Sitting next to “The Skillet” with a friend from a podcast organization called Hear at Duke, we engaged in one of my all-time favorite past-times: people watching. For about a half-hour, we exchanged observations and created elaborate backstories of the students and adults passing us by. Eventually, I checked out.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m so interested in this work—in documenting these stories and voices at Duke—because I don’t really feel like I belong.”

“Maybe it’s a good thing that you feel like you don’t belong,” she responded firmly. “I’m worried about the people who come here who feel like they do belong. They arrive their freshman year with loads of school spirit, feeling like this is their space.”

After this conversation, I’ve meditated a lot on this idea of myself as an analyzer, someone who observes their college experience from the background. I’ve frequently found commonality from other RAs and members of The Chronicle’s Editorial Board, where we remorse Duke’s neoliberal and pre-professional culture, speaker invitations to white supremacists, and the administration’s antagonism towards student activism and unions.

At times, I return to an excerpt from Uncanny Valley, where Anna Wiener describes her gradual disillusionment with Silicon Valley after working at several tech companies:

My impulse, over the past few years, has been to remove myself from my own life, to watch from the periphery and try to see the vectors, the scaffolding, the systems at play. Psychologists might refer to this as dissociation; I considered it the sociological approach.

To detach oneself so easily from their surroundings often makes life feel like an uphill battle, as Representative Hurtado described in his conversation with us. It can also feel lonely.

Over the past year, for instance, I interviewed a closeted student on campus for a podcast and asked him to open up about his ideas on masculinity and sexuality. Needless to say, his thoughts were both equally alarming and demobilizing. As he spoke, I remember sitting on his apartment couch, feeling tears well up behind my eyes.

As I was producing the podcast, however, I learned that the thoughts shared by the student were not so much different than my own when I was closeted. I learned that, whatever our place on internalized homophobia’s scaffolding, we are all harmed by its very existence. In any similar structure, we are taught, whether consciously or subconsciously, to place a hierarchy on human value.

I’ve traced this idea back to Dying of Whiteness, in which Jonathan Metzel researches how white identity politics cause communities to strip themselves of adequate healthcare and infrastructure, ultimately harming their own life expectancies by consequence. In The Sum of Us, Heather McGee explains how this political strategy was similarly used to convince Jim Crow era Southern whites to support privatized education, permitting the emergence of institutions like Duke and Vanderbilt while poor whites and racial minorities were left out of education entirely.

Just as I’ve learned that there’s power gained from seeing the bigger picture, I’ve also found strength from rooting myself more deeply in the experiences of others. Such is the spirit of racial healing, which acknowledges that we are both inside and outside of racist structures, often to varying degrees. When we lay roots in multiple communities, we more easily understand what we gain from the success of others. We can more effortlessly understand the cement bars and metal tubes holding us all in place.

Throughout this fellowship, I hope to find a balance between these internal and external modes of thought. Just as I continue stepping back to analyze the scaffolding, I hope to expand my definitions of community and belonging.


After waking up during high school, I would lay in bed, creating lists in my head describing the type of the person that I wanted to become. This list often started with words like kind, open-minded, thoughtful, and ambitious. As I became more aware of both politics and racial justice, I started including new words and phrases such as tolerant, unprejudiced, and progressive.

Since then, these words and phrases have shifted meaning, and I’ve replaced many of them with new ones. From dealing with my sexuality and navigating homophobic spaces, I’ve learned to distinguish between tolerance and respect. After witnessing others and myself misjudge people of color, I knew that completely absolving oneself of implicit biases was not easy or likely. I’ve since then learned that my objective could not be to promote non-racism but instead to contribute to anti-racism.

But what does it mean to be anti-racist? Angela Davis defines this person as one dedicated to a seperate system in which racial equity and humanity are the norms. An anti-racist understands that our default choices often reinforce the racist structures around us. As I write this, I struggle finding the words to describe what anti-racism should look like in practice, especially for those like me, who come from many vantages of privilege.

For example, how do I support the lineage of activism spearheaded by Black, Indigenous, and people of color without interfering in harmful ways? How can I settle with the discomfort of having my ideas challenged?

When I learn about race, I’m frequently conscious about how our lived experiences influence our worldviews. I find out that we are shaped by many things, perhaps the most consequential of which are our identities like our family, religion, partisanship, gender, and of course race.

However, I also learn that we are just as powerfully molded by our lists of potential identities. They guide us down less-worn paths and reveal our inner struggle. The opportunity to revisit my motivations and role in racial justice is largely what draws me to this fellowship. I hope to learn how I can most actively contribute to anti-racism, not just for the sake of who I think I am, but also for who I want to become.