In many ways I had to keep you waiting. Evasive and misleading, maybe. But necessary.
As many of you know, I just finished my first semester at Duke University. One year late and several hundred mindsets later and I’m back on track. Each time I committed to writing an update, I was overwhelmed by an imperative to present a balanced account of what I had done and what I had not done, tangling with competing gossamers of detail and trying to decide just which braided pattern would most accurately capture the incredible array of experiences I encountered. So… I was lazy, and I’m sorry.
All things considered, I had a remarkably smooth start to my collegiate career. There is a significant amount of logistical crap that must be dealt with when entering college in a wheelchair. Thankfully, Duke supported me 100% of the way. I work closely with the student disability access office in hashing out academic, housing, and other accommodations. Of course, my disability has colored my entire university experience. There are many related issues I will explore in greater detail in upcoming posts, but suffice it to say for now that while differences matter greatly, they can also prove fertile ground in which novel experiences and relationships may grow. Despite the difficulties I faced – and they were not small – returning to school has forced me to look forward and helped me make meaning from madness.
I have spent the last year and a half desperately wishing to return to school, and my fervent rehabilitation was all one big effort to make that happen. Somewhere along the way I forgot why I even wanted to go back to school, and it became more of a mindless abstraction rather than a concrete goal. But after the first week of classes at Duke, I remembered. Truly exceptional professors, courses, and peers— not to mention the deep well of thought from which the readings allowed me to draw — all reminded me why I have always loved school and how it could provide me an avenue of liberation. In the classroom I am able to participate just like everyone else. My contributions are not defined by what I can or cannot do.
Although I did not intentionally choose courses that cleanly blend together, those I took this semester were thematically cumulative and the effect was pretty powerful. As part of a thematic cluster centering around the theme of knowledge in the service of society, I took a public-policy course on civic engagement, one on ethical issues at the end of life, and an interdisciplinary dinner seminar uniting the two. In civic engagement, I explored different models of citizenship and how those can be translated into actionable policy and behaviors. I’ve always been fairly committed to a career in the public service, and this course provided useful theoretical and practical frameworks in which to discern what exactly I want to do. The course on end-of-life issues, or death class as I affectionately (?) called it, provided a unique experience to approach the study of the only thing that will happen to all of us – death. I intend to explore a few of the issues discussed in class in upcoming posts which I promise will be surprisingly optimistic. Courses on contemporary French politics and the meta-history and analysis of European diffusionism rounded out my first semester. Overall, studying however narrowly these disciplines has reminded me just how much remains to be seen. Another glimpse of the academic black hole I’ve always been drawn to.
As I grew more comfortable with a new academic routine, I slowly began getting involved outside of the classroom (those of you who know me understand that school is only part of the equation). I now serve as the undergraduate representative to the arts and sciences Committee on Curriculum. I have also initiated a project to narrow the gap between the Duke community and students on medical leave, and an initiative to enhance the ethos of political advocacy on campus. This, in addition to therapy workout sessions three times a week and cheering on the #1 basketball team in the United States…which is Duke, if you’re not up on the news. I look forward to exploring additional co-curricular activities this next semester.
Again, I apologize for the absence. I intend to update much more regularly in the future. I’ve got some ideas and initiatives coming up that I’m pretty excited about, so stay tuned!