Expect the Best, Prepare for the Worst

Waiting for my plane at LaGuardia Airport, I was feeling accomplished, excited, and a little sad. My Moxie summer was ending, but I was about to begin a new chapter in my life influenced by all that I learned during my Moxie experience. I was hopeful that I could impact the world in some tangible way through my personal activism. As I was contemplating all these things and reflecting on my time in New York, a seemingly friendly stranger sat down next to me and began talking.


Trying not to punch the talking stranger.

What came out of his mouth next, however, was worse than I could’ve expected. He began to “share” his political beliefs, including his total support for Donald Trump, that the feminist movement is pointless and supporters of it probably have psychological problems, and something about the feminization of men and how sad it is that men are dying virgins because our society has moved away from traditional gender roles. The timing of this conversation was so ironic; it took all the patience I had to calmly listen to his ramblings. After around 45 minutes of this, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I stood up and politely told him I would wait for my plane somewhere else and that I no longer wanted to speak with him. When I finally found a seat in a corner somewhere, tears were running down my face.

transformationI realized at that moment the incredibly new person I had become over the summer. Before, I would’ve felt awkward and just silently sat through the conversation, or maybe even agreed on some points. Now, I was brought to tears because I wanted to defend my beliefs so badly and was faced with such open disdain. I expected the best, but hadn’t prepared for the worst. When leaving an experience like Moxie, you have to think ahead. Not only how has the experience changed you and what have you learned, but also how and when will you apply that? How will you ensure that you have the confidence to, and what will you do when faced with opposition?

One week post-Moxie, I find myself in a very different environment. I am currently in Athens, Greece shadowing medical doctors in local hospitals. Literally and figuratively a world away from the feminist theory that I was studying for the last two months, Moxie is still at the forefront of my mind. I have had conversations with fellow group members and total strangers about why I identify as a feminist (which, by the way, I now do). I have had a transgender friend open up to me about his experience–something that would’ve never happened if not for the TransCare program I worked on at Choices. In the whirlwind of this past week, I have had some of the best and worst interactions surrounding feminism that I’ve ever had. In the end, I cannot determine how someone will respond to my opinions, but I will cherish the positive reactions and prepare myself for the negative. I look forward to the chance to share what I learned, whether at Duke or in the outside world.

My new home!

My new home!



medical alphabetIf you don’t already know, I really want to be a doctor. White coat, stethoscope, horrible writing, the works. I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was a kid, and at this point, I’m pretty well on my way to actually accomplishing that goal. As the summer draws to an end, my thoughts are turning back to where they were at the start of the program: to Duke, to medical school, to the unavoidable unknown after graduation. For the Moxie freshmen, this program sets the tone of their Duke activist experience. But as a rising senior, Moxie is a punctuation mark in the long and confusing run-on sentence that is my college experience. So for me, Moxie is something that I will soon incorporate into my post-undergrad life, and one thing I’ve already noticed is that my appreciation for people, thoughts, and experiences has well…appreciated.

As a typical pre-med kid, I devote most of my time to thinking about my life as a physician and interactions with other physicians. I therefore spend very little of my time thinking about future interactions with those healthcare workers who, in various capacities, make the doctor-patient interaction possible. During my time at Choices, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend several days shadowing and observing the physicians and staff as they check-in, register, direct, counsel, treat, and refer patients. pleaseAs you can imagine, the physicians themselves play a relatively small role in the overall experience of a patient. And beneath that layer, there’s an entire administrative staff that designs, troubleshoots, and funds all the services offered. Physicians could never do their job without those other members of the team, nor would patients’ care be complete if they saw only the doctor. As a future physician, I’ve come to appreciate my future colleagues, no mater what letters follow their name.

Moxie is not like other DukeEngage programs. Moxie is like taking an academic class and then walking out the door and seeing everything you’ve learned acted out in front of you. It’s inescapable; terrible and wonderful. offended gifBut like any class, you are bound to make mistakes, say the wrong thing, or do something you later regret. Whether I’ve realized my errors internally, or they’ve been pointed out to me by someone else, I’ve chosen to accept, learn from, and move past them. In social justice work, it can often feel like no matter what you say, you’ll offend someone. It can be a challenge to constantly monitor what comes out of your mouth, and even scares some people into saying nothing. But to me, that just means that I have plenty left to learn. As a student, I’ve come to appreciate the well-intended critique and corrections of my peers and superiors.

New York is incredibly diverse, everyone knows that. But even recognizing that coming in, it’s possible to experience culture shock when walking around the Big Apple for the first few days. Moxies have joked that this must be the place with the highest concentration of gay individuals anywhere. And they’re probably right! Every sexual identity and orientation, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education level, language, really anything you can think of, is represented in this city. Learning to live in such a heterogeneous environment is liberating, but has a learning curve. avoidingThough we’re taught to avoid strangers to minimize risk, I’ve had some of the most interesting and refreshing conversations with people who walk up to me in the park or subway. While I’m not encouraging you to walk up and make friends with everyone you see in NYC, do let yourself be open with interactions that are going to happen anyway. When a young boy approaches you at the same subway stop for the fifth time asking for donations for his basketball team, don’t automatically dismiss him. You might just learn something new. As a human being, I’ve come to appreciate other humans.

So as I move on from Moxie, I will look for ways to appreciate everything around me, yes even the vast darkness that is post-graduation and medical school applications, because my appreciation means I’m growing and changing, appreciating as a person.

All Bottled Up

The Moxie Project does things to you. It opens your eyes and your mind, it pushes you to critique things you’ve always accepted as true, it forces you to learn concepts that you honestly probably never would’ve touched on your own. It can be a liberating experience, putting words to feelings you’ve always had, confronting injustice head on; it can make you feel like Super Woman. Or it can make you feel like you’re hopelessly drowning in a sea of people who will never know what you know, never acknowledge the truths that are so plain to you. It can make you feel like there’s little hope of changing “the system.”

Accurate representation of the Moxie experience.

Accurate representation of the Moxie experience.

In the past six weeks, so much has happened both within Moxie and across the nation. Most recently, with the police shootings of two black men, I’ve been filled with sadness and rage. Black Lives Matter protests have moved past our apartment building on an almost daily basis since. Having so many emotions in such a short amount of time is difficult, especially for someone who prides themselves on being the one person who doesn’t cry during a sappy movie. When the summer feels like it’s set to fast-forward, there is little time for processing or decompressing.

WJXDkRLately, I’ve been feeling like a bottle under pressure. Every new issues we discuss, every reading that reveals another inequality, every enrichment event that is deconstructed and criticized, and even most of my interactions with individuals outside of Moxie add just a little bit more tension to the growing capsule of emotion inside me. Those who know me will tell you that I very rarely let my anger show, but just that happened to me this past weekend. When my parents visited, it should have been a happy time of reunion and catching up with loved ones I have barely seen in the last seven months. Instead, it quickly turned into a cold standoff between two disagreeing parties. Almost every comment from my parents was followed by a quick snap on my part.

The language of accommodators.

The language of accommodators.

Side note: During a recent reflection session, we took a quiz to determine our negotiation styles and I was deemed an accommodator which basically means I say “okay” to everything and let people walk all over me, even when I disagree. So let’s just say that Ada would be very proud of how I exercised my competitive negotiation skills while engaging my parents in conversation.

But that’s ultimately not how I want to act toward the ones I care about. I want to respect those who disagree with me and maintain functional relationships, not devolve into the War of the Roses every time I enter a room with my parents. As my beliefs about myself, women and the world become more solidified, who and how I keep friends becomes more and more complicated. Some relationships, those that are only unfulfilling or drain your spirit, will have to be forfeited. However, it’s okay to keep those relationship that are trying at times, but ultimately grow you as a person and contribute positively to your life. That’s how I view my relationship with my parents. The next step will be learning tolerance and peaceful ways of expressing dissent that open the door for further conversation. I will strive to not accommodate to the point that everything is so bottled up I explode. Growing as an individual and having strong emotions accompany that process are normal, but learning to adapt and integrate new experiences into an old or constant background is the hard part, and something I continue to work on.


This past weekend was Pride in NYC. empire state prideIt was a colorful, rowdy, amazing celebration of the LGBTQIA community, and more widely, the individuality and diversity of us all. The streets were  filled with people of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, and religions brought together by their pride in the LGBTQIA movement, either as a member or an ally.

Pride. What a double edged sword. On one hand, pride is a tool, a celebration, even an offensive weapon if need be. On the other hand, we are told that pride is vain, a vice, and a weakness. We often put great capital on humility, especially in social justice and nonprofit work. We avoid glorifying ourselves, and shift focus toward the work of the organization, the plight of those we serve.

Sometimes we want to find a problem in every action or program. After all, that’s how most of us learn and improve. But what if I said it’s okay to stop being a perfectionist for a second, to acknowledge that what you’ve accomplished is good, despite its problems? For some, that might feel like an uncomfortable space to inhabit and for others, it may feel like an affirmation of hard work and sacrifice.

Last week, I had the pleasure of interviewing my boss and the President/CEO of Choices, Merle Hoffman. Among other things, we discussed how she came to be in her position, and what motivated her through years of opposition and strain. She spoke of her enemies being the measure of her success, remarking, “It just validated that I was doing something very important, and very right.” She also explained how most people need to be praised or validated for their work. Especially in regards to social justice work, Merle emphasized the need for humility and perseverance. Yet as she spoke, I could see the pride in her eyes and hear it in her voice as she recounted all that she had accomplished.

cheerleader failMerle is right that in this line of work, there are often no cheerleaders in a very dark world. The other side of the coin though, I think, is the need for an inner pride. That pride in your work is what drives you forward when you are all alone. Without it, social justice work becomes an empty shell of servitude, lacking real substance and connection.

So it’s not either/or when it comes to pride and humility. Both are essential ingredients for the perfect social justice pie. Too much pride is what leads to arrogance and vanity, and too little can yield lackluster effort and disingenuity. Coupled with humility, just the right amount of pride in oneself and one’s work is what keeps your head above the water and your feet moving forward in this dark and lonely world.pride

Trusting Women

5 new restaurants tried, 4 blisters, 3 days of sleep deprivation, 2 weeks in New York City, 1 radically different view of reproductive justice: these are just some of the things I have to show from my Moxie experience thus far.

oh, i love New York

Sure it’s been fun and exciting and new and confusing, but it’s also been hard, physically and mentally. My first two weeks at Choices have been a whirlwind of emotions, assignments, and people. You’re just not quite sure what to expect when your internship supervisor tells you that she’s throwing you into the shark tank, but not to worry, she won’t let you get bitten.

The first thing I noticed about Choices is just how different it is than all the other Moxie placements. It’s the only for-profit organization, the only one located in Queens, and the only one that directly addresses healthcare. But it soon became clear that their mission and work is not so different than that of the other 5 organizations. This week, as a group we studied reproductive justice and the rest of the Moxie group visited Choices on Friday. Their visit helped me bring into focus the rather unique way in which Choices battles for feminism in the capitalistic, private sector.

capitalismAs a society, we often have a disapproving view of capitalism and it might at first seem selfish for Choices to profit off the hardship of its patients, but as our founder Merle Hoffman pointed out, the value of capitalism lies in how those profits are used. Do they line the pockets of rich executives or are they invested back into the work of the organization? At Choices, that profit is used to benefit its patients, by expanding and creating new programs like TransCare or funding terminations for women who cannot afford an uninsured abortion. So I guess what I’m saying is, for any reader out there who thinks that social justice work can only happen through a non-profit model, consider the benefits not of using capitalism as the end game, but as a tool.

Now I’d like to talk about reproductive justice and why it does not equal reproductive rights. The main concern of reproductive rights is the legal right to have an abortion. Reproductive justice on the other hand is concerned with much more. While it does encompass the pro-choice movement, it goes beyond to suggest the intersectionality between race, gender, class and sexuality, and how those aspects interact to grant or deny access to reproductive privilege in the realms of pregnancy, availability of healthcare, child-rearing, and expression of sexuality. Bottom line: reproductive justice is about trusting women with their own bodies.


I may not have said anything particularly profound in the above paragraphs, but I think it’s necessary to identify capitalism and the reproductive justice framework as two of the largest actors in my experience at Choices. I could talk for hours about all of the things I did the past two weeks, like following a patient through her counseling and abortion procedure, escorting patients inside through a crowd of protestors, or researching standards of care for transgender individuals, and I hope I have the chance to tell you all about those soon, but for now, let’s think about how and why I am even doing those things. Fundamentally, why are women in these situations, who is benefitting, and how do we put reproductive power over women’s bodies into their hands alone?

Who Am I?

I was accepted to the Moxie Project. Great! Now I just had to tell my parents what it was and convince them that the strange-sounding program was indeed worth my entire summer away from them. No big deal, right? Well…

Let’s back up. My name is Kelly Atherton and I am a rising (Pre-Med) senior majoring in Biology, minoring in Global Health and Chemistry, and dabbling in Ecology when I have time. That all sounds very sciencey and technical, so you may be wondering what I’m doing here among self-proclaimed feminists and patriarchy crushers. To be honest, I’ve thought the same thing on multiple occasions. I’m not a women’s studies, history, or even public policy major. I’ve never identified as a feminist. My parents don’t tell me that as a girl, I can do anything I set my mind to. In fact, my first exposure to feminism was one class that I took this past fall. But one class is all it took to convince me of the significance of gender equality and to ignite in me a growing flame of desire to be involved in the movement to that end.


I was scared to tell my friends and family exactly what I was doing this summer, which is working at Choices Women’s Medical Center. I am from Spartanburg, South Carolina, a city that is over 50% Christian and 47% white. I grew up going to church at least twice a week and learning that sex was a dirty word. How could I tell my parents, who cringe at the words “birth control,” that I would be working at a facility that actually offers it and other services to women? I found myself masking the real meaning of the work with explanations like, “this will be great for my resume” and “it’s community service.” While those things are true, they don’t represent the reason I chose to commit myself to the Moxie Project. I have a passion for medicine and believe that women have the right to equal care and privacy. From my global health classes, I learned that “global is local” and from my women’s studies class I learned that feminism has a place in every domain of life; it’s not just a march happening outside my window or a segment on the evening news. That’s why I’m starting here, in New York City, and committing to learn how gender disparities affect women’s health.

Two things happened to me recently that make me especially excited for this summer. The first is perhaps more motivating than exciting. A few days ago, after explaining to someone very close to me that I would be working for gender equity and reproductive rights at my internship, they dismissed me, responding, “That sounds cool, but you just need to realize that that [referring to feminism] is such a small part of life and the world.” I stayed quiet, but the words ate me up inside. Feminism is not some club for liberals or a fun past time like bird watching or geo-caching. hobbyThe problems that feminism tackles are so pervasive that they surround women from every side and affect every single individual living in a patriarchal society. So no, it’s not a small part of life and the world. Yet, that opinion is common and accepted where I live. My goal is not to change the world or destroy the patriarchy in one summer, but after it’s all said and done, maybe I can share with that one person what feminism means to me, why it’s so important, and why it’s not such a small matter.

Secondly, I finished taking the MCAT, the medical college admissions test, on May 20th. It was a grueling 7.5-hour test, and honestly all I could think about for the past five months.

MCAT meme Having been study-free for four days now, I’m rediscovering everything that had to be pushed aside before. That includes friendships, hobbies, TV shows, and even some parts of my identity. When I was introducing myself a couple of paragraphs above, Pre-Med was the first word I used to describe myself. That’s because for the past three years, it’s been my overwhelming identifier to administrators, teachers, admissions boards, colleagues, and myself. But I’m ready to set that aside and discover who else I am. While preparing for this program, our group participated in an activity where we were repeatedly asked, “Who are you?” and we responded with some qualifier or phrase. I found the task more difficult and awkward than I would have liked. Who am I? Let’s find out!

By the end of the summer, I hope I become more comfortable with that growing inner feminist and to learn what that means for me. I want to have a better idea of how feminism and medicine can work together toward the same goal. Mostly, I hope I will no longer feel scared when discussing my own beliefs and passions, no matter with whom it may be.