Endings, Beginnings and In Between

We have sadly arrived at the end of summer. Usually I find that the end of July and beginning of August is accompanied by a certain feeling of sadness and excitement. We hangout with friends late at night, knowing that our weeknight soirees will soon come to an end; but it’s all well and good because we’ll be spending our days together back at school. I also find great satisfaction in the purchasing of clean notebooks and fresh pens which I determine to be the keys to my success in the new school year.

But this year is so different for so many reasons. For one, I’ve never “gone back” to college. Last summer held the hope of a fresh start and new beginnings as I ventured into my college career. This year, however, does not have the same shiny effect. There are no new bedspreads or packing cubes, but rather pre-packed suitcases to be hauled up from the basement storage. In addition, registering for classes has become more stress-inducing than exciting. And then there’s the obvious factor of the world’s current situations. It’s odd for summer to come to an end when it never really felt like it started at all. Finals bled into the height of quarantine lockdowns bled into my internship bled into move-in…and here we are, about to start a new semester. I was never fully able to distinguish summertime from quarantine, or as people like to call it these days, “the new normal.” 

However, as I reminisce on my summer in New York City that never was, I feel so grateful for the experiences I’ve had. It was incredibly empowering to collaborate with a community organization that was working at the “front lines” of the New York City COVID-19 outbreak as it unfolded in front of me on the news. By sponsoring weekly food giveaways, providing daily childcare and education services, and promoting the Black Lives Matter movement and the work of young activists, the work of The Lower Eastside Girls Club is absolutely essential during this time.

Despite my physical distance from the Girls Club, I still had the ability to contribute to their efforts and interact with and learn more about the community of the Lower Eastside. One task that combined both of these facets was assisting in the creation of the COVID-19 policy and protocol as the building opened up for summer programming. This task was highly specific to this moment in history, and it required me to consider all of the challenges that the Girls Club might face during in-person programming. Girls might not have their own masks or thermometers to take their temperature at home. On the flip side, many Girls Club staff didn’t feel comfortable taking temperatures or tracking symptoms without medical professionals or training. While creating the protocols, we researched other NYC business’s COVID-19 practices as well as other summer camps and schools. At the same time, CDC and state government guidelines were changing every day. 

Working in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis required all of us to be flexible and alert to the ever-changing COVID policies and media narrative. It also forced me to improve upon my digital communication skills. For better or for worse, email and Zoom will largely be our methods of communication for the foreseeable future and by participating in a remote internship, I gained experience in working in a new-age professional environment.

The other large deliverable of my internship involved planning and leading a four-week virtual seminar series for a group of high schoolers called the New Girl City: Agents of Change Virtual Seminar Series. Our seminars focused on current issues such as police reform and the #CancelRent movement and we featured female leaders from each of these movements. At the end of the four weeks, our Agents of Change were tasked with creating a social media campaign about each of our topics and presenting them as a takeover on the Girls Club’s Instagram and Twitter platforms. This past week, the participants launched their social media takeovers. Even though my internship ended, I followed along on Instagram. The work they produced was incredible and it came together so professionally and well thought-out on the social media platforms. Seeing the fully finished outcome of my project was definitely the most rewarding experience of the program.

Of course I was disappointed that I wasn’t physically in New York this summer. However, I didn’t have to be there to make meaningful contributions to the work of the Lower Eastside Girls Club. The combination of our Moxie readings, my hands-on opportunities, and my weekly reflections brought my attention to many critical community and women’s issues I hadn’t considered before. I was especially interested in our conversations around the restorative justice movement and how reforming the criminal justice system can impact the greater community. As a pre-health student interested in women and children’s health, I have begun to learn more about the ways in which the healthcare system interacts with policy and I hope to continue to grow in my understanding.

Finally, I will leave you with my greatest take-away from this summer. During one of our Moxie seminars, our program director, Ada Gregory, wisely stated that impact matters more than intention. This applies to institutions, non-profits, policies, and individuals, alike. Entering my sophomore year of college, I want to keep this in mind as a club leader, classmate, and community member.

Indian Matchmaking: A Review

Like many, I’m sure, quarantine drove my mom and me to watching lots of new shows and movies on Netflix, regardless of whether they are good or not. Our most recent binge has been the new show, Indian Matchmaking. When I first saw the title, I thought it might be a little degrading, maybe even making fun of a cultural ritual. But after a family friend, who herself had an arranged marriage, recommended it to us, we decided to give it a try. 

For my family, the show is both interesting and funny. My mom is Indian and we understand many of the cultural phenomena that the show illustrates: the slightly overbearing Indian mothers, the way people are so quick to judge each other based on their superficial “biodatas,” etc. At its heart, Indian Matchmaking is reality TV. However, given our current political backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement, paired with my participation in the Moxie Project program, the show points to so many microaggressions that have been kneaded into my Indian heritage throughout time.

The biodata is a great snapshot of the aspects that are supposed to be valued when searching for a life partner. It includes general information that you might find on any online dating site – a picture, your occupation, your hobbies and interests. But it continues to prod deeper into your personal life and physical appearance including your religion, caste, family’s background and occupations, and sometimes even labels the shade of your skin tone. Watching these biodatas on the Netflix special wasn’t really surprising to me. Rather, I am now able to recognize that these superficial markers are used to define and perpetuate classist views and the idea of a family’s “respectability.”

Social justice definitely isn’t the show’s main goal, but it attempts to show many viewpoints surrounding the matchmaking process. For example, one young man discusses his father’s criminal history and how it created a complex father-son relationship. It is understandable that he wouldn’t want to put his family background on display, in addition to the fact that it is a difficult subject for him to talk about. The traditional matchmaking process puts an emphasis on his family background; but it is one that he doesn’t believe is representative of who he really is. 

In addition to the various negative implications associated with establishing a family’s respectability, the information in the biodata enforces classist biases. Many biodatas include a description of skin tone from “fair” to “wheatish” to “dark.” Back in the day these descriptions were used to distinguish the working from the upper class. In 2020 it seems crazy to include such a blatantly discriminatory factor on a dating profile. This is not to say that we don’t make similarly discriminatory decisions in American culture; it just seems more shocking when it’s written down on paper or when a lighter complexion is listed as a necessary factor for a future life partner.

Finally, it was fascinating to watch how mothers interacted with their children and to see what men expected of their future wives. One of the men expected his future wife to conform to stereotypical gender roles. Meanwhile his own mother was essentially the matriarch of his family. Despite all of the lengths women go to make their biodata attractive (academically and otherwise) they are still wanted as homemakers and caregivers.

All of this is not to say that dating in Western cultures is any better. Really, we’re just more discreet about our problematic dating practices. That said, it’s interesting to look at it in a format where people get it all out on the table, even before meeting someone and it makes me look at American dating culture in new ways, as well.

Want to Talk About Gender Equality? Let’s Talk About Rowing

Being a very short person doesn’t have all that many benefits, and I say this as a very short person myself. I can never see anything at concerts. I can’t reach anything above the fourth shelf at the grocery store. I sit dangerously close to the steering wheel. And, I get swept off my feet or patted on the head frequently without warrant. Needless to say, modern day America is not built for people under 5 foot. So when I found an activity in college that celebrated my smallness (the shorter the better!), I was happy to learn more. 

I am a coxswain for the Duke Men’s Rowing team. If you don’t know anything about rowing (I didn’t either before this year), the coxswain steers the boat, motivates and focuses the team, and keeps track of the boat’s pace on the water. Over the past seven months I have learned so much from rowing about leadership and sportsmanship, and I have also learned more about the broader rowing community.

One aspect that I find particularly interesting is the significance of women’s rowing in collegiate athletics and Title IX on college campuses. I always thought of rowing as a very Northeastern sport and had no idea that women’s rowing was such a big deal nationwide. 

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Bringing back the club 4+

 

To understand why women’s rowing is so important, we have to take it back to Title IX. Passed by Congress in 1972, Title IX legislation was a critical step for women’s education advancement and campus safety. It “prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities operated by recipients of federal financial assistance.” This law meant that universities that receive federal funding, grants, etc. could no longer dissuade women from studying traditionally male subjects, like medicine, and that administration would have to create systems for preventing and reporting sexual assault on campus. But Title IX doesn’t end in the classroom; it also applies to college athletic departments. 

This is where women’s rowing comes into play. Because rowing is such an expensive sport, many colleges and universities invested in women’s rowing teams to balance out the budgets for men’s and women’s athletics. This balance was especially important for schools with large football and basketball programs, like many universities in the South. Despite the somewhat superficial financial support, women’s rowing grew into one of the largest women’s sports at the Division 1 level, opening doors to seasoned and novice rowers, alike. In addition, Next College Student Athlete reports that American colleges’ focus on women’s rowing teams likely contributes to the U.S. Women’s Rowing team’s success in international competitions and the Olympics.

Even though so many resources have been poured into women’s rowing, I still had never heard much hype about it before. As the National Women’s Law Center says, “Title IX has partially opened doors for women.” Women’s collegiate athletics are larger than they ever have been, but female athletes receive far less opportunities and recruitment dollars than their male counterparts. Plus, Title IX was supposed to address campus sexual assault, but we know that this is still a critical issue for college-age students. Colleges and universities still have a long way to go in terms of creating true gender equality in both athletics and campuses on the whole.

Activism in the Age of Social Media: An Interview with Kylee Roberts

In the middle of a pandemic and amidst the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, social media platforms are hotspots for activism and advocacy. As I scroll through my Instagram feed, I see my peers attending protests and marches as well as re-posting graphics about racist and anti-racist behaviors, petitions for social justice, and calls for mask-wearing in public as many states open up. Along with individuals, organizations and companies are also stepping up on social media platforms to call out past injustices and make commitments to more diverse futures. To learn more about this current movement, I sat down with Kylee Roberts, a communications associate at The Lower Eastside Girls Club who is in charge of LEGC’s social media platforms: 

What is your role at Girl’s Club and what drew you to the mission?

I’m the Communications and Development Associate and I’ve been working at Girls Club for about a year now. I had been following Girls Club for about two years before I started working there. So I think the first thing that struck me was that this was a community center for girls and for empowering the next generation of leaders at a center that was very close to where I grew up…By the time I heard about it I had almost graduated from college. Also just seeing all of the opportunities and the people they were able to connect to…they met Michelle Obama a little before I got there. 

The girls are able to be exposed to so many amazing opportunities and people. It’s something I wish I had when I was younger and something I am so happy that it exists for girls now. Now that the world is so much more overtly messed up, I think this is the perfect place for a lot of girls in New York City.

Can you tell me a little bit about your educational background?

I always wanted to be a journalist…so I was a Journalism major when I got to Ithaca College. There were a couple of schools around the country, including ours, that were trying to vote out their white leadership, specifically because they were not representing their students of color well. They were not giving them the resources that students of color need, especially at predominantly white schools. Expensive private schools, at that.

Although people say that New York is a melting pot, I went to schools in the city in predominantly white neighborhoods when I was younger and I think that shapes my home friends, too. So when I got to college I was not truly informed of my identity. It wasn’t something that I claimed, being a black woman. It wasn’t something anyone had taught me to be proud of, honestly. 

Getting into the politics was a huge thing. From being a journalism major I realized that, especially in the projects we were allowed to do, you couldn’t be a biased reporter. And I started to want to do reports on all of the protests that were going on on our campus. I would get a little more criticism from my professors because I was obviously leaning towards a specific side. So I decided that I wanted to be a part of the movement and help in certain ways. I changed my major to Communications Management and Design. 

What role does social media play in activism and why is that important to the work of Girls Club?

Social media is good for Girls Club because a lot of people find us on social media. So the connections that we have through corporate sponsors, through influencers, they drive attention to us and that really helps to get more attention. It’s really just about getting as many people as possible to point to you for Where should I donate if I want to support young girls? Where should I donate if I want to help girls of color in underprivileged neighborhoods? Social media helps to open up your local network. Girls Club is a pretty hyper-local organization. Even though we do reach girls all over the city, we are only in one place. Yet we reach over 20,000 people online, which is crazy to think about.

With that, social media helps get messages across. It also exposes people to a lot of different ideas, as well. Movements are multifaceted and they include a lot of voices. It’s many people coming from many different places. Social media helps get all of those messages across and gives people a voice, in a way. I think people get overwhelmed by the amount of voices that there are. Like, Ugh everyone has an opinion now. But everyone always had an opinion. We’re just giving you the opportunity to say it now.

How has your job changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic?

We have put on one event or fundraising campaign every month since the pandemic. So in March we had the Community Action Fund. That requires putting together messaging, getting photos, getting graphics, creating a whole new website. And then after that in April feeding into May, we started the Join the Girls Club Virtual Series of events which was when we tried to contact influencers again to try to spread our message and get people to donate [through giveaways]. And then I planned our Sips for Summer cocktail event. Instead of an in-person cocktail event, which is usually Cocktails for Camp, that turned into an online Zoom party. Then two weeks ago we had the Gala. That’s four different campaigns in the span of three and a half months!

Because everyone is pressed for cash right now, and everyone is trying to raise money because everyone is affected by this, I was doing more and more work. It wasn’t just posting on social media and doing PR, now we need to raise a certain amount of money. Now we need to do five events instead of two. That’s the financial aspect of the change.

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Since the beginning of quarantine, do you find that Girls Club leadership or staff relies on you more because of your experience with digital platforms?

For sure. I was definitely more hands-on in a couple of ways that I wasn’t before.

The Girls Club social media platforms promote social change movements. How do you view this digital activism for other organizations and companies?

This is something I’ve thought about in the past when it comes to Pride. So you’re talking about companies like Gap who put a rainbow sticker on their window for a month and then they sell you overpriced non-eco-friendly shirts that are rainbow patterned saying that they support gay lives. But meanwhile they’re also supporting politicians who don’t support gay lives. It’s the same thing that has happened with Black Lives Matter. Especially pertaining to the current “wave” that’s happening,  there definitely is a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things. 

I think Target donated $10 million or something like that. Later I saw a statistic that said that is the amount of money that people of color spend at Target in a day…and they only donated that much to organizations. Especially when it comes to rich people and these organizations, they’re putting out these large sums, but it’s only a droplet in the whole lake of money that they actually have. I don’t think that they understand how much impact they really could have if they really did the work. It’s not just throwing money at the problem or taking down a black-faced episode. It’s about calling out the police and making sure that they arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor. It’s about making sure that organizations like ours are getting the proper funding so that way this doesn’t happen in the future.

What about for individuals? Do you share social movements on your personal social media accounts?

I definitely do. I think it’s important. Especially a movement like Black Lives Matter pertains to me and what I really like about this…I don’t like calling it a “wave” because I think this time all of these protests are really going to do something because we’re coming at an intersection with an election. This time around, there was a huge calling for white people to say something. This time white people have been held more accountable to actively be anti-racist and actually do the work. That’s what’s gotten me more excited on social media now because I’m seeing more resources and I don’t have to do the work to create a document. Another white person, as they should, has done the proper work so that way I don’t have to sit here and think about all the ways that I am not equal to that person.

How long do you think this movement will stick around on social media?

It’s disappointing for me to even think that Oh wow! People still care! Early on during the protests my partner told me “I think stuff is really gonna change.” People always say that. Things are happening; a lot of that has to do with COVID. I was actually listening to a podcast the other day that was talking about the fact that people are home; they’re basically trapped at home. We basically have to make everyone sit in a corner and be alone in order to see that there is injustice happening in front of their faces. 

I think there has to be a push through the summer because there is an important election coming up. Whether or not Kanye will be on the ballot, I don’t think it’ll make much of a difference. I’m hoping that people aren’t naive enough to think that if Biden wins that that means we’ve solved the issues. Trump is an issue but he’s not the issue. America’s not racist because Trump is president; Trump is president because America is racist. The voting, the action…everything needs to go through, past the inauguration next year. I don’t think people want to think about a world where we constantly have to fight, but that’s what happens when you put things off for so long. That’s also what’s happening with COVID…Not that racism is to people as people are to a pandemic, but there are some definite parallels there.

During this time of social isolation, what aspects of social media do you think are uniting versus dividing?

Uniting: I think people are finding their people online…I know that there have been a lot of great artistic collaborations online that have come from people finding specific communities on social media, which is amazing. I think great things come out of those partnerships.

What might become dividing is when people feel left out, when people feel lesser than when they don’t understand. I’m specifically thinking about white friends who have not been able to grasp what is happening and their inability to try to do the research and to try and listen to the struggles of BIPOC people. I think that’s a self-inflicted divide. It’s really up to the person to decide if they’re going to take the time to do the work. That’s really it: are you going to listen to me talk about how Black people have it worse in this country? Or are you going to crawl back into your bed and pretend like nothing is happening?

There’s also the divide on the people-of-color side, where I can’t spend my energy on knowing that you don’t actively support me when I’m out here fighting.

What is your favorite part about working at Girls Club?

I enjoy the people that I’ve met through Girls Club. My favorite favorite part is working with the Angel Alliance, which is the junior board of volunteers. They put on events throughout the year and they are also predominantly women from really cool fields. I’ve met a lot of them who I feel very connected to. I think it’s just really nice to have a community of women who care about an organization just as much as, if not more than, you do when you work there.

Thank you so much Kylee for sharing your insight on the role of social media during this time of progress and change. Check out Kylee’s Instagram @kylee.roberts and her podcast called Black Friend Collective. To see Kylee’s work and the digital activism efforts of the Girls Club, check-out @girlsclubny on Instagram.

Taking the Risk: NYC Opening for Summer Camps

My brother and I joke that it was more fun to go to school than it was to stay home in the summers. Whenever we weren’t enrolled in camps, my mom had a full curriculum of Latin textbooks, math workbooks, and library-recommended summer reading lists planned for us. I was fortunate to grow up with a mother who was clued-in to the educational backslide that can happen during summer break. We always kept busy during the summertime.

This summer looks completely different for students and parents, alike. The work I’m doing at The Lower Eastside Girls Club (LEGC) reflects this major shift in summer programming.

Over the past week we have been working hard to pull together the COVID-19 protocol for LEGC. I delved into resources from other New York City businesses and restaurants, CDC summer camp guidelines, and YMCA child care practices to learn more about the safest ways to reopen the Girls Club. From cleaning and facilities work to symptom tracking and reporting, the leadership team had to think about every possible scenario that might arise during summer programming and come up with a plan. We created systematic protocols for entering the building for both Girls Club members and staff, purchased touchless water fountains and temperature scanners, and developed curriculum and schedules conducive to outdoor (and potentially virtual) engagement. Meanwhile, the research and recommendations change every minute. 

Though it isn’t completely clear what a COVID age summer camp will look like, I know that educational initiatives, like LEGC, are crucial at a time like this… 

In education the summer break backslide is called “summer learning loss.” Essentially, kids who are not academically engaged throughout the summers lose what they’ve learned during the school year. The Brookings Institution reports that “on average, students’ achievement scores decline over summer vacation by one month’s worth of school year learning.” Additionally, studies show that summer learning loss widens income-based reading achievement gaps. This difference is likely because “the flow of resources slows for students from disadvantaged backgrounds but not for students from advantaged backgrounds. Higher-income students tend to continue to have access to financial and human capital resources (such as parental education) over the summer, thereby facilitating learning.”

As you can imagine, educators aren’t just worried about summer learning loss this year. Curriculum plans took a major hit this past spring, with many students falling behind, even before summer vacation rolled around. Many parents stressed with healthcare crises, layoffs, and work-from-home schedules were unable to help their children with homework or were nervous to approach it without additional support. Also virtual learning wasn’t feasible for all students, especially if the family didn’t have reliable computer access or internet connection at home. The “COVID Slump,” as it’s named, presents itself as a looming issue in the fall.

So, summer camps are critical right now. Summer programming can bridge the gap between now and back-to-school season in the fall. Camps keep kids engaged during the current crisis, even if just to relieve stress during this time of high anxiety. Over the past four months of New York City’s shutdown, LEGC provided fresh produce, books, and arts and crafts materials to Girls Club members and families. They also came up with a plan to continue to work with members this summer, even if the building is shut down again. Re-opening has its risks, but students need accessible and affordable summer resources now more than ever.

Liberation in a Pill

About a year ago I read Melinda Gates’s memoir, The Moment of Lift. In the book, the former Microsoft executive and Duke graduate discusses her work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and her role as a global health advocate and leader. Gates’s work has focused on women’s empowerment, specifically concentrating on women’s health education and access to family planning in countries around the globe.

The book has definitely received plenty of flak in the past; reviewers point out some of the obvious issues with Gates’s service (i.e. she’s white and has sizable wealth and power to fuel her interests). But despite the criticism, her words really opened my eyes to a huge global issue. She hits hard on one crucial point: access to birth control is a key aspect to empowering women. 

A 2012 study showed that access to the birth control pill had large economic impacts for working women, both single and partnered. It found that “early availability of the birth control pill is responsible for roughly a third of women’s wage gains since the 1960’s.” These figures are attributable to women’s ability to control when and how they have a family, giving young women more time to invest into their careers early-on. This gave them greater workplace experience and more time to dedicate to education, especially for male-dominated fields.

The Moment of Lift largely focuses on family planning outside of the United States (mostly developing countries) and draws real life examples from Melinda Gates’s international travels. However, we need to recognize that inaccessibility to family planning is not a non-issue here at home.

For one, our school systems are long overdue for an overhaul of the sex education curriculum. The facts when it comes to sex-ed in public schools are astounding. Not all states require that sex-ed be taught, and even in states that do require sex-ed, the curriculum is not mandated to be medically accurate. This means that some teens are learning incorrect information, putting them at risk for unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. Additionally, many states place the focus on abstinence-only education, circumventing conversations about safe sex practices, including contraceptive use and use of barrier protection. The result is a high rate of teen pregnancy in the U.S., the burden falling primarily on young women and their futures. Our inadequate attention to the importance of health education is certainly a barrier in access to family planning, and ultimately a barrier to women. 

However the fight for increased access can’t just stop at sex education. Like many other essential drugs, birth control pills, injections, and implants fall into the hands of Big Pharma. Birth control pills aren’t sold over the counter in the U.S. and can be incredibly expensive to pay for out of pocket. This problem has only been exacerbated by the current Covid-19 pandemic. With unemployment on the rise, many women have lost health insurance benefits that pay for costly contraceptive methods. Additionally, for women who usually see a healthcare provider for contraceptive injections, insurance companies are blocking access to self-administered injections. It’s also important to note that for many women, birth control is not just used to prevent pregnancy. Many types of birth control are forms of hormone therapy to regulate the menstruation cycle or symptoms of other underlying hormonal issues. Even if not for contraceptive use, birth control is absolutely an essential item.

Finally, the great hypocrisy that affronts women’s reproductive rights in our country is that the same conservatives who will do everything in their power to overturn Roe vs. Wade, are also the ones unwilling to invest government resources into prevention and protection (sex education and affordable contraception) early-on. It’s about time that we reassess our strategy.

Sisters By Any Other Name

I grew up always thinking that I wanted to follow in my mom’s footsteps and attend Mount Holyoke College, one of the first women’s colleges to be established in the nation. However, after attending an all girls’ school for high school, I wanted to switch it up for my college career. 

As much as I love going to Duke, sometimes I wish we could return to the olden days on campus. I think: What would it be like to go back to Durham in the 60s? To live and learn with all of the other women at Duke on our safe haven of East Campus? I hardly ever express this sentiment out loud, because when I’ve said it in the past, people tend to think I’m crazy. I’ll admit that I have a slight obsession with old pictures from women’s colleges: young women walking to class together with their perfectly hot-roller-curled hair, wool skirts, and sweater sets. If you’ve ever seen Julia Roberts’s Mona Lisa Smile then you know exactly what I’m talking about; and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

However, as crazy as people may think I am, the idea of gender segregated colleges is not all that old. Did you know that Duke didn’t become co-ed until 1972? (1972! Less than 50 years ago!). Even more interesting, Columbia College at Columbia University didn’t admit women until 1981 but it maintained its all women’s institution, Barnard, which now runs as its own college within the Columbia University system.

Here’s an interesting question to consider: was integrating women into men’s colleges actually better for women?

While I don’t have an answer for this question, the data certainly makes a compelling argument for the value of single-sex education. Women who attended women’s colleges are disproportionately represented in areas of leadership. Despite the fact that only 2% of women attend women’s colleges, 20% of women in Congress are graduates of women’s colleges along with 30% of women on a recent Businessweek list of women rising in corporate America. Women like Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinem, and even my mom were educated in an environment completely surrounded by driven and ambitious women. 

You may be thinking, Well, that’s all well and good. But women’s colleges aren’t representative of the real world, right?. To which I say, think about it like this: graduates of women’s colleges and all girls’ schools were forced to question traditional gender roles and assume positions of leadership in the classroom, and therefore were unhindered (or at least less hindered than their co-ed peers) by these gender stereotypes in the real world. I definitely had this experience, and I think most graduates of women’s schools would agree. There’s something incredibly uniting about graduating in a white dress.

However, I also recognize that single gender education is a highly privileged experience. Single gender classrooms in public schools are rare, leaving little to no options in this arena for most young women. That’s one reason why I find the work at the Lower Eastside Girls Club (LEGC) of NY so incredibly important and why I was inspired to work there. Girls are able to learn for free in a women-empowered environment by positive female role models. LEGC addresses critical leadership and business skills for girls who likely aren’t learning about leadership in their co-ed schools. I promise this isn’t just an ad for LEGC; but LEGC is an organization that focuses on the benefits of girls education, an issue that is clearly close to my heart.

I don’t think that Duke will be splitting into single-sex colleges anytime soon – to be honest, it just doesn’t match the culture of the school on the whole. However, co-ed schools can garner an abundance of knowledge from all women’s institutions to create safer and more equal learning environments for all women on campus. What are some ways we can create all women’s settings on campus and how can we make them available to every woman that wants to participate? Maybe most importantly, how can we show those in charge that these issues are important, if not critical, for the advancement of college-educated women?

Doing more harm than good?

Did you know that certain non-profit organizations could actually be harming their communities in the long-term? This past week in our Moxie seminar we read Paul Kivel’s “Social Services or Social Change.” In the piece, Kivel breaks down what he calls “the nonprofit industrial complex (NPIC).” Essentially he argues that many non-profits address symptoms of societal issues without getting to the roots of the problems. In this way, by not ever solving issues in their entirety, the non-profit industry maintains jobs for its employees and continues to be able to “do good work.” The following TED talk from Dan Pallota doesn’t discuss NPIC specifically, but does address some of the other problems about the way we approach charity that are interesting to think about.

As I’ve continued to work at the Lower Eastside Girls Club (LEGC) of NY, I’ve tried to think about the ways in which their work attempts to look at the root of the issues they address. LEGC provides education, wellness, and leadership training services for girls located in the Lower Eastside of Manhattan as well as other boroughs around New York City. It was originally founded by local women to give young women of the Eastside an organization similar to that of other boys’ clubs around the city. 

In the past week, I sat in on meetings working to plan summer programming for middle and high school students as NYC begins to open up post-quarantine. For middle school, LEGC offers classes in all different areas from textile arts to science to radio broadcasting. However for high school, the team is working on creating opportunities for students to engage with their local communities and gain professional experience. This place is where I specifically see the organization working at the root of an issue and working against Kivel’s idea of the industrial complex. Kivel also emphasizes that non-profit organizations need to empower their target communities with the skills needed to help themselves. LEGC is providing a safe and productive environment for students to learn and grow this summer, but also giving resume-worthy experiences to boost college applications and/or future job opportunities.

As someone who has engaged with lots of community service in the past, Kivel’s argument really made me think about how I have approached service in the past and how I want to think about it in the future. Some reflections questions I’ve started to think about while doing community service:

These questions certainly don’t solve the issue of the NPIC, but they can help to think about why we are doing what we are doing. Ultimately, I don’t think many nonprofits work with malintent; most believe and are doing good and helpful work. But as Kivel says, nonprofits need to be accountable to those that they serve, rather than the people who fund them.

Reflecting on the Moment

The evening of May 29th I sat in my living room with my mom, watching CNN as a Black Lives Matter protest became violent in downtown Atlanta. I watched as Atlanta landmarks began to crumble. The CNN building was crowded with protestors met by police as cars around Centennial Olympic Park were set ablaze. Just seven miles away from the chaos, I was sheltered at home with my parents and my brother. 

Just a year ago…graduating from Atlanta Girls’ School in our suffragette-esque white dresses (I’m on the far right)

I did not grow up in Atlanta, but moved here at the beginning of high school where I attended a local, private all girls’ school. I was incredibly fortunate to have had the experience of single gender education. For one, my school was very small (only 35 people in my graduating class!) and it gave me a close knit and welcoming community to join after moving to Georgia. But it also allowed me to break out of my shell. I was given the opportunity to join student government, lead clubs, and teach classes, all initiatives I would not have had the confidence to undertake had I attended a larger co-ed school. I was also introduced to new areas of social justice, and I became more interested in issues surrounding girls’ education and women’s healthcare.

My positive experiences at an all girls’ school are ultimately what inspired me to apply to the DukeEngage New York program and to work more in depth with women’s issues. My educational upbringing seems especially relevant to the work that I will be doing this summer at The Lower Eastside Girls Club (LEGC) of NY. I am very excited to work with an organization that sees the power in all women’s education and continues to provide support for their students during the current covid-19 crisis.

However, given the circumstances of the country, my excitement is met with deep reflection. The protests in Atlanta and many other cities around the nation brought the tragic realities of police brutality, unconscious bias, and systemic racism into the spotlight. Like many others, I am coming to terms with the fact that I reaped benefits from a system that oppresses the Black community. Even though I am not white, I have great privilege in my family’s socioeconomic class, the primarily white communities in which I grew up, and the education I was afforded.

I am taking this time of unrest as an opportunity to educate myself so that I can become a better informed citizen and so that I can better understand a large part of the student community I will be working with at LEGC. Some resources I’ve found particularly eye-opening in the past couple of weeks are: Hasan Minhaj’s call to the Asian community on Patriot Act, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, Roxane Gay’s Remember, No One Is Coming to Save Us, and Stacey Abrams’s opinion piece in the New York Times about the importance of voting.

While education is not the ultimate solution to the nation’s deep rooted issues, it certainly is one pathway towards empowerment. Over the next eight weeks I hope to fully immerse myself in LEGC’s mission to connect girls to successful futures, using discussions of current events to guide my work.