Embracing Uncharted Waters

It’s been an entire week since we said our goodbyes and left NYC for each of our homes, some of us back to similarly bustling cities, and some–like me–back to a much different territory.  And like when I arrived, the culture shock has been just as shocking…but not in quite the same way.

When I first arrived in the city, I was taken aback by the constant stimulation of all senses; it truly is the city that never sleeps.  And don’t get me started on figuring out the New York City subway system….

But the biggest change from my normal, every-day life came on with much more subtlety, and as much of a growing experience “cooking” most of my meals was–aka, eating peanut butter straight from the jar with a spoon for dinner–this, also, was not it.  It wasn’t until I came home that I realized how big of an impact being a part of the Moxie project has had on my life.  The first couple of days, my overwhelming feeling was sadness; this summer I have felt my brain being stretched and twisted to a level that I am consciously aware of, something that I’ve never experienced before.  Not only this, but I have met a group of people who I never would have interacted with otherwise, but have pushed me to think about important topics in ways I had never considered.  And the relationships I have formed with everyone in my group, as well as some of the people at my internship at Sanctuary for Families, are deeper and more real than I ever expected–or in many cases, experienced–before.

To revisit one of my previous posts, something that has defined this summer from talking with the other Moxies is an acceptance and welcoming of discomfort.  I have learned that discomfort is necessary for the kinds of conversations that will get things done, enact the change that we so desperately need.   The discussions we’ve had, whether in seminar or spontaneously in the middle of the night, have been some of the most in-depth, transformative, respectful, and, yes, discomforting, I have ever been a part of.  And I mean that in the best of ways.  We are all so different, and that’s what makes our discussions productive and interesting.  This summer, not only do I feel like I have made a tangible impact in people’s lives at my internship, but I also have become more sure of my own voice and independence.  I have found a place to dwell in discomfort….but what will that mean for the future?  


The future has always terrified me.  During the last week of being in NYC, I had a surprising number of conversations about what’s important in life and not getting bogged down by not knowing exactly where your life is headed.  When I came into college, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life…but I’m not sure how much that goal actually matches what I am passionate about, which this summer has helped me to see.  While I am more uncertain than ever of what is to come, I am also the most content and sure than I have felt my entire life.

But the future is important for another reason as well: how can I use what I have learned this summer in the future?  One topic in particular that stood out in every one of the discussions was the issue with the hierarchical systems that spill over into every aspect of society and government.  Yes, we always talk about problems with unequal treatment in, say, the finance world, where everything is about networking and who you know.  But something I came to realize this summer, even speaking with some of my coworkers, is that these systems exist even within the nonprofits, the last place you would expect.  And I recently discovered from one of my friends that–surprise, surprise–the same is true in the media industry; the prettier women get better jobs, often within sales, which is just so problematic on so many levels. 

How can we even begin to address these widespread problems at the very center of our societal mindset? 

That was always the question this summer.  But maybe we don’t need to have all the answers right now.  Working for the change that is necessary doesn’t have to look like some big massive movement that solves every issue in one go, and for another matter, couldn’t.   Thinking about going back to school and what will happen, how I can continue to think about the issues we’ve discussed all summer worries me. So much life was packed into that short 8 weeks, and I am not about to waste it.  I am determined to find a way to stay involved, stay aware, and stay connected, whatever that may look like. And stay open minded about where life could lead because I am less sure about the future than I have ever been, but also the most ok with not knowing. 


How to Blow Your Mind in 3 Difficult Steps

Coming out of these past couple of weeks, I find myself once again preoccupied by a whirlwind of thoughts. Here are a set of three.



First, the readings this week were on the topic of intersectionality–and they were the most confusing and difficult to understand for me so far.  Intersectionality is a topic that I have struggled to understand hearing it under different contexts back on campus as it is only briefly mentioned before the conversation moves on.  Unlike many of my peers it seems, I have never heard the term in a class setting, never had it explicitly defined.  All I knew came from bits and pieces from posters, in snippets of conversation, etc. How problematic is that?  The engineering and many other STEM curricula give so little space for such conversations to occur, and as a result, a large chunk of the student population is just clueless about topics like these.

After discussing the readings in seminar with the other Moxies, I do feel like I have a better understanding of the term, but something still bothers me about it.  I worry that when people normally say the term, they just use it as a broad statement to put a name to their struggle, rather than actually understanding what it means.  I’m not going to lie, if you haven’t noticed, I’m avoiding trying to define the term. I don’t want to give the wrong definition because this just perpetuates the problem.  Yes, you can google a definition, but that doesn’t tell you much about the power of intersectionality, using it as a tool as it is meant to be in human rights movements. Heck, this blogger’s spell-check doesn’t even recognize it as a real word. This might be me just projecting, but I doubt if I went up to anyone on campus (or the street) and asked them what “Intersectionality” meant, they would be able to articulate it.  But maybe that’s because it means different things to different people? But is that ok if it’s being used as a grounding concept at the forefront of their stance?

Literally every one of the Moxie readings has referenced the necessity of some sort of collective movement based on the strength and power people marginalized categories (based on race, gender, class, sexual orientation, etc.) truly have rather than on their subjugation.  Intersectionality seems to bring all of this together into one comprehensive idea, and if it was more widely known and understood, I think it potentially could be the answer to all of these questions we’ve been having about how to go about social change.


Another thing that gave me pause for thought this week came after our group visited the Brooklyn Family Defense Practice and heard about what they do and why it’s so important. As we spoke with one of the lawyers, I started thinking about the disparity between the work at the nonprofit where I am interning, Sanctuary for Families, and that of the BFDP.  Sanctuary’s mission is to provide services and resources to victims of domestic violence, while the BFDP represents those accused in such cases, among others.  In theory, I knew that sometimes domestic violence or child neglect cases could be unfounded, and that the accused absolutely deserve representation. But to be honest when I hear “child abuse/neglect,” or similar phrases, I automatically and subconsciously side with the survivor.  And working at Sanctuary, I see so many examples of children and their mothers or fathers that have gone through so much because of all kinds of awful abuse, this mindset was even more wired into me.

It was startling to hear about the work that BFDP does, opening my eyes to the associations people automatically make about such cases.  I know that the work Sanctuary does is a bit different, being a place where survivors themselves come for help while BFDP usually deals with outside reports, but the idea and connotations of the cases are similar.  And I’m conflicted, because on the one hand, people–women and children in particular–struggle so much in getting the help and resources they need to escape their offenders as I see and hear about all the time at Sanctuary, but that doesn’t mean the perpetrator doesn’t deserve to be represented in court.  People want to automatically assume that the person being accused is the bad guy because of all these awful negative connotations, when in reality, often the story is a lot more complicated.  And that story many times isn’t fully heard because of the nature of the accusation, people’s inherent biases, and institutionalized as well as personal discrimination or prejudices.  Without the full story, how can the extent of the issue be determined?

I have discussed with my supervisors how children are affected mentally by all kinds of traumatic experiences, but I never stopped to think about the mental repercussions of what could come after, being put in foster care and separated from their families.   And it’s difficult to judge because how can you ever get the full story?



One last thing I want to reflect on has to do with an interaction I had with someone in the grocery store.  My mind being particularly preoccupied that day, in the moment I failed to notice that so much was just wrong and disgusting about what happened.  As I was walking back from using the restroom, some guy stuck out his arm to stop me.

 He has the audacity to just block my way?

He then proceeds to explain how he had seen me pass by earlier, thought I was cute, and that we should go out for “a drink sometime, or maybe rosé? *insert patronizing grin*”

…if only I had stopped him then and there, told him I wasn’t interested, and moved on.  He then proceeded to ask where I was from, and when I said the “South,” he tried to guess the state and the city.

But for some reason–and this came completely unconsciously–I was surprised and horrified to find that I felt like I was obligated to respond to his intrusions. I almost felt bad for turning him down and saying I thought he was too old for me.  But even THEN he kept pressing, trying to get my number, saying we could still go out for “ice cream.”

Oh, everything is ok though, because he assured me, “You can say no if you want, that’s fine.”

I’m not going to go into all the details, but the rest of the interaction was pretty much more of the same, and when my brain finally caught up and I left, I heard his friend CONGRATULATING him with a “good job” (though how he “succeeded” in any way is beyond me.)  And for the next hour I blamed myself for what happened, how dumb I was to stay talking to this rando when I should’ve just said “not interested” from the beginning, from the initial violation of my personal space.  But really there are so many bigger problems at hand, and it’s taken me some time to realize how it all goes back to the same issues we’ve been talking about this entire summer.  Men often feel like they have the right to women, and women often, whether consciously or subconsciously, feel obligated to respond, to meet their needs and desires.  I certainly have never thought of myself as someone who would have this mindset, but there it came out, me feeling bad for turning this guy down.  It really gives you pause for thought.  Even though I logically know I shouldn’t have felt this way, for a time I was overwhelmingly just disappointed in myself, not thinking of something sassy to say, not ending the conversation earlier…But that’s not the point, is it?  Even if I had said something else, done things differently, the problematic nature of the interaction doesn’t change.  I could go on for pages about what I think of this situation, but for the sake of space, I’m going to stop here.  One closing thought:

This isn’t a unique interaction.

It happens all the time.

Why don’t more people see how big of an issue that is?

Discomforting Deliberations



  • a state of mental unease; worry or embarrassment.
  • lack of physical comfort.

This past week has been a whirlwind, to say the least.  First, the Moxies went to see Dance Nation, a coming-of-age play that made me so uncomfortable in some parts due to unique themes, seemingly gratuitous nudity, and  just a format I wasn’t used to, that I wanted to crawl out of my own skin.

Discomfort.And then I went to the hospital for the first time in my life at 3 AM, given one of the largest needle sizes of IV’s because of my incredibly low blood pressure.

More Discomfort.

And the two days I spent there gave me a lot of time to think.  As I was given several IV’s and shots, countless medications for something as simple as a stomachache, I thought again back to the Women of Venezuelan Chaos documentary our group went to see the previous week.  The film portrayed one nurse who worked at a hospital where the patients had to bring their own needles, their own syringes, their own bed sheets.  Meanwhile, I was asked several times if I would like another blanket, when the first IV needle failed another was quickly right at hand, and all of the nurses were incredibly apologetic about the fact that I had to wait so long to get a bed, eventually not being able to be admitted due to the fact that the hospital was overpacked.

A Different Discomfort.

I’m not going to lie, I was definitely frustrated to have to lie waiting for over 24 hours, and most likely spend far longer than necessary in a small cot in the ER with only a curtain to separate me from the room full of patients of all ages, from babies crying and the chaos that I knew must have been happening on the other side.  But I wasn’t angry at all, and it was as if the nurses and doctors expected it of me…but what did I have to be angry about?  There was nothing that could be done about it, the hospital was just too crowded, the need exceeded the space.  Which got me thinking about the insufficiency of resources all over the world.   We see how people in Venezuela are in dire need of care and help and supplies, which certainly far exceeds the need here, at least for the most part.  But I don’t think we ever really think about how even here, in the U.S., the resources and space we have still aren’t often enough somehow.

And I’m not sure what the root of the problem is.  I know several of the patients who came into the ER while I was there were poor or homeless based on conversations I overheard, so perhaps it all goes back to this?  But how much more likely are the homeless to end up in the ER?  Certainly they face higher risks simply due to the lack of shelter and other supplies, but would that solve the problem?  Or is it just because we’re in New York City and everyone is packed into this tight space, so there’s no way everyone could be completely served? Which then makes me think back to a the Sweatshop Workers Tour of an old tenement house our group went on just a few days ago.  A mindbogglingly large number of families shared this tiny space, likely facing similar obstacles to adequate healthcare due to a lack of resources, limited access, and discrimination.  In one part of the tour that I distinctly remember, the guide spoke about how tuberculosis isn’t easy to recover from without medication and fresh air, which people living in the tenements certainly didn’t have.

I think a lot of the times so much is taken for granted, and I don’t necessarily feel guilty about it, but it does make you think.  Ever since I was in middle school and knew I wanted to go into the medical field, I planned on working in poorer countries to provide better access to healthcare for people in need–but I never really thought about all the implications of this work.  And there is such a need everywhere for better healthcare, better living conditions; honestly, I don’t know what is ethically or morally the right thing to do, and I have so many unanswered questions that I can’t form into a coherent thought.  All I know is that while I was in the hospital, I went through so many mixed emotions while I overheard conversations next to me, complaints about long wait times, people incessantly asking when they would be given X drug, or taken to X new place and then outraged when the nurse told them she wasn’t sure.  One person in particular stood out, constantly complaining about how she would be given much better care back home, talking about how she had to carefully watch over her expensive luggage, while right next door I overheard a conversation between a nurse and an elderly homeless man who needed help with getting insurance.  And I don’t know, it just made me really confused and shaken–and Discomforted.

Confusion.  I feel like ever since I started this program 4 weeks or so ago, I have just become more and more confused.  I have started to question things I’ve never thought about before, and rather than finding answers, I just find more questions, which makes me uncomfortable.  No, it’s discomfort.  I used to be so uncomfortable with discomfort that I avoided it at all costs, rarely bringing up controversial topics or sharing my opinions because I wanted to avoid that awful, awful thing Conflict.  Because it caused me discomfort.   But the more I am Discomforted, the more I see the value in being so. Discomfort makes you think critically in ways that are impossible otherwise.  And isn’t that what’s necessary for change, to come up with novel solutions, have productive discussions, put ideas into action?  Not much can be accomplished without a certain level of some sort of discomfort.   So I am going to take a deep breath, and welcome that old fear Discomfort.

You Thought

When I walked off the subway into Queens for my first day this past week, venti Starbucks blonde roast clutched in my hands, I had no idea what to expect.

Here I was, in this brand new environment, still dazed by the shock of the city just two days after arriving, and I had to put my professional foot forward (another thing I don’t have much experience with).  Emerging from the station, I was surprised by how different the surroundings were from Manhattan—and how different they were from my expectations.

There is this idea promoted that Queens is run-down, or dangerous by people back home, but the opposite was true.  Queens was this bright, open city, so different from the tight streets of Manhattan that I had just left.  There were very few homeless, and manicured green spaces hidden behind moderately sized high-rises.  Then, I got to work, and was again taken aback.  I’m not sure what I was expecting exactly, but definitely not this friendly office space, with an attached waiting area and a brightly decorated and cheerful room for children to play in.  I was surprised by how positive the environment was as a whole, including my supervisors and everyone else that worked there.  I also don’t think I expected it to have such an office environment, with different sections devoted to legal services, or social workers.  I guess I really didn’t expect a nonprofit to be so organized, though I’m not sure why since Sanctuary for Families is a part of the Queen’s Family Justice Center. The only thing that went along with any unconscious pre-conceived notions was the presence of police officers wherever I went.  As I worked with the children of survivors of domestic violence, as well as attending a group meeting with parents and children who received services, I was heartened by the great sense of strength and hope in everyone.

These past few weeks, I have been thinking about the difference between what I must have expected of any and everything NYC, and the reality.  Sanctuary defied my expectations as a nonprofit, though the organized office environment makes a lot more sense after our Moxie group learned about all the government regulations placed on nonprofits.  Sanctuary defied my expectations as a resource for domestic violence survivors, with the open and warm environment created by workers and clients.  I am honored to work for such a necessary cause and am humbled each time my expectations and ideas are proven false.

When I found out that there was a jail literally next door to the center, it got me thinking about the irony and shock of reality.  This center worked to help enable victims to help themselves, provided services so that they could stay out of jail.  And even though Sanctuary is such a warm and welcoming environment, guards patrol this ominous, dark grey building next door with all the negative connotations.  And it’s not just Sanctuary, but New York City in general.  I did not expect to be able to see the blatantly obvious separation of economic status.  I might have thought I did, hearing about such issues, but this was nothing compared to actually witnessing the homeless everywhere along the streets, while right next to them are designer boutiques and Michelin Star restaurants.  It is incredibly disconcerting and heart breaking to see this disparity, coming from a city where the homeless are basically kept out of sight and out of mind. This is the reality of the world we live in, and I don’t think we get to see much of it in our sheltered microcosm that is Duke.  And I’m not sure how to make others aware of these issues to the degree necessary to create enough action to actually solve these problems.

But is that even possible?  And why should this be necessary in the first place?  Why do people need to witness the devastation in people’s lives first-hand in order to be motivated enough to actually do something about it?  Perhaps the answer isn’t to make people more aware, but to spread a mindset of needing to work for change despite not witnessing people’s suffering directly, to involve those who suffer themselves.  Some might retaliate and say human nature is too selfish for this, but with that kind of mindset, no human rights movement would have been successful in history, which we know to be false.  It might be a slow process, but there is hope everywhere, whether in large-scale laws being passed, or in the laughing eyes of a child who has survived through unspeakably traumatic experiences, able to be healthy and joyful again.

A Quick Guide to Kathleen

“So, what are you doing this summer?”

A pictorial representation of a flabbergasted Kat

Since February this year, I have heard this question asked with increasing frequency as said season approached. Not only has it been directed at me, but I’ve overheard it being asked of my friends, in class, at the library, in the student union, at the neighboring table of the campus coffee shop while I finish writing up a lab on pulse wave velocity…and I could go on.  Such a simple question should have a simple answer, right?  But this question held more weight than 10 impending midterms.

Let me take a minute to introduce myself.  The paper version: I am a premed rising Junior majoring in Biomedical Engineering and minoring in Chemistry.  It sounds kind of daunting when I write it out, at least to me, I’ll admit.  But what isn’t on paper is that I cycled through wanting to minor in Music, Spanish, Visual Art, Biology, and Global Health, before settling on Chemistry…and to be honest I’m still not sure about it.  I love to create art in many forms-drawing, painting, sketching. And I am passionate about helping sick people, whether that is through direct care, or through coming up with new medical devices, technologies, and cures. In particular, I love working with children, whether that’s babysitting, working as a volunteer tutor at a local elementary school, or supervising a nursery.

Who else am I?  I grew up in the countryside near Baltimore, later moving to live near Raleigh.  I traveled all along the East Coast growing up.  I love the beach and the mountains.  I love animals (especially dogs).  My hobbies include reading, binge watching Sherlock and Harry Potter, re-watching my favorite Marvel Movies (or seeing new ones), watching cooking shows and youtube videos,  attempting to bake something from said youtube tutorials (usually only semi-successfully), drinking coffee, singing to Panic! At The Disco, and planning where I want to travel based on the latest HGTV House Hunters episodes.  But the real kicker is, I’ve never been to New York.


Now, back to the question about summer.  Before I knew I was accepted as a Moxie, this question plagued me.  Everyone else seemed to have summer internships, research positions, or classes lined up.  And I wanted so badly to be a part of the New York DukeEngage program.  When I found out I was accepted, I was ecstatic.  I could answer the question confidently and definitively.

But could I, really?

I remember when I was first deciding which DukeEngage program to apply for, the NYC one caught my attention because it focused on the issue of women’s empowerment and equality, which I have always been passionate about, particularly since coming to college.  Though many of those around me seem to think this isn’t much of an issue, I see the effects of gender inequality every day in the way my male friends speak, the way female students are objectified, the gross imbalance in the ratio of male to female students in my engineering classes…the list goes on.  As I read through the description of the NYC DukeEngage program, a deciding factor for why I chose it over others was the opportunity to intern at one of the listed  partnering organizations, and Sanctuary for Families particularly caught my eye.  Sanctuary’s mission to end human trafficking, stop gender violence, and help victims of domestic violence is essential in working toward gender equality and creating a healthier mindset in future generations, and I am honored and humbled to be able to work for such a worthy cause.

Now, the question, “What are you doing this summer?” is complicated for a new reason: I don’t know how to elaborate.  Though it no longer holds the stress of the unknown, beyond the short answer, I’m not completely sure what to say.  I don’t have a clear picture of what to expect this summer–and it excites me.   I can’t wait to arrive in New York, this whole new environment which I’ve never experienced, and find out how I can play a role in helping to end inequality and work toward improving society. I look forward to being a part of Sanctuary for Families’ mission.

NYC, here I come!