Feb 232018
 February 23, 2018  Posted by

What is food to you? When you enter the shiny, fluorescent, pristine walls of a grocery store, what do you think of? For me, food was always about finding a good deal or bargain in the overbearing and slightly ominous Walmart. As I grew older and learned about the harmful effects of petrochemicals (pesticides, herbicides, and manufactured fertilizer), I hopped on to the organic bandwagon and started investing in produce that I believed was “healthier”–both for me and the environment (Ruland). At the time, organic produce was marginally more expensive, yet with the rise in demand and supply, prices have declined over the years (Wilcox). I wonder at what expense this price reduction might come at.

While the “organic” label may lead consumers believe they are supporting ecological/environmental protection and protecting their bodies from pesticides, I encourage everyone to look beyond the label. The workers at Duke Farm will tell you the organic label is not all that it seems. The USDA has set surprisingly low environmental minimums (over twenty chemical pesticides still meet US organic standards) for farms to meet in addition to required fees to pay (in the range of thousands of dollars) in order to provide the “organic” label (Wilcox). This makes it difficult for smaller local farms to legally define their techniques as organic, even if their agricultural practices are much more sustainable than the large-scale monocultural farms.

The lack of discretion in determining where your food comes and how it is feasible to be marked at such a low price reveals the problem with modern American food production: the disconnect between the producer and the consumer. Other than the farmers’ markets (don’t get me wrong, I love farmers’ markets, but prices can be a large drawback for some households), the modern American consumer buys their produce at a supermarket or grocery store without even knowing where exactly it came from or what went into it (Holmes). What consumers fail to see when buying our five dollar pint of organic blueberry Haagen Dazs ice cream from Whole Foods is the countless hours of back-breaking, underpaid, discriminatory migrant labor that goes into that one flavor of blueberries. An example: Tanaka Farm, in Skagit Valley, Washington. Every summer, hundreds of migrants from the Triqui tribe in Oaxaca, Mexico make the life-threatening trek across the border for the opportunity to work on this farm (Holmes).

While many migrants are caught, detained, and transported back to Oaxaca, the few that make it to Tanaka Farms work twelve hour shifts, constantly hunched over to quickly fill the fifteen pound buckets to receive minimum wage (Holmes). When the work day is over, they return to the farm-provided living quarters, with cracks in the walls and ceilings and insufficient utilities to safely live with. When Tanaka farm managers were questioned about the working and living conditions, they justified the need to economically compete with outsourced farms in other countries that had negligent working conditions and sold their produce commodities at  lower prices (Holmes). However, there is no possible explanation to condone or warrant the mistreatment and verbal and physical abuse of the migrant workers, especially not when white American workers on the farm live in separate and monumentally nicer living quarters.

While we savor every lush spoonful of what we consider overpriced, luxury ice cream, there is someone working twelve hours a day constantly bent over to reach the fruit lining the ground, never taking the needed break at the risk of getting fired. Look further than my specific example of ice cream. Look at every bite you take. What went into the production of this food? What are the external costs and factors not labelled in our food? Who might be suffering for the price reduction?


Information from:

Holmes, Seth. 2013. Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farm Workers in the United States. UC Press.

Ruland, Greg. “The Harmful Effects of Petrochemicals on the Environment.” Sciencing, Leaf Group Ltd., 25 Apr. 2017, sciencing.com/harmful-effects-petrochemicals-environment-8771898.html.

Wilcox, Christie. “Mythbusting 101: Organic Farming > Conventional Agriculture.” Scientific American Blog Network, 18 July 2011, blogs.scientificamerican.com/science-sushi/httpblogsscientificamericancomscience-sushi20110718mythbusting-101-organic-farming-conventional-agriculture/.

Feb 222018
 February 22, 2018  Posted by

Since coming to Duke, my friendships represent wider geographic diversity than ever before. Coming from a small county west of Winston-Salem, North Carolina where the fact that neither of my parents had grown up there was a general rarity (anecdote: my best friend had the same fifth grade teacher that his father had twenty years earlier), my friend group at Duke embodies more geographic diversity than ever before. Along with these relationships, I have been closely shown to an outsider view of the South; during one conversation a friend said, “These kids come from bumblefuck North and South Carolina,” while another said they would not have spoken to me if I had a Southern accent. These statements contain assumptions about educational attainment, socioeconomic status, and attitudes towards race and sexuality which pervade in media throughout the United States; one being that rural living still dominates the South, another encapsulating an idea that Southern culture is bigoted—and an accent evidence of my embeddedness within that culture. While these statements are ignorant and ill informed, they are shared by many, the consequence of inauthentic Southern representation in national media. Media, in all forms, presents the South as the region of racist, sexist, xenophobic hillbillies, and we believe that image. We being everyone in the United States—the lack of authentic Southern representation in national media perverts the South’s own image of itself and hinders regional mobilization/efforts to transform the region.

Though no one said these things to me before coming to Duke, it is not the first time I have been exposed to them. National media is almost exclusively headquartered
in the Northeast, so their stories often herald a decisively non-Southern view. This lack of Southern voices removes complexity from stories regarding the South. Interesting how much reporting occurred surrounding HB2 in North Carolina, without any reporting about actual trans folks in the state.  This may be because many queer people in the South don’t want to be discussed in news media. Being out in the South—the rural South especially—is often ostracizing at best and dangerous at worst. But if not the people, the organizations working to create a better South deserve discussion. There are inclusive organizations working to make the South more equitable for all, such as Southerners On New Ground (SONG) and the Highlander Research and Education Center. SONG has been working for twenty-five years towards “LGBTQ liberation across all lines of race, class, abilities, age, culture, gender, and sexuality in the South.” The Highlander Center has been working for 85 years as a “catalyst for grassroots organizing and movement building in Appalachia and the South,” persevering despite attacks against them—including the state of Tennessee seizing and selling their original property. While reporting focuses on policy, these organizations are ignored and most are left without any knowledge of them.  

Reporting discriminatory legislation in the South is necessary, no doubt. This reporting is integral to keep the region abreast of the steps being taken to oppress diversity and dismantle historic legislation focused on equity, but I worry that only reporting about these new laws will prevent change. The constant oppression faced by minority communities in the South can seem inescapable, leaving citizens hopeless and looking to courts to change strike down discrimination, rather than encouraging action among citizens. A lack of reporting regarding work being done outside of the direct political sphere to change these statutes is hindering Southerners’ mobilization. We need to know about the organizations we can join, where to find the people working to create change, so we can come together. Social change does not come from the hands of a few benevolent lawmakers or judges (1), we need to take it into our own hands.

The potential to take change into our own hands is the core of the issue regarding media representation. A wholesale ignorance of the South’s multiplicity not only paints a poor picture throughout the nation, but also perverts the region’s image of itself. White men in power throughout the South are likely content with the current national media attention that focuses on what they are doing rather than what is done against them. The exploitation of power thrives in the absence of challenge; the more people fighting them, the less power current lawmakers will have. As we saw with the elections last November, people throughout the South will support more radical candidates, but in many areas the idea of conservatism is so pervasive that many Republicans remain unchallenged. With knowledge of the radicalism within the South, perhaps more candidates would be emboldened to challenge mainstay Republicans. But more significantly, information on the current social movements throughout the South would give citizens the knowledge of others in support of similar issues, and facilitate coming together in social movements – the real driver of social change. Knowledge of organizations throughout the South working to transform the region would provide the possibility for citizens in the South to congregate and instigate change.

I stopped caring (2) what outsiders thought of the South many years ago. I don’t care about the lack of national attention on revolutionary work done in the South because it represents a perverted image to the rest of the nation; I care because it hinders Southerners from learning about the work. While work can also be done regionally to inform citizens, national media has influence throughout the South and has the opportunity to help resistance gain exposure and support. We do not need outsiders to come in and solve our problems – we just need to know that there are other people here we can work alongside. That’s why I still care about how the people who live here see the South – we have the potential to change the South for the better—to make Southern hospitality apply to all regardless of gender identity, race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, nationality, or ability level—if we are able to see how we can come together and build robust social movements.

There is no shortage of students at Duke eager to change the world after graduation. Dreams of going to Washington or a foreign nation, or working for the United Nations are a dime a dozen here. Few think about staying where they are though—and I’m talking about the students from the South specifically. Southerners make up a large percentage of Duke students, and we have the absolute privilege of powerful networks extending throughout the region and nation. So instead of leaving the South to create change, perhaps we should stay here. It can be a hard choice to submit yourself to a seemingly subpar life in a seemingly subpar region. It’s easy to leave the task to others. But there’s work being done in the South – so stay and contribute.


Notes: This post had its inception in a conversation I had with my DukeEngage Director, Matt Whitt, last summer. Matt is an editor at Scalawag Magazine, which was founded three years ago with the awesome goal of providing a space for creators and activist “to reckon with Southern realities as they are, rather than as they seem to be.” So thanks to Matt for having that conversation and thanks to Scalawag for providing a platform for learning about the South’s abundance of difference. Also thank you to my amazing high school teachers (you know who you are) for being the first to show me that you don’t have to leave the (rural) South just because you’re liberal.


(1) as much as public policy majors may want to believe

(2) yes, I am an angsty teen

Dec 122017
 December 12, 2017  Posted by

        A few weeks ago, yet another scandal broke out within the Hollywood drama circuit. A modern twist of what I have come to see as the true Tale as Old as Time, news broke that yet another high power male authority figure has exploited his power, sexually harassing countless women (eight of whom had official settlements with their abuser before the current case against him), followed by a huge cover-up scenario that had kept the sexual predator active for more than three decades. When asked about the situation, the perpetrator, Harvey Weinstein, responded with the almost remorseful statement, “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it. Though I’m trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go.

        I loosely followed this scandal, in one of those situations, “oh, that’s sad, but he will probably get away with it anyway,” scroll, scroll “oh, look who is out of the White House this week.” In reading on the Weinstein case, I was completely numb to the situation-it wasn’t shocking, it wasn’t jarring, it was just what has become normalized in the life of an American female. I had read the same situation countless times – Billy Cosby, Jimmy Savile, Ray Rice – and honestly was a bit sick of it.

        Yet, a few days later this case was again brought to my attention in the form of #MeToo that was seen on all forms of social networking. Everywhere, people were speaking out against sexual harassment, assault, and gender violence. And as I scrolled, I found myself wondering if this little moment on the Internet would actually change anything. How could a sad react ever systemically change a society based on a patriarchal system that many beneficiaries of the system fail to accept as the truth?

        Just last week I was talking to a friend about one of his hookups, and in the middle of it, the girl decided that wasn’t what she wanted anymore. In recalling the situation, he was confused about why she apologized multiple times for changing her mind. And then it hit him–in a woman’s life no doesn’t always mean no; notably, at some elite institutions, there remains a question of whether no means yes and yes means anal. And while I was excited that he had finally hit this point of revelation, I could not help but be frustrated that his moment of revelation came at the age of 22, while this is something I have faced from the onset of puberty. My moment of exhaustion soon channeled into hope, as our conversation evolved into a discussion of “what can I do?”

        So how exactly should we react to the recent phenomenon that is #MeToo? Here are just a few ideas that around 20 years of femininity has taught me:

  1.     First, we must open our eyes to the pervasive abuse that is normalized in our society. We must humanize the issue, understanding that the two in five Duke undergraduate females that will be sexually assaulted in their undergraduate years is not just an anonymous figure–it is your best friend, that random girl you always thought was pretty in your Organic Chemistry class, the story your girlfriend never talks about. In order to instigate change, we must understand that this aspect of our society scars those we care deeply about.
  2. We have to stop the locker room talk. In situations where someone’s body is being objectified, we have to step up and humanize the individual. Nancy might be smoking hot, but Nancy is also an amazing person who is a competitive fencer. Isn’t that cool!?!?!!
  3.   And in the hookup culture we, as Duke students, find ourselves a part of, we must stop promoting the concept of masculinity being connected to sexual experiences. Sexual conquest does not mean respect, especially when it violates another person.
  4.   We have to be willing to open a dialogue on consent with our friends. When a friend of ours hooks up with another person, we should be able to ask if it was really what they wanted. If not, there are countless resources on campus to navigate the aftermath of sexual assault and harassment.
  5.   When your partner says no, it means no. You should tell them that you respect their decision, and ask them exactly what they would like you to do; when we start a dialogue in these situations, it ensures that each person feels comfortable (and that ROCKS).
  6.     And if a friend comes to you with a case of harassment, sexual assault, etc., you must tell them you believe them. Do not ask for the details–survivors do not owe you their story, and a timeline of grievance does not coincide with situations that can have a profound impact on an individual. Just be present, and listen full heartedly.

#MeToo reflects a recent movement against the sexual violence that has a pervasive presence in each aspect of our society. Yet, in order for these posts to mean something, anything, we have to stop saying “I’m sorry” for our social norms and start changing our perspectives on hookups, dancing at Shooters, and the system that each of us on some level buys into. Yes, the sad reacts are a start, but without each of us changing our behavior, this online presence will dissipate and mean nothing. And it needs to mean something.

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.