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Our Voice: An Interview with Nandhini Narayanan

Our Voice is a monthly series that highlights students and alumni by Rinzin Dorjee, a student programming assistant at the CSGD. The goal of Our Voice is to create a space for conversations related to LGBTQ issues and the Duke experience from the perspective of students and alumni from different social, cultural and political backgrounds.  For October’s installment, Rinzin interviews Nandhini Narayanan from Chennai, India pursing a Masters in Engineering Management.

 

Rinzin: Hi, I am really happy that you agreed to have this conversation with me. I know we have met before but for our readers, could you introduce briefly, where you are from, where you grown up, etc.?

Nandhini: Sure! My name is Nandhini. I am from Chennai, India. I grew up in a lot of cities in India and I speak about four different Indian dialects. I love India because of its unique culture and food! I enjoy reading and usually read a book ever week. Being here at Duke is extremely hectic but I am not going to give up reading.

 

Rinzin: What kind of books do you read? Is there one you’d particularly recommend to our readers?

Nandhini: I like reading science fiction. I think I’d like to recommend “The Fountain Head”. It proved a wonderful read. Everyone should read it.

 

Rinzin: So, I understand that you are a graduate student here at Duke. What is your stroke? What do you enjoy during your free time? (I doubt anyone here at Duke has it!)

Nandhini: I enjoy meeting new people and Duke is a great place for that. I am into my first semester here at Duke now and so far, it has been great. I will be studying engineering management for the next 18 months of my stay.

 

Rinzin: What was your first impression of Duke?

Nandhini: Gorgeous campus, friendly people who would hold door for you and say hi despite being complete strangers.

 

Rinzin: How is being here at Duke different from your previous institution in India, especially as relates to the LGBT community? Have you any experience with LGBT individuals at your previous school?

Nandhini: Yes, there is a huge difference. I worked with HIV positive men while I was in India for some time and I realized that there isn’t really an open discussion or a discussion of any sort that would bring attention to these kinds of issues. And these things really need to be talked about in an open discussion! I think people back home still associate the term “Gay” with being happy and the like. We are still in that state, probably at least 50- 60 years behind in terms of our knowledge regarding LGBT issues. People are still not aware of what it means to be an LGBT individual or if such an individual exist in the society at large or in their family. Kissing someone you love is still seen as an aberration. I honestly think that we are 60 years behind. It is quite sad in that sense.

 

Rinzin: I was born in India and I have lived there before leaving for the UK. I had the impression that a lot of adolescents are developing an interest in LGBT issues, if not the wider Indian society. What is your opinion on this?

Nandhini: Yes, this is true. A lot of youngsters are learning about these issues directly from US TV series such as Glee, which for one is quite US centric but it deals with LGBT issues to some extent and because it is such a popular show in India, it has its perks. There are several LGBT related organizations in India such as LGBT India that support groups in elevating the level of education regarding LGBT issues, exposure, awareness and what it means to be an LGBT individual.

 

Rinzin: So, now that you brought up this important point. What does it mean to be an LGBT person in your opinion?

Nandhini: I personally think being an LGBT person means being absolutely no different from a straight person.  For the individual, it would mean coming to terms with his or her or their own skin, that this is who he or she is or they are. In the US, you have actual space to do this and people living here are fortunate in that way. Like I said earlier, being an LGBT person means nothing different from being a straight person. You do not wake up in the morning and become a straight person, an LGBT person, a dinosaur. You are who you are and everyone should respect you for your being.

 

Rinzin: Why do you support LGBT rights? Why do you think it is important?

Nandhini: Because it is human to stand up for it. A hundred years ago, people discriminated against people because of their skin color and look where we are now. We have so much to learn from each other if we overcome our differences.  There is no reason whatsoever why someone should isolate or discriminate against someone who is different, who has a different sexual orientation. I think I am just being human when I say I support sexual and gender diversity. I need to and have to associate with someone who is different, who has a story to tell. This is one of the reasons I left India so that I’d be exposed to more cultural openness and understanding. I am a biologist. I tell you one thing – homosexuality exists in nearly all mammals but homophobia exists only in humans.  What does this say about us? Come on, we can be so much better! Like I mentioned earlier, shows like Glee has played a big role. Its popularity among the youngsters has sparked a lot of awareness and discourse, have led to many political statements. I mean in India, even heterosexual relationships are under scrutiny, let alone homosexual relationships.  Important issues related to the spread of AIDS and different types of STIs are not very much talked about. It’s considered taboo. What is education and awareness in this country is seen as taboo there. How can I emphasize this enough? In India, people get disowned because some parents do not approve of their partners and these are heterosexual relationships. My cousin married someone of a different religion and she was disowned instantly. So, you get what I mean when I say we are about 60 years behind. On the bright side, many Bollywood movies such as Dostana brought discussion related to LGBT issues to the dining table. My friend who took his family to see this movie was able to discuss homosexuality with his parents after watching it. Dostana had a huge reception at the LGBT community in India.

 

Rinzin: It is always very interesting to hear what someone from a different cultural background has got to say about being an LGBT individual in a different cultural context. It is insightful in that it gives a picture, very different from the US centric one that we are aware of. To wrap up, could I ask what is one of your favorite quotes?

Nandhini: There are quite a few. Do you know this one – “it is not the mountain ahead that wear you out, it is the pebble in your shoes”. Again, this relates back to how it is crucial for people to change their mindset and try to look at the world differently. Respect everyone for who they are irrespective of their gender or sexual orientation and learn from their personal experience. We have so much to learn from each other.

 

Rinzin: Lastly, what is the one most played song on your Iphone?

Nandhini: Adam Lambert! His voice is made in God’s design studio. I love what he stands for – being bold and different. When he competed in American Idol, his style was deemed too theatrical and despite being predicted by judges that he will not stand a chance, he kept forging ahead and pulled it off in the end. His voice is so powerful. It gives me chills.

 

Rinzin: And, your most embarrassing moment so far at Duke?

Nandhini: Ordering food anywhere on campus!

 

If you would like to be featured in an issue of Our Voice please contact the CSGD at csgd@studentaffairs.duke.edu with the subject title : "Our Voice"

 

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“Soy” What?

As a dietitian I am often asked questions about soy foods acting like estrogen in the body, are they safe? Do they contribute to causing breast cancer? I will admit over the years the information has been varied, but for the past several years researchers have found more and more information confirming that eating soy in moderation even as a breast cancer survivor is not a problem.

Since it is breast cancer awareness month I decided to do some additional research and explain for you in more detail.

First of all let’s think about where you might find soy in the diet, the following is a list of dietary sources:

·         edamame (raw soy beans),

·         soy milk, soy cheeses, soy yogurts

·         tofu (which is made from the bean curd)

·         tempeh (fermented soy)

·         miso (a Japanese flavoring made from fermented soybeans)

·         vegetarian foods like veggies burgers

The parts of the soy bean that are in question when it comes to breast cancer are the phytoestrogens (estrogen hormone-similar chemicals found in plants) known as isoflavones. There are two types of isoflavones in soy, genestein and daidzen. It is important to know that although these compounds can act like estrogen, they are only slightly as potent as the real stuff.

Large population studies of healthy women who reported details about their usual diet and were followed for many years, have shown no association between moderate soy intake and breast cancer rates.  Studies in Asian women have found a lower risk of breast cancer rates with higher soy consumption (4 or more servings per day), whereas studies in the U.S. have not found any association between how much soy a woman consumes and her risk of breast cancer.   Other things to consider are lifelong dietary and lifestyle patterns not noted in these studies.

What about soy intake for breast cancer surviviors? There are studies that show that small amounts of soy are safe and may be protective for surviors. However the best advice is to discuss the pros and cons with your health care provider until more conslusive data is available.

When it comes to taking supplements research is finding mixed results, basically the jury is out and the recommendation is to “avoid concentrated sources of soy such as soy-containing pills or powders, or supplements containing high amounts of isoflavones.” (American Cancer Society).

When making the decision to consume soy or not, remember that tofu and other soy foods have considerable health benefits and are linked to lower rates of heart disease. Because they are excellent sources of protein, soy foods may replace other less healthy foods in the diet and therefore help lower cholesterol. Also soy is an excellent good quality protein alternative for those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Bottom line: avoid pill and powdered soy supplements and enjoy soy foods in moderation.

Resources:

The American Institute of Cancer Research (www.aicr.org) and The American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org)

 

 

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Not Insignificant

We had just wrapped up at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, drained from taking in all the incredible history exhibited in the museum’s three buildings. The consensus was to take the tram to a spot for lunch, then hop on it again to find a baklava shop we’d heard is amazing. The tram is one of several fantastic methods of public transportation used by what feels like everyone (at the same time) in the city of Istanbul. A seat on the bus, metro, or tram is a highly coveted spot that is not easily attained. In fact, sometimes just getting on any of these vehicles is a nearly impossible feat because they are so crowded. “Maximum Capacity” doesn’t seem to be a concept as firmly held here as it is in the U.S. As we approached the tram, desperately seeking nourishment after an exhausting outing of museum-going, we discovered hoards of other people on the platform who we would soon have to fight for a spot. The tram arrived and its doors opened, the poor passengers inside desperately trying to escape before being trampled by the masses boarding. Amidst this commotion, while trying to edge my way in without elbowing an elderly woman in the face, I felt a hand squeezing my butt. Suffering some sensory overload from the experience of getting on the tram, it took me a few seconds to realize this was happening, and to notice that the hand had not let go. When I did finally realize, I whipped around—no easy task when one has no more than a half-inch radius of personal space around her—and attempted to identify to whom the brazen hand belonged. My friend had witnessed this all go down, and pointed to a short, middle-aged man in a blue dress shirt and grey slacks who was holding a briefcase. He had turned to face the door, but looked over his shoulder a few times at me as I glared at him and shared some choice words I wish I knew how to say in Turkish. Our stop came soon after my futile attempt to give him a piece of my mind, and he was quickly lost in the crowd of passengers exiting.

The incident, his subsequent looks of complete indifference at me as I uselessly berated him, and the absence of a reaction from any of the passengers nearby who’d also watched it all happen brought me to the disturbing realization that what I had just experienced was, in a word, insignificant. I felt violated and uncomfortable in my own skin. The members of our group did their best to console me, through belatedly cursing the perpetrator or sharing their own stories of being publicly groped by strangers. I was overwhelmed with fury, but social etiquette urged me to stifle my anger and attempt to distract myself until I could be alone and reflect.

I never thought I would feel more like a compilation of body parts, assembled solely for the purpose of being assessed, criticized, and used by men, than at a Duke fraternity party—until I came to Turkey. I was warned, of course. Both of my parents effectively told me to put my feminist identity on hold during my time in Turkey, reminding me constantly that my views would not be received well in a country whose deputy prime minister told women they shouldn’t laugh out loud in public. They and many others warned me that life would be different as an American woman in Turkey—especially one who does not look Turkish in the slightest—and I would be expected to adapt. I’m okay with adapting. I want to be challenged. I enjoy exploring beyond my comfort zone. Being transformed against my will into a walking piece of meat for men to invade with their stares and debase with their words, among other things, does not fall into any of those categories. Nor does being expected to accept it as normal.

Throughout my first month and a half here, I have already met several incredibly intelligent, outspoken, headstrong Turkish women whose respective brilliances inspire me. Simultaneously, I have seen how the day-to-day culture of male entitlement, especially as expressed through street harassment, treats these women and all women as disposable objects. My experience on the tram was insignificant—to be expected, even. Because, from my western point of view, if you identify as a woman in Turkey, you automatically forfeit the basic human right of being treated as an equal to someone who identifies as a man.

The realization that the previous sentence requires no “in Turkey” to be true is an incredibly uncomfortable truth to accept. The idea of women as objects—to be owned, to be used, to be disposed of, to be replaced—is certainly not unique to this country. As I mentioned, the most objectified I’ve ever felt prior to coming to Turkey is when in attendance at a frat party at Duke. I have realized how easy it is to sit on the high horse of a westernized perspective and criticize other countries for the inequalities they are enforcing and perpetuating. It is far more unsettling to recognize the fact that, though it may manifest itself in different ways, gender inequality is as much a constant in our society as it is anywhere else. Being violated by a stranger on the tram was a blatant reminder that I am living in a man’s world, a world in which my womanhood renders my rights, my experiences, and my value insignificant.

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Student Health Closed Saturday 10/11

The Student Health Center will be closed on Saturday, 10/11, for Fall Break. We will re-open with normal operating hours on Monday, October 13th, at 8:30am.

For after hours health care options, please call us at 919-681-9355.

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More carbs! Less carbs! No carbs! More protein! Less protein! No protein?

Swimming in a sea of conflicting nutrition advice? Have no fear! “The Big Three” are here!

“The Big Three” tutorials are streamlined guides to understanding carbs, proteins, and fats. Complete with colorful pictures (featuring some of your fellow Dukies!) and “take-home messages,” these user-friendly tutorials offer the basics on the 3 essential macronutrients - what they are, where to find them, why they’re important, and how much our bodies need to succeed!

“The Big Three” tutorials will hopefully serve as a springboard for more extensive discussion in the “Nutrition in a Nutshell” series, coming soon!

Hungry for more??

Follow Duke Student Health Nutrition Services on  Facebook and Twitter for nifty tips, nutrition myth-busters, and news on awesome foodie events (like “Meatless Monday” specials at Penn and Marketplace for Vegetarian Awareness Month). 

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Hi, I'm, um...HIRE ME!

[Gearing up for the Career Fair]

9:35: I'm eating breakfast and reading The Chronicle. Kind of. Pancakes at Penn are really hitting the spot, and consequently distracting me. 

9:36: Headed to the Career Fair today. Job. Career. The Future. Watcha gonna do with your life, Elizabeth? Nerves? Nah, it's just the rest of my life starting right now, in a gym that smells like sneakers, at a table, with a stranger who can only be so excited to work yet another career fair... Piece of cake! 

9:37: Advice I read in The Chronicle from the Career Center: Know what you want to get out of the fair. Right. Obvious. Hi, I'd like an internship-that-becomes-full-time-job, please. Preferably highly paid that allows me to eat local and organic. Got one? Great. See you this summer.

9:38 – Know what you want. Ok, seriously. What do I want?

[Walking to the Career Fair]

11:37: Also read in The Chronicle: The Career Center recommends having a 10-second shpeel that you can use to sell yourself. Hmm. Maybe I should have visited the career center for help? They keep saying they can help. But I didn't go, because…I dunno, just don't have a good reason.

11:38: Besides, I've got this. I know myself well. Right? I'm… I'm...

11:39 : “Hi, I'm Elizabeth and I am a current junior! [1s] I'm an Economics and Global Health major and, though I have interests and am passionate like most other Duke students, I, in all honestly, have no idea what I want to do for a career. [4s] ….Employ me!! [5s] ….[8s] ….[10s]”

11:40: Crap I should have gone to the Career Center.

[Arrived]

11:42 – I'm here. It's hot. Not like “fun! a dance club!” hot. Like the kind of hot where a bunch of people I've seen on campus wearing flip flops, shorts and t-shirts are now dressed to kill, and looking totally uncomfortable. And I can see the nerves. Lots of people... Jeez, lots of sweaty people.

Just be yourself. But not.

[Walking Around]

11:44 – Walking around now. That company looks interesting. I'll go over. Ready, set… GO.

11:45 – Wait. Stop. What the hell am I going to say? Hi, nice weather we're having. I'm Elizabeth… uggh.

11:46 – I'll just wing it. Bring it on, recruiters!!! Bring. It. On.

11: 55 – I'm in line waiting to speak to an employer. I'm listening in, getting geared up with my pitch. Ready to kill it. KILL IT.

11:56 -- Girl in front of me: “Hi, I'm [---]! Here's my resume. I'm really interested in consulting.”

11:57 – My turn. To repeat my unoriginal mantra: Bring. It. On. “Hi! ...Here's my resume, too. And I, too, am really interested in consulting.” Wow. I just said that? God my resume better be killer, because that was … well it sucked.

11:58 – At least my mom thinks I'm special.

[One Conversation]

11:59 – Ok, let’s try again with another one. Deep breath. This recruiter says: “You look different than a lot of our applicants.”

12:00 – What I want to say: Different in a good way? Or different in a you're-not-what-we're-looking-for kind of way? Can you expand on that? Should I be offended? Or maybe that's one of those test questions they ask to see how you'll react, like a recruiter psychology experiment. Maybe I should say, "you look different than a lot of our recruiters." But he doesn't.

12:00 – I throw him a curveball right back: “Are your arm-pits as sweaty as mine right now?”

12:00 – Just kidding. What I actually say (awkwardly): “Oh! Well I hope that means I can bring a new perspective to the firm.” Wow. Who talks like that? Me, apparently, ladies and gentleman. How in the world can I get to know about a company and tell them about me in two minutes. My future in two minutes.

12:02: Definitely going to the career center.

[Days Later]

Winston Churchill said “success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” I wonder if he ever went to a Career Fair feeling like his future was on the line. It wasn't, my future that is. But sometimes the pressure gets to you, and it just feels like it. Most of the people there looked like they felt the same way, or worse. (Particularly the sweaty ones.)

And though it might be a bit of an exaggeration to call my career fair experience a “failure,” Churchill's wisdom still applies. I think that success, at a career fair or in life in general, is about maintaining enthusiasm. It's about walking into every opportunity desiring to learn something from it, even if you don't know what that something is. It's about acknowledging that, sure, you might have a potential employer call you “different.” You might trip on your tongue when trying to explain what you're interested in. But that doesn't make the horizon of your post-Duke future any less bright.

Because despite all the pressure to “know” what they're interested in, no 21-year-old actually “knows." We're all just swimming around pretending to know, some of us better than others. And it's funny because every successful professional was, at one point, 20, 21, 22 years old; I doubt they knew much at that point either. So why do we feel all this pressure to have "it" together? I might not have a 10-second shpeel ready, but I do have my passion, my earnestness, my enthusiasm. And for this 21-year-old, for today at least, that feels like enough.

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Service Information for Alexander Rickabaugh and Kaila Brown

Student Affairs will be arranging transportation to the funeral and memorial services of Alexander Rickabaugh. We hope to accommodate all students who would like to attend these services via chartered bus.  In order to meet transportation demands please complete the following questions to reserve a spot:
https://duke.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_dhBDLU8uCZJY9KJ

We are working out options for food on the bus for the way out and back, but if you have specific dietary needs, please bring food with you.

Services will be held Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Details below.

Friday, September 26th:
The funeral service will be held at Centenary United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem (646 W. 5th St., Winston-Salem, NC 27101). The family will receive friends following the service.

The schedule will be as follows:

  • Bus staged at 4:00pm
  • Bus departure time from the West Campus Bus Stop at 4:45pm
  • Funeral at Centenary United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem at 7:00pm
  • Bus leaves from Winston-Salem at approximately 9:00pm
  • Bus returns after the funeral to the West Campus Bus Stop at approximately 10:30pm

Saturday, September 27th:
Memorial program at Forsyth Country Day School in Lewisville, NC
If you would like to attend this memorial program please note the following. Bus transportation will be provided for students interested in attending, leaving from the West Campus Bus Stop at 8:00am.

The schedule will be as follows:

  • Bus staged at 7:30am
  • Bus leaves at 8:00am
  • Memorial Service at Forsyth Country Day (5501 Shallowford Rd., Lewisville, NC 27023) 10:00am
  • Bus leaves from Forsyth Country Day at 11:30am
  • Bus arrives back on West Campus at approximately 1:30pm

Sunday, September 28:
Additionally, On Sunday morning at the start of the 11am worship service in Duke Chapel there will be a silent procession of roses for Alex and Kaila. This is a way of remembering them, honoring their lives and providing a space for community grief in the midst of Duke’s weekly Chapel service.

We have not yet heard anything more about memorial plans for Kaila Brown. I'll be sure to let you know if we do.

We will continue to do all we can to offer support and comfort to all. I urge each of you to take advantage of all opportunities for care should you or anyone you know be in distress. All students can contact Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at 919-660-1000 and in an emergency, please call Duke Police at 919-684-2444 or by dialing 911.

You can also contact DukeReach (http://studentaffairs.duke.edu/dukereach1) at 919-681-2455 or at dukereach@duke.edu.

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Artificial Sweeteners: Generally Regarded as Safe?

In the past we discussed options for sugar substitutes, such as honey, agave nectar, and brown rice syrup - all tasty options to sweeten your food or beverage, but that do come with a caloric punch. This week, we’ll dedicate our post to the sweeteners that are calorie-free, yet a bit controversial – artificial sweeteners. Think of those colored packets on your restaurant table, diet cola, sugar-free gum and candy, and sugar-free yogurt or ice cream to name a few – artificially sweetened substances are all around. But what are they? These synthetic sugar substitutes are sometimes derived from natural substances, such as herbs or even table sugar.  These sweeteners are many times sweeter than regular sugar and are sometimes called “intense sweeteners.”

Possible health benefits?  On one hand, artificial sweeteners don’t contain any calories, so you may think of them as a way to lower your calorie intake. However, research indicates this may not be the case, and it’s been suggested that consuming these artificial sweeteners may be associated with no change in weight or in some, an increase in weight.  On the other hand, artificial sweeteners don't contribute to tooth decay like sugar can.

Possible health risks? Benefits aside, you might be wondering if there are any downfalls to these chemicals and for good reason - these sweeteners have been the target of scrutiny for many years.  The most recent study that has been in the news shows that these sweeteners have an impact on our gut microbiota and may raise our blood glucose, which is linked with diabetes and weight gain.

Studies that date back to the 1970’s had linked some of these sweeteners, such as saccharin (Sweet’N Low, one you might not see as much of any more—the pink packet), to bladder cancer but we now know that’s not the case.  However, this doesn’t rule out the possibility of side-effects such as dizziness and headaches from modest amounts. If you experience these side effects, it’s probably best to limit or avoid these sweeteners.

Here is some more information the National Cancer Institute: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/artificial-sweeteners

Who’s regulating?  For the most part, we do have a governmental agency with our health in their best interest. Artificial sweeteners are regulated by the FDA as “food additives.” Before they are approved to be sold, they are thoroughly reviewed and determined safe by FDA. When these additives are approved, they are declared “generally recognized as safe" (GRAS).

Artificial sweeteners currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are:

·         Acesulfame potassium (Sunett, Sweet One)

·         Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet)

·         Neotame

·         Saccharin (SugarTwin, Sweet'N Low)

·         Sucralose (Splenda)

Bottom-line: if you do opt for non-nutritive/artificial sweeteners, they are, like most things, best enjoyed in moderation. Overconsumption can lead to symptoms as undesirable as gas, bloating, dizziness, and headaches.

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