Mar 192018
 March 19, 2018

At ten o’clock Wednesday morning, organizing around #Enough, students at thousands of schools across the country, including those at Brogden Middle School, stood outside for seventeen minutes in order to honor the seventeen victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting.  Some students also used the moment to advocate for more restrictive gun control policies and greater accessibility to mental health-care.  Although the majority of school districts were supportive of the walkout, others threatened students with disciplinary action.  During the lunchtime meeting at Brogden, guest speaker for the week, Monét Noelle Marshall, a local activist and performing artist, challenged the eighth-graders to think critically about the political and social significance of their participation in the walkout.

During the discussion, I wondered if gun control is a gendered issue.  While there are certainly many women who strongly support the “right to bear arms”, Duke political scientist Kristen Goss explains that “women tend to be more in favor of gun regulation than men.”

Although the walkout was ultimately a student-led initiative, I noticed that many Women’s March leaders were influential in supporting and broadcasting the message.  Indeed, Women’s March Youth EMPOWER even provided an online toolkit to help students prepare for the Wednesday morning demonstration.  A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center finds that “gun ownership is more common among men than women, and white men are particularly more likely to be gun owners.” Noting the tendency for mass shooters to be young, white, men, Marshall asked the girls to consider whether calls for more restrictive firearm legislation and mental health-care reform are merely band aid solutions to a much larger, systemic, gender-related problem.

In addition, I thought about the connection between gun violence and violence against women.  The Atlantic published an article explaining that higher rates of gun availability “correlate with higher rates of female homicide.”

According to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, among American women alive today, “about 4.5 million have had an intimate partner threaten them with a gun and nearly one million have been shot or shot at by an intimate partner.”

Furthermore, some research even suggests that mass shooters are more likely to have a history of domestic violence.  For example, the advocacy group, Everytown for Gun Safety, finds that “while perpetrators of domestic violence account for only about 10 percent of all gun violence, they accounted for 54 percent of mass shootings between 2009 and 2016.”

As Marshall suggested, although the cause for the increasing frequency of gun violence is a multifaceted and complex issue, I also believe that the values by which we choose to raise boys and girls need to be included in current conversations regarding prevention.

Mar 102018
 March 10, 2018

During the annual Kenan Distinguished Lecture, Making Straight What Has Been Crooked: The Ethics and Politics of Race in America, Mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu and Associate Professor of History at Duke University, Adriane Lentz-Smith engaged members of the Duke and greater Durham community in a conversation about improving racial relations. Throughout the discussion, Landrieu explained that his executive decision to remove four of New Orleans’s confederate monuments reflects his belief that a greater effort to recognize and apologize for the institution of slavery can help us advance towards a post-racial America. Despite the progress made since the Jim Crow Era, however, recent events, such as the Charlottesville rally and the Charleston church shooting, for me, still indicate a widespread white supremacist and racist stronghold.  Here, I wondered if a post-racial America can ever be realized.

Although overt segregation no longer exists, a phenomenon Landrieu referred to as “institutionalized racism” imposes a major obstacle for equality. Using his experience orchestrating the removal of four monuments, Landrieu elucidated his definition of institutionalized racism.  While the monuments commemorated the confederacy, the side fighting to preserve the institution of slavery, many believed them to represent important aspects of Louisiana’s history and culture.  Since every contractor within the state refused to carry out the project, removal proved to be an extremely arduous task.  As he believed the monuments memorialized the most heinous period in our nation’s history, Landrieu did not abandon his search for a contractor. Eventually, contractors from outside of the state took to the task, receiving multiple death threats, and even having their cars firebombed.

Moreover, Landrieu referred to institutional racism as a “structural inertia”, preventing black and brown individuals from actually attaining the rights and privileges the law ostensibly promises to everyone. I thought about the role of institutionalized racism in what is increasingly being referred to as the black maternal health crisis. In a recent Slate article, researchers, controlling for factors such as socio-economic and educational status, found that prejudicial assumptions regarding black women can create a “toxic work environment”, leading to additional stress and health-related issues. In fact, the article claimed that discrimination may at least be partially responsible for the black, non-hispanic infant mortality rate, nearly double that of the the white, non-hispanic rate. Moreover, black women are “two to three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related complication.”

Throughout Landrieu’s discussion of institutionalized racism, I thought about its relationship to implicit bias, a frequently mentioned concept among the women with whom I have conversed.  Drawing parallels between Landrieu’s call for a nation-wide recognition of institutionalized racism, Dr. Brenda Armstrong’s call for a university-wide, mandated implicit bias test; and Professor Keith’s call for a “cultural competency” course to be implemented in the legal curriculum; I wondered whether a conscious, educational effort to both recognize and address our implicit biases will also help ebb the pernicious effects of institutionalized racism.  Moreover, I wondered if many of those who were not present at the lecture were those who most needed to be informed of Landrieu’s prescription for a united nation.


Mar 022018
 March 2, 2018

Monday evening, Emily Steel, a journalist at the New York Times, spoke at the DeWitt Wallace Center’s Ewing Lecture on Ethics in Journalism.  Along with her reporting partner, Michael Schmidt, Steel was responsible for exposing the countless incidences of sexual harassment at Fox News and Vice Media.  During the talk, Steel not only recounted her experience breaking the Bill O’Reilly story, but also shared some ethical insights concerning her work.

Although by age eight she knew that she wanted to one day become a journalist, Steel stated that she finds “holding people in positions of power accountable” and “using words to shape stories and shape lives” to be especially valuable aspects of her career.  During the early stages of her investigation into O’Reilly, Steel discovered that several women had been paid more than $13 million in settlements and required to sign non-disclosure agreements; thus, making her search for a victim who would go “on the record” extremely difficult.  Here, I thought about how this helped to answer the question many of the girls at Brogden, DSA, and the Boys and Girls Club expressed concerning the length of time it took for #MeToo participants to come forward.  Finally finding a victim, Wendy Walsh, who had not signed a non-disclosure agreement, Steel traveled from New York to Los Angeles and even attended a Pilates class with Walsh just to convince her to go “on the record.” After conversing with Steel and learning that many of the women O’Reilly had abused could not come forward, Walsh agreed to share her story, claiming that she was also “doing this for her daughter.”

Since Steel was raised during an era she referred to as “journalistic slut-shaming”, she stated that her articles endeavor to contribute to this momentous cultural shift in which female victims are not as likely to be portrayed as “promiscuous” or blamed for their own harassment.  For Steel, the reporting on the Monica Lewinsky and Anita Hill scandals reified the potent ability for words to shape public opinion. Acknowledging the career-ending damage that an accusation, even a false accusation of sexual harassment carries, Steel stated that she took many measures to ensure that she was “reporting on the truth.”  While I certainly agree with Steel regarding the verifiability of sources, I also wondered whether or not the deep-seeded tendency to second guess or mistrust women factored into her defense of careful evidence collection and corroboration.

I thought it was pretty incredible that this woman, not much older than myself, had been able to expose a much more well-established and powerful man at one of the nation’s most prominent news networks.  Through her tireless efforts, I believe that Steel has had a profound impact in igniting the #MeToo movement, making the workplace a more hospitable environment, and propelling issues of women’s rights forward.

Feb 232018
 February 23, 2018

Standing atop telecom boxes, waving their hijabs, Iranian women have been protesting the Islamic Republic’s nearly forty-year-old compulsory hijab law. After a photograph of Vida Movahed, bravely waving her hijab above her head on Tehran’s Engelab Street went viral, many more women have since joined the protest. Since the demonstrations have predominantly occurred on Engelab Street, the recent movement has been known as “The Girls of Revolution Street”, the English translation of engelab is revolution.

Moreover, the “My Stealthy Freedom” Twitter page, managed by Iranian journalist, Masih Alinejad, encourages women to wear white every Wednesday as another symbol of protest and use #WhiteWednesday to spread the message. As Iranian women’s rights attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh stated, “This is a civil-disobedience movement…the message is very clear and very specific—that women want to be able to choose if they wear hijab or not.”

After learning about the “Girls of Revolution Street” protest, I immediately thought about the themes present in the first two movies of this year’s film series “You Say You Want a Revolution”, Persepolis and The Social NetworkPersepolis, the screen adaptation of the auto-biographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, follows her journey into young adulthood against the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution.  Unwilling to submit to the dictates of the authoritarian Islamic Republic, Satrapi rebels by holding hands with her boyfriend in public, purchasing Iron Maiden and Michael Jackson records, and freeing her hair from her hijab.  While these acts may seem trivial, Satrapi could have faced imprisonment and even death.  Following the viewing of The Social Network, a dramatized account of Facebook’s founding, Professor Negar Mottahedeh shared her insight into social media’s profound ability to connect both people and movements throughout the world.

Thinking about recent social media campaigns, such as #MeToo and now #NeverAgain, in response to the recent, tragic Florida high-school shooting, I wondered if social media has also played a role in popularizing and shaping the “Girls of Revolution Street” movement.  Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran stated, “[the current protest] is further propelled by a global moment of women’s rights activism.”  Thus far, almost thirty Iranian women have been arrested for protesting and charged with crimes such as “committing a sinful act”, “violating public prudency,” and “encouraging immorality or prostitution” that can “carry penalties of as much as a decade in prison.”  Outraged, thousands of people have tweeted, shared, and posted their concerns.  Recently, Tehran Police Chief General Brigadier Hossein Rahimi claimed, “those who do not observe the Islamic dress code will no longer be taken to detention centers, nor will judicial cases be filed against them.” I wondered if social media provoked this change in policy.   Will the platform social media provides for advocacy and activism prove to be critical in the push for women’s rights in Iran?


Feb 192018
 February 19, 2018

After thinking about the “So you want to be a (good) attorney” discussion panel last week, I realized that one way in which attorneys can strive to be “good” is to address their implicit biases.  This week, I attended a lecture given by Professor Latonia Keith, the Director of Clinical Education at the Concordia School of Law, regarding her research about the effect implicit gender bias may have both in the legal profession and in the courtroom. Although there has been gender parity in law school classes for the past twenty years, using research gathered by the National Association for Law Placement, Keith claimed that firm partners are overwhelmingly white men. Indeed, less than 20% of equity partners at multi-tier firms are women.  She attributed this inequality between the genders to multiple factors, such as sexual harassment in the workplace and lack of parental support policies, all stemming from implicit gender bias.  At the conclusion of her presentation, Keith recommended that all law schools mandate a “cultural competency course”.

During her lecture, Keith mentioned that some women carry an even greater implicit gender bias than men.  I wondered if women can combat their own implicit biases by resisting a culture in which they are much too often pitted against one another and instead cultivate one characterized by support and mentorship.  Recounting a comment made about her female colleague’s disheveled appearance, Keith admitted to holding an implicit gender bias.  Since Keith claimed that men are not held to the same standards of appearance, she stated that in retrospect she would have never made this comment to a male colleague.  In an interview with Bibi Gnagno I conducted this week, she stressed the importance of mentorship to “break glass ceilings.”  She explained that paths other women entrepreneurs had cleared and barriers they had broken were integral to the success of her own company.

I think that the importance of female support was a predominant theme in this week’s meeting at Brogden, featuring Durham County prosecutors, Ameshia Cooper and Patricia Flood, as the guest speakers.  Throughout the discussion, both attorneys continuously expressed their reliance upon one another for either legal advice or emotional support both in and out of the courtroom. Furthermore, since Cooper has been practicing longer than her, Flood explained that Cooper’s expertise has greatly helped her career.  After the meeting, the girls eagerly asked Cooper and Flood if they could observe a trial and even inquired about possible volunteer opportunities at the courthouse.

I think that this week’s meeting not only made some of the eighth-grade young women realize that law school is very well within their reach, but may have also made them more aware of the crucial role supportive relationships with other women play in enabling success.  Through connecting younger women with older women in their community, I wondered if my project helps to develop these supportive relationships among women and simultaneously counteracts some of the detrimental effects implicit gender bias has for female achievement.

Feb 152018
 February 15, 2018

Having just been admitted to law school, I was very excited to attend the panel discussion consisting of Duke Law professors, Jeff Powell, Christopher Schroeder, Barak Richman, Sean Andrussier, Darrell Miller, and former corporate restructuring attorney Meredith Edelman “So you want to be a (good) attorney” hosted by the Arete initiative.   After witnessing what I felt to be grave injustices, stemming from the law, during my internship at the Durham County District Attorney’s Office, this past summer, one of the most pressing questions I had was: how can I lead an ethical life if I am forced to work within an unethical context? What should I do if the rule of law conflicts with my own moral compass? When the moderator posed this very question to the panelists, I eagerly anticipated the insights some of the foremost legal scholars in the nation had to share.

I think that the lack of a clear-cut answer given by the panelists conveyed the enormous difficulty in answering this question.  Indeed, as Edelman poignantly noted, “no one thinks that the law is perfect and that is the point of it.”  Professor Richman described this dilemma as a battle between what he referred to as “internal and external integrity.”  He stated that internal integrity refers to upholding the rule of law while external integrity refers to one’s moral compass or own code of ethics.  Richman explained that an attorney is often “happiest when their personal values align with the values dictated under the law.”  I think that Professor Miller’s response, during which he challenged the audience to think about whether attorney-client privilege prevails over disclosing a dangerous client to the authorities, illustrates a contention between internal and external integrity.  After contemplating the implications of Miller’s example, I thought about the best course of action to take in a similar quandary.  Should an attorney represent a client, who they know is guilty of a particularly heinous crime, such as homicide, with the best possible defense? Or, should the attorney decline to offer their services?  Does one’s belief in the Sixth Amendment right to counsel or one’s moral perversion to possibly exonerating a murderer prevail?

Throughout the discussion, I wondered how or if the research interests, personal experiences, and racial or gender identity of the panelists helped to shape the responses they offered and how it affects their definition of “good.”  Furthermore, I wondered how the panelists would have responded to the hypothetical conundrum above.  Leaving with even more questions than I had originally entered with, I realized the integral role my own definition of “good” will play in my interpretation of the law and professional conduct as an attorney.

Feb 052018
 February 5, 2018

Last week, I began assisting with SMART Girls, a program at the Durham chapter of the Boys & Girls Club, during which middle-school aged girls discuss issues related to female identity.  I will also be assisting with their health and wellness initiatives by leading group fitness classes for club members.  The Boys & Girls Club is a nation-wide, non-profit afterschool organization, providing an environment for students to study and receive homework assistance, interact with their peers through different programs, and participate in recreational activities.

Recently, I attended a lecture at the Sanford School of Public Policy presented by education specialist at the University of California, Irvine Dr. Deborah Vandell. Through data gathered from multiple 21st Century Community Learning Centers, a national, federally funded afterschool organization primarily serving students who attend low-performing schools, Vandell found that long-term benefits included fewer school suspensions, higher grades, and healthier habits amongst participants across grade levels. She also explained that the benefits of afterschool programs extend beyond student achievement, such as making communities safer as students are less likely to engage in criminal activities, if they are in a supervised setting.

The recent Trump administration proposal to cut over a billion dollars in funding from afterschool programs illustrates the lack of support provided for American families to raise and care for their children.  In her book, How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics, feminist critic Laura Briggs claims that although the second-wave feminist movement championed many more career options and financial freedoms for middle and upper-class women, it ignored the gaping issue as to whom would be responsible for the necessary work of caring for children.  Indeed, as Briggs notes, affluent white women soon hired low-income women and primarily women of color as caregivers.  Although almost all women experience this “double-bind”, the expectation to both work for wages in the office and without pay in the home, low-income women are unable to afford child-care or extra-curricular afterschool activities for their children.

As Briggs contends, our current apparatus regarding work is destined for failure.  With a typical work week exceeding more than forty hours, grossly inadequate resources for child-care for low-income families, and no mandatory, paid parental leave policy, one is left to wonder: are children expected to magically raise themselves? Despite being one of the most vital investments, programs related to developing a productive human capital are often the first to be slashed. While still a far cry from a perfect solution, afterschool programs, such as the Boys & Girls Club, help students succeed in the classroom, provide low-income households with critical support, and strengthen communities as a whole.

Jan 272018
 January 27, 2018

This week, I attended the third annual Sheluncheon, a discussion about the intersection of social entrepreneurship and feminism, featuring a panel of diverse, female social entrepreneurs in the Durham area.  Through their respective endeavors, these women elucidated how the second-wave feminist slogan the “personal is political” serves as a guiding force for re-shaping the male centric “public sphere” into one that is more encompassing of feminist values.  Indeed, one of the panelists, Areli Barrera de Grodski, co-founder of Cocoa Cinnamon along with her husband Leon Barrera de Grodski, explained that she modeled her business as a “microcosm for her ideal society” – one in which workers are not treated like commodities and business does not fracture a community. Although she pays her employees Durham’s living wage, purchases fair trade beans, and has a deep-seeded desire to “do good”, Barrera de Grodski stated that in order to remain competitive, she is currently unable to fulfill her vision for Cocoa Cinnamon entirely.  She expressed her internal struggle working in an environment that discourages many of the values she strives to promote.

I wondered if a tension, similar to the one Barrera de Grodski described, may also be a contributing factor to the gender wage gap.  Bibi Gnagnu, one of the moderators at the Sheluncheon event and the Student Development Coordinator at the Women’s Center, led a discussion about the gender wage gap for the eighth-grade girls group at Brogden Middle School this week. During the discussion, she challenged the young women to identify some of the underlying factors for the fact that the “average woman will earn $12,000 less than her male counter-part each year.”  Initially, many of the young women explained that they believed so-called innate aspects to their female identity prevented them from partaking in certain activities.  During an implicit bias training I attended, Dr. Benjamin Reese, Duke’s Vice President for Institutional Equity, mentioned a recent New York University study in which researchers discovered that by age six, children of both sexes overwhelming believed boys to be more knowledgeable than girls.  Thinking about the implications of this study, I wondered if women are less likely to ask for raises and promotions due to feelings of incompetence that begin to develop in early childhood.  Similar to Barrera de Grodski’s struggle with both wanting to treat her employees as fairly as possible, but also needing to make a profit, I realized that there is still little incentive for employers to increase the salaries of their female employees.

Although women of color earn even less than their white women peers, the gender wage gap is an obstacle confronting all women.  Furthermore, as many of the eighth-graders at Brogden reported wanting to hold part-time jobs in high school, I think the gender wage gap was an especially important and relevant topic for discussion.

Jan 202018
 January 20, 2018

During this week’s commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day, I noticed how Dr. King’s legacy of peaceful protest, compassionate collaboration, and inspirational revolution has paved the way for the recent women’s rights movement.  Following in the footsteps of 1963’s historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, during which Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream Speech”, last year the Women’s March on Washington made American history as the largest single-day demonstration. On January 21st, women of all ages, races, and socio-economic status plan to march again, this time bringing recognition to the importance of voting rights, an issue Dr. King fervently supported, and greater female representation in government with “Power to the Polls” as their rallying theme.

Despite the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a piece of legislation invalidating measures designed to disenfranchise African Americans, more than half a century later, the right to vote may still be abridged for many individuals.  In Shelby County v. Holder (2013), the Supreme Court struck down the “coverage formula” or Sec. 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which mandated that Southern districts with a history of voting suppression, receive federal preclearance from the Justice Department before enacting legislation concerning voting. In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”  According to the Brennan Center for Justice, between 2011 to 2015, twenty-one states adopted new laws making it more difficult to vote in ways that disproportionately affect low-income and minority populations, such as requiring a photo ID or shortening hours at polling stations.

In parallel to a rapid increase in legislation aimed at reducing access to the ballot, since 2010, a dramatic rise in gerrymandering has shifted the political balance across the country. While racial gerrymandering has been deemed unconstitutional, for the first time on January 9th, a trial court cited political disenfranchisement in ordering North Carolina’s Republican legislators to re-draw extremely partisan district boundaries, however, the Supreme Court recently blocked the lower court’s order.  In the 2016 election, although Republican congressional candidates won only slightly more than half of the state’s popular vote, they took 10 out of NC’s 13 congressional districts. I wondered if partisan gerrymandering has an equally discriminatory effect for minority voters as racial gerrymandering.

In his “Give Us the Ballot” speech delivered in 1957 Dr. King stated, “So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote, I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind — it is made up for me.”  As women have historically been considered unable to think for themselves, I thought this excerpt aptly captures the call for an expansion of accessibility to the ballot not only for women, but for all Americans in the Power to the Polls march.

Jan 052018
 January 5, 2018

Although 2017 began with the inauguration of a President whom feminist Gloria Steinem recently referred to as the “harasser in chief”, many victories for women’s rights have nevertheless occurred over the course of the year.  Last year, Donald Trump was TIME’s Person of the Year, this year’s cover, however, features actress Ashley Judd, singer Taylor Swift, former engineer at Uber Susan Fowler, lobbyist Adama Iwu, farm worker Isabel Pascual (a pseudonym to protect her identity), and the elbow of a hospital worker who has chosen to remain anonymous, represent just five of the millions of women who have shared their stories experiencing sexual assault or harassment.  As millions of women from all races, socio-economic status, and nationalities, join in solidarity behind #MeToo, 2018 stands as a year primed to change our entrenched culture of sexual violence.

Already, legislative policies drafted at the local, state, and federal level signal the beginning of an era in which sexual violence will no longer be tolerated.  Due to the rampant abuse of housekeepers, particularly those in the hospitality industry, lawmakers in Chicago recently passed an ordinance requiring hotel employers to equip workers with a portable “panic button.”  Moreover, Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo proposed legislative changes to the sexual harassment policies in both the public and private sector.  For example, two of his proposals call to end legal settlements of complaints against government officials that are funded by taxpayers and to void clauses in employment contracts that prevent allegations of sexual harassment from being prosecuted.  In Congress, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) along with Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA), Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH), and Bruce Poliquin (R-ME), have introduced bi-partisan legislation to change the difficult system of reporting instances of sexual harassment.

Unlike many other historical movements for women’s rights, #MeToo endeavors to support women from all races and socio-economic statuses.  While #MeToo has been criticized as a movement that disproportionately publicizes high-profile incidences of sexual assault, soon after the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve, a coalition of more than three hundred powerful women in Hollywood announced Time’s Up, a groundbreaking initiative to end sexism in the workplace for all women, not just for celebrities.  Administered by the National Women’s Law Center, Time’s Up includes a legal defense fund that will provide low-income victims of workplace harassment with legal representation.  In response to the creation of Time’s Up, television producer Shonda Rhimes stated, “If this group of women can’t fight for a model for other women who don’t have as much power and privilege, then who can?”

While forty years ago the word “sexual harassment” did not exist, as it was brushed aside as normative behavior, many of the eighth-grade young women at Brogden Middle School did not understand why, for many women of #MeToo, it has taken several years to “break the silence.”. As reporter Megyn Kelly stated, “I think women are starting to believe we don’t have to live like this. I always thought maybe things could change for my daughter—I never thought things could change for me.”