Lessons for the body in music and the land

In her research, and in her work with young people, Nicole Alleyne has explored ways to strengthen the connection that Black students feel toward the land.
Nicole Alleyne

Nicole Alleyne (Photo by David Liebowitz)

For Yale senior Nicole Alleyne, the human body is a versatile instrument — a maker of music, a channel to the past, a tool for learning, and a link to the land. She has tapped into these potentials while inspiring others to do the same through her academic and extracurricular pursuits at Yale College and beyond.

Alleyne, a member of Ezra Stiles College, will graduate this year with a B.A. in American studies and a certificate in education studies. In both programs, she has focused on African American history and culture and its modern manifestations. Her senior project in American studies looked at African American spirituals “and how cultural memory lives through the body and through the voice in very intimate ways,” she said. It’s a connection she’s experienced firsthand as a member of the Yale Gospel Choir.

In her capstone project for the Education Studies program, Alleyne “reimagined” outdoor education with a focus on “connecting Black students to the land.” The history of lynchings and other racial violence associated with the woods has “ruptured the Black community’s relationship with the land,” said Alleyne; for this and other reasons, she said, Black students are underrepresented in outdoor education programs.

Alleyne did fieldwork for her “land-based pedagogy” project during a gap year, working at Camp Fire Wilani Outdoor School in Oregon, leading a natural science curriculum for 5th-graders.

Something that is totally missing in traditional education is treating students’ bodies as active parts and interlocutors in their learning experience,” she said. “For instance, when learning about plant species, we were using our senses. We were looking or touching, smelling… Your body has all of these tools in order to learn about the world. How can we use our bodies and these gifts in ways we might not be able to do in the classroom?”

At Yale, Alleyne has led excursions for the FOOT (First-Year Outdoor Orientation Trips) program and journeyed with fellow enthusiasts as a member of Yale Outdoors.

Alleyne hails from Augusta, Georgia. She discovered her affinity for the great outdoors during an 8th-grade class trip to Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. She attended high school in nearby Asheville, where she and a fellow student created Camp Good Trouble, an outdoor education program for local youth. The camp’s name was inspired by John Lewis, the late congressman and civil rights leader who famously advised students to “make good trouble, necessary trouble,” and who had visited to Alleyne’s own school. The program ran for two years before being derailed by the COVID pandemic.

"Camp Good Trouble"
Nicole Alleyne and a fellow student created Camp Good Trouble, an outdoor education program for local youth in Asheville, North Carolina.

Make good trouble” has remained a mantra for Alleyne. She was a camp counselor for students with special needs at Camp IVEY in Georgia; co-facilitated an anti-oppression curricula as an intern for the GLIDE Center for Social Justice in San Francisco; and developed and led a peer-mentoring curriculum focused on social justice for Students Shoulder-to-Shoulder in Vail, Colorado.

It was through the latter organization — which aims to inspire and support generations of ethical leaders around the world — that Alleyne met Karambu Ringera, founder and president of the Tiriji Foundation, which runs a home in Meru, Kenya for children who have lost their parents. The foundation is now building an affiliated school, which will have an outdoor education component focusing on “decolonial land.” Ringera, who has become a mentor to Alleyne, has invited her to come to Kenya for a year to work on the project.

She said, ‘I want your help. I want your questions,’” recalled Alleyne, who received funding for the visit from Yale’s Charles P. Howland Fellowship. “We will be physically building the school while we're working on the curriculum, so it's very new. I’m just happy to be able to provide support.”

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