Author: daniellalevine

Back to School Nerves (like never before!) with Daniella

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

Growing up, I used to get very nervous the days leading up to the first day of school. I would of course put off my back-to-school reading and subsequent project, letting my anxiety manifest in frustration over my procrastination. But once the poster or diorama was finished and packed away neatly and the distractions dispelled, the jitters fluttered back in. I liked school and I was always excited about the promise of a new school year, but something always made the transition from summer to school difficult. I’d later come to recognize that discomfort as a fear of change and the unknown, but as I grew older and became comfortable with the back-to-school routine, my nerves subsided.

This summer, I find myself hyper-focused on my physical return to school. And not just about the first day back, but about being in a classroom in general. When I started to apply to graduate programs, I was four years out of college, settled in a 9-5 routine. When the pandemic hit and I began school again in fall of 2020, I experienced, along with millions of other students, the unprecedented shift to online learning. Not only did I have to alter my perceptions of learning, but I had to find stability in an unpredictable time.

Now after a year of adjusting to online learning, I again must shift my conception of schooling,  and I’m realizing that I’m feeling nervous. Online learning was tough, but it granted me a certain level of physical comfort and protection. I settled into a schedule and workstyle that fit my needs: I mastered the time it took to make a snack and walk my dog in the ten-minute breaks, or the “I didn’t just wake up five minutes before class” look. I found ease in zoom life. Now, after a year and a half of being conditioned to fear the outside world, we are preparing to re-enter the classroom.

There are many components to in-person learning I yearn for, like the rush of being able to raise my hand or the potential of real dialogue uninterrupted by buffering or social constrictions of internet connections. However, I am wary of the mental and physical toll this adjustment will take. I do not know what it will be like to not only be back in a classroom but enter into an institutional atmosphere with rigid social and academic expectations.

I write this post because there is so much excitement around re-entry and I want to validate for myself and others that it’s okay to be afraid of the change. This is not a return to normalcy; this is a construction of a new normal and nerves can accompany that. So, on August 26th and the days that follow, I will be glad to be on campus, but I will also be prepared for any first-day jitters that may arise.

Yes to Summer Reading

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

A defining assignment in my Heller career came before I even stepped foot in the classroom. The summer before the program begins, in addition to some of the virtual on-boarding and orientation programs, Heller asks all MPP students to read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. Typically, when we think of summer reads, they are romance novels and light reads to match the airiness and warmth of the summer.

I would not say that The New Jim Crow fits the description. According to a New Yorker piece published in 2020, The New Jim Crow “[…] considers not only the enormity and cruelty of the American prison system but also […] the way the war on drugs and the justice system have been used as a ‘system of control’ that shatters the lives of millions of Americans—particularly young black and Hispanic men.” All the same, it had sat on my book list for months and I was excited for the push from Heller to finally read it. 

Not only did The New Jim Crow set the foundation for my studies at Heller, but it was also the perfect summer book. I was enthralled, as so many pieces of a broken system were weaved together by one coherent report. It sought to educate the reader without incendiary or alienating language. It brought clarity; in a time of publicized racial reckoning, The New Jim Crow meticulously outlined the past, present, and future of racial prejudice. It fostered a sense of renewal through its emphasis on the magnitude of work that needs to be done and the political vacuum that must be filled to attain retribution. It underscored shared accountability. Most of all, it provided a refreshed account of our systemic perpetuation of slavery through its digestible, direct, and transparent telling. 

Since consuming Alexander’s words a year ago, my work and studies have been grounded by the narratives of the millions who suffer under American persecution. The confines of American society conscript too many to an unjust life: they force individuals to live a life of constant fear devoid of any respect or decency. The emotional and sociological brutality of the institutional and social imbalance in the United States can entrap and torture a person, without having to place them in a physical prison cell. And Michelle Alexander uses her platform to demonstrate that too many are still waiting for physical and emotional salvation.  

Heller’s commitment to the eradication of discrimination can be seen in the requirement of each public policy student to engage with such material as The New Jim Crow. We as a nation can only be as good as our worst policy. As a school, we can only be as impactful as the effort we put in – and after I closed a heavily marked-up copy of The New Jim Crow, I knew Heller was the place I was going to learn to make a difference.

Why Study Gender Policy?

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

At a very young age, we learn to identify distinguishable characteristics both through innate and formal education. Differences in skin-tone, size, hair color and texture; there exists a long list of traits that individualize each person. However, gender is believed to be clear-cut and stagnant, at least according to mass opinion: “God made man, and from man’s rib came woman”. Seems simple enough – yet this archaic archetype is just that, old and outdated.

So it’s no surprise that gender-specific policy has followed this binary and misaligned trajectory. Gendernormativity dictated socially acceptable gender identification until the mid-20th century. Even in the 60s and 70s during the social awakening of the US, when gender expression started to be publicly challenged, people were confined to their assigned gender and expected to continue to behave accordingly.

Society and policy alike have a lot to say about what constitutes a woman and what is her expected role in the home and the workplace. Women are expected to be model mothers and devoted contributors to the market, but denied the tools to do both effectively. When she abides by the system, a woman is reprimanded – through fiscal and cultural punishments, which are detrimental to her survival. When she tries to navigate outside of the system, she is chastised – through fiscal and cultural punishments, which are, again, detrimental to her survival. Welfare and FMLA, two government-sanctioned programs created with the intent to benefit women, only further constrict them, especially BIPOC women.

As such, many of the core threats to our civil structure stem from gender-based inequity. One in four girls skip school when they are menstruating because they do not have access to feminine hygiene products; they then fall behind in school and are unable to break the cyclical trends of poverty. A white woman’s work is valued at seventy-two cents to the white man’s dollar, which still out-performs the Hispanic woman’s 52 cents. Paid parental leave is not federally mandated and for many women, especially in blue collar professions, pregnancy is grounds for extermination.

Women are not given the same tools as men to succeed. The XX Factor identifies five dimensions of women’s lives that, if achieved, can positively impact her: economic empowerment, education, health, personal safety and legal services. If just one of these five dimensions is enhanced, a woman’s well-being and livelihood are dramatically shifted. But health, education, personal safety: are these not basic necessities allotted to citizens? Why are women still struggling? Our system is broken, and its effect is women’s demise. We must restructure our foundation to eliminate the imbalance prevalent in our Western culture to dismantle the extortion of women’s freedom.

Persistence is Key: How to Unlock your Summer Experience

Finding the right internship or summer opportunity can be challenging. There are so many great choices and it may be difficult to know where to start. Here are some useful tips that helped me during my search.

Connect with the Career Center:

Each program at Heller has designated staff who are primed in your program and ready to help you. They will start running information sessions during the spring semester. I highly recommend you attend at least one. It could be helpful to hear what questions or issues your classmates may have and get up to date tips and tricks from the staff. If you feel comfortable, I recommend also scheduling a one-on-one meeting as well. Whether it’s for resume building or search suggestions, you will not regret it.

Check Handshake and other search engines:

While search engines can be daunting for some (me), they are a great tool. It’s all about finding the right search words. Utilize the advanced search options to help narrow down the available jobs and internships. Identify the region, time of year, pay preference right off from the start. Make sure to include key words to ensure you’re receiving the right responses. For example, I made sure to always have the words “policy” “gender” or “women” included in all my searches, as my studies focus on gender policy.

And don’t get discouraged if the search doesn’t produce too many options at the beginning. While government agencies seem to have earlier deadlines, many agencies do not post their summer internships until March and April! So, make sure to save your search criteria and refresh often.

Network:

Yes, I know “network” can be seen as a dirty word. But if I have learned anything during my own process, it is to not shy away from your connections. And it’s okay if you are new in the field/may not have a strong network yet – that’s what being at Heller is all about. Make sure to connect with old colleagues, new professors, friends in the field. Word of mouth and peer recommendations go a long way! Heller’s network is far-reaching. Connect with professors and faculty in your field. If they do not have immediate connections, I ensure you their networks do. Heller alumni love to help, so set up that informational interview, ask that professor out to coffee, or ping that guest lecturer.

Once you’ve found an opportunity that interests you – make sure to check LinkedIn and see who you may know at the organization or what mutual connections you share. Similarly, let your advisor or professors know, chances are, they know someone.

General:

This process is your own so take it at your own pace. Do not compare your progress with your classmates and peers. Make sure to stick to deadlines and do not be afraid to ask for help. Everyone in the Heller community is here to help you succeed!

Joining the Heller Community: Daniella Levine

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

The decision to go back to school was one that I did not make lightly. I had a steady job that supported my lifestyle and even allowed me to pay off some of my undergraduate debt. I had to make the choice to leave my full-time employment while friends, family and neighbors across the country were forced to question their financial stability and there was no certainty about the future.

“Community” drives my work. It is what motivated me to participate in student community engagement and social advocacy in college, what attracted me to the work I did post-graduation at Boston’s Jewish women’s fund, and what supported me during the last thirteen months.

One of the reasons I initially chose Heller was the notion of community. The opportunity to continue to grow in Boston was appealing, but it was the promise and allure of the Heller community that really won me over. So, when it became evident that we would be virtual for at the very least the first semester, I was wary about committing to Heller. How would I be able to connect and benefit from the community when there would be a slew of physical and emotional barriers?

I am in awe of the collective network my cohort has been able to cultivate. This has not been an easy year. With an onslaught of racial killings, a corrosive election cycle, and a pandemic plaguing the world there have been many things that could have further alienated us, on top of the virtual restrictions. Yet I have felt seen, supported, loved, and valued by my classmates. They have been a shoulder to lean on, a supporting hand, an ear to complain to, and a voice to follow. There is a common respect and an unspoken bond that link us to the greater cause, with the understanding that we are living through an unprecedented time in regard to policy and beyond. If anything, this year has sparked absolute transparency that may not have come about as organically without the current circumstances – rife with conversations of privilege, trauma, and injustice. I am empowered by my peers and am so grateful for their generosity, honesty, and vulnerability over the last year.

We joke frequently about what it will be like to actually sit next to each other during class, or what grabbing a drink will be like in person when we don’t have to act as our own bartender. If this year has been an indication of the year to come, I look forward to seeing what’s next.

Changing the World 101: Policy Analysis

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

I applied to graduate school because I believed I had the right temperament, measurable drive, and agile flexibility to challenge policy. But I felt like I was lacking the tactical skills and knowledge one gets most often from education to excel in the field. So, I was excited to start school in the fall. The prospect of online classes felt like another hurdle, but not one that couldn’t be conquered. My fears did not surround the platform itself, rather my own ability to remain focused and engaged when not in the rigorous academic setting of a classroom and instead mostly confined to my bedroom. As the days got colder, the temptations to forego schoolwork and answer the bed’s beckoning call became harder to ignore. Course topics got more convoluted and difficult.

Yet Policy Analysis continued to make sense. The integration of quizzes and activities allowed me to stay on top of the concepts in class. I’ll admit, if you ask me to define “triangulation,” I may falter – but I can clearly describe the processes by which we conduct a cost-effective analysis. I can identify the work happening at an NGO and explain how it differs from work at the municipal level and the people employed in each sector. I can distinguish between different modes of analysis and when best to use a case study and meta-analysis.

While all of this is so helpful, the most important thing I walk away from Mike’s Policy Analysis class with does not center around one theory or research process. It has taught me to be confident in the unknown. The policy realm is ever-expanding and changing, and that means that nothing is ever completely solidified. Before Heller, I assumed that policy work meant that I needed to fully grasp every component before I could commit to a task. This sample course has provided a secure and nimble foundation for policy work. That is not to say that there aren’t many necessary and vital models and concepts that need to be addressed, as there are quite a few, but this class helped to illuminate who and how one becomes active in policy. Now that this is done, I am ready to really delve into the meat of the work. I have learned that because some of this work is dense, it requires more attention (and maybe a second or third read). But I came to graduate school because I believed I had the right temperament, measurable drive, and agile flexibility to challenge policy. And now I can add confidence to that list.

A Letter to My Future Self (to read upon graduation): Daniella Levine

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

Dear Future Daniella,

This is not where you assumed you would be six years ago when you first thought about obtaining an MPP. Graduate school was your ticket out of Boston. You wanted a new city, a new community, a new start. And due to consequences, both in and out of your control, that did not happen. You initially applied to Heller, because it would be silly not to – a top-ranked program, small cohort size, a concentration in gender policy – Heller checked all the boxes but one. After working in Boston for four years, attending college in Worcester and growing up in Providence, I yearned for the chance to expand and grow and for whatever reason, I was determined that wasn’t possible to do in New England.

Oh, how wrong I was. I am waiting on your confirmation, but I am pretty certain I would not be as content or satisfied anywhere else. Heller’s commitment to social justice is one I have never experienced in any other institutional setting. My peers are not focused on being the best alone, we work collaboratively and with care. My professors want their students to succeed outside of the traditional classroom expectations and provides the support and tools necessary to thrive in the world of policy. The structure of Heller’s curriculum allows me to explore the nuance of women, gender and sexuality policy within a social policy framework. Intersectionality is aptly examined in every class because we cannot study policy without the acknowledgement of interconnectivity.

I came to Heller to explore the intersection of assimilation, gender and the cultural socialization on gender normativity.  Especially in the way race, workplace ecosystems and gender coalesce. I am hopeful that my work at Heller will qualify me for a position at a national think tank or research institution focused on gender disparities. Through my previous experiences, I gained a baseline understanding of the work being done to combat sexism, along with a grasp on the development side of non-profit work. I hope that Heller equipped me with a deeper and more theoretical/academic comprehension of contemporary issues to ground the work. I have no doubt that Heller helped me hone in on my critical thinking skills in my personal and professional lives. How much did you utilize the resources of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office at Heller? Were you able to learn from  faculty and practitioners like Laurence Simon and Sarah Soroui? Could you fit the Policy Advocacy, Protest, and Community Organizing course in your last semester?

Heller, situated in Massachusetts, seems to be the right place for me. So where will I go next? Has my time at Heller grounded me in the Boston area? Will I move to DC? Do I find a niche within the gender and sexuality field? Do I veer in another direction? I started my time at Heller hesitant, and while I may leave with more questions than answers, I will never be questioning if Heller was the right choice. I am eager to see how I’ve grown.

Hello Heller!: Daniella Levine’s Acceptance Story

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

After a week of working remotely (in what my organization called at the time a “work from home test-run”), I was in the midst of a post-work debrief with some of my colleague friends when the email notification popped up on my phone.

I’d been getting bombarded by Brandeis and other academic institutions for weeks at this point with reasons why I should consider their school and the special opportunities they had to offer. Yet, I was confused – wasn’t I the one who should be wooing them – sharing my value add? Suffice to say, when another email came in from Brandeis, at 5:20 on a Friday afternoon no less, I was skeptical that it would be a significant update. But when I opened the email and saw that it carried news, I suddenly could not hear what the four boxes on my screen were saying. Logging into my account without trying to signal any emotional change in my face for fear that someone on my call would ask what was happening, I tried to keep my face stoic and unchanged.

Ultimately, however, my face betrayed me as my expression quickly transformed to reveal what the letter said: I was accepted. Interrupting my friends (which is common for me and my stream of conscious style) to relay the news caused the whole screen to erupt in celebration. Good news was hard to come by those first couple weeks (months) of the pandemic, and being able to share my excitement in real-time with the women who had spent the last four years inspiring and uplifting me was such a gift. Then came the screenshots and texts to family and friends alike, all eagerly awaiting any news.

Heller’s commitment to social justice and equity drew me in and is what has sustained me over the last year. They not only practice what they preach, they actively work to do and be better and I am so lucky to be a part of the change, surrounded by driven and like-minded peers, faculty, and professors.

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