8 Weeks in Less Than 800 Words


In reflections about the last eight weeks, I’ve found myself sounding like a broken record.


Well, I’ve talked endlessly about how much I’ve learned. No, really. I cannot imagine exactly how many times I’ve mentioned that I’ve learned something or learned a lot from this experience.

(Proof: this reflection I recorded for the end-of-program celebration we had.)

But saying that I’ve learned a lot really does encompass what I’ve taken these last eight weeks to be about.

To be clear, I don’t mean to use “learning” to mean some kind of route memorization of information.

When I say that I’ve learned a lot, I mean to say that I’ve been extensively engaged in conversations that were (are?) way above my head, so much so that all I could do at the time was sit in the space and try my best to grasp as many pieces of the conversation as I could.

During one particularly salient seminar we had, we talked about the limitations of pinning all of our hopes for social change on empathy and storytelling. This was crazy. To me, this was unheard of. In all the circles that I had been exposed to, the common thread was narrative and storytelling. More specifically, I had accepted that it was important to bring life to perhaps abstract issues by using stories, by tapping into people’s empathy. I had told myself before that the world’s issues would be solved if people just tried to picture themselves in each other’s shoes.

What had become such a commonsense understanding for me was being challenged. Not to say that storytelling and empathy had no value, but that storytelling and empathy by themselves as some sort of panacea was a theory with some limitations. Limitations of which were important to note, to think about, and to use as a foundation to brainstorm alternative ways to change the world.

When I say that I’ve learned a lot, I mean to say that I did a lot of things for the first time. I experienced a lot and was exposed to a lot in just the span of eight weeks. Furthermore, many of these things I did, experiences I gained, and things I was exposed to were far beyond what I would have ever imagined for myself.

For example, although I’m reluctant to characterize myself as shy, I’ve been rather quick to say that I’m an introvert. I practically never go out of my way to talk to strangers in any setting without a good reason. And even with a good reason, I always look for alternatives so I can avoid interacting with people I don’t know. Also, there’s something about not knowing what to say or what to talk about that makes me a little anxious.

Still, every now and then during those last eight weeks, you could find me in some park in one of the New York boroughs, going up to nannies to talk to them about their rights as nannies in New York and about NDWA, to ask them for their information so that we could keep in contact with them, to listen to their stories and opinions about domestic work and other relevant experiences.

(Proof: this photo taken during one of the outreach sessions!)

I just shared a couple snippets of my summer to get across the ways in which I’ve learned – in the full sense of that word. But how could I completely articulate the immersive experience that I just came out of? All I can say is that I realized how much learning there still is. In that learning, there is also so much self-growth and self-discovery and discovery in general that is to be done.

However, this kind of learning and discovery doesn’t happen by itself.

It requires action. It requires not only staying open to your perspectives and understandings of the world being challenged, but also open to changing those perspectives and understandings. More than that, it requires the act of seeking out new experiences to learn from. It requires a kind of attentiveness that keeps a person thinking and analyzing – even if all the thinking goes against their commonsense. Sometimes, it’s not even commonsense that is challenged, but ideas built on time, training, indoctrination, etc.

So how would I sum up eight weeks in eight words? Oh, that’s hard. But I’ll say these last eight weeks have been about

challenging deeply held ideas; making space for learning.

Well, it would be something more or less along those lines.


Talking to Flawless

She introduced herself with the line, “I’m Flawless.”

This was my very first impression of Allison Julien. It quickly became evident just how amazing Allison is.

From brief conversations to overhearing office chatter, I learned about Allison’s work with We Dream in Black, a campaign to organize and build the leadership capacity of Black domestic workers around the country. As Irene, my supervisor, taught me about the history of NDWA, I learned that Allison was a co-founder of NDWA. From going on outreach sessions to parks with her, I learned how personable Allison is. And from being in the same space as her for about 40 hours a week, I can tell that she is dedicated to, loving towards, and loved by NDWA and those involved with NDWA.

So of course, I grew curious and wanted to learn more about Allison. When the opportunity arose – I asked her for an interview.

And it was pretty inspiring, to say the least.

Allison shared how she felt the need to do more from her first full-time job as a nanny. However, 10 years pasted before she was introduced to domestic worker organizing.

It wasn’t until Ai-jen Poo was doing outreach in the Upper West Side and talked to her, that Allison would formally learn ways she could get involved in fighting for the rights of domestic workers.

She handed me a flyer and started talking to me about workers coming together and at that time they were  fighting for a city bill that they were lobbying for. […] And I was just so excited. It was almost like an angel had fallen out of heaven. […] I had 10 years of questions to ask her. […] I clearly remember her writing the directions on the flyer in a red ink pen. That’s how clear to this day it’s still in my head.

Clearly, learning about domestic worker organizing was a moment for which Allison was waiting.

When I asked Allison about what she saw herself doing in the future, she was pretty sure that she would grow old doing domestic worker organizing, regardless of what that looked like. For her, it was never about the money. After all, she had spent 10 years volunteering with Domestic Workers United (and that was while she was also working full-time as a nanny!) before working full-time with the New York chapter of NDWA.

The interview with Allison was much more than this. But even in the little parts of the interview that I shared here, I gained so much.

Before me was a woman who loves what she does, who is so intent about learning and teaching about organizing domestic workers. Everything she says, everything she does – there was no question that she had really found her calling.

Something about that was so beautiful and inspiring and uplifting.

But like I mentioned before, the interview was much more than this. I was given an hour of Allison’s time and gained so many nuggets of wisdom. The impact this has had on me, and the gratitude that I feel for it, is still too profound for me to try to articulate fully in this lil ol’ blog post… I hope to find a way to express it in the work that I do soon.

On Solidarity, On World-Building

I have no recollection of when standing in solidarity with others became a priority of mine. I know for sure that I wasn’t always conscious of my own privileges in the world in relation to those of the people around me, but I can’t seem to put my finger on the aha! moment that pushed me to realize that my experiences in the world were not the only experiences in the world.

I mean, it sounds like a silly revelation that I should have realized years ago.

In academic studies, some scholars argue that this kind of theory of mind – the ability to recognize that other people also have their own beliefs, desires, emotions, and knowledge – is characteristic of the human species. In developmental psychology, Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development suggests that children are in an egocentric stage, where they cannot see a situation from another person’s point of view, from around two years old up until they are about seven years old.

So for something that is universally human and develops relatively early, it may have seemed silly that I had only realized this around high school. But it was a huge deal for me to be face-to-face with my own selfishness, and I became pretty hard on myself – maybe justly so, maybe unjustly so.

In my overcompensation for being self-absorbed, I brainwashed myself.

I can’t assume that people have experiences similar to mine.

The discrimination of other women of color are different from my experiences as an Asian American woman.

I have privileges as an Asian American woman that limit my understandings around the experiences of black and Latina women of color.

My privilege as a cis-gendered woman, for whose sexual orientation was never a target for discrimination, made my experiences distinct from their experiences.

Although I am also a woman of color, I cannot let myself think that my experiences are representative of all women of color. I cannot ever truly understand others because I do not have the same lived experiences as them.

I struggled with all of this. If I could not ever truly understand, then what was I to do? I felt paralyzed, incompetent. No matter how many classes I took to try and educate myself, to not burden others to educate me about their lived experiences of systematic oppression, it seemed like I could never know enough to really do anything and contribute to some meaningful change.

Also, I was scared. What if, in my ignorant and self-righteous effort to help, I was overstepping and hurting more than helping? What if, because I never experienced some specific situation first-hand, I could not speak or act on some injustice in a way that accurately represents the feelings and desires of the people who are most impacted?

I was so intent on trying to be the best ally I could. I was careful. I did my very best as if walking on eggshells.

But somewhere down the line, I realized that all my talk about my privilege, about wanting to be sensitive, about realizing the differences in people’s experiences… all of that led to a greater distance between me and the people who I so desperately wanted to help. But what help was I, when I was so worried about being problematic that I couldn’t even be in dialogue about the change that needed to happen?


I had struggled so much and tortured myself over how to do this ally thing right. It has been years. Years. But in just these last four weeks, I have found myself inching towards a more sustainable model for effectively organizing for change that might not directly impact me.

At the end of my second week in New York, I shared my struggles with wrapping my head around allyship and solidarity. Specifically, I wanted to know how I could do my best work at NDWA as a college-educated Asian American woman who had very little exposure to the world of domestic workers.

Shannan, our site coordinator, gave a brilliant response.

At the time, however, I didn’t realize how impactful her words would be to me. I actually didn’t understand what she was trying to say at first; she had to reformulate her thoughts so us poor confused undergraduates could understand her point.

Once her words made more sense, I felt a lot of pushback.

It was so different from how I thought about the world. She talked about world building. She talked about how our identities might actually not matter. She wanted us to consider an alternative way of understanding ourselves and others beyond the method and language of categorical identities.

I thought:

Well, yes I know that people are more than the categorical labels that are used to identify them in the world. Yet so many of our experiences are shaped by these labels. These labels might not speak to the essence of a person, but are active in how others see us and treat us. So how can anyone suggest that these categorical identities don’t matter? How can I ignore the privileges that I hold because the world perceives me to be a certain way because I am an Asian American cisgender woman? If I don’t consider how these categories have privileged me, wouldn’t I just become an insensitive ally who oversteps when she doesn’t actually know anything?

There was a lot of pushback. However, I’m not one to verbally and publicly pushback, especially if I don’t feel prepared with a thorough and well-thought response. As a result, this was the end of our conversation. I didn’t think too hard about what Shannan had said.

Then what?

A week and some days passed. I made meaningful relationships with the women around me. During outreach sessions, nannies shared their grievances with me. I found myself able to maintain conversations about the exploitation that happens to different domestic workers, when I myself had limited exposure to the work.

Was I able to connect with these women in the same way that people who were, or had been nannies did?

Probably not.

But I was able to connect with them. We wanted the same things. We all wanted a world in which domestic workers weren’t exploited. We wanted employers, and the world more broadly, to recognize that their jobs were difficult and required a level of expertise. We wanted domestic workers to be seen as people who also deserve dignity and respect.

Did these women ever question what I was doing because I was Asian American? Did they ask for my credentials in domestic work before talking to me?

No and no.

We talked about the ways in which they and other nannies were exploited. I talked to nannies who had documentation and were working on the books and were fluent in English and had fair employers about how easy and horrible it was that undocumented migrant women with little fluency in English were taken advantage of – not being paid enough, not being treated well, working ridiculous hours, etc.

And then before I knew it, Shannan’s words made more sense.

“This is what she meant when she said that categorical identity labels might not actually matter. Oh.”


Room for Improvement


the selectivity of the elite; especially: snobbery

I’ve always been adamant about not mistaking formal education for intelligence or capability.

I thought I was so woke for thinking and saying this around Duke students who pat themselves on the back for their passion and commitment to exceed academically. I thought I was great for pointing out the elitism behind certain comments or opinions.


kanye west no GIF

This last week, I came face-to-face with my elitist biases.

During a conversation with one of the organizers at NDWA, I found myself surprised to hear that she had earned a law degree before coming to the US. She talked about how USA stood for “U Start Again.” The pursuit for an American Dream required an erasure of one’s old life, one’s old connections, one’s old education and expertise.

In my head, I knew this. I knew that a plethora of licenses simply did not translate to American onces. I had heard of stories about my friend’s parent, who had to basically repeat medical school after moving from India to the US. Still I assumed that this woman, simply because she was a nanny, wasn’t educated. I didn’t even realize it, but I was under the impression that many of the nannies, housekeepers, and caretakers for the elderly who face issues like wage theft and whose labor is exploited would be people with, at most, a high school education.

Then, there was a small curiosity within me. I wondered why, after all this time, she hadn’t completed a law degree in the US.

This curiosity stayed at the back of my mind.

A couple days later, I talked to another organizer. I learned that she had earned a college degree. Now this was not even an issue about what licenses and degrees would and would not transfer in an American context. This woman did everything right according to the dominant narrative for hard work and education. Yet, she was not given the dignity and respect that I imagined American college graduates would get.

So I wondered: why did this woman go into nannying when she had a college degree with human resources and administration? Why not work in an office?

And here, yet another assumption that I held. I thought that women who went into domestic work did so because there was no other choice given their background and circumstances. But these women, as they shared their stories, did not express any angst about not finding a better paying better valued job. They did not even mention wanting to pursue another career.

They love what they do. They love the children for which they care. They have also had wonderful experiences and relationships with the parents.

Their problem, then, was that people did not value the work of domestic workers. Their problem was that domestic work was not deemed a real and legitimate profession.

This was a revelation.


confused tituss burgess GIF by The Late Late Show with James Corden

I thought that I would never be accused of elitism. After all, I was so fiercely against elitism when I noticed it, because I thought of all the circumstances that situate people to have more or less resources and accessibility to “high quality” education.

Little did I know that I had so much more room for improvement.

So here I go! To opening myself up to the idea that I’m not as woke as I imagine myself to be!


Old Advice

“When you go to college, do something that you can’t do in high school.”

This was a piece of advice that one of my high school teachers gave me towards the end of my senior year in high school. I had zero clue what they meant. My understanding was that college was school just like high school was school. 

season 3 wtf GIF by Ash vs Evil Dead

I hadn’t realized that college courses required more than rote memorization, but also active engagement with class materials and in discussions. The only difference I expected was a difference of course topics, So I signed up for classes in topics that my high school did not cover, thinking that everything would be relatively similar to high school. One of those classes was Gender and Sexuality in the Middle East and North Africa, which was listed under the Women’s Studies department.

You see, I had no intention of seriously pursuing Women’s Studies. I entered Duke thinking that I was going to study neuroscience. However, as someone who has always identified as a feminist, I thought it would be interesting to learn about feminism in an academic setting. I didn’t have any particular expectations, I was just doing something in college that I couldn’t in high school.

Fast-forward to today. I, Sally Tran, am a rising senior majoring in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies (the Women’s Studies department was renamed) as well as Psychology. Neuroscience isn’t in the picture anymore, and my primary major wasn’t in the picture when I entered Duke.

sad nia long GIF by TV One

In those fourteen weeks of my first semester in the Gender and Sexuality in the Middle East and North Africa class, I learned about a different kind of feminism than the one I had understood before. From Jarrod Hayes’ Queer Nations: Marginal Sexualities in the Maghreb to Shahrnush Parsipur’s Women Without Men: A Novel of Modern Iran, I learned about third-world feminism. I learned about how different people at different periods of time in different places understood sex and virginity. I learned about the dangers of having the standards and expectations of today’s society bias my understanding of practices of the past. I was challenged to think differently.

And frankly, I wasn’t very good at critically analyzing texts from class and my own personal experiences. But challenging and changing the way I understand the world was eye-opening. I wanted to learn more about how my understanding of the world was limited, and that’s how I found myself investing in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies.

Image result for national domestic workers alliance

This summer, I’ll be working with the National Domestic Workers Alliance in New York towards gaining dignity and fairness for domestic workers in the US.

What does this mean?

I’ll be putting my efforts to show that the individuals who work with our families and our homes deserve basic labor rights because they do real, demanding, and quality work. In other words, I hope to challenge the way people understand domestic work and domestic workers.

Although I have some understanding of how race, class, and gender have played a role in today’s status of domestic workers, I can’t wait to gain more experiences that affect how I see the world. Perhaps… no, most likely, I’ll once again learn a different kind feminism than the one I currently understand.


While I’m in New York, I’ll think back.

Back to that old advice for new experiences.

kimberly j brown marnie piper GIF