Summer of Service in Lexington When her summer research trip to Nepal was canceled because of COVID-19, Danika Brockman went to work for the Rockbridge Area Relief Association, where she helps with the food pantry.
“I love the organization for its deep understanding of dignity’s place in service work and the incessant humanizing of a demographic so often abstracted by statistics and conjectures.”
~ Danika Brockman ’21
Hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minors: Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; Poverty and Human Capability Studies
Q: What factors led you to choose W&L?
I applied because it was a good school, and then I got a good financial aid package. I’ve come to really love the Lexington community over my years but I came here having no idea what I was in for.
Q: How did you decide on your major and minors?
I’ve always enjoyed the anthropology classes I’ve taken, and the idea of Western/European culture being “superior” never sat right with me, which was validated over and over again by anthropological studies and scholars. Feminism and gender studies – including their intersection with every other oppressed group in America – are also a large part of my life as an activist, student and human. I care deeply about how women are subjugated to more physical and sexual violence, unwanted sexualization and barriers to traditional success.
Q: Were your summer plans impacted by COVID-19?
I was initially going to return to work with The Oda Foundation in Nepal, where I was last summer. I was going to do follow-up research building on my previous work in order to write my senior thesis. The topic of my research last summer was the cultural environment of uterine prolapse, which is unusually common in Nepal. For my thesis, I was going to study the spread of health information between women in rural Nepal (where do women get their information, who do they ask, who is supposed to tell them, etc.). Unfortunately, international travel was not feasible due to COVID. I hope to return to The Oda Foundation and Nepal in the near future, though.
Q: What kind of work have you been doing this summer as an AmeriCorps intern?
I am working with Rockbridge Area Relief Association, the Lexington-based food pantry. I have been their employee for the last 1.5 years or so, and when my summer plans were canceled, I knew I wanted to help with RARA any way I could. I love the organization for its deep understanding of dignity’s place in service work and the incessant humanizing of a demographic so often abstracted by statistics and conjectures. I’ve been working with the other interns this summer on daily pantry functions like overseeing volunteers, food distributions, RARA HelpLine operations, and more. I am more specifically tasked with helping to operate the Mobile Food Pantry program, which is a collaboration with Campus Kitchen, and community outreach efforts.
Q: What’s been the most rewarding part of this work so far?
It’s been really wonderful to see familiar faces at RARA that I’ve come to recognize from my work here. Though volunteering is personally rewarding, that feeling is absolutely overshadowed by the enormous need RARA is having to address due to COVID. RARA, luckily, is able to help many people, but many others are unable to access RARA for a variety of reasons. Though I am happy to see familiar faces, I am still reminded that they are familiar because they live in consistent food insecurity. It’s not exactly a wonderful circumstance under which to know someone.
RARA still needs volunteers during these times. If you’re a student/staff/faculty member in Lexington at the moment, please consider signing up.
Q: Has your summer experience reaffirmed or changed your plans for the future? How?
I am interested in nonprofit work, and this experience here has absolutely reaffirmed my plans. Seeing my bosses (Jen Handy and Lindsey Perez), both of whom I deeply admire, working at something they’re passionate about and feeling fulfilled in their lives has been giving me the reassurance that traditionally “successful” jobs aren’t the only jobs that are meaningful and rewarding. I think the high-achieving world of W&L can place a lot of pressure on students to become only doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc. when so many other amazing opportunities are out there.
Q: Has anyone on campus served as a mentor to you?
Professor Jon Eastwood has been such an inspiration to me during my time at W&L. In addition to nonprofit work, I am also planning to get my PhD and become a professor, and Professor Eastwood was definitely a big inspiration for that. I have never had a professor who cares so deeply about his students and his work as Professor Eastwood, and it shows when his students are passionate about their classwork and excited to show him what they’ve accomplished. Many of my biggest achievements at W&L have been under his guidance, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.
More About Danika
Favorite shop/restaurant in Lexington?
I love love love Pronto. At first, I wasn’t into it because it was a longer walk than just DHall, but oh my gosh their iced chais are to-die-for.
What’s your personal motto?
Don’t apologize, do better.
What film or book do you recommend to everyone?
“The 13th” (on Netflix)
Favorite W&L event?
Black Ball and Equality Gala are tied.
What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I’m a Canadian citizen.
What’s something you’ve missed during the pandemic?
I turned 21 during all of this, so I’m still looking forward to officially ordering a drink from a bar/restaurant.
Who do you wish you could hug?
Marisa Charley and Jenny Davidson – I miss them big time.