Feeling Thankful

Overall this program expanded my worldview immensely.  I did not understand the extent of white privilege in terms of how pervasive it is within all of society, in every realm.  It rocked my world daily.  I went to bed every night shook.

In my last blog post I talked about being more secure in my views and holding stronger opinions without doubting their value.  Now, after leaving the program, I feel that I have the tools to stand up and share them.  It is very scary for me to share what may be controversial opinions, but people are exceptionally receptive. I also feel less worried that other people may disagree with me.

This program matters not only for the confidence it has given me, but more importantly because it has made me hypercritical of institutions which I used to take for granted because they did not harm me in any way.  I plan to hold onto this heightened awareness as long as possible, especially as I move into the medical field.  This foundation will hopefully keep me aware of the potential hazards, such as provider bias, that could prevent me from being the best physician I can be.

When I return to Duke, I plan to use the lessons I learned on this program to work toward bettering the culture on campus to be more equitable and conscientious. As Director of Programming for Panhellenic, I want to use information I learned this summer to shape our Panhellenic semester.  Specifically, I plan to work with one of our community partners, Legal Momentum, to bring back education material to combat the predatory culture that plagues many Greek events.

Finally, I want to thank everyone in my program for helping me to change my outlook. Especially, thank you to Choices for allowing me to work so closely with the women we served and throughout the clinic.  Most importantly, thank you Ada and Shannan for making this the most incredible summer.

“Sometimes Wrong, Never in Doubt”

I came across this quote this week in Complications, a book by Atul Gawande, while reading on my commute to work.  It was referred to in the context of surgeons unwavering decisiveness in the face of uncertainty surrounding the best course of action for patients.  In many aspects of my life, this is how I see myself.  When it comes to studying or executing tasks, I have very clear and laid out plans of action.  When an obstacle interrupts plan A, you move on to plan B and so on and so forth.

However, before this summer, this did not apply to my opinions on anything I deemed political or controversial.  I always doubted myself because I didn’t feel I was educated enough to form an opinion without first doing some research.  When family, friends, or classmates brought up a topic that I did not necessarily have a stance on, I quickly stepped out of the conversation or listened from the sidelines.

Since starting the Moxie program, I have established a background knowledge to begin developing my own thoughts and opinions.  This extends beyond the narrow view of the eight specific topics we discuss during seminars, but I have created a foundation on which to draw from as new topics and situations arise.  For example, with the US-Mexico border crisis unfolding, I felt comfortable forming an opinion that isolated different actors without generalizing good vs evil or making blanket statements ungrounded in historical inequities.

Still though, I have lingering feelings of wondering if my decisions are valid.  Last night, one of my fellow Moxies mentioned sharing a similar feeling around her own opinions.  I hope that as the program begins to wrap up, I can apply my decisive confidence, which I can tap into easily in other realms of my life, to my opinions about politics and controversial topics.  Maybe we can even work together to push each other to articulate our feelings and share our knowledge we have gained from the program, especially back at Duke next year.

So, here’s to making my opinions as strong as my resolve.  I’m sure more often than “sometimes” I will err, but I promise to stop doubting my own thoughts.

Almost Halfway :(

When I looked at the first email sent to everyone who had been accepted to this program, my first thought was: “Yikes”.  Here I am three years into Duke and I have never met any of these people or even heard their names in passing.  That can’t be a good sign.

I clearly couldn’t have been more wrong.  My 8 fellow Moxies and myself make up one of the most diverse groups of people I have ever been a part of.  We all come from very different backgrounds and each have distinct personalities, but somehow it works.

I spend late nights (for me anything after midnight) chatting with my roommate about different HBCUs and their associated fraternities and reputations.  This may not seem consequential to most people, but I did not know anything about the different subcultures that exist at different schools or the associated groups that people affiliate with for life.  Learning new jargon, phrases, and Instagram accounts that everyone already follows.  Hearing about MCG organizations at Duke and how they differ from my own experiences in Panhel.  These conversations make me take a step outside of my bubble and see different social spheres apart from my own.

This is just the tip of the iceberg though because the biggest benefit of this incredible group comes out when we discuss the readings or activities and see how people who all consider themselves feminists, allies, and open-minded people can have dramatically differing opinions.  For example, this week we talked about the efficacy of changing culture by making people aware of an identity.  Specifically whether the it is enough to “come-out” or to have everyone who identifies as LGBTQ+ to present their identity proudly so that everyone can see.  I believe that this affects change by making the identities real and tangible to people who want to reject them.  However, many people think that the idea of identities themselves limits the movement toward social equity.  I had never thought about the implications of the identities themselves on our society.

I am so grateful for this opportunity.  I don’t yet know the implications of the experience, but I know that I have 8 women who will support and, more importantly, challenge me to think critically moving forward.

Power Moves Only

I always knew that I lacked a strong historical perspective because my high school history class ended after WWI.  We never covered the social movements of the 60s or the many political restructurings throughout the century or even WWII! I sort of laughed it off not realizing quite how shallow my understanding was.

When I got to Duke, I jumped head first into pre-med classes, immersing myself in biology, physics and chemistry (on my!), never having time in my schedule for the humanities. It’s very easy for me to get sucked up into the world of science and forget that there are major problems outside of the purity of my protein sample in lab. I aim to address that this summer.

Last semester I took a sociology class called “Drugs in the US,” which was the first time that anyone told me that the War on Drugs was racially motivated.  I knew that there were sentencing biases and huge over-representations of minorities within prisons, but it never occurred to me that someone could have conjured up such a veiled attack on minorities in order to retain White power on a widespread systemic level.  I thought that this revelation would open my eyes and suddenly I would see the biases that surround me everywhere, however each day of this program I am exceedingly aware of how much I am still oblivious to the natural power dynamics of our society.

Just this past week, our group focused on how non-profits can gain power and influence by aligning themselves with the government so that they can have a constant, reliable source of money. However, the government typically likes to fund organizations that maintain the current hierarchy and power structure that got elected officials their current power and influence. Recently, I have started to see how this systemic distribution of power can be used to subjugate women particularly when it comes to women’s reproductive health.

One of my first days working at Choices, I accompanied an 18-year-old, 11-week pregnant woman from her sonogram, to her counseling with a social worker, through the surgical abortion procedure that she chose, and to her recovery. I held her hand for an hour in the recovery room as she wept over the loss of the fetus. While we had discussed and anticipated the emotional impact, nothing could have prepared either of us for her visceral response. She knew that she could not support a child and that terminating the pregnancy was the right decision for her, but that didn’t eliminate her pain. I have never felt more useful or connected to another woman than during that raw emotional outpouring. While I feel moral qualms about the experience, I am proud that we provided her with safe, effective treatment that enabled her to control her life moving forward. Further, her strength during a time of anguish humbled and inspired me.

Yet, after reflecting on this experience, I couldn’t help but see it as an individual suffering from unfortunate circumstances. She isn’t the only individual.  Systemic oppression of women and stigmatization of reproductive control has diminished women’s power, relegating it to an unspoken act that requires utmost confidentiality. I am still very much grappling with what I see as the goal for women’s health, but I’m learning more and more every day. Baby steps forward!

Meet me in NY

Hi all! My name is Laura Noteware, and I am a rising Senior (scary) at Duke University studying Biology on a Pre-Med track.  I am from a large suburb outside of Philadelphia where I grew up going to an all-girls school for 13 years.  I grew up steeped in a feminist environment where my 51 classmates and I all were taught to push boundaries and reject limitations and roles society intended to force onto us.  At Duke, I realized that the implications of society’s norms were much more widespread than I had ever been exposed to.

Given the very strict course requirements for the medical track, I haven’t had an opportunity to explore these narratives so far in my courses at Duke.  Thankfully, I get to come to New York this summer and unpack these issues with the most diverse and interesting group of women I have met this far at Duke.  On top of the great academic side of the program, I am also lucky enough to be working at Choices Women’s Medical Center this summer where I hope to learn about the intersectionality between women’s rights and how to best provide comprehensive women’s medical care.

I think that the most important lessons I learn this summer will come from unexpected experiences and conversations with unique individuals.  That being said, one of my goals for the summer is to embrace more change and to lean into discomfort.  I grew up in a very homogenous area with people who looked, and thought, and acted like me.  However, these aren’t the people who will help me grow and develop my own thoughts and perspectives.

So, this summer I am excited to expand and engage in a meaningful, thoughtful, and incredible summer experience.  I can’t wait to see what New York has in store for me!