Nov 202017
 November 20, 2017

Although in last week’s post I had discussed the relative absence of the issue of homelessness from political dialogue and conversation, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Duke was taking part in National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, hosting various events across campus.  I decided to attend a discussion of panelists from different non-profit organizations dedicated to providing support and services to at-risk members of the Durham community.  With Thanksgiving break and finals week just around the corner, I understood that it was certainly crunch time for students, however, I was still surprised by the extremely low turn-out for this event.  In addition to myself, there were only three others in attendance.  The number of panelists more than tripled those in the audience.  I wondered if this was still indicative of an apathetic attitude on campus regarding issues of poverty in the community.

The organizations each focused on different issues that can eventually lead to homelessness, such as, addiction, a positive HIV status, and mental illness. After hearing each representative explain the work their organization was accomplishing, it was interesting to see how each stigmatized issue was connected.  Indeed, the Director of the Triangle Empowerment Center explained that the Center was developed to not only provide preventative HIV care, but also temporary shelter for the many LGBTQ youth who would be kicked out of their homes after coming out or revealing a positive HIV status. Although it was promising to hear of the wonderful and impactful work occurring in the community, it was equally disheartening to learn that there is still much more need than there is support.  Sherrill Thomas of the Durham Crisis Response Center (DCRC) revealed that battered women are repeatedly refused shelter at DCRC due to a lack of space.  She stated that she found this especially frustrating given that there are “empty buildings everywhere that are owned by the city.”

The discussion made me more attune to the fact that I am still sheltered by the “Duke bubble.”  While I was familiar with the work of DCRC from my summer internship at the District Attorney’s office, I did not know that the other organizations present even existed.   In response to a question about what students can do to better assist the community, Thomas replied that students cannot have a “get up and go” mentality when it comes to service work, however, she also noted that the short time span of college is conducive to this problem.

Immediately, I thought about the implications Thomas’s words had in regard to my own project.  While the young women whom I am currently working with will also eventually depart from the groups, as families at Families Moving Forward typically stay for ninety days or less, and the eighth-graders at Durham School of the Arts will matriculate to high-school, I still contemplated whether the ephemeral nature of my project also embodies this problematic, cursory “get up and go” approach to service work.

Nov 102017
 November 10, 2017

This week, I not only learned about international regulations and policies regarding the Mediterranean migration crisis, but also had the extremely jarring experience of watching real-time footage of a rescue mission during a presentation by Professor Niels Frenzen, the USC Gould School of Law and photojournalist Darrin Zammit Lupi. While Frenzen provided legal background of international human rights law regarding the asylum seekers, Lupi shared his experience as a photographer in shaping the political dialogue concerning the crisis.  While many issues with ethical implications were discussed, I was most intrigued by the potential causes for the relative invisibility of this tremendous violation of human rights.

Lupi highlighted the problematic lack of attention paid to the Mediterranean migration crisis by drawing a comparison to our continued commemoration of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Despite occurring more than a century ago and involving fewer causalities, Lupi argued that we still memorialize the lives lost then more so than those currently lost during the passage across the Mediterranean.  Furthermore, he added that the few migrants who do survive are often returned to Libya, experiencing torture, slavery, and sexual violence. Indeed, an article in The Atlantic elucidated Lupi’s insight into the differential reporting of deaths in the media. While ISIS had killed thousands of innocent people, it was not until the deaths of two international journalists that both the media and Obama administration seemed to heed greater attention towards addressing the militant group.

While I understood his point, I also felt moral unease upon hearing Lupi’s comparison between these two tragedies.  Contemplating the implications of the comparison, however, I thought that it raised some interesting questions.  Would there still be a dearth of attention and resources if instead of being black or brown, the asylum seekers were white? If the migration was occurring off the coast of the United States instead of the Mediterranean? Is geography or race a more salient contributing factor towards apathetic attitudes of the migrant crisis?

Drawing a connection to my project at Families Moving Forward, I noticed that the “out of sight out of mind” attitude towards the refugee crisis is also common towards those experiencing homelessness.  As Lupi noted, it is simply by an “accident of geography” that these migrants are forced to flee their country. One could also argue that circumstances beyond one’s control are at least partially responsible for some instances of homelessness. Although many individuals experience displacement both internationally and domestically, there is a lack of awareness for refugee and homeless populations. While sharing my experience participating in MASTERY with several recent Duke graduates, almost all of them were shocked to learn that a refugee community even existed in Durham.  Moreover, prior to writing this post I was not aware that, as the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty reports, approximately 3.5 million people, 1.35 million of them children, are expected to experience homelessness in the United States in a given year.  Unlike the migrants in Lupi’s presentation, however, refugees and homeless individuals are not separated by miles of ocean, but are just a few blocks away from campus.  If physical distance cannot work as an excuse for a lack of support and advocacy on behalf of these individuals, then what is creating this invisibility?

Nov 092017
 November 9, 2017

Recently, I attended a panel discussion at Duke Law School about the recent repeal of HB 2 and its implications for the trans community and a guest lecture by Khaled Beydoun, a professor at Detroit Mercy School of Law, regarding his research on Islamophobia. I found a central theme in both lectures of the pressure marginalized groups face to change or conceal factors of their identity in order to avoid discrimination and even death.

Both discussions mentioned that pieces of legislation, which ostensibly seemed to protect the “greater good”, also generated an atmosphere of fearmongering. Panelists Ames Simmons, the Director for Transgender Policy at Equality NC and Chris Brook, the Legal Director at ACLU NC stated that legislators passed HB 2 to give the appearance of helping their constituents, as some proponents of HB 2 advocated that it would protect women and children from sexual violence and predatory behavior.  One provision in the bill mandated that an individual can only use a restroom correlating with the sex listed on their birth certificate. Amanda Ashley, a community organizer, activist and a trans woman of color, shared that she felt that through this provision, the state “had placed a target on her identity.” Ashley recognized that she had “passing privilege” or an advantage of having a stereotypically female outer appearance.  Other members of the trans community, she explained, experienced much more discrimination if their outer appearances did not readily match their gender identity.

I drew a connection between HB 2 and the PATRIOT Act and NSEERS (National Security Entry-Exit Registration System), two pieces of legislation that Beydoun noted gave the appearance of protecting the general welfare of the public, but at the same time helped spread Islamophobia.  Beydoun shared that some Muslim individuals are shedding visible aspects of their identity in order to side-step possible persecution.  In a recent Guardian article, Beydoun writes, “This is illustrated by the scores of Muslim women ‘afraid to wear the headscarf…’ men shaving their beards to diminish detection that they are in fact Muslims, job-seekers changing their Muslim names on résumés to increase the prospect of a job interview.” After learning that Muslim individuals were shedding visible aspects of their identity, I thought it was similar to the value of having passing privilege in the trans- community.

As Beydoun and Ashley argued, the importance of “acting as a “good” Muslim” or passing as a cis-gendered individual, runs deeper than avoiding a weird glance in a public restroom or a derogatory slur on the street, it can be essential for mere survival. Simmons articulated that trans women of color are murdered at an alarming rate and Beydoun mentioned that the recent murder of the three students from North Carolina, two of whom wore the traditional hijab, reflects the atmosphere of Islamophobia.

I wondered if the relative lack of media attention concerning crimes against both the trans and Muslim community is also indicative of a societal apathy concerning these two groups.  I also realized that both the trans and Muslim communities deviate from what I believe to be established societal “norms” and I wondered if that is perhaps one the root reasons for hatred.  Indeed, the trans community challenges our engrained conception of gender matching one’s biological sex and the Muslim community challenges the upholding of the Judeo-Christian tradition.  If so, then I find it paradoxical that despite our firm belief in freedom of religion and expression, we have a tenacious hold on these restrictive “norms” and are suspicious of and even persecute those who are merely expressing their constitutionally granted rights.


Nov 032017
 November 3, 2017

Last week, I had the extraordinary opportunity to interview Duke alumna, Dr. Brenda Armstrong, the Associate Dean of Diversity at Duke Medical School and the second African American woman in the United States to become a board-certified pediatric cardiologist. In addition to her accomplishments in the medicinal field, Armstrong is an activist on another front, paving the way towards a more inclusive campus. Today, under her leadership, Duke is one of the most racially diverse Medical Schools in the country.

During her interview, she recalled many influential experiences, such as watching Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver a speech in her hometown of Rocky Mount, NC and shadowing her father as he fought for the right to vote, which inspired her to participate in the Allen Building Takeover of 1969.  While Armstrong did recount some fond memories during her under-graduate years at Duke, such as “Black Week”, a week-long event dedicated to honoring elements of African American culture, she recalled many more times when she “felt that I didn’t have a place at Duke.”

She recalled that once while brushing her teeth, a fellow Duke student put her hand on her face to see if the “black would come off.”  Although the living arrangements at Duke were segregated by gender, with female students housed exclusively on East Campus, Armstrong noted that being a racial minority (only one of twenty African American students in her class) defined her experience as a student much more so than her identity as a woman. Armstrong explained that when the African American student community would “speak up [about instances of discrimination] we were often met with tremendous amounts of anger.”  Despite this obstacle, however, she stated that “Duke needed to hear” and so, along with approximately fifty other African American student protestors, she decided to risk not only her enrollment at Duke, but also her physical safety.

Many of the Afro-American Society’s demands, such as the incorporation of an African American Studies Department and an on-campus association for African American students, were met with great resistance from some administrators, faculty members, and students.  Armstrong, however, did not consider the requests to be “demands” at all, but instead “reasonable accommodations for the fact that our culture was not like their culture.”  Due to the resilience of the protestors, many of their accommodations were eventually implemented at Duke, and many universities throughout the South.

I chose Dr. Brenda Armstrong as the first featured woman for my mentorship group not only because she is an accomplished physician and educator, but also because of her fearless conviction for, in her words, “speaking up for freedom”, a quality that I believe is extremely important, yet often not stressed to young women. Furthermore, many of the young women in the group are from minority backgrounds, making Armstrong’s experiences all the more powerful.  Her fight for equality on campus, in the community, and as a result, the world, make her an inspirational woman whose story I believe will also benefit other young women.

Oct 202017
 October 20, 2017

As the start date for the Young Women’s Empowerment Group at Durham School of the Arts approaches, I am re-thinking using the adjective, empowerment, as I did not consider how my own privileged identity may have influenced my previously positive perception of the term.

The Oxford dictionary defines empowerment as “the authority or power given to someone to do something” and “the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.”  While empowerment has been used to describe a wide array of initiatives, in this post, I am going to argue that the popular use of “women’s empowerment” as an apparatus for social change presents numerous obstacles for the fight towards gender equality. Today’s concept of women’s empowerment ignores structural obstacles, blames women for their own secondary status, and also excludes many groups of women.

In order to critique the contemporary concept of women’s empowerment, it is important to examine its complicated history.  Barbara Solomon, in her 1976 publication of Black Empowerment: Social Work in Oppressed Communities, initiated the conversation of empowerment as a tool for assisting marginalized populations in expressing themselves and gaining power from a dominating class. In the 1970’s, empowerment began to gain agency “in research and intervention concerning marginalized groups such as African Americans, women, gays and lesbians, and people with disabilities.” (Calvès).  Throughout the 1990’s, particularly in Southeast Asia and Latin America, feminists latched onto “empowerment” as a tool for advancing women’s rights in international development.

Although feminists in the Global South, such as activist Srilatha Batliwala, argued that “power relationships can only be changed through… transforming the structures and institutions that reinforce and preserve existing power systems,” some liberal feminists were reluctant to acknowledge the culpability of institutionalized socio-political structures in perpetuating gender inequalities. (Calvès, Stanford Encyclopedia).  At the turn of the twenty-first century, liberal feminists advocated for empowerment that would enable women to realize the rights and privileges afforded to them by society and wield them to combat their own oppression.  I would argue that instead of this individualistic approach, liberal feminists should have instead placed a greater emphasis on questioning the lack of choices available to women and acknowledging systemic sources of oppression, such as sexism.

Furthermore, some feminists critique the liberal feminist model of empowerment as exclusionary, since only women already equipped with a certain level of power can further elevate their status.  A 2016 New York Times article, “How Empowerment Became Something Women Could Buy,” explains that “the ready partici­pation of well-off women in this [empowerment] strat­egy…are, by definition, already there.” As social scientist, Anne-Emmanuèle Calvès notes, “institutionalized programs for empowerment…often only benefit the women who are the least marginalized.”  I would argue that Sheryl Sandberg, Beyoncé, and even Wonder Woman, all sell a glamorized view of empowerment that excludes many women who would arguably benefit the most from it.

Oct 102017
 October 10, 2017

Last week Pratt professor and women’s global health advocate Dr. Nimmi Ramanujam, gave a talk on her recent invention: the pocket colposcope, expected to be a breakthrough tool in the fight against cervical cancer, making screenings more accessible and affordable.  But for Ramanujam, that there is an ongoing fight against cervical cancer is frustrating. Despite the HPV vaccine and early detection mechanism, cervical cancer remains common. According to the most-recent National Institute of Health data, there are 8.1 cases per 100,000 women in the United States. It is the fourth most common cancer for women world-wide.

Like many diseases that afflict only women, there are significant ethical and logistical challenges to overcoming them. Ramanujam attributed some of this gender gap to the nature of medical research. There is far less drug testing on women and female cadavers are used less frequently. Paradoxically these differences emerged as way to protect women (and their biological children) but are not clearly having unanticipated consequences.

Ramanujam’s argument is based in themes also present in the work of Colombian surgeon and artist, Dr. Libia Posada.  The doctors noted the importance of listening to the population that they would be assisting.  While developing the pocket colposcope, Ramanujam explained that she consulted physicians and patients in countries, such as Peru and India, whom she stated would be the primary beneficiaries of her invention. Posada believed that the Hippocratic oath entails not only going through the motions of examination and treatment, but also engaging with the patient. While I had contemplated this relationship in the context of service work, I had not realized that it may also act as a guiding principle for medicine.

I wondered if a motivating factor in the design of the pocket colposcope and Posada’s artwork was to emphasize compassion in the physician-patient relationship.  Indeed, Ramanujam explained that the pocket colposcope would eliminate the use of uncomfortable tools and the physical space that occurs between a physician and patient during a traditional colposcopy.  I questioned if the physical distance between the bodies of the physician and patient may be conducive to an emotional distance as well.

Intentionally using the white coloration throughout her artwork, Posada explained that for her this color symbolized the sterility of medicine.  I wondered if Posada also used this color to criticize the stoic relationship that can occur between physician and patient.

While listening to both female doctors describe their work, I thought they embodied what feminist theorist Carol Gilligan describes as an “ethic of care”.  Gilligan argues that women gravitate towards forming lateral relationships and that women are inclined to find strength in “nurture” and “interdependence”.  Prior to hearing these lectures, I was not as aware of the role that ethical concepts may play in shaping the medical field.



Sep 222017
 September 22, 2017

Having just taken the LSAT, I thought I would dedicate this week’s post to discussing some of the ethical issues which I encountered during my internship at the Durham District Attorney’s office. I am fascinated by how the legal system undergirds all of our political and social institutions and as a result, serves as a proxy for our moral values.  It was an eye-opening experience to be able to witness first- hand, the “conspiracy theory” that Michelle Alexander outlines in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, laying out the case that the recent phenomenon of mass incarceration is part of a larger systematic effort to keep a disproportionate number of black and brown men behind bars.  Ironically, while the criminal justice system aims to strengthen and protect our communities, policies and decisions undermine trust, deepening racial divisions.

Even though less than 44 percent of Durham’s residents are black, in nearly every case I observed, the defendant was an African American man.  Alexander notes that the problem of mass incarceration stems from the fact that “black poor in ghetto communities makes the round-up easy” and indeed, Durham’s McDougald Terrace was cited over and over again as the scene of various crimes. Observing court cases, I also noticed the ethical dilemma that the judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys faced while attempting to seek “justice” in a system that seems heavily contaminated with pervasive racial bias and structured to keep the same people cycling in and out of prison.

This tension surfaced in many juvenile court cases: almost every defendant was a young, black man, a fact seemingly inescapable to the judge and prosecutors constrained by the legal system in terms of adjudication. Studies show that white teenagers commit crimes at similar rate to minority offenders, but either evade detection or charges.  For example, many of the juveniles were convicted of non-violent misdemeanor offenses, such as shoplifting, possession of marijuana, or underage drinking, crimes that are committed by both black and white teenagers alike. In fact, according to a 2000 study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, white juveniles use cocaine at seven times the rate of their black peers, they use crack cocaine at eight times the rate of black juveniles and they are seven times as likely to use. Furthermore, white youth ages 12-17 are more than thirty percent more likely to sell marijuana than black teens.  Nonetheless, the juvenile court room was characterized by an overarching sense of community and urgency in getting the juveniles “on the right track” in order to prevent them from having a permanent, adult record, oftentimes, the judges, at the request of parents, issuing lengthier sentences of probation and supervision “for the good of the child.”  As Chief District Court Judge James T. Hill repeatedly stated, “children belong in the classroom not in the Court House.”

However, prosecutors told me, that despite the actions the criminal justice system take, ostensibly for the benefit of the children who flow through the courthouse, many of the juveniles offenders would reappear, as adults, in the district court system.­

Sep 122017
 September 12, 2017

Earlier last week, Families Moving Forward hosted their after-school enrichment activity kick-off event.  The activity to promote the Young Women’s Empowerment club was for the young girls, who were all in elementary school, to cut out an image from a collection of magazines that they thought best represented their answer to “What does it mean to be a girl?”  Watching the girls flip through the glossy magazine pages filled with images of stick-skinny models or advertisements for make-up, highlighted consumerism’s restrictive definition of femininity. Indeed, the mass message that the media sends is that a woman’s value is tied to her sexuality and level of attractiveness.  According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 69% of elementary school girls report that pictures in magazines influence their idea of the “ideal body shape”. What I noticed most as the girls at Families Moving Forward were flipping through magazines pages, however, was not just how detrimental magazine images would be to a young woman’s self-esteem, regardless of her race, but especially how alienating they would be to a woman of color.  Besides the occasional picture of Rhianna or Beyonce, almost every feature and advertisement was of a white woman. Through the exclusionary content within the pages of Allure, Glamour, and Shape, Eurocentric standards of beauty are upheld as desirable, casting women of color as less than.


Indeed as journalist Maisha Johnson finds, while more publications are beginning to feature women of color, they still embody more Caucasian features, such as lighter skin or more relaxed hair.  Furthermore, recent research conducted at Duke found that “just the suggestion that an African-American person is of mixed heritage makes them more attractive to others.” As the study’s author, Robert Reece states, “It’s also just partially racism – the notion that black people are less attractive, so being partially not-black makes you more attractive.”

Although Black, Latina, Asian and Native American, comprise more than a third of the total U.S. population, a recent report of the demographic of New York Fashion week’s models revealed that 83% were white.  As Maisha Johnson writes, so according to the media, “it’s my skin color that’s wrong, not the limited selection of foundation colors.”

The poor representation of women and especially women of color, however, extends beyond the pages of ditsy beauty magazines. It is a media-wide phenomenon. According to a recent study conducted by the University of Southern California, when women are actually on the screen, they are four times more likely to be in “sexy attire, three times more likely to show some nudity and nearly four times as likely to be referred to as physically attractive.”  The American Society for News Editors reports that less 30% of news reporters are women and that less than 5% are Latina, Asian or African American women. Furthermore, the USC study found that NONE of the film distributors evaluated, including Walt Disney, received a passing grade for inclusion of gender, sexual identity or race.  This is especially problematic considering the fact that Walt Disney’s primary audience is young, impressionable children.

Although popular TV shows, such as Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, have received fairly positive reviews for making strides towards representing women of color in prominent roles, many more, such as Orange is the New Black and reality TV shows, such as Basketball Wives and Real Housewives of Atlanta, still depend on negative, stereotypical portrayals of Black women.  Essence surveyed over one thousand women about the images of black women in media and found that respondents felt the images were “overwhelmingly negative,” falling typically into categories including: “Gold Diggers… Baby Mamas…Ratchet Women… Angry Black Women… Mean Black Girls, Unhealthy Black Women, and Black Barbies.” Considering the powerful influence that the media exerts throughout our lives, the grossly disproportionate negative portrayal of African American women is extremely concerning.

Through activities designed to boost self-esteem and monthly meetings with diverse women mentors, the Young Women’s Empowerment Group will work to combat the negative stereotypes that the media and society perpetuate


Sep 072017
 September 7, 2017

To start things off, I will begin by telling you a little bit about me. I just graduated from Duke, majored in Political Science with History and Women’s Studies minors, as well as the Political Science, Philosophy and Economics certificate. I am fascinated by the interdisciplinary connections between politics and social justice and am extremely interested in issues involving women and children, as well as the criminal justice system. Over the summer, I interned at the Durham District Attorney’s office where I was able to observe various aspects of the criminal justice system, such as jury selection for a homicide trial, several domestic violence cases, and juvenile court hearings.  However, I will save my experience at the District Attorney’s office for a later post!

During my first week at Kenan, I was immediately propelled into Project Change, a week-long pre-orientation program in which incoming freshman students are exposed to ethical issues that are especially pertinent to the Durham area.

As a quasi-leader, I decided to latch onto the cohort of freshman who were placed at Families Moving Forward, a homeless shelter downtown that provides families temporary shelter for up to ninety days and then provides continuing services to help facilitate an easier transition for the family back into the community.  Although FMF welcomes two- parent households, the majority of the families are single mothers with young children.  During our time at the shelter, we were charged with soliciting donations from local businesses for one of FMF’s fundraisers (photo of FMF underneath).

Prior to journeying down 9th Street and into the Brightleaf district, we were cautioned to avoid using the word “homeless” in our pitch in order to prevent the immediate negatively-charged reaction that the word engenders.   Indeed, some have pointed out that we treat stray cats and dogs with greater respect than a homeless person. Why does homelessness carry such a strong stigma?

Furthermore, who or what causes homelessness in the first place?

Wrestling with these questions and being the Poli Sci major that I am, I instantly thought about American philosopher John Rawls’s theory of justice.  Rawls’ postulated that a “veil of ignorance” or an oblivion as to what our role and position in society would be should guide how we construct societal and political institutions. It is implied that the rational person would want to live in a society that would be habitable and tolerable no matter what family he or she were born into. Clearly, however, with more than three million people estimated to experience homelessness every year, with about fifteen million children living below the poverty line, and with more than thirty million Americans still without basic health insurance, the veil of ignorance has done little to guide social policies.

If we did not know how much money we would make, what the color of our skin would be, or the possible challenges life would throw at us, wouldn’t we want to live in the most supportive society possible?

In addition to the inequalities that neo-liberal institutions present for impoverished populations, they also result in undeniable inequality between the sexes.  Throughout my young adult life, I have become increasingly aware, even hyper-cognizant, of the disadvantages that women face on a day-to-day basis.  As a white woman, I know that I will most likely be earning 74 cents for every dollar that my male peers earn and for Black and Latina women, that figure is significantly less.  In addition to the economic disadvantages that women face, they are also subjected to much more physical and sexual harm. Tragically, more than twenty percent of women will experience severe violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes.   Although I recognize that my identity as a woman disadvantages me to a certain extent, I am also aware that many doors are open to me that are shut for other young women.  I know that I will always have a roof over my head, food to eat, and a college degree.  In addition, I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by strong, powerful female mentors.  The network of women that I have has been invaluable to me and something that I want to provide other young women in the Durham community with as well.

For the first “installment” of my ongoing project, I will be leading a Young Women’s Empowerment group at FMF that will provide an enriching experience for the young women residing at FMF as well as the Duke student volunteers that will help guide the program.  One segment will feature a “Woman of the Month” day in which women in the community, such as Judges and physicians, will share their experiences and careers with the participants of the Young Women’s Empowerment Program.  Furthermore, I want to interview our featured women in order to preserve their stories in the Sallie Bingham Library, adding to the growing collection of interviews of powerful women.  By fostering these connections between the young women at FMF, Duke students, and female leaders in the community, I hope to create an enriching, positive, and uplifting experience for all those involved.  Eventually, I plan to enlarge my network of Young Women’s Empowerment groups to other locations around Durham, such as Durham School of the Arts.

While I am confident that my project will be beneficial as it will build community amongst the young women residing at FMF and also help bridge the divide between Duke and Durham, I am also anticipating several challenges.  Perhaps the most forthcoming challenge that I expect, will be the fluctuation in the Young Women’s Empowerment group population. Many of the young women at FMF will most likely be in the program for less than ninety days.  Furthermore, with such an oscillating and dynamic group, it may be more difficult to build trust between members.  And finally, while we all hold a common identity as women, the stark contrast in life experiences between the young women at FMF and the Duke student volunteers may impose additional obstacles to fostering trust.

During my year as a Bear fellow, I am excited to see how my project unfolds and develops, engage with the questions that I have left unanswered, and depart with a better understanding of what it means to lead an ethical life.


Sep 012016
 September 1, 2016

As I sat down to write my final Kenan Insider blog post, I reread the 29 weekly posts from the past year. I was reminded of how diverse my year has been. The Kenan Insider has given me a way to document my journey through the year and the process of connecting my experiences back to ethics and Kenan’s mission.   Over the past year, I tried to emulate a sponge soaking up information. After many talks, however, I was left with more questions than I had come with and few answers. Writing for the blog helped me work through this uncertainty.

In my time as the Stephen and Janet Bear Postgraduate Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics this year, I have had the opportunity to explore the intersection of food, culture, and ethics. The position allowed me to draw on past experiences and study new challenges. I have worked on two farms that are environments where ethics guides their missions: the Ohio City Farm, an organization that works with resettled refugees, and the Duke Campus Farm, which, like Kenan, facilitates interdisciplinary ways of approaching learning. The time I spent on these farms unintentionally foregrounded the events I planned at Kenan. Mentors from both farms were able to lend me their expertise to bring in speakers about southern hospitality and food and understand how farming can be utilized as a form of empowerment.

As I began the position last summer, I was adjusting not only to how to deal with the sweltering heat but also adjusting to Duke without the support of the majority of my recent undergraduate peers. No longer required to attend class, I was released from the pressure to take copious notes, to write a paper, or to be tested on the subject matter. I felt like I was able to pursue my own interests and learn for learning’s sake. I spent my first month at Kenan researching everything there was to know about foods and ethics. Some of the topics I had been exposed to through undergraduate classes; others I discovered as I took new paths on the research trail. As part of my research, I met with the Duke Farm staff and academics at Duke and joined the Duke food working group to gain a scholar’s perspective. I also examined different government programs and national, regional, and municipal food and water issues (and their connections to human rights), in addition to what corporations were doing to tackle these same issues. The quantity of information was overwhelming. However, with the help of others, I was able to continually refine and focus in on more chewable sized topics.

My goal was to discover ways to communicate through food themes the ethical choices students make each day as they choose what to eat on campus, to find potential speakers to bring new perspectives to campus, and to design programming that would get engage the Duke community in a rich dialogue not yet taking place on such a crucial topic. In turning this research into programming proposals for the year, I learned how difficult it is to zero in on a more finite topic and how to work within resource constraints. As I began to plan and implement the programs, including the annual film series and a series of events that included diverse panels and an interactive refugee-cooking workshop, I learned how to think through these topics and how to engage others in doing likewise. In the process, I became a more ethically intelligent person—one with tangible skills making things happen.

One of the most memorable things I did as a Bear Postgraduate Fellow was the Free Food Challenge. Many of my friends thought it was a joke when they heard that I was eating free food for an entire month, a manifestation of my natural extreme frugality. Despite the initial chuckles about the project and questions about the logistics of “surviving” for a month on the free food offered at academic events at Duke, my friends eventually were impressed by the purpose of the project and framework of rules I set for myself. The rule that was the least difficult was to engage with audience members and speakers — I needed to discuss the challenge with one or more participants, and also explore the topic that was being presented at the event. Critically thinking about how the unrelated talks I was attending each day connected to one another was a much harder rule to follow, but helped me to hone my critical thinking skills.

This year has given me the opportunity to explore what it means to see ethics in every aspect of living. I have taken the mission of Kenan to heart, and it has shaped the way I think. Each of the aspects of my position, be it research and program planning, writing, or helping students run the Ethics Couch, has contributed to my development as an adult and my decision making about the next paths on which I will venture. Right now, my next big step is my move to Dublin, Ireland in September. Although I have no set job plans, I have some leads related to food and ethics. Despite the uncertainty of my next move, I am certain that the experiences I have gained from Kenan over the past five years will allow me to adapt to anything Ireland (and life) has to throw at me.