Apr 062018
 April 6, 2018

Wednesday evening, I had the privilege of listening to Carmen Perez, co-chair of the historic Women’s March on Washington, deliver an extremely inspirational speech regarding her twenty years of activism.  Perez not only helped to organize the largest single-day demonstration in U.S. history, but she also founded two state-based task forces: Justice League NYC and Justice League CA, dedicated to advancing criminal and juvenile justice reform. Currently, she serves as the Executive Director of The Gathering for Justice, an organization working to end racial inequities and child incarceration in the criminal justice system. During her speech, Perez recounted the hardships she has confronted, people whom she has encountered, and lessons she has learned. Ultimately, she claimed that in order for social movements to be successful, we must recognize the intersections between issues of social justice and stand in solidarity with one another.

Although not a perfectly inclusive demonstration, Perez stated that the Women’s March made great progress towards advancing the interests of all women. Unlike previous leaders of women’s rights movements, the founding leaders of the Women’s March wanted to make a conscious effort to represent and elevate the interests of women from all backgrounds.  While at first hesitant to offer her assistance, as a Latina from a “farming community plagued by violence”, Perez recalled, “I realized that I had the power to make the march inclusive and make it my responsibility to make everyone a part of it.”  Although the original organizers had good intentions, Perez believed that without her support as well as that of “women from every shade of brown”, the march would have ultimately failed to “produce the most radical policy platform in the history of the United States.”  Although seemingly disparate, marchers realized that the issues they individually supported, such as, reproductive rights, immigration reform, and environmental justice, were interwoven and could simultaneously be advanced through a collective march.

Here, I thought about the connections I have made between issues that I have observed over the course of my fellowship.  For example, during Margaret Regan’s lecture earlier this year, I noted the relationship between immigration and criminal justice reform. While Mayor Mitch Landrieu spoke of the hateful environment the confederate monuments created for many of his constituents, I was reminded of when Dr. Brenda Armstrong recalled that, at times, she felt unwelcomed from certain spaces during her under-graduate experience at Duke. Furthermore, as I have noticed that many families staying at Families Moving Forward are headed by single mothers, I am wondering about the relationship between issues of homelessness and women’s rights.

In concluding her speech, Perez asked us to turn to the person sitting to our right and say, “You are loved. You are important. You are necessary.”  Afterwards, we contemplated why this simple exercise had generated so much discomfort, giggling, and awkward pauses. Perez stated that in order to make positive social change, we must be willing to look past our differences, recognize one another’s basic humanity, and form human connections.  As I continue to engage with a wide-range of social justice issues, I will be mindful to heed Perez’s advice.

Mar 302018
 March 30, 2018

After seeing A Wrinkle in Time this past weekend, I thought about the power director Ava DuVernay wielded in determining the manner in which Madeleine L’Engle’s classic, best-selling children’s novel would come to life on-screen. As the first person of color in charge of a nine-figure budget for a Disney movie, DuVernay decided to make many distinct and “fiercely feminizing” choices, such as making her film the first sci-fi fantasy to have a young woman of color as the lead.  In response to DuVernay’s casting decisions, actress Reese Witherspoon stated, “It’s just a different perspective, and you don’t get that until we start to have powerful filmmakers of different colors, different genders.”

Since my post last week regarding the implications of “who gets to speak for Basquiat?”, I have continued to contemplate the critical role filmmakers play in shaping our perception of culture and society.  For a class assignment, the young women in the Brogden Middle School group are making documentaries about different social justice topics, such as the gendered differences in school dress codes and the politics of school funding.  During the meeting this week, Director of the Literacy Through Photography Project, Dr. Katherine Hyde, led a discussion regarding the art of documentary work. She explained that expanding the accessibility of filmmaking resources and education to young people, who often do not have the opportunity to “tell their own story”, is one of the primary factors motivating her work.  Noting that the vast majority of documentaries, while certainly educational and enjoyable to watch, were historically produced by white men, Hyde challenged the girls to think about how factors related to a filmmaker’s identity, such as race, age, socio-economic status, and gender, may affect the production process. I wondered how a documentary about school dress codes made by a young woman of color may differ from one made by an older, white man.

As we spend an increasingly large amount of time in front of the screen, I thought about the influence the creators of the content we absorb exert on our world-view. Indeed, the diverse cast of A Wrinkle in Time may challenge us to think about who Disney, Hollywood, and the media industry as a whole tend to feature. Oprah Winfrey explained, “When you don’t see yourself, there is a subconscious psychological manifestation. It’s diminishing.”  Leading actress of A Wrinkle in Time, Storm Reid, stated, “Before I got this role, I wanted there to be more little girls that look like me on TV and in lead roles.” I wondered if the movie would have featured a multiracial cast if DuVernay had not been in the director’s chair.

Mar 232018
 March 23, 2018

During the screening of the third installment of this year’s Ethics Film Series, Jean Michel – Basquiat: The Radiant Child, I wondered about the relationship between the revolutionary nature of Basquiat’s work and his social life.  Beginning as a graffiti artist under the tag SAMO, Basquiat quickly rose to become one of the most influential artists in the 20th century.  Just last year, Basquiat’s painting, Untitled (1982), sold at Sotheby’s for a record-breaking $110.5 million.  Although his art critiqued societal structures, such as capitalism and socio-economic stratification, I thought about Basquiat’s engagement in the very elitist world he condemned.  I wondered if Basquiat may have experienced a sense of othering as a young, black man working and socializing in a predominantly older, white sphere.  In fact, one quotation describes Basquiat’s art shows as places with “white people, white walls and white wine.”  I contemplated if Basquiat purposefully entered the fine art world in order for the messages in his art to reach those perhaps most in need of an “awakening.”

Following the film, Ayanna Legros, a PhD candidate in the History Department at Duke University, and co-founder of the BASQUIAT: Still Fly @ 55 project, led a discussion about the ethical implications of our remembrance of Basquiat.  Asking the audience, “who gets to speak for Basquiat”, Legros challenged me to think critically about the influence different perspectives and backgrounds have in the interpretation of historical events.  Indeed, the documentary opens with a quotation from Madonna, one of several ex-girlfriends who speak on behalf of Basquiat during the film. Although much of Basquiat’s artwork exalts African American history and culture, I noticed that primarily white acquaintances, colleagues, and collectors were interviewed.  I wondered why certain people and not others were featured.

Next, Legros mentioned ways in which Basquiat is remembered today.  While some refer to Basquiat as the Black Picasso, Legros asked us to consider the problematic connotation of this title.  Why is Basquiat not known as, well, Basquiat?  Finally, Legros turned to the commodification of Basquiat’s work. The iconic, three-pointed crown, often included in his paintings to commemorate African culture, now adorns many apparel lines.  Moreover, the cosmetics company, Urban Decay, decorated a make-up collection with a distinctively Basquiat style.  Although Legros explained that Basquiat welcomed his fame and fortune, she stated that it is nevertheless ironic that he is remembered through an industry his art endeavored to critique.

Later, I thought about the broader implications this conversation holds for the context of my project.  In order to avoid misrepresenting points of view, I think it is important to provide the girls with their own platform for expression.  Indeed, by providing an outlet for the girls to share their thoughts, knowledge, and opinions about the meetings we have had over the course of the year, I think my initial goal of empowerment will be achieved.  In the upcoming weeks, I will be thinking more about the format for this final presentation.


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.