On Walls


Vassar College junior Ava McElhone Yates ’17 should be in Chile right now. She left for Valparaíso in late February to explore social justice topics, only to arrive back in March when the coronavirus pandemic brought students home. Through online learning, she continues to take the class, studying the Chilean people’s struggles after a brutal dictatorship of 17 years, and how the country plans to move forward after major protests last year.

While her trip was curtailed, her freedom of movement between countries is not something McElhone Yates takes for granted. She spent last summer in El Paso, Texas, researching immigration policy and border communities. There, she co-wrote a report on sanctuary city policy and observed in courtrooms as people sought asylum in the U.S. She also presented Know Your Rights trainings to asylum-seeking families.

“This experience opened my eyes to the many flaws of U.S. immigration policy while simultaneously allowing me to learn from those who are working every day to make change,” she said.

In October 2019, she co-curated an exhibit called “Know Your History, Know Your Geography: Students, Artists, and Activists Respond to the U.S.-Mexico Border,” drawing connections between today’s U.S. border wall and the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

McElhone Yates is interested in a career in advocacy research or public policy once she graduates, she said, “but I am keeping my options open to explore many different paths!”