The Story Behind the Scarf: Columbia Student, Alumna Collaborate on "She Opened the Door" Project

Abigail Gray '19SPS
January 10, 2020

A scarf created in celebration of the Columbia Alumni Association's (CAA) She Opened the Door initiative was a unique collaboration between a Columbia student and an alumna—exemplifying the University's strong network of Columbia women.

The eye-catching scarf, released ahead of the "She Opened the Door 2020" event on February 9, was designed by Yuri Yuan '21SOA, a visual arts student at Columbia University School of the Arts. 

“It was a fun challenge,” Yuan said, adding she had never designed an item of clothing before. 

The idea was the result of a brainstorm led by Teresa Saputo-Crerend '87CC, '92BUS, a member of the She Opened the Door Task Force, a committee of the broader Alumnae Leadership Group tasked with planning the upcoming event.

Saputo-Crerend co-chaired the committee behind the first She Opened the Door conference in 2018, and said the group felt inspired to create another keepsake commemorating the event, as they did two years ago with a special key necklace.

Through the School of the Arts' Dean of Student and Alumni Affairs Laila Maher, the Task Force connected with Yuan.

Saputo-Crerend and Yuan met to discuss the story behind She Opened the Door and from there, Yuan got to work. She designed several beautiful options with different treatments of the initiative's famed key. In the end, a painted version—Yuan's specialty—won out.  

"She is a delightful young woman and was really easy to work with," Saputo-Crerend said. 

Yuan, a member of the School's Interdisciplinary Arts Council, has a diverse background. After studying art in high school in Singapore, she moved to the U.S. to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA). She enrolled in Columbia's Visual Arts program afterward, with the hopes of pursuing a career in studio art. She also completed a residency in Italy. 

“My work has a representational style and comes from memories of where I’ve been—the intimacy of everyday things” she said. 

The partnership with Saputo-Crerend isn't Yuan's only experience with the incredible power of Columbia's network of women. She credits Professor Susanna Coffey with opening the door for her along her artistic journey.

Coffey, a visual arts visiting professor at the School of the Arts, coincidentally also taught Yuan at SAIC and started at Columbia at the same time. Yuan said she is an impressive painter who is also supportive of her students.

"At a time when everyone was doing abstract [art] and I was doing representative art—I was really not the cool kid!—she was really encouraging,” Yuan said.  

Coffey’s lessons expand beyond the craft, too.

“First, it was learning from her how to paint, but now it is also how to be a good person,” Yuan said.

The She Opened the Door initiative, which began with a historic conference in New York City in 2018, was created to enlighten, educate, elevate, and empower Columbia women across the University. Learn more about She Opened the Door 2020.

Visit Yuan's website.

(Images courtesy of Saputo-Crerend and Yuan.)