Constructing a New Vision of Solidarity

Now that the Moxie Project summer is over, we asked students to reflect back on the summer in its entirety.  We asked them, “What connections have you made between your work and your readings that have stayed with you?  What was most meaningful to you?  Has it changed what you plan to do in anyway?”

Sarah K. interned at Legal Momentum this summer.

The biggest and most challenging lesson I have learned this summer is the importance of solidarity in achieving social change.  Through Moxie readings and seminars I have learned that solidarity is defined as the “helpers” or “outsiders” working together and with the marginalized group in order to achieve the most effective and efficient social change.   Many times, especially coming from a point of privilege, it may be difficult for outsiders to fathom any connection to a group in need.   Yet, our group leaders explained that the freedom of each group of women is tied up together.  In other words, unless all women are free from discrimination, then no one woman can be truly free.

When I first heard that I would be working at Legal Momentum for the equality works division, which works to minimize the widespread discrimination and inequality women face in the construction industry, I was not very excited.  I had nothing in common with construction women, I did not want to work in the construction industry, and I did not see how I could possibly “help” these women.   Why would women even want to be in the construction industry?

During my first few days of work I was reading extensively about the program. Through my reading I began to understand a female’s desire to be in this line of work. This industry offered women economic independence without a college degree and allowed them to work outside with their hands.   Moreover, after learning more about the discriminatory practices on construction sites against women, I understood that my original thoughts about there being no connection between these women and me were very wrong.   Although I did not want to be a construction worker, these women and I still had a lot in common. We were both women working to end discrimination against women.  I did not have to be a construction worker to understand where these women were coming from.

Today, I see that the inequity and discrimination women face in the workplace is most exemplified in the construction industry. The construction industry is typically seen as a very masculine place and thus marks the biggest gender threshold for women to overcome in the workplace.  If women can defy the masculine stereotypes of this industry, then it should be a lot easier to confront those of other industries such as finance or science.

After I understood the importance and ability of finding a common ground between all groups in the pursuit of equity for women, I believe that I am now a better-equipped servant of social change.  This lesson was hard to learn and without first-hand experience I might not have been able to fully grasp the Moxie lessons surrounding solidarity.  Yet, after my internship and the Moxie discussions, I can truly say I better understand solidarity and moreover am one with solidarity.  Of course I recognize solidarity is easier said than done but I truly believe that with hard work I can now find solidarity with anyone in order to improve the social standing of all women.

Mind Games

Emily is a rising senior and worked this summer as a Development Intern at Sanctuary for Families.

I’m a huge fan of brain-teasers. From crossword puzzles to riddles, it fascinates me how the brain can absorb, sort, and organize information in order to make sense of such puzzles. In a psychology class my freshman year, I remember a professor displaying optical illusions on a PowerPoint and asking us what we saw. Someone shouted, “An old woman’s face!” Another person argued, “No, a young woman with her head turned!” They looked like black and white blobs to me. The professor smiled and said they were both right. He then outlined the details of the shapes and how they were connected to in fact form two different pictures, one of an old woman’s face and the other of a young woman with her head turned. Once he showed us how the pieces of the illusion worked together to form a complete object, it was just so obvious, how did I miss it?

Different students saw different images and some saw none at all, but once the whole picture was pointed out to us, we all began to make the connections. As humans we choose to absorb different kinds of information based on what we are paying attention to or based on what we have been taught. Sometimes we don’t see the broader picture unless we allow those who have found the links and pieced together a full picture to show us. I guess I could say my summer is like that optical illusion: one of realizing the connections between people, between ideas, between the struggles many of us face such as racism, classism, and sexism. And these connections allow us to share a common goal in creating a society in which none of us feel the burden of any of these forms of discrimination.

In the beginning of the summer, I had no idea how feminism would fit into the work I was doing at my internship. I was convinced the seminars, readings, and reflections were simply there to add stress to having to adapt to living in a new place—not to mention this new place was the jungle of New York City, it truly is its own world—and having to adjust to keeping up with a near full-time job. I gradually reformed this opinion as I began to realize the concepts I was learning in seminars, those of money, power, and activism, were constant considerations in the work my organization does.

It was one week not too far back that I began reading the articles for my seminar, and it was about the ways in which women in poverty are at a disadvantage to become economically self-sufficient because of policies that are in place. These policies, which focus on job placement in minimum-wage jobs, are often influenced by the stigma associated with women of poverty. This cycle of poverty is perpetuated when public policy makes it difficult for poor women to gain access to higher education in order to find living-wage jobs that will help them achieve economic self-sufficiency.

After reading half the article, my supervisor called me in to discuss my project for the week. He wanted me to write a grant proposal for Sanctuary’s Domestic Violence Workforce Initiative. I read through the project background and a lightbulb went off. The model Sanctuary advocates for is the same that the article advocates for! I jumped out of my chair and ran into my supervisor’s office to show him the article. He was just as excited and asked if I would send him a copy. At that point I realized I’m not reading these articles and discussing topics such as feminism and politics in my seminar as a means to an end. I’m not going to write a research paper, get a grade, and be done with this information. These lessons, these theories, these skills I’m learning in my job and in my seminars and readings are valuable assets to my development personally and professionally.

The way in which I view our society and the way in which I’m going to approach helping others have changed. Discussions concerning feminism, the values, beliefs, and issues surrounding the concept, have helped create a more complete picture of the world in which I live. Though I knew it was right to try to make the world an equal place for everyone, I didn’t understand why. What do I have in common with those who come from different backgrounds, those who differ from myself in race, class, or culture?

The answer is actually a lot. Though I may not look the same as others on the surface, we are connected as human beings, deserving of equal rights and opportunities, who are living in a society that deems some as unequal and undeserving of these rights because they look or think differently. As someone who comes from a place of privilege in terms of my access to resources such as education and connections with others who maintain similar goals, I feel compelled to use the resources I have to work toward making our society not only a more equal place for myself but also for others who face discrimination as well. But it’s also critical for me to keep in mind that my needs may not be the same as those in the community in which I’m helping, and thus the ways in which I approach this fight should be one that reflects the voices and needs of the community, and not necessarily my own.

It’s all about recognizing and being willing to understand that the world looks different to different people. The struggles I face as a white woman may not be exactly the same as the struggles of a black man or of a homosexual couple, but we are united by a common desire for equal rights, for the freedom to make choices. Whether you are the person who sees the old woman’s face, the person who sees the young woman with her head turned, or the person who sees nothing at all, the details you do see are connected to create a broader picture.

Reflecting on My Moxie

Libby interned at Sanctuary for  Families this summer.

10 Duke students in New York City.

9 females. 1 male. 3 Duke staff.

2 months.

6 nonprofit internships.

8 reflection dinners. 7 seminars discussing readings about feminism.

1 final presentation.

The Moxie Project in a nutshell, right? …Hardly.

The project is called the “Moxie” Project. Moxie, meaning spunk, daring, boldness. I feel like there had to be something extra special about this DukeEngage project, or else the name of the project would be a let down. And there was something special about it.

Before this project started I was familiar with service and partnership. I had been on several missions trips to Mississippi, Washington D.C., Mexico, and Haiti. I had taken  classes about poverty and how to approach a solution in an ethical way. I have always had a heart for helping others. My faith was the foundation that drove that, and my character and personality sustained it. I came into the program extremely excited and up for a challenge.

I absolutely loved my internship at Sanctuary for Families, which provides a comprehensive approach to help fight domestic violence and sex trafficking. Preparing for the project back at Duke, I had wanted to be more directly involved with the community I was serving, but once I got to Sanctuary, I learned that I could find my niche in a development department and still have an impact on a certain community. I learned that it takes a lot more to run a nonprofit than I thought. Developed nonprofits like Sanctuary for Families need boards of directors, development and financial staff, clinical and legal staff, administrative staff, and people to take care of the facility and delegate how the donations are organized and distributed. As much as I believe I work well with people directly, I had to surrender this desire of mine to fill in where the organization needed me. I reflected a lot about who I was coming into this space and what privileges I had that needed to be surrendered in order for me to show up as someone who could help contribute to Sanctuary’s mission. They valued my input and new suggestions, but I knew I needed to come in with an empty cup, ready to be filled with knowledge about domestic violence and all its repercussions. I didn’t want to bring any biases or misconceptions about domestic violence or how nonprofits operate. I was humble.

My internship at Sanctuary really turned into a relationship between me and my supervisors. I learned that working for a nonprofit didn’t have to be work work work from 9am to 5pm only stopping to eat lunch to escape the sad, depressing world we live in. In fact, the office I worked in was a positive, happy atmosphere where people would pop their heads into other’s offices to ask how each others’ weekends were. Working to stop an issue that is heart breaking like domestic violence does not mean one has to throw themselves into a grueling, depressing battle. Don’t get me wrong, there were several days where I was discouraged about the news I was reading about women who had the courage to leave their batterers and work for a better life and then ended up being found and killed by their batterers…and there was a day when I saw the documentary “Very Young Girls” about girls who struggle to leave the life of prostitution and I needed to get out of the office for a while. But there was a balance between the gravitational reality of domestic violence and the aura of positivity in the office that encouraged and inspired me keep fighting without losing hope.

One aspect that I loved about Sanctuary for Families’ approach to the domestic violence issue is that it was holistic, attacking the problem from every angle. I tend (dare I say like?) to bash our society for putting a bandaid on things instead of treating the source of the problem. We like to say here, take this pill to get rid of your symptoms without looking at what is causing the problem in the first place. Sanctuary addresses this by not only helping domestic abuse victims leave their batterers, but also by counseling them and teaching them how to be independent and training them to have the skills they need to find an adequate job and not fall back into abusive relationships. They also do a lot of advocacy by going into the community to train the police and people in the judicial system how to recognize domestic violence and how to deal with it. I think if other nonprofits do not have the resources to attack the problems they address comprehensively, then it would be a great idea to team up with other nonprofits- to work together.

This summer definitely consolidated a lot of my views of feminism and women’s rights. I am proud to say I am a feminist, and I know I want to deconstruct the stigma of feminism on Duke’s campus through my own example. You can argue with people as much as you want, with those words going in one ear and out the other, but (forgive me for the cliche) actions speak louder than words. I want to fight for the equal treatment and rights of all women, because as far as I’m concerned, until they get those rights, I don’t have those rights either.

I am really looking forward to the capstone course that my peers and I will take this fall. I want more time to unpack and process everything that I experienced this summer, and I am so happy I get to do this with the 9 other students who were with me in New York. We get to continue our march together as Moxies– exploring, debating, questioning, and living what feminism means to us and how we fit into its role in our community.

We have vigor, verve, pep, courage, aggressiveness, nerve, skill, and know-how. This is The Moxie Project… and it isn’t finished yet 🙂

An Inescapable Network of Mutuality

Alex interned at Hollaback this summer.

The Department of Health and Human Services recently required all new health insurance plans to cover birth control for women. Annual exams, breastfeeding tools, and a host of other services were a part of the new requirements as well; and all without co-pays, co-insurance, or a deductible.  Not too long ago I would have told you that the Affordable Care Act was definitely a victory for women, and it certainly is.  At the same time, however, making healthcare (including contraceptives) accessible to women regardless of their income level is a victory for a larger group; anyone who believes that healthcare should be affordable and available regardless of gender, race, religion, etc.  Now I don’t mean to take anything away from those who were in the trenches and on the ground pushing for this reform.  My point, rather, is that we are all connected, caught in what Dr. King called “an inescapable network of mutuality.” This is also to say, the systems and institutions that oppress us are all connected.  Now I’ve “known” this for quite some time, but this summer has really forced me to come to terms with this reality in a way that, quite frankly, makes me uncomfortable.

Working for Hollaback! this summer I got to see this inter-connectedness I’m referring to play out first hand.  We, as Westerners, have this idea of public space and that it belongs, well, to the public.  The reality is that some people in society have more access and more power in certain “public” spaces than others. Some people have no claim to “public” space at all.  For instance, when a man wolf-whistles or yells an obscenity at a woman in public he is exerting his power over her.  Compile all the times any given woman has been harassed in a public space and what you begin to see is that whether on the train or walking down the street, women do not “own” public space the same way men do. That is, women cannot exert the power, whether that pertains to sexual harassment or just physical intimidation, that men can.  This holds across other power dynamics as well.

My heart would race every time I walked by what I deemed to be an armed officer in the city this summer.  Whether he or she was on the S.W.A.T Team, a member of the NYPD, or just a security guard with a gun, I would literally watch myself being riddled with bullets at the drop of a dime every time this happened.  Now you might suggest this is just a familiarity issue, and that my comparison is invalid. Well, true, its not everyday in North Carolina that I see a cluster of assault rifles being fingered around children in a park. (That’s a calamity of its own on behalf of NYC but I digress).  The fact is, however, the police have more power in a public space than I do.  Now you’re thinking, “Of course. They should. They protect us.”  Well I won’t debate that, nor can you debate that ultimately the way the police maintain order, with the threat of violence (a result of their power), is the same idea behind a man assaulting a woman in public space, our patriarchal society has given him that power.  In the case of the police, they aren’t purposefully intimidating me right? The point is, they don’t have to, that’s the power differential that I’m getting at. If I walked by a lone woman on a street anywhere at night she would not be wrong for feeling uncomfortable would she?  No.  There is already a difference in power that has made her uncomfortable about that situation before she ever even sees me.

My point is, and forgive me because it has taken me a while to get here, that the catcalling man on the street or the creepy guy leering at teenagers in a restaurant are directly tied to being stopped for driving while black or being called “boy” by an old white woman. It all comes back to power. And the identity of “woman” is just one that is used to confine, restrict, and deprive people of power. No, being poor, or being black, or being gay, or a woman, are NOT all the same experience. Not at all. But they are all the result of marginalization, of dehumanizing done by one group to attain power over another.

Now if you understand but disagree with my point, well, you have just helped me make it.  The next most important thing this summer taught me is that power is interested in the fragmentation of the oppressed. Those in power do not want the white feminist with a J.D. from Columbia living on the Upper East Side to see what she has in common with the black teenager from Brownsville carrying a gun to school because he heard someone wants to fight him.  And if my examples sound absurd, it is in fact because those in power are winning! They have disconnected and therefore disempowered us.  Even as I look at feminism, I see that so many staunch feminists fail to realize that we are ALL caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.

The significance of all this you ask?  Well, for me personally coming to terms with this sort academic or intellectual understanding of how our world works brings up a lot of questions.  Is oppression is simply embedded in our DNA? Equality is always on our lips but is it really in our hearts? Founded in pools of blood and on the bedrock of so much injustice, can America ever really be anything more than that? Will we ever begin to move forward for justice as a whole rather than just separate factions pushing each other down to get to the top? And my honest answer to these and similar questions is “No.”   But it doesn’t stop there for me.  What, then, does it mean for anyone involved in “social just work” that we really have no idea of what we claim to be working toward looks like?

In closing, I don’t think we can only be committed to fighting for change if we are promised it will come.  There is a quote, by who I forget, but it reads, “We don’t hope because things will get better, we hope because we know that they will not.” King himself mentioned “hewing a stone of hope from a mountain of despair.” I think this summer has helped me size up that mountain and see just how big it is. Now, I imagine, I can get to the task of hewing that stone.

Young, Wild, & Free – My Moxie Experience

Steff Niessl is a rising senior and interned at Legal Momentum this summer.

I admit, I’ve been putting off writing this last blog post for the past week because part of me doesn’t want to come to terms with the summer being over (and the other part of me has had my nose buried in a Kaplan LSAT endurance practice book). Since being home a mere five days, I have already transitioned back to my old summer job and have started a pile in my brother’s old bedroom of things I am taking back to Duke. These past eight weeks were a blur. A stressful, surreal blur. But even then and now, I think my moxie experience was one of the best things to happen to me.

I think about my dorm room in Union Square and realize that I too am now a guest, that I am no longer able to come and go as I please with the effortless swipe of an identification card (and how much this makes me sad). I think about Legal Momentum and my morning commute, how with only one week left I finally figured out where exactly I needed to stand on the subway platform to get in the car that would take me closest to the exit gates at Houston Street (and how it WOULD take me this long to figure out). I think about the nights out with my friends, gallivanting around without a care in the world so long as I had people to laugh with (and how New York City served as the perfect backdrop). All of these little things seemed unimportant at the time, but they all contributed to the person I became during my moxie experience. It sounds a little dramatic, claiming that this program “changed” me, but I believe it did.

Moxie destroyed my sense of apathy with respect to politics and policy (and made me wonder how I could have been so disinterested before). Moxie motivated me to start planning for my career after Duke and start studying for my looming October 1st test date. Moxie gave me the power to stand up to my guy friends who greet me in public by jokingly saying “Whuddup slut” as opposed to using my real name. Moxie exposed me to a lot of injustices I didn’t really notice at Duke, but it also gave me the means to fight these injustices. I refer to Moxie as if it were its own entity, but after this summer I realize she’s been dormant inside of me all along, it just took a few people to wake her up. So I’d like to give a special thanks to my Duke Engage leaders Ada, Erin, and Rachel, as well as my Legal Momentum supervisors Lynn Schafran and Tracy Vris for pulling me out of my slumber.

And thank you to my fellow Moxies.

Looking back and moving forward

Avery is a rising sophomore and interned at Legal Momentum this summer.
This summer has had a pretty big impact on my life. It’s challenged me, inspired me, irritated me, matured me, and (most importantly) made me question how I look at the world, and what my role in it should be. I feel like this is a natural experience for anyone spending their first extended period of time in a big city, and working full time. But I believe the Moxie Project maximized this effect. Not only did it temporarily throw me out into the real world, but it required me to reflect on my experiences (whether they be related to work, politics, relationships, or life in general) on a regular basis. I think reflection is seriously underrated these days. We’re so focused on what’s next, that we rarely take the time to look back and truly get meaning and value from what we’ve done.

Not only did I reflect on my personal experiences, but I was able to discuss them with the others in the cohort, and hear their experiences as well. I heard an insight from six different feminist organizations, and was able to connect them to the women’s movement as a whole. Independently, they are all generally well-run nonprofits with the best of intentions. But I think we need to take it a step further. We need to get these programs talking to each other, working together, because in the long-run, we all want the same thing. To me, the fact that these programs are not collaborating with one another represents the biggest problem with the feminist movement. We are working hard at our specific goals, but the division is taking away from the greatness that could be achieved as a collective. I believe the work that Lynn and Tracy are doing at the National Judicial Education Program to be extremely necessary. It’s a short term solution to the currently existing gender-bias in our nation’s judicial system. But this can’t be the final answer, because it’s never-ending. The root of the problem is not being addressed.

Meanwhile, there are other organizations out there addressing systemic problems, looking at the long-term effects on our society. I think feminist organizations need to communicate more, because it gives hope to our efforts, and strength to the movement. I was able to work at Legal Momentum with this awareness because I learned and spoke with a group of varying feminist organizations, and was therefore not saddened by the thought of a never-ending approach to a deep-rooted problem. If the entire feminist movement was organized like one giant Moxie Project, maybe this hope could be shared at a greater level, and more importantly, we could advance gender equity at a quicker pace.

But my summer was about more than just the women’s movement. I learned a lot about myself, and about human interaction in general. I credit this to the readings we were assigned and the discussions we had at work. I think the most important lesson I learned was about implicit bias. I had never really given it much thought before, I’ve always been such a logical person. Our brains are designed to categorize our observations and the information we take in, which leads to natural stereotyping and discrimination. This is why I believe so many kids grow up with the gender biases that exist in our society. They’ve been observing it since they were young, and naturally it stays with them until they address the problem at its core, which is exactly what we did at the Moxie Project.

However, requiring every student to go through the Moxie Project is a bit unrealistic. In the short term, I think we should require students to take a general psychology course in elementary or middle school. It’s so important to have a basic understanding of how the mind works, yet we don’t stress this importance in our education system. In the long term, I think we need to alter the way our society is set up, which would in turn prevent future generations from observing a patriarchal structure and formulating gender biases. Again, I bring up addressing the root of the problem. Until we figure out a way to do this, the feminist movement will continue to be like Hercules and the Hydra. Cutting off the heads, or abating the symptoms of gender biases, is an endless and tiresome struggle. They will just continue to grow back. We need to see all these symptoms as a whole, and rather than running around and putting out a thousand different small fires, find a way to stop them from starting in the first place.

Lessons Learned

Lillie interned at Third Wave Foundation this summer.

I learned so much this summer—about myself, living and working with others, and the non-profit community—it is hard to isolate only a few learning experiences for this blog post! Overall, reading about feminism, the ideals feminists profess, and the ways feminists act on their beliefs, has shown me how to think critically about social movements, activism, and how to create social change. Before The Moxie Project, I did not always think to question activists and non-profits—I guess I always assumed that they were simply trying to “help” people and serve others, so how can this be a negative thing? I have learned that, even when an activist’s motives come from a good place, it is still always important to think critically about the work being done and not take activism and service at face value. Even though it can be hard to come to terms with one’s privilege and recognize the mistakes one might be making in their activism, it is necessary to confront these issues to create a movement built by people in true solidarity. Prior to participating in the Moxie Project, I would have never considered the many layers to social movements and non-profit work.

I have also appreciated the moments where our readings connected with my internship and made my work experience all the more meaningful. I especially enjoyed reading about how feminism influences the way one can structure a non-profit and organize the power dynamics of a group. Seeing firsthand the way the our different organizations dealt with hierarchy, power dynamics, and other structural factors showed me how such decisions can have far reaching implications for how the non-profit functions and contributes to social change. For example, the role of an organization’s board can be especially complex, for its role in an organization often dictates who can be on the board and how they can contribute. The issue of how feminist organizations structure themselves (and how this can change over time) was far more complicated than I had ever imagined, and being able to see the different methods of organizing through our internships helped me understand the implications these decisions have.

Lastly, as an incoming senior, I wish I could say that this summer has set me on a specific path for my future, but unfortunately I’m still pretty undecided about the next phase of my life. However, even though I still don’t have a set career path, my experiences this summer have opened my mind to the many ways one can be involved in the feminist movement. I used to see involvement in social movements as very black and white—either you’re working for a non-profit and supporting social change, or you aren’t at all. Reading about and discussing the many ways we can attack issues has demonstrated to me that feminists who will push the movement forward are needed in every field, from banking to church work to politics. Working solely through non-profits or solely through the government will not create lasting, all-encompassing change. Rather, we need people in all sectors of society to push for gender justice, and I think The Moxie Project has given me the tools to do just that, in whatever field I choose.


Sunhay is a rising Junior and is interning in Queens, New York at the Women in Need Center, which primarily serves as a shelter for Asian women in crisis.

All my thoughts are in pieces. I have yet to look at the big picture and really soak in what these past eight weeks have meant for me. But here’s what I’ve got so far.

I declared myself a feminist within weeks of the Women as Leaders class two semesters ago. But throughout the next year, I still fumbled when my friends asked me what a feminist was. I had no definition for them and could never fully articulate what being a feminist meant for me. It was just too personal to lie out on the table. Too burdensome, maybe.

It basically had to do with my relationship with my mother, my mother’s relationship with my father and his relationship with me. Needless to say, it also had to do with how differently my brother and I were raised. These factors were deeply rooted within my choice to identify as a feminist—more than any of the statistics about unequal pay and the glass ceiling.

I can blurt out a textbook answer for what feminism means by now. But the word’s significant exists beyond its definition for me. It is a means through which I understand how gender impacts my life and the environments in which I operate; it provides me with the tools to look critically at conditions I have come to implicitly accept as the norm; it has impacted the very nature of how I see.

That is why I called, and continue to call, myself a feminist—because I had been touched by it.

And Moxie helped me think through all that.

But more specifically, Moxie has also let me see the various ways in which non-profits work to benefit women. Not a single non-profit works alone, nor can address the myriad challenges women face. It is all essentially multi-faceted in nature.

For instance, ending street harassment and educating young girls about women’s issues contribute to the fight against domestic violence (Hollaback and Sadie Nash). Battered women’s shelters and their clients depend on the legal system to be fair, without any double standards (Sanctuary and WINC). So there are other forces focusing on the education of judges across the nation (Legal Momentum).

But all such battles require resources.

So there are foundations dedicated to sustaining these people entrenched in the movement (Ms. Foundation and Third Wave). Granted, these foundations are fighting their own battles to maintain their funds and resources. And they depend on individuals like us to share our capital.

There are so many ways in which I can engage with this movement. So many ways in which people have engaged with this movement.