Nov 232015
 November 23, 2015


Last night I attended a roundtable discussion on Smart Economics for the Environment and Development (SEED), which is a Kenan Creative Collaboratory project hosted by Kenan Senior Fellow Dirk Philipsen. The roundtable was unusual in that it brought together experts from a wide range of fields: business, politics, academics, NGO’s, arts, and community building.

As the evening started, we were divided into four small clusters. My group included: the Director of Durham County Social Services; the Executive Director of the Kenan Institute for the Arts; an expert in rural development; a senior manager at TROSA; a director for one of The Conservancy projects, and an economics graduate student.

Professor Dirk Philipsen, a Duke Arts and Sciences Senior Research Scholar whose work focuses on sustainability and the history of capitalism, introduced the impetus for convening the roundtable. In his remarks, Philipsen argued that Gross Domestic Product (“GDP”), as the dominant measure of success and a measure of wellbeing, is a problematic and flawed way of measuring economic growth and the health of a country. GDP represents the total dollar value of all goods and services produced over a specific time period; thus it reflects the size of the economy. However, as a measurement of the economic viability of a country, it fails to differentiate between harmful and beneficial activities, it fails to account for the environmental impact of the enterprises, it ignores the wellbeing of citizens, and it disregards the health of others countries, of society, of our planet, and of future generations. Rather, this dated measure reflects only the success of a homogenous group of privileged individuals.  Philipsen then challenged each cluster to create a more inclusive measure of economic wellbeing.

In an attempt to identify and formulate smarter goals for economic activity, my group tried to answer the following questions:

  1. What will our children need in order to thrive?
  2. How should we value the benefits and the costs in an economy (things like wealth, health, environmental impact)?
  3. What is development?
  4. Do we need economic expansion and economic growth to live well?

Although I do not think we came remotely close to figuring out an alternative to the GDP-centric worldview, the evening was filled with interesting conversations, perspectives, and examples of how GDP failed to capture the ups and downs of life.

The stories participants shared were most notable to me, as members of my group shared their personal backgrounds and work experiences. I wondered what that discussion would have looked like had I been a member of the July 1944 United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference — 730 delegates from 44 Allied nations who met shortly after the conclusion of World War II to determine international monetary and financial order — where GDP was adopted as a standard for assessing the economic health of a country. Certainly, we shared with our 1944 counterparts the basic human desires for peace, health, and happiness. And if 44 countries were represented at the “Bretton Woods (New Hampshire) Conference,” there must have been diversity of ethnicity, at least, if not gender and income. Did the diversity of our roundtable members generate a discussion much different that the post-war conversations held at this historic event? Were those different voices heard? Or did a more homogenous group of individuals back in the 1940s lobby for and succeed in passing this sterile measure the health of a nation that focuses on domestic production and state boundaries.

Philipsen’s roundtable discussion demonstrated the need to have diverse voices at the table, as we move toward a world economy, and generate new ways to access the planet’s and its occupants’ health. The importance of voicing all concerns was reaffirmed by last week’s “conversation” with President Brodhead and other Duke administrators about the racial injustices that impact our campus. While students had slightly similar personal grievances, it was clear that individuals needed to share their specific stories. Empowerment comes from having a voice.

It is challenging to formulate a practical and beneficial replacement or modification to GDP as a measure of economic health. But the SEED project definitely has the right idea in making sure that all perspectives are accounted for as we move toward a replacement.


Nov 162015
 November 16, 2015
Shifting Waters 400

Alex Cunningham’s Exhibit

If you are a frequent visitor to the Kenan Institute for Ethics, you will notice that the Voices of Home photovoice exhibit is no longer on the walls.  Rather, when you walk the halls of Kenan, you will find TV monitors with short films playing; aerial shots of green, brown and blue landscapes; Indian newspapers; and photographs of Indian glacial landscapes.  The exhibit is called Shifting Waters: Lenses on Mythology and Environmental Change in India.  It was curated by Alex Cunningham, who is the current KIE Graduate Arts Fellow working toward a Masters in Fine Arts in Experimental and Documentary Arts.

Alex’s exhibit examines some of the ways religious narratives can shape people’s understanding of environmental change. It includes work captured over his four visits to India in the past seven years.  He first visited India the summer after high school with a friend and his family.  His next visit was a semester study abroad program in college.  During these five months, he photographed glaciers, in addition to learning Hindi and about Hinduism.  For his BFA senior thesis at Ithaca College, Alex took a brief 14-day trip in 2012 to film the Ganges River and its nearby highways. After graduation, he worked in the archives at Cornell but longed to return to India.

His most recent trip was this past summer, traveling alone for two months.  Although Alex had no concrete plans of where he was staying and how long, the main goal of his trip was to create a film about the monsoon rains.  However, although Alex chased the rains, visiting villages where they were rumored to be, he kept missing them throughout the entire summer.  The running joke became that whenever he left a town, the rains would start.  Alex seemed to be the only one distraught about the lack of rain.  When he talked to locals, they did not find it unusual that there had been a change in rain patterns.

As Alex traveled solo, he continued to film what he saw, not really knowing what was his subject or goal.  Since he could not film the monsoon season, he struggled for a new vision for his project.   Alex realized that although the monsoons were a fascinating weather system for a foreigner, the annual rains were just a way of life, commonplace for those who had grown up with them.  It was “inherent folly” thinking that an individual could capture the Indian rains as just an interesting weather system. Rather, the project became about the experience of trying to follow the monsoon rains: his interactions with others, the long history humans have had with the changing environment, and how these changes have recently been accelerating. He connected his experience to Hinduism, and how it is “not a religion but a way of life.”  He discerned a spiritual connection between the environment and religious monuments that dotted the landscape.

Back in Durham and prior to the exhibit’s opening, Alex was still reflecting on his adventure.  With the added distance and time away from the summer’s travails, it was easier to contemplate what his videos had documented, and to bounce ideas off friends, family, and peers.  Christian Ferney, who oversees the Kenan Graduate Arts Fellowship at the Institute, was able to help Alex digest and make sense of his experience.  Working together, Alex and Christian formulated an overview of the exhibit:

Although climate change is occurring at a historically fast rate, the geography and climate of the earth has never been unchanging. In the Indian subcontinent, which has been continuously inhabited by civilizations for thousands of years, religious texts, mythologies, and artifacts record a long history of the changing physical earth. As fast melting glaciers and recent variability in the monsoon show us today, change remains constant. This exhibit examines some of the ways the physical and spiritual landscape of India have intersected over time, raising questions about how we understand the current climactic moment of inflection and can prepare for a future of shifted water.
Alex’s fieldwork experiences illustrate how ethical reflection is not usually a programed event.  Rather, ethical reflection is a struggle that has a complicated path, typically leading more to questions than to answers.  His exhibit is the culmination of extensive reflection and work.  It reminds that the end result is not something you might come by in a straightforward manner.  Similar to the ever-changing world, there is always an evolving, amorphous, and elusive goal.

Alex’s exhibit, including his recorded reflections on each piece in the show, will be in the Keohane-Kenan Gallery through the end of the calendar year. You can listen to his thoughts on each piece at


Nov 092015
 November 9, 2015

This week Michael Gerson, columnist for The Washington Post and former top aid, head speechwriter, and senior policy advisor for the George W. Bush administration, came to Duke for a potpourri of events.  One of the programs he participated in was a Do Lunch.  Do Lunches provide an opportunity for undergraduates to engage, on an informal basis with practitioners from diverse backgrounds.  All Do Lunches typically follow the same schedule: an overview of the practitioner’s life and career path, and a question and answer session.

The Gerson Do Lunch was held in the newly-dedicated Ahmadieh Family Conference Room at Kenan.  Everyone was seated in an intimate rectangle.  Each student introduced themselves to the group.  There was a great mix of grade levels and also diversity of student interests.

Gerson proceeded to talk about his life during the past thirty years.  He talked about his time studying theology and philosophy at Wheaton College, after which he worked for a Prison Fellowship Ministry.  He next moved to Capitol Hill as a legislative aid for a decade, where he worked on “compassionate conservatism.”  More recently, Gerson is a columnist for The Washington Post.  He also is a policy fellow for the ONE Campaign, an international non-partisan advocacy and campaigning organization that fights extreme poverty and preventable diseases, particularly in Africa.

A commonality that many practitioners highlight is the nonlinear trajectory they had to get to where they currently are, or to where they are going.  It is pretty standard for Do Lunch speakers to have worked at multiple jobs in a variety of fields.  This flexibility of career movement is reassuring for a recent graduate who worries about what road to start on and whether it may be the right choice.

In movies, there are pivotal turning points that shape the rest of the film.  Gerson spoke about getting a call from George W. Bush to write his announcement speech as a presidential candidate, and subsequently Bush’s speech as he accepted the Republican nomination for the presidency.  While I cannot speak for Gerson, I could only imagine this was one of those movie-like momentous opportunities that shaped the rest of his life.  It opened the door to work on key global health initiatives such as the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) and the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR).  It was clear from Gerson’s passionate discussion of these two Presidential initiatives that he had found his vocation working on global health projects.  Moreover, he was genuinely proud of the positive impact his contribution to these initiatives had made.

After the Do Lunch with Michael Gerson, I reflected on all the decisions I made during my undergraduate time at Duke University that I did not realize were pivotal at the time, but were life changing: trying out Focus at Kenan, getting involved with MASTERY, participating in DukeImmerse LEAPED, conducting research on Korean adoptions.  All these led me to the fellowship that I now hold at Kenan, a wonderful opportunity that I am sure will open even more unexpected doors to my future.   I look forward to the serendipitous career changes ahead.




Nov 022015
 November 2, 2015

Last night at the Coffeehouse, six students performed personal stories based on the theme of betrayal. Some stories portrayed how their bodies betrayed themselves; others were about how they betrayed their family; still others depicted times when the storytellers had been betrayed. I was amazed by the diversity of story content and the performers’ courage to share their intimate experiences with a full house.

The Monti Insider Pic

Pictured from left to right James Wang, Devyn Gortner, Leo Lou, Karly Gregory, Elizabeth Kim, & Sofia Manfredi

Jeff Polish, executive director at The Monti, guided the students and helped them work on their narratives. The Monti is a non-profit organization in the Triangle area whose mission is to “create community through the telling of stories.” As the master of ceremonies for the event, Jeff Polish, who sounded like Ray Romano’s voice doppelganger (but not similar to Ray Romano’s signature captious humor), provided enthusiastic introductions for the monologues.

After the event, I tried an exercise of putting myself in the performers’ shoes. Yet, I was stumped trying to think of a personal story about betrayal. There were none that easily came to mind. The more I thought on the matter, I came to the conclusion that in order to be betrayed one must be vulnerable. I often defend against vulnerability, putting up a barrier against disappointments. I also do not like to be blindsided by unexpected events. Or maybe it is that when “betrayed” I refuse to confront that feeling.

However, I learned from the performers that identifying and reconciling with betrayal can allow for growth and forward movement rather than suppressed resentment. The students were introspective enough to identify a point in their life when they were susceptible to betrayal. By formulating a story about it they confronted their feelings of resentment and transformed those emotions into acceptance.

The Monti encourages “ordinary people to tell extraordinary stories.” The Monti hopes that the story itself will resonate with others and foster community. The performers’ stories resonated with me. During the evening, I was able to step back from seeing these students as merely Duke peers. The stories revealed a richness of human experience that went beyond the campus walls. The storytellers were suddenly three-dimensional humans with complex backstories, not merely another Duke student stressed about an upcoming exam. They were extraordinary people telling their extraordinary stories.


Oct 212015
 October 21, 2015

As of Sunday, I am officially done with the Free Food Challenge (see last three posts).  This past month a I’ve spent much of my time thinking about from where my food will come next, what events I will attend to get that food, and telling people about the Free Food Challenge.  The challenge has been a great conversation starter. ]

If I tried to do the Free Food Challenge as a freshman at Duke, I think I would have defaulted to taking my Tupperware to the Marketplace—Duke’s East Campus all-you-can-eat dining hall for first year students—and taking enough food that would last for the meals that the meal plan did not cover.  The “stealing” of food was common practice among my peers.  In one of the more memorable instances my freshmen year, a fellow brought in gallon containers to take gallons of milk.

After talking to some members of the current class of freshmen, it appears not much has changed in the past four years, and freshmen are still taking food from the Marketplace.  The only person I know who has adamantly opposes stealing food  from the Marketplace is Gregory LaHood, a classmate of mine who lived in my freshman dorm.  Due to his rather unusual viewpoint, I recently decided to text him to inquire as to his reasoning.  He came up with four justifications for his position that freshman who are on a meal plan should not take extra food from an all-you-can-eat dining hall.

  1. Stealing is stealing. The Marketplace is no different than any other buffet. The price that freshmen are charged for all you can to eat is based on the presumption that there will be so many diners each mean, and they will consume so much food. The price does not contemplate that students would bring ziplocs and Tupperware to take food home.  No business would embrace the buffet model if patrons were allowed to fill containers with food to go.
  1. Stealing food drives up food costs, which results in higher prices for the meal plan. The inflated prices for the meal plan cause students to pay for the food that is stolen by others. In essence, the students who steal food are also stealing from the students who must pay more for the meal plan.
  1. People often argue that they’re not getting their money’s worth for a meal plan unless they steal. Greg does not think it is the right of the customer to decide how much something should or shouldn’t cost. If the student is so concerned about getting the most from the dollars spent, and is willing to steal to ensure the meal plan delivers the bang for the buck, then perhaps the student should not have come to a school that  has an all-you-can-eat meal plan, like Duke, that costs x amount of money. Greg argues that when he goes to the car dealership for service, he does not fill his trunk with the free water and snacks the dealership provides as part of the service experience just because he thinks that the service should be cheaper. That would be ridiculous. Same thing goes for pretty much anything. Is it right to steal the salt and pepper shakers from a restaurant where the price of a steak is $30, to level the playing field with the restaurant who charges only $15 for a steak meal, just because you think that the first restaurant is overcharging for the steak?  I think most Duke students would say no.
  2. Anarchy would ensue if such the freshman mentality about stealing from the Marketplace were applied to the Duke experience as a whole. Students would be stealing paper from printers, stealing furniture from common areas, taking appliances from common kitchens etc. because they did not think they’re getting their money’s worth from a Duke education.

Gregory’s arguments against the theft of Marketplace food would not have resonated with me freshman year. As a freshman, it is more difficult to look at the larger moral picture and to take Greg’s high road — to make a conscious decision not to take what does not belong to you. This would be going against the norm, and the peer culture.  In fact, the culture suggests that the taking of food from the Marketplace is not only accepted, but it is acceptable.  The culture strongly suggests this immorality is moral.

With age comes a better understanding of the issues at play in this situation. No Duke student has the right to feel entitled to steal from the Marketplace, despite assertions that they “deserve it” for paying $60,000 a year to attend this university. The justification of incremental wrongs lead to a blindness of what is moral and what is not.  It can lead to ever-greater deviations from moral behavior.  It can impair our conscience.

Another point, more related to my month on the free food challenge, is that the taking of food from the Marketplace inhibits the incentive to find “free food” at events from which there might be some additional benefit of learning. Free food is offered by organizers to get students to attend a discussion or presentation.  The organizers hope that students who are hungry will attend to eat, but then will stay for the education.  If these same students are stealing food from the Marketplace, then they may not be hungry, and they will skip the educational event.  That would be a shame given all that I have learned in this month just by attending the “free food” programs.



Oct 062015
 October 6, 2015

This week a special shout out goes to Krista Tippett, the producer and host of the radio program, On Being. I am currently eating half a sandwich from the “Monday Do Lunch” with her as I compose this blog. Although I appreciate all the “free food” that has sustained me for the week due to her presence (both a Do Lunch and an evening lecture), I am much more appreciative that I was able to learn who she was and had the opportunity to listen to her speak.


Blue table clothes are quite common at Duke free food events

For those who are unfamiliar with Do Lunches, they are informal lunch chats for undergraduates with a guest lecturer. Chats typically start with the featured guest detailing post-college choices that determined a career path. A moderator asks a few questions that have been submitted by students as their “entry fee” to the lunch, and then the floor opens up to the undergraduates for general Q&A. As the lunch is limited to 20 undergraduates, this intimate experience lends itself to a conversation that allows guest speakers to share personal stories and sentiments. At past Do Lunches I attended, we have discussed a range of topics—from the UN benefits for parents to what is the guest’s favorite children’s book.

At Monday’s Do Lunch with Krista Tippett, she understood right off the bat the informal and personal nature of the lunches, stating “I’m going to tell you all the little quirky things.” She emphasized the importance of “do[ing] things even if it’s a little ridiculous” because these efforts might may pay off positively later. As an example of the serendipity of small endeavors, she explained that she wrote an op-ed piece to the New York Times that did not get picked up. However, this short piece gained her recognition, and eventually rewarded her with a job. As an example of the importance of paying attention to the conversations of colleagues, Tippett explained that when she lived in Germany, she noticed that powerful people often had “successful” work lives yet “empty” personal lives. Her reflections on this gap in part inspired her to start her radio show. Lives that lacked “great beauty and relationship” prohibited individuals from “open[ing] up [their] intellectual imaginations.”

Krista Tippett encouraged interdisciplinary collaboration to solve problems. Just as the talk I attended last week on “The Education of Bruno Latour” discussed that the world had to move away from information silos, so too Tippett criticized the “silos” that prevent human interaction. She suggested that individuals are so caught up in their individual “silos” that they do not connect with each other. She also stressed the importance of reading and talking with others with whom we do not share the same beliefs to promote understanding and empathy.

Tippett had four mandates to live a rich, complex, and appreciative life:

  1. Think about the words we use because “words matter.”
  2. “Rediscover questions.”
  3. “Honor of the complexity of human nature.”
  4. “Develop eyes to see and ear to hear.”

Tippett’s lessons, at first glance, do not seem hard to follow if we take a step back, reflect, and reemphasize these things that contribute to living fuller lives.

This week I attended two other events with speakers: 1) Sonja D. William’s lunch chat about Richard Durham’s life and 2) Deputy Krysta Harden of the USDA’s talk titled the Next Generation of Agriculture. Both again called for interdisciplinary collaboration to solve problems. Williams even used the same terminology “silo” as did Tippett and Latour.

An interdisciplinary focus is a theme running through many of the presentations. But is our educational system doing enough to break down the silos and foster interdisciplinary thought and productive problem-solving? Our current educational system does seem to pigeonhole students. A common question students hear is: “what is your major?” The choice of a major requires students to pick one, maybe two, subjects in which to become “experts.” A liberal arts education is supposed to give you a well-rounded world view, yet the course demands of many majors limit the coursework that can be taken outside of one’s designated field. Is a liberal arts education promoting renaissance men and women who can converse and problem solve across disciplinary fields?


Here is the link to week 3’s free food challenge vlog:


Sep 292015
 September 29, 2015


Decisions are something with which I have always had difficulty. It was not uncommon for me to call my parents or grandma during college to bounce ideas off them and to get their input. When I was little, my sister would help me decide what food to order off a menu by telling me which dish she knew I would like better. I think one of the reasons I have had trouble in the past and present making a decision is the fact that I want to make the “right decision” to maximize utility. My struggle with decision-making unsettles my otherwise easy-going personality.


The quest for free food continues

This past week, as my Free Food Challenge (“FFC”) continues (see previous post) I have been presented with the decision of which events to attend. On Day Eleven and Twelve, I weighed the costs and benefits of several events that overlapped in time. On Day Eleven, I was torn between two events—I could stay for the whole Q&A period of the “New CEO Activism: How Corporate Leaders are Shaping the Public Discourse on Social Justice Issues,” or I could leave early to attend the Project Change reunion (see Sept. 2 post) where I hoped to reconnect with the pChange freshmen and grab a bit of free food for dinner. I ended up staying for the Q&A session to make sure I fulfilled my FFC rules and ask a question (see Sept. 22 post). Consequently, I was late to the reunion and found only one piece of pizza left. A more substantial dinner was sacrificed for the enrichment of attending both events.

The “New CEO” talk with John Replogle (CEO of Seventh Generation) and Professor Edward Freeman was fascinating. During the event, I found myself scribbling down quotes of things that stuck with me: “[Business] is the greatest invention of capitalism and social collaboration”; “If you wanna go fast go alone; if you want to go far go together.” During the event, Freeman and Replogle had me thinking about all the different ways industry and business can force change or change current business practices to make the world a better place—“The only way to solve global problems is with global businesses”; “Business leadership is a call to serve.”

However, after the event I reflected on the way their argument was set up. It seems backwards that we should be excited about this new push towards Corporate Social Responsibility. As they said, business should be invested in helping out all the stakeholders and community—“[CEOs should work toward] building something to last versus stirring up controversy.” There should be some greater purpose than profits. Why should we be giving businesses a pat on the back for doing the “right thing?” Shouldn’t this be the norm? Shouldn’t we expect corporations to be good citizens, and penalize them if they are not, rather than give them bonus points for ethical behavior?

On Thursday (Day Twelve), there were two talks at the same time, both which I had an interest in attending. The first was hosted by Science and Society (“Governing Reproduction”) and the second by Global Health Institute (“Making Health Markets Work for the Poor”). I ended up going to the “Governing Reproduction” talk. The talk more accurately could have been titled “Stalemate in Governing Reproduction.” I learned there are few laws and regulations to guide reproductive technologies (e.g., how individuals conduct trials around reproduction) because there is a lack of productive dialogue between politicians on this sensitive issue. Dialogue fails to occur due to the association reproductive technologies has with the issue of abortion.

As to whether my selection of the former talk met my dietary needs for the day, apparently the topic was interesting to many because the food was gone ten minutes after the start of the event, and, because I was late, I ended up with nothing. Nonetheless, I’m still really glad I got to go to the talk!

Ultimately, for both days I weighed both decisions and opted for the talks from which I thought I could learn more. Fortunately, I felt as though I made good decisions; unfortunately, in both occasions, the decisions did not lead to maximizing the amount of food I received.

Aside from the stress from decision-making, I have been exceptionally fortunate that this FFC gives me the opportunity to learn new things everyday. I had an irrational fear right before graduation that I would miss the structure of the formal learning setting (e.g., classes, lectures, labs, etc.), and that I would be compelled to return to graduate school immediately. However, I have come to realize that informal learning can be an everyday activity on a university campus if one takes advantage of all of the talks and symposiums that are going on.

One of the lunch events I went to this week was titled “The Education of Bruno Latour.” Bruno Latour is a philosopher, anthropologist, and sociologist of science. He is currently studying Critical Zone Observatories, which are defined as “Earth’s permeable near surface layer… from the tops of the trees to the bottom of the groundwater.” He challenged the definition of modernism and how we have put ideas into silos. He talked about a mock conference he held where the atmosphere had a place at the table to negotiate a climate deal. Latour called himself a “defender of science because science has been attacked by ‘bad guys’ in the name of science.” I must say that his remarks were all above me. I had trouble understanding his metaphors and I had to read up afterwards on the ideas that he presented to get some sense of what he was talking about. Latour pushed me to think about things I have never even thought about, and the talk emphasized to me that I don’t even know what topics I should be thinking about critically.  Thus, my informal education will have to continue. Latour called himself “a student.” Perhaps we all remain students for life.  There were about 25 other attendees at the Latour event, most who were over the age of 25. While I don’t know all of my “classmates” by name anymore, I feel a sense of solidarity with my fellow learners on this unspoken pact to continue learning.


Sep 222015
 September 22, 2015

The availability of free food on campus is extremely diverse.

For those of you who know me or have read the little bio blurb to the right understand that I love food. I love to grow, cook, bake, and eat food. Perhaps due to working on a farm and fully understanding the amount of effort exerted to grow quality food, I am adamant about not wasting food. Over the past four years on campus I have learned to carry Tupperware with me so as to not let food go to waste.

As of September 13th, I have embarked on a little social experiment – to solely sustain myself on “free food” for a month. As a recent graduate, I have learned that there are always events going on that offer food as an incentive to come. Currently, I am on day four of the Free Food Challenge (FFC) and during this first week I am creating some ground rules. The rules thus far are:

  1. Attend the event (it would be rude and unethical to go in and just take food without attending)
  2. Ask a question of the presenter(s)
    1. Try to bring in a idea from previously attended events to the question (promoting interdisciplinary thinking for myself)
  3. Talk to a stranger and tell them about my FFC
  4. Ask if I can take leftover food if there is food remaining
  5. Try to find out how many people the event estimated for and compare to the actual number of attendees
  6. Do not accept charity (e.g. someone hears about the challenge and decides to cook dinner for me)

Thus far, I have been to some really incredible events put on by an assortment of different departments, institutions, centers, and student groups.

On Monday, I went to a talk about intersectionality (the study of connections between forms or systems of oppression, domination or discrimination; e.g. sexuality, gender, race, and socioeconomics) hosted by the Center for Multicultural Affairs and moderated by Students Activists for Equality (SAFE). The talk made me think of a conference, Money & Meaning, hosted by Slow Money North Carolina I attended Friday in Pittsboro. At the conference about 100 people attended to learn more about investing money via affordable loans to projects that build the local food economy, specifically to combat food justice issues and also to support small food enterprises.   However, at the conference the racial and socioeconomic makeup of attendees did not reflect that of the larger community it aims to help. There were approximately 8 out of 100 people who did not look like they were from European descent (aka white). The tone of the conference appeared geared toward the majority demographic (middle class white). One attendee who was non-white raised the interesting point that action taken should be done thoughtfully and not as solely an act to wipe one’s hands clean of white guilt. One of the topics of conversation at the CMA’s talk was how to support and help groups; especially working together with one another to start coalitions opposed creating unbalanced relationships.

On Tuesday I went to a talk hosted by the Global Health Institute, Academic Global Health: The Swedish Experience. While the specific focus was changing the culture in Sweden to increase support for global health research, funding and initiatives, the importance of interdisciplinary cooperation was a main theme I picked up on. As I participate in different events that do not always have an obvious connection, it’s a fun challenge to try and connect the dots between these events and try to see how different themes relate to one another.


Cece’s month of September free food calendar.

Today I have gone to a talk on Digital Militarism in a Social Media Age, a You@Duke reception, and an overview of Energy Industry Fundamentals. While I’m only on day four of the challenge, the breadth of subjects I have already been able to learn about is fascinating. The whole FFC has made me think more critically about food waste, connecting the dots of different themes, and my privilege to have access to all this “free food.” The picture of the calendar is currently my most treasured item as it holds where my next meal will come from. If you would like to join me on my FFC feel free and hopefully I will meet you at some of the events that I will inevitably be attending in the next month!

I will be keeping a video blog to overview the assorted places and events I go to for the challenge.  Here is the Week 1 recap:


Sep 142015
 September 14, 2015

One of the few pieces I remember reading in The Chronicle was how a graduating columnist was able to sum up her best college experiences with free t-shirts she had accumulated during her stay at Duke. I think I remembered this piece so clearly because I identified with the fond nostalgia felt whenever I was looking through my t-shirt drawer senior year of college. Hoping to cite this article I ran a search for “shirts,” “t-shirts,” and “free shirts” on The Chronicle website.   However, my attempts to find this evasive article for you all have been fruitless.

An interesting piece I did come across in the 282 search results returned for “shirts” was “No More T-shirts” by Molly Lester. “No More T-shirts” argues that the amount of free t-shirts thrown at Duke students that are ultimately unused/worn is absurd. Molly points out that although a t-shirt is an acceptable wardrobe pick in college, post-graduation t-shirts are almost exclusively for bedtime, exercising purposes, or lounging on the weekends. After graduation, I had a similar realization when my mom asked me to clean out my overstuffed t-shirt drawer. The shirts saved were like old friends, physical reminders of the activities and events that mattered most in the past four years. The elusive article I tried to find emphasized that the shirts worth saving were the ones you loved and wanted to continue reppin’. The only t-shirts I saved were either from the Duke Campus Farm or Kenan.


The coveted last batch of Daisy Cakes cupcakes.

Many of these Kenan shirts have come from the annual Kenan [School Year] Kickoff Barbeque. This year, there were a fair amount of new faces but also lots of familiar faces. It was difficult for me to get a final DaisyCakes cupcake (which has since closed) because the path from table to food was lined with friends. As we had not seen one another for the whole summer, it was easy to get caught up in conversation.
In addition to the cheerful buzz of people chatting and catching up with one another, Professor Wayne Norman provided musical tunes with his “house band.” One barbeque-goer even added a video of him singing for all of Duke snapchatters to see, along with the tag “my professor is cooler than yours.”


Dirk speaking at The Regulator Bookshop

The Kenan Kickoff Barbeque is a great way to ease back into the swing of school before all the chaos of the school year start over. Dirk Philipsen, a Senior Fellow at Kenan has already had a busy start to the school year with the release of his new book The Little Big Number: How GDP Came to Rule the World and What to Do About It. On Thursday after the barbeque, he ran over to The Regulator on 9th Street to give a book reading; discussing how GDP has caused a consumer mentality that is constantly craving more and more products and services to grow GDP, despite the reality that we are living on a planet with finite resources. The desire for exponential growth is unsustainable. At his talk Dirk pointed out how the world is slowly tuning into the negative environmental impacts of the consequence of increased global consumerism. One example Dirk cited to underscore this new awareness was the Papal Encyclical on climate change. Dirk’s book provides an accessible overview on the history of GDP, how the world has become so dependent on GDP as a way of measuring success, and why GDP is not an encompassing metric for the modern world. While I have yet to read the entire book, the ideas from the book reading sparked a lengthy two-hour post discussion with a friend who went to the reading as well. We discussed the logistics behind retraining the way companies, societies, and individuals would have to think about how to measure success.

While the Barbeque was a great way to catch up with new and old friends, it is apparent that we have hit the school year running and summer has come to a close. One thing I have learned about hanging around Kenan is that there is never a dull moment with all the different things faculty, staff, and students are engaged in.


Sep 022015
 September 2, 2015

Project Change leaders and participants at Mellow Mushroom

“It’s exciting, but a little scary,” a co-worker explains to me in the Institute’s coffee room
about the prospects of becoming a new parent. Although I’m not an expectant parent these words resonate with me. Here I am starting this new post-college working life stage. The start of any new phase of life seems to be exciting and new but also unknown and scary. An exciting aspect of having an office next to the coffee is having little life chats ranging from becoming a new parent to the political philosophy behind migration. However, the thing that facilitates these conversations, the coffee machine, is still scary to me with all the options of combinations and flavors available.

For the past four years I have been hanging around the Kenan Institute for Ethics, taking advantages of opportunities offered here and being a self-proclaimed groupie. Thus, the plunge into the “real world” of meeting new colleagues, learning all the acronyms (e.g. MASTERY Mentorship, Academics, Self-Esteem, Tutoring and Engaging with Refuge Youth), and learning where the bathroom is has thankfully been a bit more gradual compared to others I know entering the workforce.

One of the first responsibilities as the 2015-2016 Bear Postgraduate Fellow was helping out with the pre-orientation program that Kenan runs, Project Change. Project Change hosts twenty-one incoming freshmen (pChangers) and gives them an “immersive leadership experience in which participants live, learn, and work in Durham.” Developing leadership skills means facing adversity head-on; for most of the week pChangers are intentionally given few directions and little heads up on what will happen next. The week itself is a bit of a metaphor for what awaits them in college life. However, the goal is not to see how frustrated they will get but rather to challenge them to think outside the box and to push them slightly outside their comfort zones, working together to solve problems. The mantra “Participate. Don’t anticipate.” was adopted by some of the pChangers.

During the week, I helped to facilitate different activities that kickstarted conversations (e.g. the relationship between Duke and Durham) and also was available as a resource to give insight to what my experience at Duke has been for the past four years. Some of my practical advice (which buses to catch, how to survive without air conditioning, which taxi drivers are the fastest) I found has already become dated in the four months since graduating. After reading an NPR article about certain cultural references that the incoming class would not understand I don’t feel that badly for being slightly “out of touch.” Hopefully some of the advice of not being dead-set on a particular academic or social path and to take advantage of all the programs and resources Duke has to offer still is relevant.

Both the pChangers and I have both had similar experiences getting involved with Kenan early in our Duke careers; which will hopefully give them the same jumpstart to think about things differently and more critically that I experienced. And hopefully their Kenan introduction to Duke will also push them to be active participants in their new community. Prior to my first Kenan program (the Ethics Leadership and Global Citizenship FOCUS cluster), I was positive that I was going to design environmentally progressive urban planning adaptations for communities but now through Kenan I have gotten to experience working with refugees, adoptees, and urban agriculture and my future career trajectory seems totally open. That’s one of the wonderful things about Kenan is the ability to flip your thinking upside down and consider something new without necessarily making any choices for you or telling you what to do.

Being back at Duke on East Campus in the Kenan Institute for Ethics is a bit like muscle memory. As students flood the halls attending their new classes, it is exciting to see the familiar pChanger face some of whom have stopped by the office to tell me of their new adventures. I still feel a bit like I should be walking with them to classes.

It is exciting and a little bit scary to be starting a new chapter but I am excited for all of us to take this next adventure by storm.

– Cece