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30 June 2009 @ 05:56 am
Reflecting on junior year  
A week or so ago I wrote this longass email reflecting on many of my experiences junior year. I sent it out to friends to sort of keep them updated on how life has been for me. I realize that I rarely offer you any sort of comprehensive update (without rambling) so in case you're curious about what I've been up to, here goes!

Hello All!

I regret not keeping you more in the loop! Everytime I sit down to write you one of my "catchup"-type emails, I never know how to begin. So much has happened, I don't think it's possible for me to cover everything. Since last year I honestly haven't had a chance to sit down and really think about how much things have changed. Now I'm a rising senior and I'm terrified!

As for this summer, I'm leaving for Hong Kong on Saturday. I'm on a Language Study Fellowship through the Center for East Asian Studies at Stanford. I'll be overseas all summer re-learning Cantonese at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, spending time with my Popo (my maternal grandmother), and experiencing the city my family calls home. I tend to get really homesick if I'm away for more than 3 weeks, but I am committed to immersing myself in the language/culture and getting to know my Popo. I will do my best to keep you posted on my travels! I'll also be studying for the GRE at this time (*excitement wanes*). Wish me luck :) If you'd like to keep up with me while I'm overseas, I'll be updating this blog.

Events from fall quarter, besides inspiring me to apply for the fellowship and go abroad to HK, challenged me to do all sorts of things I thought I would never do. With zero background in politics or grassroots activism, I somehow found myself co-leading the Stanford campaign against CA Proposition 8. I can't even begin to describe how much this experience changed me. I now have a lot more faith in young people than ever before. I pushed myself to my personal limits and found that I am capable of doing incredible work under tremendous pressure and difficult interpersonal circumstances. Mobilizing the student body was an uphill battle. We were throwing 3-4 events/rallies/phonebanks per week. In the weeks leading up to November 4th, I thought my body would break from lack of sleep. But adrenaline pushed us onwards and I credit the wonderful Greg Goldgof for inspiring us to never give up. I met so many fantastic, wonderful, good-hearted people during the campaign who I now admire and cherish deeply. We bonded in such a unique way, so to go through this journey with them made the experience all the more meaningful. They have each made an impact on my life and I don't know how to thank them.

Our efforts at Stanford were widely recognized as the largest college campaign against prop 8. We hosted the largest phone bank in CA, setting a state record with 270 people. We sparked quite the marriage equality movement on-campus; there were several weeks when you couldn't bike anywhere without seeing students wearing purple "No on 8" shirts. Mayor Gavin Newsom came on-campus to give us a final push the day before Nov. 4th, speaking at a huge student rally and inspiring us to keep up the fight no matter what. Then on Nov. 5th, stunned and angry at the passage of Prop. 8, we decided to make Stanford history: More than 200 students, faculty, and staff marched and gathered at the Intersection of Death (where there is the most bicycle traffic) for a sit-in.People from every part of campus, in every community, and every department blocked traffic for an hour while holding signs that read "I am a second-class citizen." It was such an intense moment for all of us. Students, faculty, and staff all took turns speaking over the megaphone. Afterwards, one of the administrators said they hadn't seen this level of political activism at Stanford since the 70's. It was a beautiful moment in Stanford history---the coming together of so many different people in support of marriage equality.

There's plenty of video, pictures and press coverage of our campaign at our Stanford Student Coalition for Marriage Equality blog. The continuation of these efforts post-Prop 8 can be found here: http://www.stanford.edu/group/emma_goldman/cgi-bin/site/ and http://www.nationalmarriageboycott.com/ (National boycott launched here at Stanford!)

I should also tell you that at this time I was taking Intro to Fem Studies. This class changed my life. I feel like so many things I found problematic and that I struggled with in my girlhood have been explained! If I was going to recommend only one class to ANYONE at Stanford, it would be this one. A surprising number of men were enrolled in the class, which was encouraging. Professor Estelle Freedman was absolutely riveting as a lecturer. It's as if I had been waiting my whole life for this class to explain the world to me. After spending 10 weeks thinking deeply about and discovering feminism through this class, it now makes me sad to know how many negative stereotypes there are about feminists---to know how many of my peers shun feminism and self-identification as feminists out of ignorance. The world looks really different now. The course helped me discover the many existing and overlapping forms of oppression. I'm realizing how privileged I am to be educated, to have my health, to have access to resources like food/shelter, and to be able to take advantage of the many perks of being a Stanford student, like career counseling.

By the time winter quarter rolled around, it was time for me to stir up new controversies! Stanford Colleges Against Cancer was at its strongest this year. I'm so proud of the people who have come on board. Our membership tripled and we had some passionate and intelligent voices in the group. With this momentum, we knew it was time for us to launch our Smoke-free Stanford campaign. We released a video on Stanford and the Tobacco Industry, which you can view here. I've heard the video has even been sent along to some senior people at the American Cancer Society and among staffers! We then circulated a petition calling for a smoke-free campus and the creation of designated smoking zones, gathering more than 500 signatures. Though not without creating a lot of talk around campus. There was a good deal of support for our campaign, but also debate, confusion, and some very vocal opposition. I must commend the incomparable CAC-ers who handled themselves with assertiveness, grace, and integrity throughout the launch. The campaign was emotionally draining for me; as primary author of the petition, I dealt with some very emotional (and personal) responses. The Smoke-free campaign taught me so much. I learned to tackle difficult issues head on. I learned to always maintain my professionalism. By far the most difficult lesson I learned was to not take things personally. Many interpreted my stance against tobacco/secondhand smoke/the industry to be a stance against smokers. It was hurtful at first. But my good friend Amanda Gelender shared this wonderful quote with me that really helped me get through:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in the moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.

Winter quarter I also began a class/5-quarter program as a candidate fellow for the Public Service Leadership Program. I met some accomplished service leaders across campus and we spent the quarter digging deeper into our reasons for doing the work we do. I came to view my cancer activism as a unique and essential service to my community. I also learned a lot about leadership just from talking with other students in the class who were involved around campus. One of my favorite assignments was when we were given the opportunity to create our own superhero alter ego to be indoctrinated into the Social Justice League... (see photo attachment)

I took more courses related to my intellectual and personal interests starting winter quarter. Advanced Molecular Biology deepened not only my understanding, but also my appreciation for the central dogma. Prof. Judith Frydman had a fabulous European accent, which made lectures all the more enjoyable. I also took Genes and the Environment in Disease Causation, which could not have been more relevant to my SNPs (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms) project with Nolan in Stearns Lab. It helped me see how my project fits in and contributes to the field of genetics. It also introduced me to the completely foreign world of epidemiology! Statistics aren't really my thing, but I have great respect for their power in influencing public health. Looking to study the intersection of identity, public health, and science, I also enrolled in Social Class, Race, Ethnicity and Health. Minority and health issues are very important to me and this class did a good job combining the two.

In the spring, I was on a 20 unit courseload. eep! All of my classes were interesting so it didn't feel too overwhelming. Lots of firsts. My first anthropology class, The Anthropology of Annihilation: Tobacco at the Turn of the 21st Century, my first pubic policy class taught by former CA State Assemblymen Joe Nation on Health Care Policy and Reform, my first engineering class on Biotechnology (which ended up being more Bio than engineering, phew!), and a Human Biology course on Health Policy and Health Care System Design. I figured if I was going to go around educating people about public health, tobacco, and health policy, I should know what I'm talking about.

The Anthropology class was a seminar taught by Prof. Matthew Kohrman. It was fascinating to look at such a unique consumer product (the cigarette) as a cultural symbol. Prof. Kohrman managed to combine science, history, sociology, disease, and public policy into an incredibly compelling course. There was plenty of assigned reading but I found myself consistently hungry for more. The socialization and normalization of tobacco around the world and its public health implications have easily become a new personal intellectual passion of mine.

There was a great deal of overlap between the two health policy classes I took, but most of the material for the Public Policy class dealt with California. Our final assignment was to write a policy memo/proposal, which I ended up really enjoying! I found out that some components of my policy proposal had already been introduced to the California State Legislature for the 2009 session.

Spring quarter, I also tried my hand at grant writing for the first time. I applied for a small grant through the university. This was a learning process for sure. My mentor, Nolan Ko, was super supportive as always, and gave me some much-needed feedback throughout the writing process. The deeper we go into this SNPs project, the more questions there are to be answered. We began the second phase of our project. I'm excited to return in the fall to see where things go from there and work on my Honors Thesis. As I've mentioned before, my lab research experience in Stearns lab has been an absolute privilege thus far.

I certainly wouldn't make this updatey email complete without discussing Relay for Life (24-hour team walk-a-thon and camp-out extravaganza benefiting the American Cancer Society). What a fantastic year this has been for our Colleges Against Cancer! We spent half of winter quarter and all of spring planning and promoting Relay. I found myself flyering White Plaza late at night, in meetings three times a week, and caught up in midterms, all at once. CAC and Relay took over my life spring quarter, but every minute of it was worthwhile. Despite the economic downturn, Relay was a resounding success. Kate McGrath, my partner in crime and our Relay for Life Chairperson, could not have made us prouder. I was so impressed by the caliber of the work our CAC-ers did for Relay and throughout the year. They are so intelligent and so willing to do the "dirty work": publicity chalking, flyering bathrooms, making things happen, getting friends to come to events, making phone calls, sending emails. I love working with these people.

For pictures and everything else, our CAC blog at http://stanfordcac.wordpress.com/

This was my second year living in Terra; next year will be my third. I felt like such a part of the house community, in a way that I don't know can ever be replicated in the outside world. I LOVE my fellow Terrans. So many late nights studying in the dining room together. Dancing to Beyonce's Single Ladies while eating cookies in the kitchen. Trips to the movies and the city together. Laughing and talking and watching youtube videos. Whenever I was having a down day, I knew I could always come home to Terra and there would be someone to cheer me up. They were always there for me, and I hope I was there for them too.

Next year will also be my last at Stanford. I was so emotional after finals when I had to say goodbye to my friends who were graduating. I don't know how I'll handle graduation when it's my turn.

This was really long. If you got through it all, kudos! I'd love to hear how things are going on your end. If you have a minute or two, send me an email! It would make my day :D

Yours Truly,
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