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Karen Hye

Class of 2010
Major/Minor: psychology, Studio Art

Art For AIDS’ Sake

Karen Hye ‘10 always knew that she wanted to work in art therapy, but she didn’t expect to have already made such an impact on lives across the globe.

Double-majoring in psychology and art, Karen took an early interest in HIV activism. From there, she determined that studying abroad in South Africa would be the most enriching learning experience. During her academic exchange at Rhodes University, Karen contacted an AIDS clinic in Grahamstown and started conducting weekly art therapy with women there.

During each meeting at the Raphael Centre, Karen asked the women to express a different aspect of themselves, such as their dreams, identities or experience of being HIV-positive. Though they had never before talked at this level, Karen observed how the art inspired them to be more open with their peers. “It gave them the confidence to tell their stories out loud to a larger audience,” Karen remembers. “It was really powerful to see that.”

Karen gave each woman a disposable camera and asked them to document their lives with HIV/AIDS. The clinic’s manager recognized the potency of these artistic expressions and suggested that the photographs—together with drawings and personal testimonies—be exhibited during the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

Karen recalls that one of the most stunning photographs was a street scene—with a funeral parlor as the focal point. The exhibit, “Defined by Four Letters,” received national press. Karen herself was interviewed for television and print. “It was unbelievable to have that happen from an idea I had,” Karen muses.

Working from her own mother’s belief that beading is a form of art therapy, Karen also encouraged the women to make beadwork, which they sold at the festival. The women made 800 rand ($100), which equals a month’s worth of groceries for each woman.

Karen is conducting a similar art therapy project for HIV patients in New York City this summer, examining happiness, contentment and self-esteem during the three stages of treatment. She intends to compare the NY and Africa studies in her psychology senior thesis.This is work she hopes to continue in India and China, where HIV is prevalent. After graduating, she hopes to enroll in NYU’s art therapy program and to continue her work abroad.

Karen’s art therapy project in New York City is supported by the Clarence Hodson Prize, which “rewards creativity, initiative, and intellectual curiosity” by providing funding to art students for study anywhere in the world. As preference is often given to music majors, Karen was particularly honored to win the prize: “I couldn’t have done this without the grant.”

Read more about Karen’s experience on her “Art for AIDS’ Sake” blog, or see the women’s art on Flickr.

Additional Info

  • Blog: Art for AIDS’ Sake
  • Twitter: karenhye
  • Flickr: karenhye

On Being A Peer Mentor

As a senior I wish I had taken the opportunity to be a Peer Mentor sooner. The experience was very rewarding and I am glad to have been a part of the Peer Mentor program. Being a Peer Mentor gives upperclassmen a valuable chance to shape the experience of a first-year student at the beginning of their Washington College experience, when it matters most. As a Peer Mentor you have a unique relationship with the first year students and you help them through a variety of situations in the first couple of weeks of school. Over time you prove to be an invaluable resource for the students. My favorite part of being a Peer Mentor has been seeing my mentees interact with one another long after orientation has finished. My mentee group broke off into several sets of close friends, and the fact that our group had an impact on their friendship and helped them discover close friends from the beginning is really exciting to me!

Q & A

Hometown and high school? Monroe Township, NJ; Monroe Township High School.

Favorite class? Experimental Social Psychology with Dr. McKillop was really engaging and I was able to learn a lot about current psychology and also about my peers

Recommended professor? Dr. Littlefield and Dr. Tsui. They’re both really remarkable professors who care a lot about their students and their interests. It’s wonderful learning from someone who truly loves what they do and the field they are a part of.

Most memorable experience as a first-year student? Helping out with the Humor and Satire festival.

If you could be a condiment, which one would you be and why? I would be mustard because it’s versatile—it can be sweet or spicy—and it’s loved across cultures.

If you had a superpower, what would it be and why? I would have the power to alter time. I would like to be able to stop, rewind, and fast-forward time. There are a lot of moments in life that I’d just like to fast-forward through, or others that I’d like to pause and relish. And as one gets older it would be nice to rewind to the past.

Campus Involvement
  • Majors: Psychology, Studio Art
  • Peer Mentor
  • Layout Editor: The Collegian
  • Editor-in-Chief: The Medium
  • Secretary: Psi Chi
  • President: Art History Club
  • Peer Tutor
  • Research Assistant: Psychology and Art History