This summer’s intensity – a full-time job compounded with supplementary activities, many of which involved frustrating realities and high emotions – left me simultaneously exhilarated and exhausted. I was sad to leave New York but ready to unplug, to sleep late and read a novel. I couldn’t wait to sit outside, to walk down the street without weaving around hordes of people, and to taste home cooking. But within five minutes of leaving the airport, I found myself in a dead-end political debate with my mother. We agreed to disagree, but something had clearly shifted this summer. For the past ten days I have been unable to disconnect entirely, increasingly noticing and bringing up everyday discriminations and oppressions.
When I discuss these things with my family and friends, I find myself more direct and confident than ever before. Accustomed to honest conversations with my fellow Moxies, I am perhaps too frank at times. Most of the time I remember to phrase my arguments gently, but at other times I forget myself in frustration.
It’s difficult to recall a time before the group accountability of this summer, and I struggle to remember the reality that most people are not accustomed to such bluntness – and that until two months ago, I was not either. This is something I must keep in mind when I return to Duke, a campus on which direct and honest conversation can be difficult to come across. I believe strongly in the importance of maintaining friendships across fundamental differences of thought and belief, and so have no desire to alienate anyone by seeming dismissive. I have struggled, as have friends of mine, with when to accept and respect these differences; when to gently bring them up, in the hopes of fostering further tolerance; and when to ease out of friendships with those whose beliefs I find toxic or hateful.
These are difficult decisions that everyone has to make, whether these fundamental differences are on topics regarding equality and justice or others. But as I look ahead at my remaining time at Duke, they loom even larger. Coalition building depends upon bringing in new voices and perspectives, and in this vein it seems that I would try to bring every single friend and acquaintance along with me as we delve collectively into fighting for social justice on campus. But in reality, there is just no convincing some folks. There are some battles that are just not worth fighting, and there are some battles that are simply misplaced. Mass denunciation of the Republican Party or conservatism is disheartening and only serves to isolate a huge swath of the population, yet it is constant. I am a staunch liberal, but discussions with close conservative friends have taught me that conservatism does not necessitate a lessened belief in equality and justice for all. Part of coalition building is bringing in those who may be unexpected participants in the struggle, and Duke’s culture of judgment and holier-than-thou attitudes surrounding social justice is perhaps a key reason why so many steer clear of it.
I was more impressed by the activism that I saw at NDWA leadership and board retreats, coming from women often overlooked by our society, than by any speech or action I have ever seen at Duke. Campaigns such as #DukeOpen and the Asia Prime protests created a brief uproar, but no long-lasting mobilization. They were intended to stir things up, making noise rather than doing the hard work necessary to empower and organize individuals. No wonder so little gets done at Duke – we are all so focused on making a name for ourselves, getting published in the Chronicle or a line for our resume, that we don’t want to humble ourselves to lay the groundwork for lasting movement. The movement is not about individuals, and it never has been. The community needs the individual to move forward, but the individual is nothing without the community. When we place our own needs and desires above movement sustainability and community inclusivity, activism becomes stagnant and selfish. When we exclude others from the movement due to snap judgments or our own preconceived notions, we only weaken our collective power. As I move on from Moxie to a semester in Morocco and then back to Durham, I hope to combat the exceptionalism that I have been taught as a Duke student and the millennial desire for instant gratification and publicity. I must remain grounded in the knowledge that social change is difficult and slow; it can only be accomplished with full investment in, solidarity with, and love for the community.