Coming Down From My Balloon House

Thirty friendship bracelets, 1,489 pictures, and oodles of city blocks later I’ve been trying to unpack all that I have learned this summer. Moxie made me experience an American culture shock other than I had ever seen before. Culture shocks on Moxie come out of nowhere, but can sometimes hit you in more profound ways than any foreign country potentially could. Recently I have been thinking about how any non-profit can conduct any ethical service work abroad, and how the feminist movement can become transnational.

There is this great scene in Up! that really sums up how I feel about the “white savior complex”. Although a little white boy scout, little Russel basically assumes that Carl needs help because he is old. In kind of the same way, any first-world country/non-profit/individual will come in making assumptions about the needs/poverty/barbarity of a third-world country.

After I saw little Russel engage in some age-old ageism I really wondered what ethical service actually looks like in practice. If a community does not want your help, how can one feel comfortable trying to provide service there regardless of its outcome? The same thing holds true when a community does not see what adverse effects your service can have for their economy, culture, and autonomy.

The most important thing overlooked by most of non-profit organizations abroad is very simply LISTENING to the voices of a community. And NO, I do NOT mean selectively listening, and using or co-opting the voices of victims of oppression or poverty for your own personal agenda. Giving women of color abroad our mangled western version of a white woman’s “freedom” is downright a form of modern imperialism, and completely culturally insensitive (this article really sums it up).

Going beyond listening means meeting people where they are at. Hearing children’s stories all summer in particular really prepared me for this, whether for a conversation about feminism or thinking about any future service work abroad. Children come in to the children’s room, and we basically assess their mental state right off the bat. We look to see what type of art activities would potentially overwhelm them, and take out toys that are not only age appropriate but also based on their presented state. Some children can handle more freedom, and others shut down when presented with too many media because of their age, trauma, or other factors.

This summer experience of working with survivors and children allowed me to feel empowered to make change, and made me view my experience as rewarding. I felt my personal transformation, and I definitely struggled how to reconcile my hopeful personality with all the knowledge I acquired about the world. I went through phases of “I wish I had known this sooner”, and hopelessness about what I could do with this new knowledge. At the same time I saw small changes in the children I saw every day, which gives me hope that the services the center provides will help them build healthy sustainable relationships.

A week after this summer I wonder how to translate what I learned into something bigger than my personal transformation. Writing from my fancy summer vacation in Portugal, how do I reconcile that I get to leave. The children I worked with every day live the actual life of domestic violence, and I use their narratives every day to feel empowered. How can I take my experience and transform it into service that is bigger than myself, and remain ethical. How can I use my new lens for ethical and productive purposes?

In two weeks I embark on a journey abroad for a Global Health program where I will study the social constraints to health care in Washington DC, India, South Africa, and Brazil. I’m not there to conduct service work, but rather research health care systems. I’m coming in with my Western perspective, and my new knowledge about the non-profit industrial complex and feminism. I hope to engage in one of my interests, photography. One practical issue for myself that comes to mind is the matter of consent when photographing people. How can photographing a community member ever be ethical if factors of race, class, poverty, and overall literacy play into ethical consent? How will photographing people in India “give them a platform from which they can reach a wider audience, and use our platforms to help amplify their voice”. How can I avoid outside people viewing my pictures not engage in the romanticization of poverty? How can I turn photography into activism? Photography targets people’s basic emotions and sense of morality, and has been used to raise donations for “good causes”. A crying child amidst a pile of rubble raises more money and empathy than any happy adult in a picture. Although well intended dehumanizes an entire population rendering them a “marketable commodity”; a product of the non-profit industrial complex.

My next goals for my journey abroad entail incorporating a feminist issue in my research proposal (for women around the world), talking to my host family about ethical forms of consent for photographing, and discovering the few (if any?) ethical and culturally sensitive non-profits that I could see myself working for. I wish I had more answers to all these great questions, but I am waiting to listen to all the people I will meet, and perhaps photograph, to tackle the answers.

I’ll close with a great quote from one of my favorite shows, Friends: “there is no such thing as a selfless good deed.”


Thank you to all of my fellow Moxies, Nicole, Ada, and my supervisors at the Bronx Family Justice Center for challenging me to think in entirely new ways.


Do You Want To Rebuild Society?


Today I had a conversation with a six-year-old about what she wanted to be when she grows up. Recalling my youth I remembered that about 90% of my friends would answer with “mom” when asked this question. She answered that she wanted to be a therapist, and help people. The fact that I was surprised about her answer saddens me for many reasons, but mostly because our heteronormative system entrenches the distinction between boys and girls in all our minds.

Watching Frozen ten bazillion times in the last two weeks has helped me learn all the lyrics by heart, and also aided me in analyzing what messages we send into the world for children these days. Frozen in many ways forms one of the most progressive Disney movies so far in terms of the number of messages of misogyny and heteronormativity, guised under the glitter of snow queens and princes (overlooking all the issues with race and class it still has).



I have had so many conversations already in two weeks with young boys about what is considered “girly”, and why they refuse to participate in any activities that would associate them with anything feminine. I have tried to pinpoint where exactly children pick up the binary messages, and the reason I have failed is that they are everywhere. The reality is that movies like Frozen are NOT the only ones that send messages of gender binaries; schools, movies, books, families, and laws all reinforce these gender stereotypes for children. I sometimes hear some of my colleagues inadvertently affirming children’s beliefs about gender because we fall into easy habits of confirming the binaries that make the world more palatable for young children and ourselves.

This made me wonder when gender becomes pertinent to a child’s identity.

When an infant comes into this world their first phase in life, according to Margaret Mahler, forms one of blending the inside and outside world. Mommy/Daddy, the infant, and the outside are tethered to one another, and the baby usually cannot distinguish between the three. As a child matures individuation occurs, the child separates itself to form its own self (or ego). Gender socialization forms an important part of this individuation.

Many theories explain gender socialization: Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, social learning theories and cognitive developmental theories. I can never really get behind on Freud’s psychosexual stages of development, which focus on a child’s genitals. His theories contain some elements of truth, and formed the foundation for many contemporary theories. Social learning theorists contend that the environment can affect a child’s socialization where they learn through reinforcement and behaviors. Meanwhile cognitive developmental theories posit that children learn about their gender “through mental efforts to organize their social world”. All of these theories ignore race, class, family structure, sexuality of parents, and cultural constructions of gender embedded in certain languages and cultures. People think development is universal for all children; NEWSFLASH, no, just no…

A child’s behavior and how the outside world relates to her/him have become predominately defined by their gender. To a child gender identity forms a crucial part of their development. Furthermore they could even develop mental illnesses if they never reach these realizations (mental illnesses and their treatment have also been universalized by Western cultural constructions for the past 60 years, but that’s a whole other issue). According to the “theories” and the “experts”, at the age of five, children should have acquired “gender stability”; they know the permanency of their gender, and realize that certain colors and clothes define gender. Not until the age of seven do children fully understand that people cannot change their outward physical appearance to change their underlying gender (termed gender constancy).

Frozen reflects how we as a society (parents, teachers, sisters, brothers, policy makers, counselors, etc.) have come to accept and reinforce the binaries that will influence the decisions children make in life. What messages we send our children may seem like the tip of an enormously large iceberg, but living in their world every day makes me wonder if a shift in mindset in time could allow for broader systemic change.

Village Voices

New York City contains an enormous variety of people. Some love it; some hate it. Some struggle to get by, and others live with few concerns for their everyday survival. We (Julia and Rachel) were inspired to connect with people in the community right outside our front door. Washington Square Park is an oasis for people to play street music, read books, play chess, sell food, admire the arch built in honor of George Washington, and listen to children squeal while running through a water fountain. People from all walks of life come here to enjoy the square that used to form the center stage for bohemian folk singers during the Beatnik Riot. We came away with a new connection to the city by interviewing and photographing seven individuals and groups, reflecting on life in New York, feminism, and the social movements.


Film editor from Canada

This man has lived in the city since 1964, and has witnessed many of the changes New York has seen. He used to live in Canada, working as a film editor for TV shows and movies. With the help of a caretaker, he gladly answered our questions and told us about his life.

What gives you hope?

“The day to day things, basically. You have no choice, basically – you keep the hope or you’re out.”

What would your ideal society look like?

“It would have to be a democracy. No religion at all. I wouldn’t force it, but I would hope it would fade away. Because to me, religion has been the great curse of mankind. Oceans of blood have been spilled by religious wars so it would have to be rational. As it continues, it will change.”


Admirer of the Sun

Enjoying her peaceful weekend off from work, this woman described her feelings of living in a hectic city.

What gives you hope?

“The sun.”

What do you think is the biggest problem that New York City faces?

“People work too much. They forget to live.”


First day at the food stand in Washington Square Park

This was his first day on the job at an ice cream cart in the park; previously, he had worked at one in Central Park. His boss owns all of the yellow carts you see around the city. Although humorous, he describes real fears he and his family face living in New York City.

What do you think is the biggest problem that New York City faces?

“It’s my concern, for the job or for the housing. I live with my wife and my baby, and I pay $1100 in rent. If I’m single, it doesn’t matter. But if you have a family, everything goes into housing. I applied for city housing. It’s been 3 years, and no response. Every time I call, nothing.”

What would your ideal society look like?

“There’s a little park, there’s a community board, a school, and housing project – cheaper than now. If you make $1200 a month, rent shouldn’t be more than $500 a month. If it’s $800, $900, how are you going to pay for your coat? Your food? Your baby’s Pampers? I have a baby now, and my wife is pregnant, and I’m terrified for when it comes. I applied for food stamps and filled out all the paperwork and they got back to me and asked, “You have another child on the way. How are you going to pay for that?” Like, you have this pen and paper. I don’t ask you how you got it. That’s insulting. You have it, it’s yours.”

An international group of friends: the British, the American, and the Italians.

An international group of friends: the British, the American, and the Italians.

We saw this group of four friends sitting on a sunny spot of ground. The two men were Italian, the woman on the far right was British, and the woman second from the left was from the U.S. Both women conduct research in physics, a male dominated field. They had an easy friendship, talking and laughing as they enjoyed a beautiful Sunday morning.

What gives you purpose?

After one of them replied with “Love,” they all agreed on this question.

What comes to mind when you hear the word feminism?

Woman towards the left: “Independence.”
Woman on the right: “Equality.”

Man toward the right: “I try to support feminism in my own world. I try to treat my girlfriend [left] even better than I treat myself. This world is hard for women, so I try to make her life easier in that regard. Not that she needs it – she’s very independent.”

Woman toward the left: “We both (refers to woman on the right) work in a male dominated area of research [physics], so I spend time with other female postdocs discussing these kinds of issues.

Woman on the right: “It gets worse as you get further along. In my masters, there were 250 of us – male and female – and 10 were female.”

If you could start any social movement, what would it be for?

Woman on the right: “The right for anyone to be who they want to be without discrimination.”

Woman toward the left: “Clean water and toilets – it would seriously reduce the amount of sexual violence towards women. It’s an especially big problem in India.”

Man toward the right: “I would increase the culture about food. Most health issues come from bad eating habits. And the rich people can afford to eat well because healthy food is more expensive than fast food. But then we’re punishing the poor.”


Chess Players of Washington Square Park

A chess player and a photographer reminisced about the former state of the park, when music filled the entire park, people could “get anything”, and the park was open all night for everyone. Both discussed problems in New York, rising college tuitions, and the inconsistencies in police punishments.

What’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you?

Man (on the right): “I was shot at 13 going to get medicine for my grandma. From Lexington to Madison, I never made it. It was April 30th, 1969. My arm went real heavy. I was like, I think I’m shot! Everyone started going Ahhh, Ahhh. I was shot. My arm felt like someone yanked my arm, and then I saw blood. That was traumatic.”

Man (on the left): “I was running on the roof of a factory. We were playing tag. I was a kid, a teenager, about 13. Next thing I know, I woke up in the hospital. I fell through.”
Man (R): “God was looking out for you. He said, Imma give you give you another chance, fool!”

What is New York’s biggest problem?

Man (L): “Police. I mean if you’re wrong you’re wrong, but you’ve got cops picking people up for small things while murderers walk around the city like nothing’s wrong. And they don’t get investigated like people do for having an open beer.”

Man (R): “Profiling business. It’s like you’re guilty before anything else happens.”

Man (L): “I like change, but I believe that New York is now a police state.”

Man (R): “$30,000 turned into $70,000 in loans. Sold myself to student loans.”


Saxophone Player for Rasheed and the Jazz Collective

This saxophone player practices every Sunday with his jazz band Rasheed and the Jazz Collective in Washington Square Park. He also owns a jazz club in Queens, which is called the Jackson Room jazz club. For some street musicians this would form a means for survival, but for him it is a therapeutic way to practice in a pleasant environment.

If you could create your ideal society, what would it look like?

“I think a lot about what I would do if I were president. I would make it mandatory for people like you, a condition of you graduating, to travel somewhere outside of the U.S. As musicians, we’ve all seen the world. It broadens your horizons. If people checked other cultures, there would be a lot less problems in the world.”


Advocates for the FPA-Foundation

These two women (second and third from the left) founded an advocacy activist organization under the name of FPA Foundation in 2008. Both are former foster youth and currently foster and adoptive parents, and realized they wanted to “foster youths and organize parents around injustices” experienced with the child welfare system. (

“I had great adoptive parents. And we really filled a niche – there is a dire situation. We’ve made a name for ourselves in the past 6 years and had a positive effect. We’re grassroots, so we can shake things up.”

The women organize awareness protest rallies in all 5 boroughs to challenge foster care agencies, such as ACS and other family court. Along with raising awareness, they have put pressure on the mayor and hold agents accountable. In their path to equality they describe how women have to become involved in the movement in order to make change.

“As women, we have to fight for the children. We have a lot of power. More women need to get involved. I think women have a lot of talents that have just been swept under the rug.”


We live in a world where a select number of opinions are heard; many do not have the privilege for their voices to be acknowledged. We cannot forget that the inhabitants of cities and nations collectively can convey wisdom and knowledge about the practical application of laws and ideologies that politicians, non-profits, and other organizations often forget to take into account. Art forms such as street photography function as a way to hear the voices of Washington Square Park, a small dot on the map of New York City.

Confronting My Privilege

Tonight I had the privilege of meeting Jose Antonio Vargas, a journalist who recently produced a film about the process of coming out as an undocumented immigrant. He reminded me that I have never known what it means to be an American. I have lived in Holland for eighteen years with a passport that I received based on my father’s nationality; I have owned a passport that has sat in a drawer for many years, while he has had many more years of giving back to a nation that disenfranchises him. Now I have started to question my place in my own country that faces immigration discrimination.


I have never come to terms with my privilege, a term that did not even enter my vocabulary until this year. In the past week I have compared my Dutch framework to the American society in which I struggle to situate myself. In recent days I have realized that I have known privilege in my very own homogeneous society, always lacking the vocabulary to describe what I saw.

My country has faced serious religious stratification since 1964. Labor shortages in Holland and unemployment rates in Turkey logically made a “recruitment agreement” with Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries seem like a logical step. A decade later their families started to follow the guest workers to the country where they had first been welcomed. Our government has been unable to accommodate the influx of immigrants, and sees the solution in placing them in asylum centers for an indeterminate time.

I have known for many years that not being Muslim in the Netherlands has made me privileged in so many ways. The education system benefits those who grew up in monolingual Dutch families by forcing twelve-year-olds to take a test, and segregating us into different high schools that basically define our future. Our conservative politicians speak of deporting immigrants, and condemn Islam. They have widened the schism between religious groups; demonize and dehumanize the immigrant population, causing illogical fears in people due to the supposed loss of their Dutch identity. Some political refugees come from corrupt and life endangering places to arrive in a supposedly “progressive country” to become faced with marginalization. They have become the folder in the immigration office that never gets read, the scapegoat to blame, and the uneducated in a corrupt educational system.

I have started a conversation with myself questioning my privilege. I have started to come to terms with the religious discrimination occurring in my own country. I still struggle to define my role as a white female in a US society that historically has stratified based on race. I cannot keep assuming that I am exempt from privilege in the US because I am foreign. I have opened the door to my questions, rendering me confused about the intersection of my identity with my nationalities. I hope to eventually turn this confusion into more clarity, but for now I face my privilege with more questions than I have answers.

If you would like to read more about immigration politics in the Netherlands, read this article.

Becoming the Girl Dressed in Blue

Julia is a rising junior interning at Bronx Family Justice Center this summer.

Recently I re-explored one of the most famous and one of my favorite museums in my small country of the Netherlands. The Rijksmuseum contains famous artworks of the 18th and 19th century, initially opened in 1808 envisioning to become one of the nation’s main accessible places to view and discuss art produced by the great masters. Unlike the Parisian art scene where the salon culture strictly determined what people considered aesthetically beautiful enough to display, the Rijksmuseum intended to showcase all Dutch art to the people of its country. Every time I visit the museum I discover new things, both in the art and in my experience of viewing art. Among the overwhelming abundance of famous Rembrandt and Van Gogh works, a portrait of a young girl stands out to me most. She looks about half my age, covered in jewelry and dressed like a young lady or a princess. While other visitors blindly walk past her, she holds my gaze.

Portrait of a Girl Dressed in Blue

Why does this portrait intrigue me?

Her simplicity and ability to appeal to all ages transcends her beauty for me in confounding ways. Even though she lived in another time period, she grew up in the same country, experienced similar customs, and experienced life through a close relative of the language I speak currently. She has the capability of making me feel young and old at the same time. In some moments, she seems like she could jump out of the picture and start playing tag. Simultaneously, she looks serious and can captivate and inspire you with her all-knowing gaze. This girl has engaged countless visitors of all ages in a way that humbles the spectator, even when they know nothing about her.

She brings up questions for me that I can relate to my upcoming experience as part of the Moxie Project in New York City. I will intern at the Bronx Family Justice Center for eight weeks, where I will meet children of all ages. BXFJC offers legal services for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, and their children affected by the experiences of their parents. Not only do they fight for the justice of victims while offering a safe space for children, but they also further the ultimate goal of preventing these crimes from occurring in the future. My goal for this summer involves connecting in a meaningful way to victims and children of all ages, similar to how I have connected to Portrait of a Girl Dressed in Blue in every stage of my life. I would like to transcend age barriers to offer productive help by sustaining relationships with people from all walks of life.

Although accessibility to paintings such as Portrait of a Girl Dressed in Blue has never completely formed an issue for me, art has evolved through the centuries from functioning as a visual assistance to those seeking spiritual guidance into something perceived as a pleasure only appreciated by the upper classes. Thus I do not wish to take on all properties of the painting, and recognize that I cannot connect with every person I will meet this summer. My goal involves forming a point of accessibility for people, while remaining unassuming and open-minded about the stories I will hear and the people I will meet.

I hope to overcome my shortcomings in experiences with children, this neighborhood, and this city, but not let the dearth of relevant knowledge hinder me in my interactions with people. Yes. I am a Dutch girl. I grew up in a homogenous society, and sometimes fail to realize what offends people. I forged my identity in a society where people define themselves less and less by what they believe in, but rather by who they are and what they do. In the Netherlands people generally construct a sense of self based on how well they fit in, instead of the degree to which they stand out, a crucial component to survival in a pluralistic society. I may not have experienced the same traumas or witnessed discrimination happen in my life. I do, however, show compassion, empathy, and a desire to listen to people’s stories in an unassuming way. I can learn so many life-changing lessons from my placement, but I will also give back in many different ways.

I am Julia Dunn. You will see me obsessively post pictures this summer of the Moxie Project, life in New York City, and everything else that comes my way. I am twenty years old, and a rising junior at Duke. My academic interests include Psychology and Global Health, and I love  documentary photography. I have photographed for the Breaking Out Project, a photography project that gives voice to sexual assault victims on Duke’s campus. When I’m not photographing or reading great psychology and sociology books, I love to play ultimate frisbee, a sport that has in many ways shaped who I am today. I am interested to explore how I can incorporate my academic and non-academic experiences into my internship this summer. I hope to eventually develop into more of a person that can relate to any age group, demographic, and story. I hope to become The Girl Dressed in Blue, but transcend her stoic smile in a more engaged, active, and empathetic fashion.