Many of us are starry-eyed dreamers wishing to leave the world better than we found it. However, it’s rare to discover individuals whose starry-eyed dreams are directed towards positive action and practical impact to their communities. To create positive change and influence where you are is a rare ability, and Renee Yu ‘21, studying Policy Studies in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and founder of the Chinese media team WeMedia Lab, is such an individual who is thoughtfully committed to positively influencing the Syracuse community.
Yu, originally from the Hunan province in China, has always had a dream to use her skills and energy to pour positivity in the world around her. Before she came to Syracuse she founded an E-commerce startup called Dumall, where she launched a business campaign called “Children of Stars’ which gave revenue from targeted product to children with autism. Her work on such an important social issue inspired Yu to spend her career influencing others positively and shaped her decision to study Policy Studies in Maxwell.
However, when she first came to Syracuse, Yu found that her social circle was small and she did not feel as if she was growing through learning from those different than her. As an international student, Yu was immediately plugged into international communities but realized that this welcoming international community had turned into a bubble for her. “The first two years at Syracuse I did not participate enough outside the Chinese student community. As a girl who just flew all the way to America I wanted to see things I had never seen before. The world happens outside your comfort zone,” said Yu.
Challenging herself to move outside of her comfort zone and learn from people with different experiences, Yu began searching for ways to connect with domestic students and bridge the gap between the international and domestic community. As she connected with those outside her immediate circle, she realized that though the backgrounds and experiences s of students differed wildly- every person felt the same. No matter from how far away or what culture they came from, every student when they came to college experienced the same loneliness, uncertainty of belonging, and deep desire to fit in and find a home. “In the end we’re not divided or stereotypes of our nationality- in the end we’re just people.” said Yu.
Struck by the solidarity and power of shared experiences that Yu found in her campus conversations, she decided to start an organization that would foster healthy conversations and create meaningful relationships between people across different backgrounds. WeMedia Lab, a Chinese media team affiliated with the Syracuse Media department, seeks to not only maintain a strong community and open communication among Chinese students but works to build communities between Chinese students and all other Syracuse students. They describe themselves as contributing to the emotional bond of Syracuse University in their attempts to build an empathetic and closely connected community.
For Yu, the work to build WeMedia Lab and create positive impact in the Syracuse community was driven by her lifelong goal of pouring yourself into whatever community one is in.
After her freshman year she stayed in New York City and worked for an NGO which reached out to vulnerable communities by simply connecting with them, and offering to share a meal with a person who was homeless or having conversations with immigrants who felt unseen due to their language barrier. Through that, Yu realized the power of simply connecting with individuals in your community to make their struggles heard.
In creating WeMedia Lab, she hoped to give pieces of herself back into the Syracuse campus community and through her small actions of connecting with other individuals, she wants to create a larger community where people are always listening and giving to one another. She especially wants to thank Yueye Wang, Ze Zang, Aorui Pi, and Xingyu Tan, her teammates who together created WeMedia Lab.
Yu hopes that WeMedia Lab continues to be a presence on campus that forges diverse and empathetic communities. She continues to implement her conviction of the power of connection into every conversation and interaction. “Stories matter and voices matter. Speak out and encourage more people to speak out.”
Story by Claire Howard ’23, LaunchPad Global Fellow