issue with going there. When is it ever an appropriate time to “go there”?  People hold onto so much stuff and people open up to me. I can sit down and they can tell me what’s going on with them.  That’s one of the reasons why I want to be a counselor.  I want to validate people’s experiences and make sure they’re heard.  I try to make sure I can speak about things that need to be heard.

Do you prefer spoken or written poetry?  Why?

When I first started I was scared to go on stage.  Even at nationals I was still growing into my comfort-ability even with my writing.  I wrote in high school for my words to be read, not for performance, but then I became more interested in slam poetry.  So, I began to write more for performance.  I’m now less comfortable with people reading my poems because I write it to perform it.  I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum – currently, I’m more comfortable with people watching my performances than reading my poems.

After a while the stage starts to feel like home.  The adrenaline rush is amazing.  It’s like fighting your fears.  Getting over it and embracing it is the best part. I embrace that uncomforting feeling before going on stage. 

I just have to be surrounded by my those who love me.  There’s nothing I can personally do other than practicing my poems.  If I over do it too much, I will blank out on stage.  The thing that I’ve learned is to relax and not focus on the poem until its time to focus on the poem, and I have to be surrounded by my friends and they replace the lost confidence.  There’s nothing more comfortable than by being in supportive hands.  

What is your opinion on the controversy of the MoHonest Campaign?

I’m a part of the MoHonest Campaign.  In terms of controversy, honestly I say this not to seem insensitive.  I say this because sometimes it needs to be said and heard.  I don’t care about the comfort of others students – you’re going to be aware of being uncomfortable.  I feel so strongly about this is because students of color don’t have the same platform to speak about “uncomfortability.”  It’s not about an attack on students not of color.  We felt like this was the only way that we’d have an ability to shine light on things that have been happening and previously we have been pacified.  In being uncomfortable, people are ignoring the fact that it’s not about them and it has to do more with the institution that you’re involved in.  You’d think by association that links down to you but if you feel in particular that you are a part of the problem, then that’s not our problem to fix, that’s yours.  We want people to be aware and we very much feel like this isn’t an institution that is interested in supporting us and being open to us.  Once you feel like your opinion doesn’t matter or things that happened to you aren’t important to the larger scale of the school, it feels like this school isn’t tailored for you and where you come from.  To feel uncomfortable all the time for 4 years is a large impact on someone’s college and life experience.

I will say that I am sorry that they feel uncomfortable but I don’t apologize for the campaign.  If they feel uncomfortable with it, sit and think why and if it has anything to do with anything they’ve personally done.  It has everything to do with everything they feel about themselves.  

If you can perform any where in the world, where would it be and why?

I would love to perform at the Nuyorican Café in New York City.  This is a famous venue where the most prestigious poets perform and if you’re there, you know you’re good.  In my lifetime, some time before I die, I have to perform at the Nuyorican Café.

What’s your favorite fashion trend this season?

Honestly, it wasn’t ‘till I got here that I liked shopping at thrift stores – like for old patterns and very jazzy-styled clothing.  Because where I came from it was an embarrassing thing to do, you shopped there because you had no other place to shop.  And so it took me a while to feel comfortable because I remembered all those times that I’d be embarrassed by my mother shopping in those same places. But ‘m also like I’m realizing that I wear a lot of dark colors and I’m trying to open up.  The shirt I wore for AC day is the brightest I’ve worn this semester.  This spring I think neon colors are really attractive.  I usually wear dark colors, but bright pink or bright orange is good for this season.

Anything else we should know about you or you want to say?

I volunteer for the Center for Women and Community and I’m a counselor in the Rape Crisis Services Program.  I work on the hot line and I am trained to go on advocacy calls.  I’m the only Mount Holyoke student there and it’s open to anyone in the Five-Colleges.  We’re trying to get us more involved, they’re currently recruiting.  It’s heavy work but there are a lot of strong people here who can do it! 

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Sin Than

Mt Holyoke

Hello!!I'm Phyu-Sin, co-EIC of Her Campus Mt. Holyoke. Come to me with any concerns, questions, or comments, and my doors will always be open to you.
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