‘Understanding who I am’: Jaelen King found his passions at Yale

Jaelen King
Jaelen King (Photo by Jack Devlin ’22)

Yale was not on Jaelen King’s radar as a high school student. He only considered applying after earning an excellent score on the SAT exams — and some firm nudging from his mom.

And his first few months on campus, he admits, were a challenge. But he ultimately found his footing.

The biggest thing I’m taking from Yale is understanding who I am as a person,” said King, a senior in Benjamin Franklin College who will graduate this week.

Looking back on the last four years, he sees how much he’s grown, and he gives credit to the people and groups who supported him along the way.

Early on, it was the club basketball team, the Afro-American Cultural Center, and the Black Men’s Union, of which he later became president. The Black Students for Disarmament at Yale, of which he also served as co-president, played a big role as well. And as a junior, he joined the Zeta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated.

I felt like I was surrounded by people who wanted to see me grow,” said King.

Jaelen King

They helped him develop a passion for social justice and advocacy, an interest he nurtured in his coursework. King, who plans to attend medical school in 2023, decided to major in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology so that he could fulfill his pre-med requirements and have the flexibility to explore additional interests.

Classes like “Sickness and Health in African American History” and “Bioethics and Law” reshaped the way he saw medicine. And the labs he worked in over the past year and a half similarly affected how he views research.

With researchers at the Yale School of Medicine and the SEICHE Center for Health and Justice, King has studied how Black adults recover from cocaine use without formal treatment and how COVID-19 affected incarcerated people and prison staff. He sees this work as complementary to what he’s done with campus groups and in classes — an opportunity to continue exploring the things he’s passionate about while combining his interests in advocacy and medicine.

It changed how I want to move forward in my career and what I want to do in life,” said King, who’s sticking around New Haven to conduct research for another year.

King has thought a lot about legacy, about what he’s done, and what he wants to do. He’s proud of the impact he’s had on his community at Yale and of ensuring others have space to leave their own mark. His advice: “At Yale, we have so many opportunities. Do something with them.”

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