Culture Shock in a Familiar City

Culture shock. 

That is not something you expect to experience doing a domestic DukeEngage program. Especially not in a city your mom works in and that you visit every year. Despite the familiarity of the city, the Moxie program and Girls for Gender Equity (GGE) immersed me in environments so different than the ones that I know. The Moxie program has been the most diverse program I have ever been a part of.  I was surrounded by a diversity of race, income, family backgrounds, perspectives, and more. While Duke is fairly diverse, it’s social scene tends to be racially fractured. I am also on the rowing team, and this is an expensive sport that tends to only be available in high income areas, which can lend a lack of racial and economic diversity. Furthermore, my high school had a very serious lack of diversity (see below).

High school was comfortable, being surrounded by people just like myself. People rarely had to check themselves or check their privilege, because they were surrounded my equal levels of it. The way my parents raised me, having had come from low-income families themselves, I was aware of my privilege and that it was no coincidence that those who I lived around and went to school with looked and acted just like me. By my junior year, thanks to my American Studies class, amazing teachers, and the the book The New Jim Crowe, I had a fairly heightened social consciousness compared to those around me. In college, my political identity and activism exploded come Trump’s election, and at that point I considered myself to be “woke”. “Woke” is a political term that refers to a perceived awareness of issues concerning social justice and racial justice that has become widely used since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement.


But how can I be actually woke if you’re a white, straight, and privileged person who has been surrounded by people just like myself my whole life? I study issues of race, gender, sexuality, and class endlessly. I’m constantly having conversations about these issues, but often without the people who these issues are affecting. So my knowledge is overwhelmingly theoretical and academic. However, compared to a lot of others with the same white, privileged, and straight identities, I tend have a more heightened social consciousness and be more woke. Because of this, I’ve never had to check myself.

The Moxie program and Girls for Gender Equity both gave me the opportunity, for the first time, to have discussions about social justice issues with a diverse group of people. This aspect more than anything else, has led to the most learning and personal growth.  Finally, I have had to check myself.

One day at GGE, I was watching a trial against NYPD and its gang surveillance database. Parents came to the trial to share stories of the children they’d lost to this abuse of power, racism, and severe police brutality. Soon, I was crying and I turned to a fellow Moxie, to talk about it. I was startled by her response, “You shouldn’t cry, that doesn’t do anything. These are real peoples lives and realities.” Objectively, I knew my tears didn’t do anything to fix the problem. But, I knew she was saying something much deeper than that one sentence. That by crying about it, I was making it about me; the focus was being removed from the injustice to the black community to the empathy and emotions of the white woman. This interaction was coupled with our Moxie discussion concerning the role of empathy. We discussed how to advocate for people’s rights and needs, they are elevated as tokens of pain, which we will feel bad for, and if we’re privileged we’ll get a pat on the back for caring. From this, I took away an awareness of how my social activism and empathy for marginalized populations can be self-serving and how to stay away from this. Never should conversations about race be dominated by a white woman, and never should a white woman’s tear’s be weaponized to silence people of color.

During my last day at GGE, I met with my supervisor, Brittany, to wrap things up for the summer. We discussed the race dynamic, given that I was one of the very few white people at the office. She told me that my whiteness and privilege definitely stood out in the office and that is/was a very unique dynamic to have a white privileged intern under an almost all black staff. She asked how I felt being a minority in the office. First, I acknowledged the difference between being a black versus white minority and the privileges and disadvantages that those may bring. But even despite this, there was a constant heightened awareness of my identity, how I presented myself, and how I took up space. We agreed that this was an important experience for my self-awareness.

(Here’s me and Brittany-the best supervisor in the world-being cute!)

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If I plan on pursuing social justice in my future, it’s absolutely necessary that I am able to check my privilege, be aware of the space I take up, and how I talk about the issues. While I know that I have a ways to go, I am endlessly grateful for the Moxie program and GGE for having taught me so much.

And an unrelated side note to my fellow Moxies, I love you all with my whole heart and wouldn’t have wanted to share this experience with anyone else.

Thank you to GGE, Ada, Shannan, my fellow Moxies, and DukeEngage for allowing me to have such an incredible experience.


A Restorative World

During my first week at Girls for Gender Equity (GGE), my supervisor told me that I would be drafting a “restorative justice” section for the Schools Girls Deserve Toolkit. I eagerly nodded as if I knew what that was, and quickly turned to the internet.

“Restorative justice: is a theory of justice that can be employed both re-actively, in response to conflict and/or crime, and proactively to strengthen community by fostering communication and empathy.  Restorative Justice invites everyone impacted by a conflict and/or crime to develop a shared understanding of both the root causes and the effects. Restorative Justice seeks to address the needs of those who have been harmed, while encouraging those who have caused harm to take responsibility.”

At GGE, we underwent a nearly whole-day restorative justice training. It was definitely important that I practice before I preach. We sat in a circle and had a talking piece. We shared stories of our backgrounds, our values, and our struggles. We talked about what we needed in the office in order to be our best selves, and what people needed to do to allow that to happen. We agreed upon an established a list of shared values that we would guide ourselves with in the office. We broke into smaller groups and shared deeply personal stories through questions. In order to practice true listening, the stories would be followed up by rounds of questions from others that we didn’t answer. The whole day was an incredibly meaningful experience. I better understood my colleagues, knew how I would bring myself into the community, and felt a deep sense of calm and unity.

Last week, we held a restorative justice healing circle at the Moxie reflection dinner in order to address some existing tensions in the group. And boy, was there some tension. One of my roommate and I had been struggling for the last week and weren’t really speaking. Conflict over how to share the space paired with a lack of communication had turned into cold silence between the two of us. This was ridiculous considering we both sincerely like and respect each other. The circle was so necessary for me, but I did not want to admit that. I have a lot of pride and I wasn’t about to let go of it. In a leap of faith, I chose to talk about everything in the circle, and so did my roommate. We discussed the impacts of our actions, how they made us feel, and established rules and values moving forward. Now, a week later, we couldn’t get along any better and we get to be the friends we truly are again. I felt this was a true testament to the impact of restorative justice.

Restorative justice has truly proven itself this summer, and has me thinking about what a restorative world would look like. It would look like reparations and problem solving, rather than punishment and isolation for crime. Like therapy and healing circles rather than suspensions and expulsions. Like agreed upon community values rather than black and white imposed rules. Like communication and growth, rather than fighting and tension. I wondering how I can start to make my world look more like this.

I’m going to start by maintaining the mindset that most people come from a place of good intention, and very different stories. This is a good baseline to have for when conflicts arise. I’m thinking of the rowing team, specifically and how we could benefit from restorative justice practices. We have tried to have (non-restorative) circles to address conflict, but they blew up and actually got worse. I want to hold a circle at the beginning of the year to share what values we hold most important, who we are at our best selves and rowers, and what we need from others to be that, develop shared values, and a plan of action for conflict resolution. I think bringing restorative justice to rowing, a huge part of my life, is a great step towards making the world around me more restorative.

Being a Part of the Problem

Last year 82% of the world’s money was made by the top 1%. Gross, right? This is no coincidence, as the rich getting richer is not mutually exclusive with the poor getting poorer. Many of our Moxie discussions center around neoliberalism and it’s all-encompassing effects. A core idea I’ve taken away is that our global neoliberal economy serves as a catalyst for economic prosperity for those who already have wealth. For those who start with close to nothing, we so generously supply the rhetoric of the “American Dream”, near synonymous with the concept of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps”.

This concept runs under the assumption that in our free market capitalist economy, all people have an equal opportunity to succeed. This can be reflected in the idea of the “homo-economocus”: that we as humans are capable of rational thought, so all are completely capable of free choice. It also operates under the assumption that all people have full information and options for the decisions they make. Under the logic that humans have both free choice and all available information, the market allows everyone equal opportunity to succeed, so poverty must be a result of a lack of effort. The result of having ideological roots in neoliberalism, which constructs a false equal playing field, while the country is founded in slavery, systemic racism, colonialism, and imperialism, is a neo-feudal economic order.

In order to allow the populations that have been so deeply marginalized throughout U.S. history, a massive overhaul of the systems in place is needed. More realistically, the country at least needs radical reform.  A key aspect of radical reform would be a re-distribution of wealth and political power. This means that those who profit off of our patriarchal, heteronormative, and capitalist economy would need to relinquish some of the tight grasp they hold on global economic and political power. In simple terms, rich, white people (especially cisgendered and heterosexual males) need to be willing to work towards a system that does not perpetually benefit them and marginalize those different from them. This is hard for many reasons, but I will explain two: living in a bubble and socialized greed.


And this is where this political rant relates to me, the 1%.

I can personally speak to the bubble and the socialized greed. I grew up on the North Shore of Chicago, a suburban area filled with some of the wealthiest towns in the county. For context, my high school, New Trier, was the basis and inspiration of the movie “Mean Girls”. A $500,000 house is considered small, and the town I lived in (Wilmette), with a shocking $117,526 per year median annual income, was called the “Wilmetto”, as it is considered poorer than the neighboring neighborhoods of the New Trier Township. When I was young, I naively thought that U.S. poverty looked like the smaller houses in my neighborhood. I didn’t know what it actually looked like on the South Side of Chicago, less than an hour away. You didn’t meet anyone openly struggling with financial issues or falling victim to systems of oppression. From the view in the bubble, these problems are easy to ignore. They can very easily become “not my problem”.

Moreover, thanks to free market competition and extensive privatization rooted in neoliberal ideology, the universal objective is to make as much money as possible, creating rampant greed. Under neoliberalism, your value and worth is defined by your current assets and your capacity to earn (thus promoting a whole cascade of evil “isms”). This perpetuates greed and the pattern of valuing one’s wealth over human welfare, and the belief that we are owed every dollar we were born into or given. As a person of privilege, the easy choice is to look the other way and continue to reap the benefits of a flawed system. I know that I did nothing to earn the economic situation I was born into and that the successes in my life have only been possible because of the opportunities I’ve been allotted.

It is necessary and powerful to come to these realizations, but it is not enough. In order to not only fight oppression but to not be a part of the problem, it requires using one’s privilege to help create change. I have constantly grappled with whether it is one’s moral responsibility to use that privilege to do good or if it’s okay to reap the benefits of your wealth. Personally, I feel a duty to use the privilege that I sit on to join the fight against systems of oppression. What I’ve struggled with is the knowledge that the jobs that result in me doing good, may not result in me enjoying the same comforts I’ve had growing up (this is where the greed comes in). My ideal self would be able to completely let go of the idea that happiness necessitates wealth, and fully embrace the knowledge that money is a sociallyconstructed means to happiness. However, I’m 20 years into deeply rooted capitalist socialization that trickles into nearly every aspect of my life.

At my core, I know I would feel an overwhelming guilt if I just sat on my privilege and continued to benefit from it without using it to better the world. I am thankful for my time at Girls for Gender Equity, with Moxie, and in New York to allow me the time and opportunities to see myself and the world around me from a critical and necessary lens.




These two weeks have served as a concentrated learning experience in every aspect. I’ve learned so much about Girls for Gender Equity, how to work an 8-hour day in an office, all about the girls in the Moxie program, how the subways work, how to feed myself off of $10 a day, and how not to cry when a pigeon flies into my face.

I sat to think about the most meaningful thing I’ve learned in my time so far, and nothing rang stronger than what I’ve learned about myself. In my two weeks, I’ve experienced a surge in confidence in my abilities and autonomy through having an increased sense of freedom and independence.

College is a coming of age experience where you feel freedom for the first time. You’re supposed to be able to explore your passions, make connections for your career, and spend hours lost in conversation with new people. I’ve done that to an extent, but being a rower certainly makes my life different from that of the typical college student. When you have to wake up at 6 am and give several hours of your day to one thing, it’s hard to feel fully free and in control of your life. My experience in New York has proven to be my first experience of actual independence and freedom that allows me to start to discover myself.

For the first time in my college career, I felt that I’ve been able to fully commit to something. I have a crazy passion for my fields of study (Global Health, Psychology, and Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies). After a 10 minute conversation with me you can almost guess what I’m studying. However, I rarely feel that I have the time to give my studies what they deserve. I’ll do only the necessary readings for classes, and probably only skim them for the hopes of one night sleeping six hours. I’ll nod off in class not because I’m not interested, but because I stretch myself so thin. I’ve learned I don’t know how to not do too much. When there’s so many interesting opportunities at Duke, I can never seen to put sleep first.

It feels like a constant game of catch up and not being able to show my level of commitment through my work. There is also a confidence gap at play that definitely needs to be shaken. In every academic space I enter at Duke, I automatically assume that everyone is more intelligent than I am. I got into Duke through athletics and came from such a competitive high school that I wouldn’t have been able to get in otherwise. No matter how well I do at Duke and stack up against the other students, this feeling pervades. Through psychology and GSF classes, I’ve learned that this insecurity likely plays to my own detriment. Getting into the Moxie program was a huge shock and thrill for me, knowing I had been selected among plenty of other students for nothing else but my passion, intelligence, and ability to connect with people.

While rowing has definitely been a significant stressor in my Duke experience, I’d be crazy not to acknowledge what it has given me. Stretching myself thin, working all day, and barely sleeping are all realities that have become normal. I’m used to a day that starts before 6 am, in which I won’t have the time to return to my room until late at night. It’s go-go-go all the time. Being a committed Duke student is like a full-time job, and so is rowing. I often feel as though I’m balancing a dual life and doing a disservice to both. For the first time, I’m all in.

I’ve learned that I’m actually a very high functioning human being. On my first week, my supervisor assigned me my first project and gave me a few days to complete it. I had nothing to do after work, which is a very novel concept to me. Thrilled from my newfound freedom, I decided I’d complete the project in my apartment to have done the next day. This is definitely a “try-hard” move and not exactly necessary, but I was just so excited to finally have the time to complete what’s asked of me. In meeting with my supervisor, I asked what I could do better, to which she responded that I’d been doing great and that she was really impressed with my efficiency.

Not only have I been able to fully commit myself to GGE, I’ve been fully able to commit to myself. When you’re fighting to maximize sleep and live as efficiently as possible, you have to pick and choose what’s necessary. You don’t get to spend time lost in your own thoughts, reflecting on your goals, or going exploring. In these past two weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to do more introspection than ever before. I’m journaling every day, writing poetry, and engaging in the most thoughtful discussion with other Moxies, friends in New York, and even my mom.


(this is my journal and my desk! aren’t they cute??)

i came with an answer and left with questions

Coming to Duke as a freshman, I thought I had the answers. I knew I wanted make a difference in the world and had a very concrete mindset on how I was going to do it. I was going to study neuroscience and become a doctor, simple as that! I had never considered that there would be other ways that I could be a good global citizen. Soon, this very narrow path I had set out for myself would be shaken. Turns out I’m actually pretty bad at chemistry and biology. On top of that, I’m not even that interested.  I soon realized that the only answer I came to Duke with, that I was going to be a doctor, was false. I had come in with such a fixed mindset of success. Under that definition, I had failed. I realized that in having such a concrete mindset, my path was quick to shatter.

I spent my second semester trying to re-evaluate my path and how I was going to use it to make a difference in this world. So I started from ground-zero and enrolled in classes in majors I had never even heard of. I realized that not only did I know nothing about the world, I didn’t even know how many different lenses you could view the world through.  I soon found myself immersed in Global Health, Psychology, and Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist studies. And for the first time, I felt passion in what I was studying. Maybe I could use these fields of study to make a difference in the world.  I came out of freshman year reeling. For the first time, I felt that I didn’t have any answers.  And for the first time, I knew that it was that I didn’t need to.

As a sophomore, I came in with questions. How am I going to make a difference in the world? What am I interested in? This flexibility allowed me to merge the paths of passion and my desire to one day make an impact. I declared my majors in Global Health and Psychology with a minor in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies. I did this thinking that following the path that I am most passionate about will result in me being able to achieve the most good. This path has resulted in so much information, but more than that, never ending questions. What does making a difference in the world mean?  Why should I make a difference? Very light stuff.

So that’s where I’m at right now, on this path filled with questions. I came to Duke confident with answers, when in fact, I didn’t even know, what quite I was answering. I have learned that to limit myself to the confines of black and white answers to black and white questions, I will have done myself a disservice and not taken advantaged of everything Duke has to offer. The questions that have patterned my endeavors at Duke are “How will I make a difference in the world” and “What is my responsibility as a global citizen to make a difference?”.

These questions have lead me here, having the honor to be a part of the Moxie 2018 Project with DukeEngage and working with Girls for Gender Equity. I am so thrilled and honored that my path has led me to such an amazing opportunity. If I have learned anything, it’s that I need to come into it with questions.

So here we go.

How can I be the best intern possible for Girls for Gender Equity?

Do I see myself working in the non-profit world?

Am I interested in public policy?

Or do I want to be a lawyer?

Or both?

Who can I learn from this summer? From Girls for Gender Equity, to the Moxie Project, to the bounds of New York City.

What can I learn from the city itself this summer?

How does this work align with my passions?

How does this work align with being an actor of good in this world?

How can I be my best self?

I will attempt to answer these questions this summer, and hopefully have more questions than answers.