Get to Know a Donor: Rachel Bloom

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Rachel

I met Rachel Bloom in college (where she took over my room in my senior year house after I graduated), but I only really got to know her after school, when we were both in New York. Rachel came to the city to study Bioethics at Columbia, all the while pursuing an uncredited but equally valuable independent study in the anthropology of the modern city and its citizens. Rachel is an astute observer of both herself and others; incredibly self-reflective, she considers what she does, thinks, and says in light of societal norms and expectations as sharply as she observes and critiques said expectations. In an age famed for detachment and non-plan plans, Rachel is refreshingly enthusiastic. This makes her a great friend to have when you’re looking for someone to go with to a feminist book talk, belt out an amazing rendition of It’s Raining Men, hear write both poetry about the subway and an essay on wasting time written on the subway, or simply chat late at night about all the things in each of your heads.
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Besides affordable housing, a cause that matters to me is: Oh man. Let’s see. I care a lot about improving the quality of sex education in high schools — intervention in this realm is such an opportunity for positive societal change, helping teenagers rethink harmful attitudes they might have internalized about gender and sex. (Abstinence-only sex-ed as taught in the US reinforces both gender and racial stereotypes and health disparities, a reflection of poor resource allocation and the power of toxic attitudes. I’d love to cite this claim; back in the day when I was an interesting person in undergrad I wrote a decent paper on the topic.) Especially when we’re trying to have conversations around consent at the college level (which is far more complex than yes/no questioning, as convenient as that would be), I think a lot of teenagers go through high school not knowing how to even talk about consent or conceptualize what consent might look like in their lives. Speaking much more broadly and diffusely, a “cause” I care about is encouraging people to appreciate the ways in which subconscious processing influences our conscious behavior, in that “harmless” micro-aggressions add up to real experiential differences in self-concept. This, in turn, is why I find it so important to target harmful internalized attitudes around sex and gender.

 

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Rachel and nature

Can you teach us something cool about bioethics please? No one really knows what “bioethics” means. Or, some people know, but it’s an extremely broad field containing a lot of different subcategories. Largely, it covers a number of intersections between science and philosophy. It is also a historical field, tracking the ways that society and medicine and public health have played off each other in the 20th century and beyond. A lot of people are interested in biotechnology, the frontier of human-robot interfacing (prosthetic brain parts!), and the promises and perils of genetic intervention, for example. Others are more interested in patient care and privacy — how should the wealth of patient data available in the genetic age be protected and/or shared? How should certain data inform medical decision-making? My personal interest within bioethics is teasing out what it means to exist, an academically-glorified thought experiment offered up by stoners everywhere.

But to share something interesting/cool about bioethics…
did you know there is a different
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Rachel and art

standard for whether or not you are legally dead according to biological criterion in NY and NJ? From my understanding, a bunch of rabbis lobbied successfully for the demarcation of brain-dead bodies as legally “alive” when a patient’s religious beliefs dictate that it is such. Everywhere else in the USA, if you are brain-dead, you are legally dead. Brain-death here is a pretty stark biological standard; no activity in higher brain regions, such limited functioning in the lower brain that a body cannot even sustain its own respiration. (This is distinct from a “vegetative state,” in which the brainstem is still able to regulate some or all homeostatic functioning — Terri Schiavo was vegetative, not brain-dead.) Some brain-dead patients are kept artificially “alive” by respirators until their organs can be donated, so that the organs are as fresh as possible (so the recipient’s body is more likely to accept the transplant). It’s illegal to harvest organs from an individual who is legally defined as “alive” (thus effecting their death via removal), so the brain-death criterion is, candidly, a convenient way to dodge the stipulations of medical ethics to “do no harm” to a living body. But continuing with the whole candid thing, I don’t really think there is an individual who exists in/as a brain-dead body, so while they are technically alive in an organismal sense, I don’t see any harm being done to any individual when this organismal life is extinguished.

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Rachel and elephant

Do, Marry, Kill: Big 5 personality types, Myers Briggs, astrology Awesome question. I’d kill astrology, do Myers-Briggs, and marry the Big 5. Myers-Briggs has come off as very sexy during my early 20s, but I realize this relationship doesn’t necessarily afford me the space to grow/develop as a person, limited by the paradigm of description. Big 5 is more of a long-term option, always helping me keep in mind how conscientious and/or neurotic I’m being. But I’ll always identify — at least somewhat — as an ENFP. Young love…

If you could make something required reading for everyone on the planet, what would it be? I’m trying to think of the last book that made me think, OMG EVERYONE SHOULD READ THIS. I was super-excited for this question but am now realizing I’m better at individually-tailored suggestions. Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her is exquisite. Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns is as well. Also The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. And any of Craig Thompson’s comics. Almost all of what I read is written by dudes. I’d tell you to read Rebecca Solnit but her essays aren’t intersectional enough for me to vouch for it as required reading.

What’s the least serious identity you take the most seriously? (i.e. identifying as a night owl, nerd, iPhone 4 holdout, etc.) Why does it mean so much to you? Had you not asked me question #3, I’d have said I take my identity as an ENFP pretty seriously, or at least I have historically. But let me think on this a moment. For a long time growing up my identity was reducible to “that kid who skipped a grade,” and/or “awkward nerd with subpar social skills,” even after the latter description was no longer true. Right now, my most-important-least-important identity is a transient life-stage: I’m an “emerging adult” still trying to figure out the direction I might take in life (active)/where life might take me (passive)/some combination of the two. I am currently backlogged 4 loads of laundry and can’t seem to make progress on my grad school thesis. I have a track record of being over-privileged and have been financially independent for a grand total of 3 months. I miss undergrad. I’m answering this email at work. I watch critically-acclaimed television shows featuring similarly-situated young Jewish women taking on NYC. To me, this all fits in quite nicely with the “emerging adulthood” identity.

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Rachel and dog

What question should I ask the next person? What would you have done if you won the Powerball jackpot? What do you think of the lottery in general? Did you ever read that one Shirley Jackson story in English class?

 

Sam’s question: What is your “spirit food,” and how do you think it reflects your personality? My spirit food is the bagel.

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