Five Things I Wish DukeEngage Academy Taught Me

5. How to Save Money

Aside from the basic, “make a budget” or “cook instead of going out”, some advice on how to manage a healthy-ish lifestyle on a budget would have made for a great session. Tips on how to stay away from fried or greasy food everyday and help on maximizing weekly grocery runs sound like they should be common sense, but it doesn’t always come naturally.

In addition, my advisor was helpful in routinely providing opportunities for us to go do things in the city without spending a lot of money. She helped us find free days at museums and free movie screenings. Being creative and thinking outside of the box in finding inexpensive fun takes skill and strategy that could make for a great seminar.

4. How to Ethically Address the Disadvantaged

Although the Ethics of Engagement session exists, I worry that students in programs like DukeEngage, who are working with disadvantaged populations are missing the point of engagement. I’ve noticed a pattern in discussions and social media posts that build a sort of wall up between the student and the people they are working with. Terms like “these people” and “the other side” and stories told about day-to-day work routinely involve low-income individuals serving as the background to their narrative, a point of entertainment or annoyance.

Now I’m guilty of this mentality myself, and wish I noticed earlier on how easy it is to fall into the role of being  the undergrad-whose-three-classes-in-basic-public-policy-changed-the-world, and how self-concerned it really is. I wish there was a segment in which they discussed how important it is to learn the stories of the people you are helping, the paths they traveled to get to where they are today and how to maintain the compassion and understanding you arrive with.

3. Letting Go of Pressure

With Twitter, Facebook, and even this blog, there is a significant amount of pressure to have an experience that is worth sharing. Weekends are for getting pictures of yourself looking fancy on a rooftop somewhere and weekdays are for building houses, coming up with a revelation about national policy, or accomplishing some task that’ll wow everyone who looks at your LinkedIn account.

It would be great if somewhere in Academy we were assured that it is okay to have moments of inactivity or averageness, that the organizations we are supporting are bigger than us, bigger than the number of likes we get on Instagram.

2. Destigmatizing Racism

In the words of a song from the Broadway musical Avenue Q, “Everybody’s a Little Racist”, I think there is an important lesson that needs to be addressed before having students work in environments of inequality. Although there is a session that teaches how to engage in uncomfortable dialogue, I believe that a common roadblock in having these conversations is the incessant need to distance oneself from “racist” thoughts. Immediately people become offended and say things like “I’m not racist, how could I? The best man at my wedding was black. My favorite teacher in high school was black. I LOVE BoyzIIMen how could I be racist???”

…. sigh.
Saying something, ahem, racially insensitive, does not mean that you are a serial killer or evil or a villain who should be banished from society. It means that you are the product of a society that has, for years, shoved down your throat the idea that being a minority is synonymous with being inferior. It means that you are misguided about how your words can affect other people. But it also means that you are (at least a “little bit”) racist and you have an inherent bias that should be amended. Admitting misunderstanding is important in making any progress, and would come so much easier if people were less inclined to include their pride in the conversation.

1. How to build a family, not a cohort.

I don’t have any concrete ideas for this yet, and I know it’s an ambitious thought for a two-day program, but it would be amazing if there was a way to really connect the cohort members during Academy. I came into DukeEngage looking to build relationships with people that I could feel at home with for eight weeks, but I don’t know how equipped we were to make that a reality.

Maybe being in an international program makes it easier to depend and rely on your cohort members, but I wish somehow there was a way to replicate that for the programs in the US.

-Jessica Womack


One thought on “Five Things I Wish DukeEngage Academy Taught Me

  1. Christine '96 says:

    I love that you thinking ahead about how to make the program better. I’m sure you could make these suggestions to the “powers that be,” so that they can consider incorporating them in the future. A couple of these bullet points, however, are things that I’m not sure prospective DukeEngage participants would truly be able to understand until they are immersed in the culture and achieve the self-awareness many of you have. On a personal note, I’ve enjoyed reading DukeEngage Miami’s blog on a regular basis, and will miss it!


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