BitterSweet Endings

As my mom, brother and I took a quick stop into the shops on 5th Ave and strolled through the Union Square market I had a mixture of emotions once again.  We are still in NYC, still within a 5-block radius of where I had called home for the past 2 months, but everything was now over.

Sanctuary was no longer my home, everyday 10 – 5.

Keys and Card were turned in.

Rooms were empty.

10 Moxie girls had come…

and now they were gone.

Bittersweet can be defined as “pleasant but including elements of suffering”… this depicts my feeling about most endings…but especially Moxie.

The Sweet part: The past 8 weeks have been EXHAUSTING but in a very good way.  I was pushed mentally (Moxie discussions and personal reflections), physically (double workouts, full workdays, 6:30am wake-up calls for pt), and emotionally (personal discussions with the Moxie girls, working out anxieties for the future, and discovering realistic responsibilities for myself within the movement once Moxie was behind me).  Therefore, an end to Moxie looked positive and pleasant in many ways. I could let my mind rest for a little while, focus on my running, and spend some time with my family before having to go back to school.  All good things…right?

But then again the conclusion was so abrupt, upsetting, confusing and made me uneasy.

The Bitter part: Hadn’t we just gotten here, had our first dinner at Anna Marie’s, prepared for our first day of work and were introduced to all of the interesting people, activities and ideas that we were going to be exposed to this summer? Where did the time go? I was not ready to leave the relationships I had just forged, the friends I was just starting to get to know, and the city that revealed a new adventure to me each day with many places still left a mystery.


Although I am saddened, midway through this blog I had a change of heart! Moxie is over, but hey! These bitter parts can be made sweet!! I will always have the memories and influence that these 9 amazing, diverse, passionate, outspoken, driven young women had on me. I will still have the plethora of knowledge of women and their continued struggles to create social change and to achieve a voice and presence in leadership positions, and society in general for that matter. And I will still have the experience I have gained from dipping my foot into the water of the professional world.

Thank you to my Development Family at Sanctuary – Lisa, Susan, Emily, Jin, Johnny, Sasha, Kaitlin, John, Laura and Claire (can’t forget my fellow interns :D).

Thank You to Ada, and Anna Marie, for constantly providing me feedback and pushing me each week to reflect and develop my interpersonal skills.  I am not sure if you both realize how much I appreciate the time you took to respond to my reflections, as well as how much you cared about my personal growth.

Life is moving on. Now it is my turn to give back; to use Moxie as a new beginning, to use my experiences as inspiration, and to use my long-held, but now renewed passions, to guide my way.

My top 5 Take-A-ways from the Moxie Experience

It’s weird how time works, it seems like yesterday my parents lugged all of my stuff into the city and said their goodbyes before leaving me in a very new and different setting, with new people, a new job, a new program – a whole new life.  I remember the excitement, the nerves, and the unknown.  I would never have guessed that by the end of the summer I would have met Eve and Anita Hill, made new best friends, explored the Museum of Sex, been a part of raising 2 million dollars at a Fundraiser Gala, and reaching out and collaborating with a COO.

I sometimes have difficulty recognizing my achievements, but I think it is important to be able to acknowledge your successes, because if not, you would always be focused on what you didn’t do and what you could have done; that just doesn’t seem like a healthy mindset.  So I am glad to say that I am very proud of what I accomplished during my Moxie experience, that I really put myself out there, both with the Moxie girls and total strangers, and I allowed myself to be molded by the experience.

Now I can delve a little deeper into what I took away from this program – I had to limit myself with this blog title…If I didn’t cap it at 5 I would be going on and on, because a lot can, and did happen in my time here in NYC.  However, I will just highlight the top 5 most important take-a-ways that I do not believe I could have gotten during any other summer experience:

1.    New Friends & the luxury of discussion: Coming into Moxie one thing that I had hoped for was that I would not only get to know 9 other girls that I had never come in contact with at Duke, but also that I would somehow connect and click with 1 or 2 and find a friend that I would continue to develop a relationship with even when the summer had ended.  Now this is asking a lot, especially for me and my personality.  I don’t have very many close friends because I don’t force things that aren’t there. On top of that, genuinely good friends that you click with are very hard to find, but I am so fortunate to have found that at Moxie.  On a different note, even if I didn’t make 9 new best friends I was granted the privilege of being surrounded by other women who were interested in exploring, and understanding, the position of women in our society as well as questioning and digging deeper into how we can create change for both women as well as all other oppressed groups.  I will continue to have these conversations after Moxie; however this experience, our discussions and readings, and the safe environment that encouraged engagement can never be replicated.   


2.    Challenge & Feedback: Whether it was from fellow Moxies, my instructors, or in the professional environment, it was the group discussions, individual conversations and informal interviews that pushed me to view my actions, opinions and attitude from a new perspective.  I found that although I am on the most part an understanding and open person, I do have some work to do with my reactions to people’s advice or feedback. I still see that I can get defensive sometimes and take criticism as attacking my character and beliefs.  However, I need to keep in mind that it’s not “my” beliefs that are being questioned and on top of that these beliefs are not “truth.”  After our last discussion section, I realized that I need to expose myself to the other side; the ideas that I may not agree with because 1. It is unfair to think that other people should hear me out and understand what I think is “right” if I don’t give anytime to explore their side, and 2. It is for my benefit to hear the other side because it will either reinforce my beliefs and develop my knowledge of the counter-argument, or it will expose me to something that maybe I agree with more…

3.   New level of relationships and increased confidence:  Working at Sanctuary for Families I had my first taste of the real “working world.” I had to learn how to interact with co-workers and my boss, to speak up, and to take a chance and reach out to others if I wanted to understand and engage on a deeper level.  Additionally, I pushed myself multiple times to get to know people outside of my organization. I emailed and meet with others who I wanted to build a relationship with and share my ideas and projects with. I am now discussing new initiatives with COO’s, connecting with founders of organizations, and hopefully in the near future, meeting and brainstorming with individuals who have passion and power in the social movements I am involved in.  This has elevated my confidence because it has shown me that not only can I interact with women on my own level, but I am taking that next step to engage and get involved with people in all different organizations, and diverse sectors, to address the same issues that I am trying to change in my own Duke community.

4.    Respect & Appreciation: I wanted to thank my instructors and Duke-Engage for providing me this summer opportunity.  There were definitely times when I was tired or stressed and did not want to go to events, or drained from the week and did not know what I was going to talk about in discussion but I tried to keep in mind that only 10 individuals were chosen for this program, and what they would give to be here right now. The last thing that we should be doing is complaining about our schedule or dragging out conversations because we just “aren’t feeling it.”  Not only is it offensive to the people who are taking time out for us, but it just reflects an attitude of disregard and frankly, taking advantage of our privilege.  Being respectful is not a difficult thing to do and it can only improve relationships. 

5.    Exposure: Real life, in your face experiences: Nothing compares to experiencing things first hand. The Pride Parade, meeting Anita Hill in person, discussing my future with a very powerful and knowledgeable woman, watching Subverted, a one woman play portraying 20 characters and the depth of oppression, walking the Brooklyn Bridge — I could go on and on. These events can be passed from one person to the next through written stories or word of mouth, videos can try to capture the power and emotion in a play, and pictures can attempt to display the multitude of characters that walked down 5th Ave during the Parade. But it will never feel the same as being right there.  New York City is an amazing experience on its own, without an internship or Duke program, with people and experiences zooming by you.  This summer I am reminded never to take these in-your-face opportunities for granted and to make the most of the experiences you choose to take part in, as well as the ones you are privileged enough to be given. Because there are SOO many people who will never get to experience it like you.

Enlightening the Enlightened: We are never above the lessons learned from our Family

There are two worlds that I live and they are entirely different – or at least I have always seen them as two separate spheres. My life as a feminist, activist, Duke student, and young woman trying to figure out who she is (this is who I am for a majority of the year) and then there is my family, my upbringing…my roots. Some people aren’t very close with their family. They can go through an entire college experience without visiting home, or move far away when they have obtained a career, not to be heard from for years on end.  I never had this attitude with my family. In high school we were together every weekend, my nana, papa and aunt pam coming in from Queens and my cousins living just 5 minutes away. Rarely did it feel forced, rarely did I want to be somewhere else, other than with them…until I went to Duke and found my new independent self.  Of course I have always felt that I was independent, but this was new. I was 10 hours away, I was engulfed in a community of “intellectuals” my age, and I was forced to figure out everything on my own.  Over the years at Duke I have gained so much from other students, classes and numerous opportunities that would never have been available to me if I were to live at home and go to a school right down the road from my house.  However, Duke also changed me in another way, which I constantly have to check myself for.

             Being at an elite institution can sometimes make you feel “Elite”. It can make you feel as if your knowledge, and the education you are privileged enough to have access to, makes your opinion more right, or closer to truth, than another’s. I dislike this attitude, but it seems as if whenever I go home I unknowingly speak with a know-it-all tone, and it can often sound dismissive.  This weekend I saw it happen again and I justify it by saying “its my passion…I have done multiple readings on this topic so I know what I am talking about…it’s not opinion it is truth.” Not only did I learn that these statements are reflective of an uncontrolled Ego, but I also found that there are so many things that I can get from being with my family, that my other world could never give me.  It took 24 hours, removing myself from the city (Moxie Life), opening up of an undefended self, and 15 close family members to open my eyes.

            Here are just a few things that I took from this weekend:

little marc

1.      No matter what age, wherever they are in their life, everyone has a story and whether it is my grandmother or my 2-year-old cousin I can take something valuable from each of them.  On Sunday it was uncomfortably hot and no one wanted to do much. Many, if not all individuals in this weather, usually get cranky and irritated but not my baby cousin Marc.  Driven by the curiosity that all children have, and the energy of life pulsing through him, Marc was exploring everything and everywhere (that is, after a 2 hour nap).  He reminded me of the care free attitude that is intertwined with innocence, the freedom that comes with naivety.  Sadly, as we get older and are exposed to the truths of our world I see many losing hope, losing energy and frankly, losing interest.  

2.      Speaking to my nana the evening before, I saw an entirely different attitude than Marc’s and rightly so. She is on the other end of the spectrum; describing it as being “on her way out.”Here I am, a 21 year old, still in college, still trying to decide what to do with my life, going on and on about my passion and about “changing the world,” trying to make her understand.  I can now see why it was more difficult to jump on Brianna’s Activist Train. My nana has been through much more than I know, and even though she has not studied feminist theory or has researched social norms and gender construction, she has seen the world, she has had the experiences.  It is more difficult for her to be invested in a movement that takes time, lots of energy and acquired knowledge when she knows the world better than I do and may have lost some of the optimism that fuels me.  My nana is an activist in her own way. She is an assertive, strong, compassionate woman, she is a leader, an amazing grandmother, mother, sister, and aunt, and she is always there to shoulder the burden of others.  Whether it is watching her grandchildren, cooking for 15 people, taking care of her husband or calling up her sister when she is sick, she does not miss a beat. I come from a line of independent and tough women – and my nana is one of them.  She reminded me that we all have different passions and responsibilities throughout our life and right now her’s is taking care of her family and helping those close to her. She reminded me when I spoke about changing the world and empowering others, that charity always begins in the home. nana and pam

3.      I will always remember my 12 year old sisters embrace and my 15 year old brothers smile when they walked into my nana’s house after a long ride back from their soccer tournament. They were probably wiped out, hungry and just wanted to sleep but they still had the energy to show their love for me.  I must always remember these little moments when we are in a fight or irritated with each other over stupid things, never let the emotions overwhelm me, because it is not worth it.  There is nothing comparable to having my younger siblings still be excited to see me. I do believe they look up to me and I constantly try to be a good role model, sharing my passion and enthusiasm with them so that they can enter the “real world,” prepared, but also optimistic that they have the power to create change.   So when they have these moments it subconsciously affirms my role and responsibility as the older sister and I will never take them for granted.

4.      My final conversation of the night was with my uncle Paul, who I always get into philosophical conversations with. It is usually about examining the self, being in the now, and most importantly being aware of the Ego and the power it has over our expressions and I believe, our outlook on life.  As I described to him the difficulties I was having during Moxie Reflections, and coming off too strong and sounding dismissive of others opinions because I was so consumed by my own, he reminded me that when I get sucked into these thoughts and beliefs it is because I am allowing my Ego and my thoughts to define me. I have attached myself so strongly to these ideas that anything that challenges them seems like they are questioning me as an individual.  What I need to consciously practice, is stepping outside of my thoughts and just observing, listening, and allow the world to happen around me and speak to me, rather than forcing my energy, passion, and many times, my EGO on it.  That doesn’t only go for taking a break from my thoughts, but taking a break from “doing”,  as well.  Sometimes just sitting in your Nana’s house on a Sunday observing, interacting, and taking everyone and everything in, is more enlightening, refreshing and inspiring than anything you could read in a book.

I am so grateful to have a close family that loves, encourages, but also pushes me out of my comfort zone. They may not be my fellow students at Duke but they teach me about love, life, compassion, strength, family and support, to name a few. They teach me how to be a better me, to remember my roots and also to take a step back from it all.  And for that, I am forever grateful.

Enjoying the Journey Rather than Striving for Perfection: Why “Having it All” should not be the focus

Whether the phrase is “doing it all” or being “effortlessly perfect” — having the career, the kids, the wonderful relationship, the happy life, and never revealing both the stress and pressure that we all know is behind the strong, but poised face — this complex that women have accepted is neither uplifting or empowering. Rather, it is a construction that women have fallen into, and it is very difficult to get out.  
superwomanThe past few weeks, after being thrown into a full time internship + an intensive Duke Engage Program + training as a Division I athlete + making the time for teammates, family, and friends, I have grappled with this “having it all idea” and continued to go back to this statement — I CAN DO IT ALL.  This has been my attitude for as long as I can remember, even after my mom told me I was doing too much, even after she constantly used the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none”.  I liked being busy, I liked being challenged by the balancing act and the critics who said it couldn’t be done…most of all I think there was always a subconscious hope that despite my transience, I was basically superwoman, and could take on the world.  I don’t think this was a stupid way of thinking…maybe a little naïve and stubborn, but on the positive side, it reflected ambition.

But as the weeks have progressed during Moxie, I have realized that what was once ambition has now become a concentration, an obsession, with an OUTCOME that is impossible. The more I understand the barriers that women are faced with in our society, and the cultural messages that shape our behavior and attitudes, the more I can see that having it all is just another piece of this greater, patriarchal system. It is just another construction to keep women constantly going, working and reaching for an unattainable goal, but also constantly preoccupied with questioning their value and never reaching a place of satisfaction.


This notion of having it all was most upsetting to me when we saw the play Ann, which was a monologue and life-story about Ann Richards the second female governor of Texas, performed by Holland Taylor, actress of film, stage, television, and a playwright (If you wanna talk about doing it all).  Holland brilliantly portrayed Ann’s upbringing, her family background, and especially Ann’s tough, relentless, do-it-all attitude but also her witty and humorous side that probably kept her sane during the intense stress, and pressure that she was under during her term as governor.  The scene at her desk, which goes on for about 45 minutes, portrays a frustrated, overwhelmed, but assertive and capable Ann, balancing her career, her family, fitting in important people and dealing with some not so important/irritating individuals.  I admired her intensity, and her composure, her confidence and even the chaotic business. But at the same time it saddened me.  We can’t live like this. We women cannot be happy if we are constantly going, going and never breaking, never realizing our accomplishments and always looking at the end point.  I kept thinking…she is going to have a heart attack, it just seemed like the amount of work she had to do was impossible, and on top of that she had to constantly prove herself as a female leader.

I do want to be like Ann one day though.  I could definitely see myself working the long hours, dealing with needy people, drafting legislation, serving as a role model and mentor to other women, and changing the system from within, transforming the culture and society that we live in to better many others. But if this day ever comes (and I believe it will), I want to enjoy it, I want to embrace the process, be excited to come to work ready to take on a 12 (or more) hour days, but I want to do this with no regrets and I want to do it with joy. I believe that all of this can and will occur — as long as I follow my passion, stay true to my values, and have faith in the process I know that I will fully embrace any career, or path that I fall into. I just may not be able to take on all of my passions at the same time.

My most recent personal struggle, that has been a struggle since I was in 7th grade when I started running varsity track, was one of balancing my running with other passions and desires.  At 21 the decision is not whether or not I can play soccer and run at the same time, rather can I train like a pro-athlete, intern and do a duke engage program all at the same time.  My body has broken down the past few weeks, I have gotten sick twice, and I have realized that I will be unsuccessful andbri hispanic games unhappy if I continue to believe that I can do everything. I have finally admitted I cant. And the second, and probably most relieving realization, I don’t have to.  I am extremely passionate about this entire summer. The people I am meeting, the new knowledge that I am obtaining, and the experience that I am getting.  I love the process of developing myself as an individual, a woman and especially a feminist, BUT there is another passion that is more important to me at this point. My career as a runner.

It took me until last Wednesday, almost 10 years to realize what it meant to train like a pro, what it meant to prioritize my running and what it meant to be all in.  This realization, after much reflection and talking to a fellow teammate, was a relief, it was exciting and it seemed like a light bulb had finally gone off in my head.  I was and I am ready to do whatever is necessary to get to the next level.  I understand and accept the sacrifices, but I look forward to prioritizing my running because this is what I love, this is what I have dreamed of since I was 8, and this is what it means to “do it all” for this moment in my life. Texting my mom on Wednesday night I was excited, but also a bit uneasy.  When I started to cry I was confused…shouldn’t this be a happy moment?

I cried out of fear – fear of the unknown, fear of going all in, fear of pursuing my lifelong dream and passion and finally, a fear of failure. Now that I think about it, and I think about my goal to focus on the process and find joy in the journey, I realize this was an irrational fear. FAILURE is an endpoint. It has no room in my plan, in my journey, just as “having it all” (in our societies terms) is dropped from my to-do list.  There may never be one moment that I am succeeding in the balancing act, and accomplishing everything. This can only occur on 2 hours of sleep and even then something will always be missing. However, I will always “have enough”, I will always be fulfilled if I am enjoying the process, if I am following my passion and pushing myself to be a better me. I will always be happy if I stop allowing societies expectations of me and more importantly, of women, to consume my thoughts and behavior. The pressure and worry is unnecessary. It is as simple as living “in the now”, living free; living me.


The 4 Benefits of Coming to Terms with Perceptions

uniqueSince I was a child my mom always warned me about being aware of my attitude, the way I spoke, and how I behaved. She knew that I was a very-strong willed and outspoken child and now that I look back on this advice I think I can finally view it with a more open mind and understand that she was only trying to help me, she wasn’t trying to attack my personality. I fought my mom on this idea of “how people perceive me”. One, she’s my mom and for some reason I always want to challenge her and 2. Not to sound too blunt, but I didn’t really care what people thought of me. I believed that perceptions were these destructive ideas that, if I took them into consideration, would change who I am as a person, deconstruct my core values and turn me into a fake.  Why should I act a certain way for anyone else? Why can’t I just be myself, if I change for others wont I lose the true me?

This attitude had a few positive outcomes.  It developed me as a proud, confident and assertive young women, which I believe is important in the culture that we live in, which tries to break all of these characteristics down in women. I felt as if I was a more genuine person, because I left everything out on the table and didn’t hold back. Unfortunately, it played against me in many instances as well.  Whether it created tension between friends and coaches, or presented me as someone who was dismissive, this lack of acknowledgment and lack of awareness of how others perceived me did not play to my favor in developing myself as an understanding, compassionate and empathetic individual.

So why bring up perceptions now, why am I finally looking at them as beneficial? This past week, through both a personal experience with another Moxie girl and after analyzing our readings on the “non-profit industrial complex” I found that understanding others perceptions is not only essential to the development of personal relationships, but to the impact that individuals and organizations can have on creating purposeful change on social issues…

Here is what I have learned, and how we can all benefit, if we pay more attention to our perceptions and others perceptions before we decide to dismiss them.

1.    Communication:  When we evaluate how someone perceives us, or how we perceive others we are ultimately dwelling on assumptions. We all know the old phrase; “when you assume you make an ass out of you and me,” so stop dwelling and start communicating.  Perceptions can lead to conversation, which can create growth and understanding in relationships.

 perception2.    Individual Growth and Development: Asking for feedback is difficult to do and not everyone handles criticism well.  However, in the end, understanding how you come across to others and reflecting on ways to improve your presentation will be both beneficial and rewarding.  If your goal is to come off as more reserved and observant rather than “in your face”, having an open mind about others perceptions can help you achieve this personal attitude goal.

3. Working within the system, and getting ahead: I have learned a lot about non-profit work within the last 3 weeks, and if there is one thing that continues to stick with me it is that they do not necessarily have the freedom that I understood them to have. There are limitations, rules and government standards that they must adhere to, sometimes these restrictions can even get in the way of an organization executing their mission and following through with their values.  Sometimes we can’t play by the rules. When we are engulfed in a system that is still stuck in the traditional, patriarchal ways, we have to frame and present our ideas differently.  I used to think this was being fake — but it is not. It is adjusting to the situation, where being upfront and totally open will never get you to your goal, and reshaping your requests can get you much further.

4. Everyone is unique: Everyone has a different identity marker that affects the way they experience the world.  The way we perceive the world around us and how others perceive us is unique to the individual, therefore as much as I would like all people to address issues, such as breaking down gender and racial constructions through individual radical actions the repercussions for one individual may be very different than the repercussions of another.  By trying to understand how different individuals are perceived by the outside world it not only reminds us that we can not place our own beliefs and ideals on others, but it also allows us to work on being more empathetic to others experiences.

Choices = power = control = liberation = Freedom from Oppression

Ever since I became a feminist I have despised, challenged and questioned Oppression – first it was the oppression of women within a patriarchal society. Whether it was exercised in institutions, societal values, figures of authority, the media or individual relationships, women were not getting the respect, the voice, and the equal opportunity to make their own choices, which they more than deserve. I then began to explore and understand oppression through many different lenses, of race, of class, and of sexuality. And no matter what form it took, I realized that the power dynamic that it created left the under-privileged, the subservient, and the exploited party, without CHOICE.

So why couldn’t I see pro-life advocates as oppressive? Why couldn’t I understand the oppression of CHOICE through the lens of abortion, through the eyes of the women who went through this life-changing experience?  Although I am still trying to work out this complicated issue in my head, I am so thankful that I was able to walk into Choices, see this clinic in its entirety, and engage with an open mind with a women that is passionate, intense, personal, loving and mindful…Merle Hoffman.

After reading pieces from Merle’s book Intimate Wars and seeing her as a very intense, passionate and enthusiastic activist on behalf of abortion and the clinics that support them…I did not know what to expect from her. I was extremely glad that her responses were personal and purposeful. It made me feel that no matter what our beliefs were, she cared about each one of us in the room, about our choice, supporting us no matter what.

Prior to having the opportunity to visit Choices, and prior to discussing and learning from Merle, abortion was not a topic that I spoke about very much.  Not because it made me uncomfortable, or because I didn’t believe that I could engage in a respectful discussion, but I wasn’t sure—myself– where I stood.  It was not until we discussed the mutually reinforcing forms of oppression that were all at play in the issue of abortion, and not until Merle made clear the difference between Pro-Choice and Pro-Abortion, that I really understand where my confusion and uncertainty came from. These two beliefs were not the same thing; abortion was DEFINITELY NOT a black and white issue but composed of multiple layers.  But most importantly abortion was not even the issue; rather it was a discussion that needed to be expanded to the idea of Reproductive Destiny.

I am Pro-Choice. I believe in having the ability to decide your own future and I live to empower women – Women are limited every day because of their gender. In the workplace, walking down the street, in the classroom, in relationships; economically, socially, politically limited — the list goes on.  However, what is most encouraging about reproductive justice is stated by Sister Song, that is, it “represents a shift for women advocating for control of their bodies, from a narrower focus on legal access and individual choice (the focus of mainstream organizations) to a broader analysis of racial, economic, cultural, and structural constraints on our power.” It is unfortunate that women are even placed into this position of choosing..have a child or terminate a pregnancy, because almost all of the time it was not by their own choice.  Whether they must terminate their pregnancy because they are not getting the financial support that they need from their partners, or government, and they have 5 other children at home, or they got pregnant because they were never fully educated on protection and were directed towards using ineffective birth control, or finally – they had been sexually abused, traumatized and raped by a friend, a close family member, or a stranger – this decision is and should be theirs.  These situations are never solely women’s choice, and they depict the consequences of the mutually reinforcing forms of oppression that only women must deal with.  Women have money taken from them, rights, respect, dignity, power, and equal opportunity— I cannot justify any single one of these things. And I undoubtedly can say that it is NEVER just to take away a woman’s right to choose, to shape her own destiny, to create a better future for herself, her family and even the unborn child.


A piece of me is still Pro-Life. Life is sacred; it is a gift from God. Life is a Miracle. A 24 week old fetus can be born and survive at this point in its development. A 24-week-old fetus can also be aborted. At this point in my life I cannot come to terms, and I don’t know if I will ever be able to understand, 2nd term abortions. If a human life can survive outside of the womb, it is too late to take that life away, at this point I do not believe that there should be a choice, at this point the choice is no longer yours because you have created another being that can survive in this world.  This is my exception.  People may not agree, people may see it as contradictory but PEOPLE do not decide my beliefs for me. My beliefs and understanding of issues can grow and develop over time and I cannot deny and erase all of my prior values as I obtain new ones.  This was the uneasiness that I felt when I listened to Merle speak, when my mindset began to shift, when I questioned my past values…But I can have both, I can believe both.

That is the beauty of freedom of speech, of expression, and of having control over your own thoughts… It is the beauty of CHOICE.

This is ME

Brianna is a rising senior interning at Sanctuary for Families working on Special Events and Development.

Visualize images, phrases, and memories zooming past you in a chaotic whirlwind. It is your childhood, your struggles, your aha moments.  It is that loss of innocence, that discovery of a new passion, the opening up of an undefended self.  When your mind finally stops you are left with a collage of pictures, experiences, people, and voices – what is this patchwork that you are observing?

It is you.

Just a few days ago I was working on recruiting students within the Duke Community to join me in a new organization called the Duke Culture Initiative.  In each email, I presented our mission with enthusiasm and excitement, I revealed goals that we were confident would be achieved, and a to-do list that emphasized our commitment and dedication.  I was so caught up in building up this organization that I was so passionate about until my friend Frank said to me:

“I just have one quick question for you: Why did you choose to become so involved with this?”

It stopped me dead in my tracks…

I did not respond for days, not because I didn’t have a reason, but because it was not as simple as he thought. Reading his question again I felt a rush in the pit of my stomach, I felt the chaotic whirlwind approach and then I witnessed all of the pieces coming together. This was the same anxious but enthralling feeling that I had when I asked myself why Moxie? Why have I become so passionate and excited about entering into a program focusing on women, leadership, and social change?

Navigating through my life experiences I tried to pinpoint one event, one revelation that I made throughout the years that explained everything about me, my values, my motivators, my passions. But this was not going to cut it.  I have had multiple light bulb moments where I think I have it all figured out, the point at which I understand everything. I think I have finally discovered all that there is to me and all that there is to know about changing the world!…But then I do some more digging, gain a little more knowledge and the moment repeats itself.  Why does this happen? — well we are continually developing and discovering new things about the world and ourselves. It is the most validating experiences that make you feel whole, but at the same time you still feel as if there is something missing, that the entire puzzle is not there.  So here it goes…here is what I have of my puzzle, here are my 21 years in a nut shell, my values, my passions, my motivators; me.

My mom reminds me to this day that from the time I was a year old I was stubborn and it always had to be my way.  I knew what I wanted and most likely if I put my mind to it I was going to achieve it.  From 7 years old on, running was my focus and it quickly became my passion.  Training in elementary school through high school many of those years on my own, I had to learn to be self-driven, and confident in the path I had chosen and this individuality grew on me.  I valued being independent, and I valued remaining true to yourself no matter what reaction or ridicule this evoked from others. Despite the consequence of being isolated and losing friends during my high school years because I had chosen not to follow the norm…I was extremely satisfied with who I was and what I was doing…because it was me.  I had not allowed outside opinions, jokes, or jealousy to break me down and I was lucky.  I was lucky to be brought up in a family with parents who never put a limit on what I was capable of, they were always supportive and enthusiastic explaining to me that nothing was impossible, and most of all they developed an environment where I felt comfortable and even proud of being unique.  In our household, pursuing you was valued.  I never really liked the “standard” or mediocre, it just didn’t align with who I was.

My American Culture Studies class my senior year of high school was the first “A-ha” moment; the summer after that class my big statement was “I am going to change the world, I am going to change values.” I had seen it ALL — destructive messages in the media, an understanding of a consumer culture that sexualized everything, commodifying women’s bodies to sell almost anything, and a superior corporate culture that bred self-interest.  I could not understand the world I was living in…but at this point I did not know how to change it.  Fast forward to freshmen year at Duke, plagued with injury, and having a difficult time understanding myself as anything other than a runner, led me to seek out new passions.  Through volunteering, my Leadership and Narrative course, the writing of a 40-page paper about myself, and personal experiences that taught me the meaning of empowerment and self-respect, I could now identify what my new passion was. I wanted to provide anyone and everyone I connected with to experience the same discovery of the self, an understanding of their personal belief system and most importantly to be equip with the internal courage and confidence to pursue their dreams and passions as well as the external community that could foster this behavior.

It was, and still is, a struggle to “be you”. When we live in a culture that has restrictive expectations that shape behavior; highly influenced by ingrained gender constructions and social norms, and intolerance towards differences. I see it in my own life, and it hurts me to witness this in my younger siblings’ lives. But the oppressive nature of these elements in our society is not set in stone, they are not fact, they are not truth.  I want to break this idea, and yes, I do want to change values.  Many people accept that it is human nature to express characteristics of aggression, violence and self-interest, BUT we are entirely capable, and in fact soft wired, for affection, companionship and empathy.  It may be some time until that day comes, when empathy is the norm and when differences are accepted; when you don’t feel insecure expressing the true you. But no matter when that day comes…

this is still me.

The Empathic Civilization