Guest poet speaks out alongside students about race, gender, sexuality, identity


Courtesy of Kayla Taylor

Kai Davis, a current student from Temple University, visits ISU to perform poetry at an event hosted by the Black Student Alliance. Davis also serves as the artistic director of the Babel Poetry Collective.

Ellie Conrad

For Kai Davis and some students at Iowa State, poetry isn’t just a hobby — it’s a platform for advocacy and change.

“I’m tired of feeling like I’m hiding this giant secret of mine,” Ngoc Doan, sophomore in pre-biological/pre-medical illustration, said during her performance Friday night.

A current creative writing and African-American studies student at Temple University, Davis is also an award-winning poet and spoken word performer. Meanwhile, she serves as artistic director of the Babel Poetry Collective and tours the country performing and running writing workshops.

She’s been featured at the Kimmel Center, San Francisco Opera House and on CNN. She performed alongside ISU students Friday at Intersections of Identity: A Spoken Word Event.

Fourteen students performed their own poems in the first half of the show. These poems broke out on topics of race, gender, sexuality and the oppression and discrimination related to them.

“Our goal for the night was to have a platform for students to really speak about things that are often left unsaid,” said Markus Flynn, senior in kinesiology and health and president of the Black Student Alliance.

The students performed by either reading their poems from smartphones or printed paper, or relying solely on their memories. For some of the students, it was their first time.

“This is my first spoken-word event,” Doan said. “I’ve never done this before.”

More than 100 audience members’ snaps, claps and cheers filled the Sun Room of the Memorial Union as the students and Davis reeled off social commentary and personal anecdotes.

The desire for honesty was a theme throughout the performances. From the student performers’ autobiographical stories to Davis’ personal anecdotes, the performers all spoke out against the racism, sexism and discrimination they have experienced in their own lives.

“We’re not color blind. We’re color bold,” a group called the Bold Team Leaders said during their poem.

Davis’ work focuses on examining traditional societal structures and expectations. As a “queer woman of color,” she uses her personal experiences to comment on the intersections of race, gender and sexuality.

She also works to promote awareness of social stigmas in regard to mental health.

“Take care of yourself,” she said when advising members of the audience to leave the room if they felt triggered by the topics discussed. “It’s a lot of s— going on.”

However, few left the room and extra chairs and tables had to be brought in to handle the large audience.

“It was great,” said Joseph Elijah Washington, freshman in biochemistry. “The poems were amazing.”