Alumni Spotlight | Dana Raphael '17
Graduation Year: 2017
Degree: B.A. Political Science; Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies
Other activities while at Duke: Women's Center, Duke Student Government Judiciary
Q. Tell us a little about yourself...what you do now, what you’ve done since graduating.
A. I just started my second year at the University of Virginia School of Law. I am a member of the Virginia Law Review and I serve on the boards of the Lambda Law Alliance and the Jewish Law Students Association. Additionally, I chair Virginia Law's reproductive rights group. During my first year of law school, I competed on Virginia Law's extramural moot court team and spent a semester working at the Rutherford Institute, a Charlottesville civil rights nonprofit. Last summer, I worked for two professors at UVa researching issues ranging from vagrancy law to Masterpiece Cakeshop. Next summer, I will be in D.C. working at a law firm.
Q. In what ways did AGS impact your goals, current profession, etc.? How did AGS prepare you to enter the "real world"?
A. Coming from a family of lawyers, I knew that law school was an option on my horizon. AGS really solidified that choice for me. Both the classes, dinners, and other activities (such as the staff rides) taught me how to develop cogent arguments, anticipate counterarguments, and make the best possible case for my position. That is essentially the work one does in law school. Even though my career is not one in foreign policy, the skills I developed through AGS have proven invaluable in law school and I'm sure will continue to serve me well when I graduate.
Q. Looking back on your time at Duke and with AGS, what would you say was the most valuable lesson you learned?
A. AGS taught me two particularly valuable lessons: thinking on my feet and arguing for a position with which I disagree.
Before starting law school, one of the things I was most nervous about was getting cold-called - law school is notorious for rounds of intense questioning using the socratic method. Once I started, though, I realized that cold-calls were practically identical to many of the questions I fielded in Dr. Feaver's courses. I ended up being as prepared as I possibly could have been because I had taken so many classes with Dr. Feaver (five to be exact), and my fear of cold-calls quickly disappeared. AGS also helped me learn to think on my feet - Dr. Feaver always expected us to have questions prepared for the speakers who came to visit.
Last year I competed on Virginia Law's moot court team, and my case was essentially Masterpiece Cakeshop. While I was thankfully able to write the brief for the side with which I agreed, I had to argue both sides at oral argument. At first I very was nervous, and a little distressed, that I would have to come up with arguments to defend a view I find discriminatory and abhorrent. But then I thought back to one course I took with Dr. Feaver - U.S. Foreign Policy and the 2016 Election. For that class, I had to represent Donald Trump's foreign policy and participate in a public debate as a representative for Trump. That experience taught me how to find good arguments to defend a position with which I had profound disagreements. It helped me competently defend my client at oral argument, and was good preparation for law school in general.
Q. Did you meet anyone during your time at AGS who deeply inspired you? Tell us about them and what about their life impacted you.
A. I had the great privilege of meeting so many wonderful people through AGS - from Jake Sullivan to Tom Donilon to General Martin Dempsey. One of the people I most enjoyed meeting was Wendy Sherman. Sherman served as the lead negotiator for the Obama Administration on the Iran Nuclear Deal. Her name was tossed around for Secretary of State if Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 election. I spent the summer after my sophomore year of college working at the Truman Center for National Policy, a progressive foreign policy think tank, where one of my responsibilities was to track the JCPOA. Getting to meet the woman who negotiated the deal that I spent a summer tracking was a really surreal experience. I think that is one of the most special aspects of AGS. You actually get to meet the people you read about in the news or for class and ask them questions about why they did what they did. It's an unparalleled level of access that students are incredibly lucky to have.
I would be remiss not to mention Dr. Feaver as someone who deeply inspired me as well. He is one of the best professors Duke has to offer and was (and still is) a great mentor to me. The rigor of his courses made me a more thoughtful person; his insistence (read: graded quizzes) on reading the New York Times for every detail inspired my now years-long news junkie habits. He pushed me to engage with people and ideas I disagreed with - often quite insistently. My fondest story I tell about him was the time when Mitt Romney came to speak to AGS. During the reception after the public event, Dr. Feaver asked me if I had met the Governor yet. Upon my answering no, Dr. Feaver promptly led me over to Romney, almost pushing other people out of his way, and said, "Governor, I want you to meet one of my students. This is Dana Raphael. She worked on the Obama campaign." He then walked away, leaving me alone with Romney after quite the introduction. But that is Dr. Feaver's style - he throws you into the deep end knowing that you'll figure out how to swim. I greatly admire him for that reason and he certainly shaped my path in college and beyond.
Q. Do you wish there was anything you could go back and change about your time at Duke or with AGS? What would you do differently if you had another chance?
A. I wish I had gotten involved earlier with AGS - I attended many of the events starting as a sophomore, but I wish I had started earlier as a first year. AGS gave me both a social and an academic community that has lasted well beyond college. My biggest advice to students would be to get involved early, get to know other people involved in AGS, and bring your friends to events. AGS provides a wonderful opportunity to meet other students and form social groups outside of the traditional Greek/SLG system. Most of the people I stay in touch with from college were affiliated with AGS in some capacity - whether they were on the AGS Council or just came to many of the events. Some of my fondest college memories are the times I went to The Loop or Kratfhouse with my AGS friends and debated foreign policy over food and drinks.
Q. Do you have advice or inspiration to offer current AGS students?
A. Besides my advice to get involved early, often, and to bring your friends, it's important for students to recognize that they are enough. I remember a few times as a younger college student thinking that I wasn't qualified to go to an AGS dinner because I didn't know enough about the subject matter, or being hesitant to ask a question of a speaker because I wasn't particularly well-versed in their field of expertise. I remember my senior year trying to get one of my friends to come to an AGS event with me, and she said she felt like she couldn't because she didn't know enough. Don't let that ever hold you back. My AGS mentors, and particularly Dr. Feaver, encouraged me to ask questions and get involved. Because of them, even when I didn't know a ton about the subject, I felt confident to come and learn at AGS events. I think this might affect women more than men - there's a lot of social pressure for women to feel essentially like 'experts' before we get involved or ask questions. In my experience in AGS, men have no problem jumping into the conversation regardless of their level of knowledge. So my biggest piece of advice: Go, learn, and ask questions. Do it even if you have very little knowledge, because men certainly aren't holding back.