Icky, Unsettling, and Awesome

I would like to take a moment outside the lines of curriculum, and program structure to reflect on the reality of my experience these past three weeks living in New York, working at Sadie Nash, and learning with fellow moxies. As I move forward into the fourth week- my final week of dean training at Sadie Nash before my mentees arrive my life goes from 60 to 120 mph- I crave the opportunity to make sense of the unsettling intersection of my contrasting lives here. The best way to describe my experience is that of a cultural immersion akin to my time in Haiti or Nicaragua while simultaneously maintaining one foot in my culture of origin. In most Duke engage programs, cultural immersion is integral to the summer experience; students sleeping, eating, and living in a foreign culture. While group members are surrounded by their Duke cohort, at no point is this immersion fully broken. There is, in this way, a since of continuity in the experience. Similarly, most interns working in New York City are living alone or with friends, and working in a job setting which likely operates around a similar cultural script as that with which they were raised. This is not to discount the deeply educational or even cultural experiences which internships provide, rather to illustrate their general sense of continuity of experience between worlds of home-life, work life, friendships, etc.

In my personal experience; however, I am experiencing a full cultural immersion, while maintaining a home-life utterly separate from work. On top, I am participating in Moxie, which adds another third theory-based, academic world. Each facet of my life in New York is so utterly different that I feel almost as if I experience three or four instances of culture shock on a given day. From walking to work in my funky neighborhood, to immersing myself in a job surrounded by lower income, magnificently diverse individuals, to meeting up with high school or Duke friends after work for drinks, frozen yogurt, or similarly elitist, low-cal goodies. It’s as if I’m bouncing from starkly different realities; requiring a special set of social tools to flourish in each individual world. In addition to this sense of profound disconnect between my privileged downtown life attending apartment rendezvous with wealthy high school friends, and my Brooklyn life discussing personal oppressiveness over others like my co-workers, there is also the social contrast between a largely minority, 25% lesbian work cohort, and my mostly white, primarily privileged Duke friends. I find myself, for the first time in my life, really understanding white privilege. That is to say, in the 9 hours window of time in which I immerse myself in Sadie Nash culture, my race is a constant awareness. Never is there a point when I don’t need to feel conscious that I might be feeding a stereotype of my race, saying something to allude to my race, or acting too “white”. It’s a fascinating and powerful reminder of just how privileged I am as a white female in most environments I spend time in.

Needless to say, the experience of navigating these different types of relationships leaves me wondering where I truly view myself as most “fitting in”. In a way, I don’t want my coworkers to know how silly and mundanely frivolous my conversations are, whereas I can’t imagine walking on eggshells, constantly conscious of my race to such an extent with every friend I have. In reflecting back, I can see that my simultaneous immersion in two different cultures is causing me to question my place in society. I am uncomfortably, and bizarrely awakened to my privileged, hetero-normative, white-centric mentality, which, while questioned academically, has never felt this shaken in reality. It’s exhausting but pretty freaking cool.

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