Dec 042017
 
 December 4, 2017  Posted by

There’s two types of rush (recruitment for the politically correct) at Duke. Spring rush, where you try to impress multiple different types of people while assuring them you’re a perfect fit for their organization, and Fall Rush, where you try to impress multiple different types of people while assuring them you’re a perfect fit for their organization. The first one, for selective living groups and Greek life, eerily mirrors the second, for job offers. They’re both artificial processes, created on an idea that people need other similar people around them. The rhetoric of the spring, “we’re looking for people we want to hang out with” morphs into “we’re looking for people we want to work with” in the fall. Ask any consultant or banker you’re trying to network with and they’ll immediately assure you that their work friends are their real friends. In fact, in a shocking turn of events, they both hang out and work together all the time.

Even application processes for rush and recruitment are similar. Written applications discussed around a table, desperate bids to stay memorable to “key” people, worrying after an event that the person you talked to wasn’t important enough to make an impact on the group’s decision about you. Both processes are built around structures of prestige. The results of these processes are similar too. The social safety net of a selective living group means you’re only ever one groupme away from reaching 60 other people for advice about classes, Friday night plans and recommendations for food in Durham. A job at an elite firm lets you be part of a larger, prestigious community. Each process builds conversation on how you were chosen, how good a fit you are, and implicit in these conversations, a sense of pride at having “made the cut”. It’s true that sometimes these processes are meritorious, the more cases you practice, the more events you go to; but it’s also true that so many times they’re not, discussions build on already existing networks, and systematic privilege carries you far.

As someone who has been through the first process, in the spring, and is going through the second one, both events can sometimes feel like socially exclusive processes: someone’s sibling is in a frat, and someone’s sorority sister got the job she’s applying for this year. There’s a lot of power in networks and I’m always grateful to be a part of the one at Duke. Yet the question remains, if we’re only interested in recruiting people exactly like us or our friends how do organizations (university based or otherwise) see change?

Dec 012017
 
 December 1, 2017  Posted by

Nearly thirty years ago, the musical Miss Saigon debuted on London’s West End with then 18 year-old Lea Salonga playing the title character Kim, a bar-girl (read: prostitute) who falls in love with a American soldier serving during the Vietnam War. The story is a tragedy loosely based off of Puccini’s opera, Madame Butterfly, in which a geisha is similarly abandoned by her American lieutenant lover.

 

Without having actually seeing it, I assumed it would be romanticized version of the American involvement in Vietnam, and so I had always stayed away. It wasn’t until this summer, when I stumbled upon a video of Eva Noblezada, the actress who plays Kim in the revival productions, performing “I’d Give My Life for You” live at the Olivier Awards that I felt compelled to listen to the full cast recording. My assumptions were confirmed. Everything I’ve learned about orientalism in popular culture was embodied in almost every song. The bar-girls that work with Kim at the club fantasize about being taken away by the American soldiers to live better lives in the US. The song that Kim’s friends sing at her wedding ceremony is purported to be gibberish, and not actual Vietnamese. In one particularly egregious number, “Bui-Doi”, which refers to the mixed-race children that were created from unions like that of Kim and her lover’s and left behind when US forces left Vietnam, a Vietnam veteran laments “all the good we failed to do”.

 

In essence, Miss Saigon portrays the Vietnamese as one-dimensional victims, and Americans as tortured heroes. As Viet Thanh Nguyen, who won the Pulitzer for his novel The Sympathizer, puts it, “It fits perfectly into the way that Americans, and Europeans, have imagined the Vietnam War as a racial and sexual fantasy that negates the war’s political significance and Vietnamese subjectivity and agency.” And yet, being fully aware of all these problems, I still found myself listening to the album on repeat for a whole week. I could not deny myself the pleasure of listening to Lea Salonga’s beautiful voice, which would fill with rage, despair, and wonder at all the right times. I still get chills listening to “I’d Give my Life for You”, in which Kim makes a mother’s promise to her son, that she will do everything in her power to give him a life that is better than the one she’s been forced to lead.

 

I’ve been able to alienate the content from the score and enjoy the music. And I actually think I gain a certain satisfaction from being able to point to lyrics and condemn blatant offense. But I also live with the knowledge that Asian-Americans have actively protested Miss Saigon. Do I have a responsibility to never listen to it again?

 

You may face a similar dilemma when you realize your favorite shows are actually really homophobic, or misogynistic, or generally full of problematic content. I’ve heard people feel this way about classic shows like Friends or How I Met Your Mother. We can recognize as the years go by that the jokes we thought were so funny actually aren’t at all. And hopefully that means that the shows that are popular now are lot more critical and decent than ones being aired ten years ago.

 

As for Miss Saigon, maybe the problem is that most people still don’t see anything wrong with it. We haven’t been trained to spot orientalism the same way we’ve been trained to identify a punch line as transphobic or as an example of body-shaming. Does my being able to identify all the problems in a musical give me license to enjoy everything else it has to offer? All I can say for now is that I’m not going to stop listening to Miss Saigon, but maybe next time I’ll do it in a way so that its creators aren’t going to get any more money from appropriating Asian stories for white consumption.

Nov 292017
 
 November 29, 2017  Posted by

As a girl who grew up in a majority white town with a population of less than 5,000, the diversity of Duke was a serious adjustment. I know, some of you might scoff at the notion of ‘diversity’ at Duke–but hear me out for a sec.

Wherever we go, we will always have our own bubbles. Duke is a bubble, but so are the circles we place ourselves in within the student body. How you perceive the Duke population will always be different from how I do, based off of the people you know–who cannot possibly be all of the same people I know.

Coming into freshman year, my bubble consisted of all the kids in each “New Jersey Duke 2020” group chat I somehow ended up in. (Yes, I am yet another New Jersey kid. We’re everywhere) I didn’t know anything about the different cultures across the US, and especially not those around the world that our international students come from. The fact that my roommate was from somewhere as far as California was even a big deal. This framework was flipped on its head just a month in, when somehow my two closest friends were from different countries I had previously never heard of.

Small things would come up in conversation–the difficulty of flying home, visas complications, memories of friends from high school all over the globe. Stories I remembered reading about in the news but never really thought about actually affected some of their upbringings or those of their friends.

What I think domestic students at Duke often don’t realize is that our campus is filled with people who can teach us so much–DukeEngage and study abroad aren’t the only ways to learn more about the world. We have Tibetan and Bhutanese refugees, peers who have lived in five countries on three different continents. We have Israeli and Singaporean students who have served in the military, and a national tag football player for Malaysia.

Duke has incredible people from such a wide set of experiences but too often we lose sight of it by staying within our own bubble. It is easy to find comfort within the people we feel most relatable to, but by doing so we miss out on the opportunity to meet those who are so different from ourselves.

Nov 272017
 
 November 27, 2017  Posted by

Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of my friends advertising charity events for their student groups on Facebook. They usually sound pretty similar, something along the lines of:

Do you like people? Do you like fun? Do you like food? Then come to our event FOR CHARITY!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love helping out the next person as much as you do (hopefully, you do). And what’s not to love about enjoying delicious donuts while helping those poor kids in South America at the same time? But as more and more profile pictures and snapchat stories filled my feed, I couldn’t help but think about all the other times I’d seen banner ads plastered with faces of emaciated toddlers or emails containing desperate pleas for financial help. Why are we so eager to donate money now, when most of us hardly bat an eye when these emails ask us to donate to all the same causes?

Of course, most of us could write this off with a simple response. “There’s a human connection with your peers,” or “we get inundated with so many ads, I hardly notice them.” These are hardly likely answers. If the former were true, we would only ever bother advertising to our friends and would have no use for posting on social media; if the latter, ad revenues wouldn’t be hitting record highs year after year.

Perhaps, another response might be that we do it for personal gain; we donate to these for the same reason many firms operate under a “purchase one, donate one” model. We wanted to consume the good anyways, and donating to a cause helps us to feel better about it. But that begs a much larger question. What does that say about us, and about our community here at Duke, when helping others becomes a matter of convenience?

Speaking with residents of Durham, I’ve gathered that Duke is not particularly known for its dedication to community service, at least locally (whether, then, we should be spending so much on programs such as Duke Engage is another matter entirely). Yet with no lack of desire to give back (as evidenced by the numerous charity events year round), why do we choose to go the path of least resistance? As Duke students, part of what got us here was a willingness to tackle challenges and go out of our comfort zone. That should hardly stop once we get to Duke, and no amount of donations to charities scattered across the globe will have an impact on the Durham community right outside our doorstep.

In writing this piece and reflecting on my own experiences at Duke, I’ve realized that I’m guilty, too, of often forgoing “difficult” community service for the easier alternative. Do I really see a future where helping others precludes inconveniencing yourself? Is a donation of convenience really more valuable than physical presence and thoughtful labor in the community? That’s not the legacy I want to leave behind.

Author’s Note: These were just late night thoughts, in no way meant to discredit the value of donating to the important causes you believe in.

Nov 212017
 
 November 21, 2017  Posted by

CAPS (Counseling & Psychological Services) and other mental health advocacy groups on campus, like NAMI, Peer for You, and Neurocare, have redeveloped their approach during the past few years. As a senior, the climate surrounding mental health has transformed considerably the past three years. New student groups have appeared, a new Wellness Center was constructed, and CAPS has shifted away from their cumbersome and inefficient appointment-only approach. This was not always the case, and upperclassmen know this all too well.

When I was in my first semester of sophomore year, I went through an extraordinarily difficult time at Duke. I dealt with constant feelings of worthlessness and self hatred. At night I couldn’t sleep and during the day I didn’t eat. One night, I had looked around on the CAPS website and found an online depression screening tool. I took the test and was relieved to receive a “diagnosis” of not depressed. After my symptoms worsened as I stumbled through the semester, my friends implored me to go to CAPS. There, I met with a psychiatrist for about 15 minutes who ran through a series of questions eerily similar to the online depression screening I had taken weeks before. After this visit, I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, meeting all the major “criteria” of a depressed person.

These tests were virtually the same, yet, somehow the results did not match. There are certainly advantages to providing easily accessible screening tools for individuals, but these often come at a significant cost to accuracy. Mental illness is especially unique because it isn’t like a physical ailment. If I break my leg in soccer, the pain is immediate and clear. My leg may bend an unnatural way and begin to swell. Diagnosing a mental illness is much more difficult because there is no tangible way to identify it, and the boundaries of healthy vs. sick are less clearly defined. Furthermore, self-recognition of mental illness proves significantly more elusive. How you feel and what you think is determined heavily by your environment. For example, a more stressful day is more likely to trigger thoughts of feeling overwhelmed and helpless than a less stressful day.

As such, the time and location one decides to take a depression screening will likely influence the results. Additionally, these factors may also influence one’s decision to screen in the first place. Experts point out that screening tools do not diagnose mental illnesses by themselves, but they can draw attention to symptoms that may raise red flags, which in turn signal the existence of a more serious problem. Effective screenings should be followed up by more thorough one-on-one evaluations. Opponents of online screenings worry that overscreening can lead to overdiagnosis and overtreatment. One could argue, however, that serious overtreatment of mental health is a less of two evils, considering the alternative is serious undertreatment. In a society with limited resources, the concern of overtreatment is valid as we run the risk of having less resources to devote to those with more serious mental health concerns.

Self screenings exist for a range of illnesses including depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders. Research has shown that screening tools are plagued with inaccuracies, yielding false positives and false negatives (like in my case) left and right. Additionally, self-screenings should never take the place of visits with actual mental health professionals. Given the serious deficiencies in the mental health infrastructure in this country, access to this counsel is not as easy to obtain. Suppose someone self-screens and is “diagnosed” as bipolar. Suppose this person is without healthcare or a healthcare plan that covers mental health care (which is not uncommon). What are they to do with these results? Will self-identification with a disease they may or may not have change the way they think about themselves? Could it change the way others see and treat them? These consequences must be taken into consideration, especially since mental illnesses are still highly stigmatized in the US.

While screening for mental health is crucial, it must be done well and under the counsel of a professional. Instead of advocating for heightened self-screening, I would advocate for greater advocacy to de-stigmatize mental illness and ensuring all Americans have access to licensed professionals to diagnose and treat serious mental diseases. De-stigmatizing these diseases will encourage use of mental health care and expanded access will ensure all Americans have the opportunity to find help when they are in need. Furthermore, let’s refrain from reducing the complexities and intimacies of mental illness to a 10-minute online quiz. It’s time to treat these illnesses like any other.

Nov 202017
 
 November 20, 2017  Posted by

There’s no way to sugarcoat this: this semester has been hard. A combination of personal tragedies, a schedule far busier than I was expecting, and general social and academic adjustments to sophomore year have left me struggling to keep my head above water. I feel like this semester has been a very, very long sprint. Everyone around me speaks in the language of “just two more weeks”, doing what we have to do to get from fall break to past midterms to Thanksgiving break to next semester.

 

When I was a senior in high school, a close friend of mine passed away. That was my first real experience with death and grief. I spent the week of her passing in somewhat of a daze. I skipped most of my classes. I cancelled plans with friends.I allowed other people to take on my responsibilities that I just couldn’t handle. I let myself rest, and grieve, and heal. In that moment, that’s what I needed. I was fortunate enough to have an incredible support system that allowed me to stop.

 

Stopping at Duke is not an option that feels viable for me. After 9 hours supporting a friend through an incredibly traumatic experience, there was no time to rest. I left her, and went straight to rehearsal. When I hear about my best friend from home having a tough time, I send her a quick text, and then I go to class. I barely have the capacity to support other people; this semester, I have found that I don’t always have the capacity to support myself. As much as I advocate for the importance of self-care, I have had a very difficult time putting this particular sermon into practice.

There has been no time to rest, or heal, or grieve. “Dealing” with tragedy has meant burying my head in my busy. I have refused myself time to process the difficult experiences of this semester. More than this, stopping feels wrong. It feels like if I take the night off I’m breaking commitments with friends, hurting my mock trial team, endangering my grades. It is so difficult to put myself and my needs first when I feel like I am letting other people down.

I don’t have a solution to this. I am not writing to explain how to deal with trauma in healthy ways. Still, there are things that have helped, such as frequent calls to my incredible parents, CAPS appointments, and forcing myself to get enough sleep.

 

Learning to prioritize myself isn’t easy. In every way, it feels wrong. This week, one of my best friends at Duke has had to deal with a death in their family. They were stuck, trying to decide whether to drive home immediately or to stay on campus another night so they could attend rehearsal that night and take a midterm in the morning. When they asked me what I thought, I answered immediately. Do whatever you think is best for you and your family. Everything else can wait, right now, you need to put yourself first. When it came to how I wanted my friend to treat themself, I knew that they should be their own first priority.

 

I think it’s time I take my own advice.

Nov 162017
 
 November 16, 2017  Posted by

To say that this semester has been stressful would be the greatest understatement of my academic career. After a Physics I midterm, I walked over to the Loop and tried out a new menu item and practically fell into a booth, my body exhausted and my mind racing with thoughts on my to-do list. After the buzzer vibrated, I got up to pick up my Pesto Chicken Ciabatta. As I slumped back into my seat, I decided to try and disconnect from the stress by opening YouTube and watching an old Vlogmas series from one of my favorite YouTubers, Claire Marshall. As I enjoyed my surprisingly decent ciabatta and the soothing chill aura of Claire, she talked about a journal she used to keep track of her busy life. This got me thinking about the undeniably aesthetic bullet journal trend, and I spontaneously paused her video and opened a new YouTube tab to search for “bullet journal.”

A YouTube channel by the name of AmandaRachLee is rife with multiple videos on bullet journaling, from monthly plan-with-me videos on how she designs her journal for each month, analyses of the best stationery and writing utensils for the most satisfying experience with bullet journaling and calligraphy, and drawing/painting sessions. It definitely took my mind off of my life at Duke: the utensils produced some gorgeous lettering and masterful calligraphy, and the symmetric, soft, clean, and effortless aesthetic gave me immense visual pleasure.

I wouldn’t say that I have the best handwriting, but when I put effort into it, I love to get creative and create orderly, clean, and attractive pieces for organizing and planning purposes. I got curious and did some investigation on the prices for high quality writing utensils and stationary, searching for “bullet journal utensils” on Google. For notebooks, some commonly referred brands were Leuchtturm1917, Moleskine, Rhodia, Midori, and Essentials, and the prices typically ranged from $8 to $30. For pens, there are Faber-Castell, Staedtler, Tombow, Pigma, Sharpie, and Pilot. Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen costs $1.99, the 20-pack Staedtler Triplus Fineliner pens cost $15.99, the Tombow Dual Brush Pens (9 colors) costs $17.00, and the Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pen set of 2 costs $5.74, to get a general idea. Further searching turned up a Buzzfeed article on the “19 Products To Help You Take Your Bullet Journal To The Next Level” I expected some more references to other notebooks, papers, and pens. But no, there is an entire market centered on soft-minimal lettering/journaling culture. Some people go the extra mile and invest in utensils for color production, such as watercolor pens and pencils.

This culture extends to phenomena such as Studyblr, a realm consisting of tumblrs and other social media platforms dedicated to producing content related to studying habits aligned with similar aesthetics. After the search for items, I began thinking about the type of people that can invest time, money, and energy into this artform and access this aesthetic branding. I know that many people try to push back on this material- and design-focused obsession by stressing how the “right way” of bullet journaling is whatever works for your productivity on your own terms. However, even this emphasis on productivity seems questionable and to further the overarching pressures of maximizing efficiency and productivity in a capitalistic framework. Overall, it seems to infuse moral values on these soft-minimal aesthetics of pretty letters and nice pens and notebooks. Will I continue to subscribe to the prescriptions of quality-verified materials and the conflation of aesthetics and morals? I hope I don’t, but I’ll probably continue to watch those videos as I’ve already subscribed to her YouTube channel.

Nov 152017
 
 November 15, 2017  Posted by


This past week I experienced terrible eye pain – it was irritated, watery, and very sensitive to light for days. I walked around with one eye closed, avoided the light, and tried to stay indoors as much as possible. One day, in particular, I stayed in my room all the day with the blinds shut and my eyes closed.

  I could neither read nor look at the person I was talking to in the eye for more than five seconds. I wasliterally living in darkness, limited to doing things that did not require my eyesight. This experience reminded me to never take my eyesight for granted and made me imagine what it would be like to be blind. This also made me wonder: Is eyesight or any other basic ability a gift? And are we as humans entitled to having these abilities?

I knew that I would receive the necessary medical attention to get better. Within a couple days of treatment, my eye healed and my life went back to normal. But what if I was in a situation where I could not be treated? Would my eye have gotten worse, and what are the chances that it could have led to blindness or some other serious ailment?  

This made me think of the thousands of cases per year that are preventable through medicine and affordable health care. Many of us have lived to such a high standard of living that losing eyesight or some other ability is unfathomable – making me think that we feel entitled to these abilities. After all, society probably wouldn’t function if everyone were blind. In order to see a reform in healthcare, people who are healthy must first understand the importance of health through gratitude. And they shouldn’t wait, like I did, until an actual issue befell them to be grateful.

Nov 142017
 
 November 14, 2017  Posted by

“Hi, what’s your name?”

Last week was disgustingly humid. Icky, sweaty, walking through soup humid. Every time I took a step sweat poured out. The humidity was pretty much the only thing I could talk about all week.

It was Wednesday, and I had to get from my air-conditioned room, through the halls of my un-air-conditioned dorm, across the quad to Spanish. As I was walking through said un-air-conditioned hallway, I overheard a snippet of one of our Duke housekeepers phone conversations:

I would like to report on the working conditions,she said. They have air-conditioning for the students in their rooms, but none in the hallways for everyone else.

This comment connected the (very obvious) dots for me: the staff clean the hallways, the hallways dont have air conditioning, therefore, the staff must be very hot. I had never given much thought to the fact that if I thought my four minute walk between ACs was uncomfortable, then the people who spend all day working in these un-air-conditioned halls are far more affected.

I was ashamed of myself. And to make it worse, I did not even know her name.

These staff members spend all day cleaning up after us, making our residence halls inhabitable and welcoming, and in return we provide them with uncomfortable, and frankly unsafe, working conditions.

In my first two months at Duke, I have noticed a divide within our community. We care so deeply about fighting the inequality and divisions of the world, yet many of us, myself included, are disconnected from a huge part of our own community. Staff members like the janitorial crew, market place servers, and bus drivers are essential to Duke, our school could literally not function without them, yet their contributions often go unappreciated. At the very least, all members of our Duke community deserve to feel safe, respected, and valued.

As students, we have both the ability and responsibility to make sure that all members of our community feel this inclusion. Certainly this requires that we provide air conditioning for our janitorial staff on scorching days. But it can also begin with the simple act of asking someones name.

Nov 132017
 
 November 13, 2017  Posted by

Masculinity is an incredibly problematic social construct. The way masculinity negatively impacts the students at Duke and the way that students perpetuate and enable it is worrisome as well as contentious. Masculinity can be loosely defined as the pressure society places on male identifying individuals to be strong, stoic, and dominant. Being thought of as unmasculine is equated with being gay, which is a threat to one’s character and social status. I think the reason most men on Duke’s campus fear being thought of as unmasculine is because they are either subconsciously or consciously homophobic. In its most benign, the most obvious ways masculinity affects the people of Duke can be seen in the sexual assault rates, objectifying language, and hookup culture.

The language that I’ve heard on campus from other men describing women is extremely problematic. “I’d hit that” and “She’s a 6 at most” are some of the common phrases I’ve heard from men describing women on campus. When multiple men are objectifying a woman and one of them doesn’t contribute he is criticized and treated like an outcast. This language typical of men looking to assert their masculinity dehumanizes women on one hand and perpetuates the mindset that women are simply present for the pleasure of men. Viewing women as objects rather than people is what leads to problems like sexual assault on campus.

The limit that masculinity places on the emotional availability of men is the root cause of such a large hookup culture on campus. In my experiences relationships involving men on Duke’s campus usually never make it past hooking up because of how socially unacceptable it is for men to be open about their emotions. Showing emotions is equated with being weak and displaying weakness is considered a cardinal sin against masculinity in the eyes of men. This lack of vulnerability and inability to be open and expressive harms all relationships and keeps men separate from women in terms of social function.

So I’d like to ask all male identifying individuals on campus to consider how their need for masculinity or the social pressure they feel to be so affects their actions and the things they say. Similarly, I want to ask all non-male identifying individuals to consider how their actions and the things they say perpetuate the “need” for men to adhere to a specific definition of masculinity.