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You Can't Take Duke Out Of The Girl

Happy belated 2015! I am studying abroad in Madrid this semester as part of the Duke in Madrid program. We are only 30 + days into the year, and already it has brought me so many adventures. So much to be grateful for.

So why, you might be wondering, am I still blogging on Student Affairs when I could be at the Museo del Prado looking at Picasso’s Guernica, eating tapas, or at least doing my homework, which must know I am a Duke student after seeing how much I have received over the past few days. I think the answer to this is best described by a Duke 360 photo I saw very early in the New Year. (https://document360.duke.edu/2015/01/05/january-5-2015/). To put it another way, you can take the girl out of Duke but you can’t take Duke out of the girl.

I have one more year in college and then it’s the “real world.” So I'm taking this semi-independent study abroad program as a dry run of what it means to be living without Duke’s campus, Duke infinite resources, and Div Cafe’s baked oatmeal. 

I have blogs of more “substance” coming, but for now I will let the photos speak for themselves--taken in Sevilla and Madrid. Keep it dirty, Durham! Over and out.

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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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The Inevitable Adventures of the Day

Hey Dukies! I'm back in the Dirty D and it feels so good. As one of the few juniors who has remained in Durham for the Fall, I have to say that I'm pumped to be part of the elite few who elected for “Duke in Durham” this semester.

This past summer, I lived in rural Nepal for 3 months working for the United Nations. Though Duke was instrumental in giving me that experience, the experience itself was largely Duke-less. I woke up most mornings wondering how I, on my own, was going to navigate the inevitable adventures of the day. (Care for the details? I blogged there, too. Here's the link: http://thelifeperipatetic.tumblr.com) And though this past summer was one of the most rewarding of my life, I'm glad I'm back at Duke. Because I've realized, to tweak that familiar saying, that you can take the Duke student out of Duke, but you can't (by the time she's a rising junior) take Duke out of the student.

I'm still trying to figure out why. Maybe some people would argue that it's due to the trauma of successive mid-term seasons. But I have a few other ideas... Like the fact that more and more, you realize that the people you find yourself missing are the ones not from your home state, but from the Gothic Wonderland. It is because you get up at 1:45am Nepali time to watch the World Cup finals live, because you're craving some stadium spirit that rivals Duke's. It is getting off the plane into the US after months abroad, and realizing that you want your first meal to be the baked oatmeal from the Div Cafe. Nothing else will do.

Bottom line—my months away from Duke (and Duke's people) has helped me appreciate and admit my attachment to this place. This blog is one way to try and do that attachment justice. So, if you're interested for another year of my (attempted) witticisms, observations, and reflections, stay tuned!

Thanks for reading.

Elizabeth

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Collaboration & Change for a Common Good

 

Collaboration & Change for a Common Good
A Reflection on Collaboration in Campus Life
India Pierce and Sean Novak

 

One way that we can work effectively to create change for a common good is to work collaboratively across communities. With this in mind, India Pierce from the Center for Sexual & Gender Diversity (CSGD) came together with Sean Novak from the Center for Multicultural Affairs (CMA) to create a program that explored the intersections of race and sexual orientation. As part of the CMA’s En/Countering Racism series (E/C), they created a program for students to gather and explore intersectionality. This was done in order to deepen participants’ understanding of themselves and others as a means to building stronger coalitions for social justice.

En/Countering Racism is one part of the CMA’s Race Speaks Initiative. The series aims to provide a safe space for people to share their experiences encountering racism and build participants’ capacity to effectively counter it. The more we explore intersectionality, the more we will see that life is much more complex than our politically polarized times might suggest.

In the beginning, the focus was on doing good works and providing students the opportunity to enrich their understanding of themselves and others. However, in the midst of the project the true essence of collaboration became apparent. As much as they wanted the students to leave anew, they walked away from the experience impacted themselves. The project became more than just another event to host or dialogue to facilitate. It was a lesson in how to successfully collaborate. On the heels of the recent rollout of the Student Affairs Leadership Development model, India and Sean thought to share some insight regarding their experience.

Sean’s thoughts…

I had the pleasure of collaborating with India this past semester for our En/Countering Racism Series. I approached her with a very broad idea. I felt there was a need to host a program that explored the intersections of race and sexual orientation. I came to India with that basic starting point and little expectations. I know that I desired for the program to primarily be geared toward stimulating ideas for how and why individuals and organizations should work across communities (Ex. Black community and Asian Community) and movements (LGBT justice and racial justice movements.)

After a few brainstorming sessions, we came up with a concept about “challenging the face of privilege.” As we talked, India and I found a common desire in challenging ourselves to think about our privilege. On the surface, you can assume that I am White and I am male. Additionally, you can assume that she is a woman and Black. I knew from conversation that we had a similar social economic background, coming from a poor and/or working class background. With our education and current profession, we are both experiencing relative mobility in that aspect of our life. However, both of us are more than just this. As we talked, it was clear that we both acknowledged that we have multiple and intersecting identities. We both acknowledged that we needed to consistently bring our whole selves to the table and not just our racial identity, or sexuality, or gender identity, or class background, etc. We both believe that no aspect of our experience pertaining to our identity operates in isolation of other identities. It all intersects. We thought it important that we all explore our privilege instead of just pointing fingers at those who we perceive as “the privileged.”

In my opinion, what worked so well with India and I was that we were both willing to be open, honest, and vulnerable. We threw ideas around. We had a level of trust built that allowed for us to brainstorm without worry of being ridiculed for our ideas. Neither one of us had ulterior motives. This wasn’t a case of either one of us putting together a collaborative program in order to build our professional portfolio. We did this for the love of the work. India appeared to have a common desire for creating and expanding community and empowering students to work for equity. We had a common goal of providing people a space to explore the complexities of their lived experience not only to see how unique and distinct those experiences are but also, how we might be able to find common interests.

Next, I feel that we had mutual respect for and were resourceful with one another’s strengths. Instead of positioning ourselves against one another, we just focused on the work. I love the work I do. That’s why I committed to it. That’s why I chose this as a profession because I had a deep desire to work particularly with racial reconciliation and justice. It was obvious to me that India had a similar passion and commitment. After observing her track record in the short time she has been here at Duke and the conversations that we’ve had, India had similar motivations as I to embark on this journey together.

Additionally, what worked so well with our collaboration was a mutual willingness to compromise. India may have had an idea and I may have not initially agreed or thought differently. Instead of resisting, I discerned her suggestions. Sometimes, I might come back and say, “I think we should do this instead.” She agreed at times and disagreed at other times. Nonetheless, it was never personal. We had built a strong foundation from the start so we had a common goal. There were no suggestions that intentionally led us off course from that goal. Compromise can be a long and tedious process when you’re trying to organize a collaborative effort. I could easily have taken this program on myself (as could she) and created all the content. It would have been quicker and easier in the short-term. However, I am a firm believer that when you build bridges with weak foundations they are bound to collapse. Compromise and equitable collaborations are absolutely necessary for a sustainable initiative or program. If I wanted something for my professional portfolio, I could have just thrown it together and advertised it. In my opinion, compromise in collaboration is the difference between (1) being seen as a leader and (2) being a leader.

The last item that I will touch on is that we both put in our work. There was a mutual effort. We delegated duties and when one of us thought the other was taking on more than they should, we expressed it. After all, how could we take an inequitable approach to developing a program partially geared toward empowering participants to be more equitable? That wouldn’t be establishing a solid foundation. Sometimes, I was caught up with other projects or was simply slacking. I was open and honest about it with India. She was honest with me when she was falling behind as well. We made adjustments and knew what we were working with most of the time.

It truly was a pleasure working with India and I am going to enjoy working with her to build a larger initiative off this collaboration.

 

Thoughts from India…

I have been at Duke for a little less than a year but it did not take me long to understand how much of a buzz word “collaboration” is for folks around here. Yet, it seems to be at times easier to talk about than it is to do. Call it newbie naivety, but I believe that if us Student Affairs folks could figure out how to succeed with our collaborating efforts we will all win. I remember sitting down with my supervisor early on during my time here, sharing with her all of my ideas for how we could work with other identity/cultural centers. Encouraging of my enthusiastic spirit she encouraged me to consider every opportunity that presents itself.

Unwavering in my opinion, that’s exactly what I did when I embarked upon a wonderful collaborative project with Sean. He approached me about creating an event that would work for the CMA’s En/countering Racism series and I don’t want to brag but the experience was the stuff dreams are made of. I say this because I have often been approached about collaborating on events where the real intention was simply to use our space or for us to provide financial support. I wasn’t being asked to be a partner in the creation of an event, most of the time the planning for the event was already completed. In those instances I can’t help but feel a little confused because that is not how I see collaboration working. Don’t get me wrong, I cannot and do not want to collaborate on everything. However, what I am normally asked for is to be a sponsor of an event not a collaborator on the creation of an event. It would have been easy for Sean to fall into the same pattern, as En/countering Racism is a series that he plans on his own. He could have come to me with a vision and plan for how we would work together and what the event would be, leaving very little room for me to interject; I appreciate that he did not do this.

Our first few meetings were us just talking about the issues that are important to the students we serve. We discussed the types of programs that were the most successful in each of our offices and sought to take some of those elements and include them into the work we would do together. I can’t remember how we came to the topic of privilege but when we got there everything seemed to fall in place.

Working on this project showed me that there is a clear difference between working with people and collaborating with people. In any working relationship there are some pretty basic expectations that one has for their teammate, like completing tasks and meeting deadlines. However, successful collaborations go beyond the logistics…beyond the things on paper. Successful collaborations push and cultivate the growth of us as individuals. Our project focused on challenging the traditional notions of privilege, a topic that could not be taught to others until we did a little of the work ourselves. We had numerous conversations about the spaces in which we felt we had privilege and those that we didn’t. For both of us, we discovered that it is important that we bring our whole selves into our work. In order to do that we must first see beyond the check boxes of identities and see ourselves as the complex individuals that we are. At first glance it doesn’t seem that Sean and I would have much in common, aside from the fact that our home sports teams were rivals, Michigan and Ohio State.  Despite Michigan’s inferiority to Ohio State, we found out we’ve had some similar experiences in certain aspects of our life and others that were completely different. It was on those things that we were able to build a strong foundation for our work. I didn’t feel the anxiety that I’ve felt when working with others where I had to do x, y, or z otherwise it wouldn’t get done. Most importantly I was able to be myself, I admitted when I didn’t know something or was swamped with other things. It was our flexibility and openness that helped Sean and I work well together. We discussed how we approach creating events and when we’re at our best so we could support one another where we were and not where we would prefer the other to be.

At the center of every collaboration must be trust, and it is probably the hardest part of any true collaboration. We by nature are looking for ways to save our own butts. We expect the worst in others and over compensate for bad things that haven’t even happened yet. Those approaches are a disservice to those who we are committed to serve. I am of the belief that the best collaborative experiences often look like magic. Magic is something that can be taught, you teach it by encouraging people to think outside the box and embrace the process of stepping into the unknown. If we want our division to be one in which we are truly collaborating and creating meaningful programming for students we must first start by teaching the skills that people need to be successful at those things like emotional intelligence, communication skills, and effective management skills.  I believe that these skills helped cultivate a healthy working relationship between Sean and I. I look forward to what happens next as we build off this collaboration.

Sean and India closing…

We had a wonderful time working together. This started off as a one-time program to explore the intersections of race and sexual orientation and it is now developing into a half-day workshop. We plan to restructure and expand this program to provide an opportunity for students to engage even deeper into the complexities of intersectionality. One of the primary purposes will be to galvanize and equip students to work across identities and movements. Additionally, we will be altering this workshop to provide a professional development opportunity for colleagues to consider an intersectional approach to advising student organizations as well. As advisors, we think it is important for students to work collaboratively and not always in isolation from other organizations and communities.

In closing, we believe that collaboration is a vital component for us to provide the best service possible for our students. It is difficult to be influential in encouraging students to work together if we are not setting the tone for what it looks like. One of the most powerful things we can do to increase our ability in advising students is to first advise ourselves. Working collectively can be a daunting task with competing interests. However, we believe that enduring the struggle and fighting through the dissonance can produce sustained initiatives that will prove to serve students and ourselves well.

 

Thank you for your time.

 

India & Sean

 

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CLDSA From A Student's Perspective

Working at the Center for Leadership Development and Social Action this past year as a sophomore has been extremely engaging and eye-opening, and has been both a learning experience and really fun. Over the course of the semester, I helped coordinate and assist with logistics of most of the Center's biggest programs such as Framework Fridays, Leaders in Residence Lunches, Alternative Spring Break, and the Leadership and Service Awards. My duties ranged from small office tasks like emailing, making phone calls, and copying important files to more exciting things such as introducing and meeting some of the greatest faculty on campus to learning more about the importance of leadership and what it looks like at Duke.

My favorite project of the year was working on the Leadership and Service Awards, because of several different reasons. I appreciated how collaborative of an effort planning Awards was; every member of the student staff was working on a different aspect of the event, and the other Duke staff members' enthusiasm about the it made it a really enjoyable experience. The actual event was spectacular as well! Members of the student staff each hosted a different part of the event, from greeting and assisting attendees with registration, to working the technology to create and show the awards presentation, to MCing the actual event! However, the biggest reason why Awards was my favorite project of the year was because of the recognition that so many amazing students got for doing fantastic jobs in both areas of leadership and service here on campus. Even though not every nominee received an award, each of their resumés were equally impressive and inspiring. I was so happy that they received the recognition they deserved!

During high school, I was involved in a lot of different leadership organizations, and thought I had a pretty good grip on my definition of leadership. Over the course of working this position as a student staff member for the Center, however, I found that there was still a lot more to learn! I enjoyed working under the newly developed Leadership Framework which consisted of three components: Citizenship, Character and Collaboration. If I could offer one piece of advice for anyone practicing leadership (which should be everyone!) it would be to lead with those three components in mind.

As the Center continues to grow, I hope more and more students learn about what we do and even apply to work with us! There really is a lot to gain from working here, and the connections that you make with both the other student staff members and the Duke staff and faculty is truly amazing! Next year, the Center and its programs can only get better!

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CLDSA From A Student's Perspective

While working at the Center for Leadership Development and Social Action, I have gained a lot of knowledge about the inner workings of the University. My first set of CLDSA duties focused on familiarizing me with the Duke University Leadership Framework and the 3 C’s (“Character, Collaboration, and Citizenship to bring about positive Change”), which aligned very closely with my own goals as a leader. This similarity between the Center’s goals and my own originally came to me as a surprise, due to the fact that my view of leadership had been shaped by my seemingly disconnected life experiences (i.e. sports, friendships, and academia). After learning about the different departments of the University Center for Activities & Events (UCAE) and their functions, I went to work on spreading leadership knowledge and skills with the greater Duke community through open events such as Leadership Lunches and Framework Fridays.

As my experience as a student staff member in the CLDSA increased, so did my role in our office’s programming. In fact, there are two instances where my work in our office’s programming truly impacted me as a leader: the first was planning an event with the Duke Hazing Prevention Committee on January 31st, and the second was preparing awards for the Leadership and Service Awards on April 21st.

As the leader of a student organization on campus, namely, a Greek-lettered organization, there are many questions to consider in order to maximize the operating potential for the group. The CLDSA, in collaboration with the Hazing Prevention Committee, hoped to raise the question: “Do Good Leaders Haze?” During this Hazing Prevention Week event, students and faculty discussed instances of hazing on campus and beyond in order to reach an understanding about the practice, as well as to offer solutions to the issue. What I took away from this event was that, as a leader, one must constantly reflect on his own actions, as well as those within his tenure, to ensure that the ethics of any practice isn’t overruled by its perceived benefit to the organization. The event taught me that it is important to think critically of every action taken by the group, and not to follow any questionable tradition in blind faith.

Moving forward, a second example of work that has impacted me as a member of the CLDSA team was the preparation of awards for the Leadership ceremony in April. In actuality, this process consisted of washing rocks. As it was explained to me, one of the office members had the idea to clean and present awards in the form of “Duke Rocks” to certain Leadership and Service Award recipients; but as I was sitting in front of the stones, preparing my mental for a lovely Paleolithic manicure, I started to question what all of it was for…

Why am I working here?

What do rocks have to do with leadership?

How clean can a rock REALLY get?

Instead of taking the experience for granite (hehe), I chose to take the time to evaluate my situation. There are many people out there who hate their jobs; I was not one of them. In fact, I was more than happy to get my hands dirty for a job that I truly enjoyed. What is a good leader, if not someone who is willing to sacrifice the most for his group, without a complaint or ill-thought? The humility to carry out necessary tasks in such a manner is vital for the success of any leader in life, as well as within the organization. I came out of that situation with not just baby-soft hands, but also with a valuable experience that I could carry over into my life as a student, and as a human being.

Throughout these lines, I have detailed my experiences as a member of the Center, as well as implicitly listing reasons why any student would want to work here. With a friendly, vibrant staff and a welcoming atmosphere, the CLDSA is perfect for the rising student who would like to develop himself and others as leaders in their respective communities. Such opportunities make working at the UCAE Center for Leadership Development and Social Action the ideal choice for any student.

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Making Choices

Social life?  Sleep?  Good Grades?  It seems we can only ever get two of these at a time here at Duke.  Even after countless time management lectures, and many hours spent on schedules, I struggle to find balance. The careful plans I make always seems to fly out the window within a matter of hours.  An exciting social event will come up, assignments will take longer than I expected, or an unexpected wave of exhaustion will wash over me as I grow tired from trying to keep up.  Life can certainly be chaotic here, especially at the end of the semester.  The stresses of Duke have a great influence over the choices we make on an everyday basis. Should we eat dinner with friends or get an extra hour of studying?  Is it worth an all-nighter to study math?  Pressure comes from parents, other students, teachers, and even people we don’t even know. The future employer, the kid in the class who destroys the curve, and the thought of our own future selves looking back on Duke all add to the stress of making choices here at Duke.

As a sophomore this year, I am already looking back on my freshman year and making changes to my life accordingly.  There isn’t usually much free time to reflect carefully at Duke, but two years have already gone by and before I know it I’ll be graduating.  While some freshmen saw college as a new start, I arrived here intending to hang on to my high school identity for as long as I could.  It was a safety blanket, and I felt comfortable defining myself a certain way.  I had excellent grades, I ran track, and I played in the orchestra.  I defined myself by the activities I participated in and placed importance on my skills and abilities.  I was also quiet and introverted, and a little bit dorky.  These bits of my personality have certainly stuck with me through college, but what I thought were my most defining characteristics evaporated when I set foot on this campus.  I didn’t know how to describe myself to others; My grades here aren’t anything special, I’m not a student-athlete, and I haven’t played my violin in two years.  Coming to college, freshmen have to redefine themselves, and for a lot of people that’s refreshing, but for some it’s uncomfortable and scary.  Making choices during orientation week seemed life-changing.  Do I go to Shooters, or not?  Will I have any friends if I don’t?  Looking back now it seems ridiculous to base long-lasting friendships on such an inconsequential choice.

Throughout freshman year I fell back into the habits of high school.  I felt the same pressures to achieve academically, and I stayed in a relationship with my high school boyfriend (who was still in high school at the time).  I couldn’t seem to let go of anything from the past and grab hold of life in college.  I spent most nights in my room doing work or talking to old friends and family.  I chose good grades and sleep over a social life.  Other freshmen chose social lives over sleep or grades, or grades and a social life over sleep, but I did know one thing for sure: I wasn’t the only one who didn’t have it figured out. 

This year, however, I’ve been better at balancing academics, health, and friends.  I look back on my freshman year and regret spending more time with books than with people.  I had unrealistic expectations of myself; 4.0?  Double major and a minor?  Shooting for the moon may land us among the stars, but it can also isolate us from the people and community at Duke.  Goals are important, but many times it’s the journey to achieve it that teaches us the most.  Duke is an opportunity I’ll only have this one time, for two more years.  I want to remember it in a positive light, and over-stressing about grades and achievements isn’t going to make many happy memories for me.  As a sophomore, I’ve focused more on making choices that will result in my mental well-being.  I want to have friends to catch up with and crazy stories to tell when I graduate.  Of course, I also want to have decent grades, but I don’t want to define myself on my academic abilities all the time.  Sometimes it’s ok to have a little fun, especially in college!  One of the hardest parts of Duke is actually being accepted into the University.  When the going gets tough, it’s time to think about all the wonderful opportunities we have had as students here and make choices that will truly benefit us.  Staying happy and healthy is just as valuable as an A+.

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50 Shades of Black: A Small Piece of My Black Experience

Throughout this piece, Black will be referring to all descendants of the African Diaspora, a definition I first heard given by Ms. Guinn. Maybe this dispersal (both forced and voluntary) can be seen as a means to understand the almost schizophrenic fluctuations of the definition of Blackness and the subsequent complexity of my people. It is a complexity that the majority of Black folks are unaware of. We seem to forget that the different shades of brown we wear are not the only variations amongst Black people, which can be seen in the ‘light-skinned’ vs. ‘dark-skinned’ feud that has followed us from the plantation. Each individual comes to define and reflect Blackness differently based on their experiences and environment. My arrival to Duke has caused me to look at my own reflection questioningly.

Back home, Blackness is characterized by grammatically incorrect sentences, dope boy dreams, athletic prowess, and ‘being about that life’, or at least that’s the way it seemed to me then. My story is like many walking the quads of Duke. I was called an Oreo, and when I spoke, I was told I ‘talked white’. Regardless, I continued to use Standard English, and I refused to take part in activities that made you ‘about that life’. My life may have been easier had I given in and went further to fit in, but I found myself taking pride in the fact that I didn’t. I looked down upon those who did. The story changed at Duke.

Duke was where I was supposed to fit in. Finally, there were Black people that understood that my culture was a reason to obtain excellence not debauchery. I was amongst some of the biggest and brightest Black minds in the country. Grades suddenly mattered to Black men, and Black females wore business jackets to class. The Mary Lou, which effectively acts as a community center, encouraged professionalism, class, and community rather than hoop dreams. Let’s not get it twisted. I am aware of the ‘ratchetivity’ that can take place; but somehow, it doesn’t come to define us. What transpired in response to these facts was shocking. My private speech got even more ‘ratchet’, and I yearned for the small talk conversations of the country. Suddenly, I realized that it needn’t be either or. I could be both a black scholar and be at home at home a) because it was my desired expression and b) because they function as different sides of the same dice, not opposite entities. It also dawned on me that my picture of home was not complete. Just because it is not Duke does not mean that each male is a thug and every female a breeding ground. I had to make my understanding more nuanced. In reaction to this, I have reached a few personal inferences.

I have come to the conclusion that my people needn’t be saved from themselves, as I had believed before Duke. Like we admonish students for going overseas with a savior’s complex, I had to chastise myself for thinking that my presence and education should somehow teach other people, my people how to live. In reality, my only job is to expand their options and learn from the experiences that are unfamiliar to me. I had to reconcile my ignorance to historic hip hop performers and the intense dependence that others had on their message and power with the shared understanding that you can’t walk around a store for hours and not buy anything when your skin looks like ours.  In other words, it’s about realizing that though some reflections of Blackness are a different shade from mine, they are still black.
After my own moment of fleeting enlightenment, I am curious. Do we accept and acknowledge the hues of Black culture being represented in the ‘hoods’ and ‘country bumpkin towns’ many of us are trying to break out of? More importantly, do we appreciate them? Should we? Or am I wrong? Are we all representative of one grand Black culture, because of our shared subordination? As Black Duke graduates, what shade of black will we be? It is my hope that, once we are out of this space, we will not forget to acknowledge each person’s shade of Black with understanding and openness, as we are equipped with the understanding that there are gradations, there is no one color.

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Leaning Into Discomfort

Every day on Duke’s campus, we are faced with a subconscious decision –the red pill or the blue pill?

Every semester, 56 Duke students take the red pill. They embark on a journey about which they know nothing besides the many controversial Chronicle articles and Facebook posts. This journey ‘Common Ground,’ is formally described as “a student-led diversity immersion retreat program dedicated to exploring human relations in personal and powerful ways. “

It is easy to write this off as cliché, thinking: how could a single weekend possibly change anyone’s established ideals on race, gender, sexuality, etc.? Why would you go on a retreat with strangers to get to the bottom of any problems I’m facing?  Sadly, it is even easier to dismiss the newly “enlightened” Common Ground attendees off as “drinking the Kool-Aid.” I know these viewpoints well because, prior to attending Common Ground, I felt the same way. I was tired of all of the social media posts and articles praising the retreat for changing people’s outlook on life. I was tired of the cultish “CG Parties” I would hear about from someone who subsequently told me I wasn’t welcomed. And I was definitely tired of the secrecy associated with the event – as if people who’d went learned something that they couldn’t share with us mere and unenlightened Duke students.

Out of the 56 attendees, very few are black students. I originally wrote this article aiming to convince black students in our community that Common Ground is an experience. It should be shared by us all - whether we wanted to go for our own growth or to help others. Many of us, though we do not see ourselves as “racist,” will subconsciously align with racist or prejudice ideals. I have done so myself in my time at Duke. Without knowing anything about them, I often ignorantly assumed people outside of my own race looked down on me. Common Ground reminded me of how to look beyond color and into a person. However, it also reminded me that those prejudice ideals I had were not without basis. There are still many people on Duke’s campus who will judge me just by the color of my skin. I felt as though the retreat served a dual purpose – to prevent me from assuming certain individuals hold prejudices against me, and to open the eyes of those who are blindly prejudice allowing them to see their wrongs. I was told at the end of the retreat by a white female that I helped her “look inside of herself” and changed her perspective on a lot of things. There was an unspoken understanding; my words about life experiences had changed her perspective of black people . She was trying to unlearn racist ideals that had been instilled in her. She had acknowledged her racism and her privilege to be able to walk away from feeling her discomfort - instead she stayed and tried to learn more. Now while I thought this was a positive thing, others who I’ve spoken with feel as though this shouldn’t be our place as black students. Between Common Ground and conversations with black students who have had just about enough of defending themselves, I found myself stuck between a rock and a hard place. I tried to organize my thoughts from three completely different perspectives. The first: Your racism isn’t my problem. The second: If we aren’t speaking up, someone will on our behalf. The last: Will any of this ever really change regardless? Can I just take the blue pill and move on?

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New Sites, New Perspectives

Public Policy

I am now a few days removed from my Roots to Rights alternative spring break experience. The trip included several hours riding from place to place, and it was a bit hectic to move from one hotel to another. But this experiential education tour gave me a unique perspective on a region I have lived in for my entire life but soon realized I had a lot to learn about.

Our tour of Ole Miss campus in Oxford, Mississippi stands as one of the highlights of the trip for me. Our tour guide, professor Jen Stollman, said that she wanted to demystify the South for people. As someone who grew up in Durham, North Carolina, I always viewed my hometown as a progressive hub that was merely surrounded by rural communities of Confederate flag-waving racists. But Stollman emphasized that people should not look at the South as a foreign, backward place, but as a complex region still dealing with the remnants of its troubled past. Stollman noted the contradictions of the South – how, for example, it included more interactions among whites and blacks. And yet, the first thing many people see upon arriving at Ole Miss campus is a towering monument for Confederate soldiers.

The trip included many unique opportunities. We heard civil rights icon Julian Bond speak at Alabama State University, visited the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma, Alabama and heard a detailed recounting of Bloody Sunday – when six hundred protesters, marching in remembrance of Jimmie Lee Jackson’s death, faced billy clubs from police officers.

But it was also important to hear about these issues in the context of the twenty-first century. An archivist at the Southern Poverty Law Center spoke about Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, a 2012 book on the War on Drugs and mass incarceration. We saw the urban blight of several Southern cities – the lack of jobs, affordable housing and quality education. Chandra Guinn, the director of the Mary Lou Williams center and a staff member on the Roots to Rights trip, said that the Confederate monument for Duke is the Aycock East Campus dorm. I had conversations with several fellow students like Daniel Kort, Aubrey Temple and Richard Phillips about the fractured social circles at Duke. And Ms. Guinn challenged me when I spoke of “self-segregation” at Duke as coming from a point of privilege.

The essence of the trip weren’t the visits to the birth or death places of Martin Luther King Jr., or the consumption of good soul food or the meaningful conversations I had with students and staff members. It was the combination of it all. This trip has undoubtedly given me new perspectives on civil rights, both fifty years ago and in the present moment.

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