Get to Know a Donor: Shawn Patterson


I met Shawn Patterson my freshman fall, when I thought I might like to join the Brown Democrats. Turned out I didn’t, but Shawn and I became fast friends… six years later. Upon moving to LA this winter, I scoured my Facebook friends list for nearby people, and found that Shawn, someone I had spoken with maybe three times if I’m being generous, lived here too. I then set about slowly and subtly forcing him to become my friend. It totally worked, and now Shawn is my best friend.

Shawn is in the midst of getting his PhD in political science (or as some prefer to call it, Government, or, Caucus Studies) at UCLA. What this means for his day to day existence is he sits in a waffle on stilts (though when I tried to find his office using that description I found that most buildings on the UCLA campus could be called that), using statistics to slowly answer questions like, “why do people donate to the politicians they do?” “who do I have to donate to around here to get my passport faster?” and “what’s the deal with TANF, am I right?” Shawn used UCLA’s supercomputer (I have no idea what that means either) so often the university asked him to take the math down a notch.

Shawn is from the Kingdom of Delaware. He loves Philly cheesesteaks and is a regular at LA’s own Philadelphia-inspired bar. He hates the west to east side traffic but his pure and noble best friend love for me inspires him to overcome that demon and drive here anyway.


If you could eradicate one thing from this world, what would it be? Either spiders or people. One group consists of beady-eyed monsters, the stuff of our deepest darkest nightmares, which often kill their partners and eat their young. The other are spiders.lyness4

If you could add something entirely new to this world that doesn’t exist, what would it be? Pet-sized pigmy giraffes.

What question do people ask that you hate? “Oh, you study political science? Are you, like, going to be a politician?” [Bonus: my answer to that question] “Do you ask proctologists if they’re going to be assholes?”


If you could design any form of government to live under, what would it look like? I would like to randomly assign members of congress each term from names in a phone book. That would give me so many lovely natural experiments to write political science papers about.


How would you describe the essence of Delaware? Chickens outnumber people 9:1.


Can you describe the moment you knew Joe Biden was the one for you? What is it about him that keeps the flame alive? My grandparents worked on Joe Biden’s first campaign, I grew up a disciple in the Church of Joe. As for what keeps him alive? Just embed this Youtube clip.

How was the granola, huh, Shawn? The granola was DOPE. [Ed. note: I had a fundraiser selling granola and he bought some so I was just curious what he thought. For the curious, Shawn bought a box of original and a box of chocolate, which he instructed me to mix into one übergranola since he said he would just eat them that way anyway]


This is still part of Shawn’s answer. He is the only interviewee so far to respond in GIFs

What is your signature dance move? Thank god for gifs: giphy1giphy1

[Ed. note: Shawn only included this GIF once, but I made a stylistic choice and decided I preferred more of a chorus line effect]

What book, movie, tv show, song, or other piece of art was the most influential in shaping who you are? 
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It’s the only book I make a point to re-read at least once a year. It was also the first real book I ever read. I remember my mom got me a copy of it at the airport when she was on a business trip and brought it back to me having heard about it on some morning show, probably the Today Show. Well, I wasn’t a reader as a young kid, but I figured I’d give it a shot. I loved it from the first page, and I wanted to know what happened next so bad, I tried so hard to read faster, to read better, to read more. I would sit and struggle and push through, frequently calling my mom or dad over to help me figure out a word (mind you half the words I coulynessldn’t get weren’t real words, but I digress…). It took me weeks to get through the first book. But it took me a little less time to get through the second, and even less to get through the third.

That is when Harry Potter changed things for me. See I finished the Prisoner of Azkaban sometime in early 2000, but the Goblet of Fire wasn’t scheduled to be published until the summer. But I didn’t want to just sit around for six months while I waited. So I picked up a copy of the Golden Compass, and I kept reading. It may be a little cliched, but reading opened doors for me that just wouldn’t have been there otherwise…

 What’s inside your own personal Overton window? My window was thrown wide, wide open a long time ago. To describe it would put your blog on a number of government watch lists.

If your life were a piece of media, what type would it be? What would the genre be? How would the ratings be? What would critics say? It would be a campy horror TV show that got cancelled after the third season, was brought back on Netflix to finish a disappointing 4th season, but the 2 hour 5th season/movie would be satisfying to fans and critics alike.


Isabel, me, and Shawn the one time we managed to get together outside of our group text thread, which is mostly me harassing them to hang out

Jonathan’s question: what should we name the (hypothetical) new planet? Salacia — Neptune’s Wife.

What question should I ask the next person? Would you rather fight a duck the size of a horse, or 50 horses the size of a duck?


Apparently Shawn wrote this poem. I for one learned a lot!


Get to Know a Donor: Jonathan Leibovic



I got to know Jonathan Leibovic in school, when we both worked with the Student Farmworker Alliance. Among other campaigns, our group held protests, teach-ins, and parties to raise attention and funds for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. I soon found out that most people in the group treated this activism as a fulltime endeavor, and would go on to find small, meaningful ways to keep striving for a more equal and just society. Jonathan was no exception.

I’ve run into Jonathan twice since college. The first was in Providence, where I learned from him that he was training to be a science teacher. The second was in New York City at the People’s Climate March in fall 2014. As surprising as it was to see someone I hadn’t in years, it was pretty un-shocking that I found him there. Catching up with him toward the end of the route, he told me a bit more about how teaching in Philadelphia, now his job, was going.

Jonathan was full of warmth in welcoming me into SLA, a pretty tight knit group I strolled into one day after lurking on the listserv for too long.  He’s witty, caring, and just the right balance of realistically angry, sad, and motivated by the problems of the world to be a force to take seriously.

He also wins tons of points for being so far the only person to not only get what this blog’s title references, but like it. I will be forever grateful for that.


Besides affordable housing, a cause that matters to me: Listening, because when we genuinely listen to each other we often discover that (1) problems that seem unrelated might actually be the same, and (2) problems that might seem intractable can sometimes — but definitely not always — have a simple solution.


What’s something you recently taught one/some/all of your students? I recently taught all of my students that nobody can force them to say the Pledge of Allegiance or even to stand while it is being recited.  Our assistant principal reprimanded two 8th graders during a recent assembly for not standing during the pledge.  We’ve also been talking a lot about Flint, Michigan recently.  Above every sink in Philadelphia Public Schools (not the water fountains, fortunately) is a warning sign declaring “Do Not Drink from This Sink.”  This week my students will be testing water quality from several sinks and water fountains in the school building.

What’s something one/some/all of your students recently taught you? One of my 8th graders recently told me that his Wii sensor bar was broken.  “So I looked up some videos on Youtube about how to fix it, and I saw that you can use candles.”  What do you mean?  Use candles for what?  “Here, let me show you the video.”  Well, you’re not supposed to be on your phone during school hours, but… okay, fine.  He pulls up the video, which shows a young man gesturing at a TV screen with a Wii-mote.  Instead of the typical infra-red sensor bar, there are a pair of tea-light candles, about 2 feet apart, in front of the TV screen.  And the Wii appears to be functioning normally.  I cautioned him that it could be fake.  “It’s not.  I tried it.”  Hmm.  Can you bring it in tomorrow and show me?  “Sure.  Oh, and Mr. Leibovic?”  Yes?  “Is that science?”  Yes, kiddo, that’s science.  He brought it in the next day and really did work.


What’s your favorite piece of technology? How about non-digital technology? It’s a toss-up between the bicycle and the toaster oven.  Paper is also pretty cool.  And jet-packs.  Do we have jet-packs yet?

What percentage of your crying sessions are due to sadness, happiness, onion, and other, would you estimate? Please define any given Other percentages. These days most of my tears are onion-induced, but every once in a while there’s a slice of the Cry Pie reserved for genuine emotion.  I cried once last year (my first year teaching) after school because I realized that in spite of my best efforts, half of my students were failing math and wouldn’t get into the high schools they had applied to, and while I was cleaning up a pile of sunflower seed husks that someone had spat into a corner behind the computer desks I heard a troupe of 4th graders singing “I Believe I Can Fly” in the hallway, and I just sat in a corner and blubbered for a while until one of the janitors came in.

If you could make something required reading for everyone on the planet, what would it be? The Little Prince.  Every person should be required to read it out loud to a young child.


Madi’s question: What podcasts do you listen to? What’s a podcast?  Just kidding, I’m not that old yet, but getting there.  Listen, young whippersnapper, before podcasts we had this thing called radio.  It’s like a podcast except you can only listen to whatever they’re playing at the time.  But there are different stations, maybe a dozen or so depending on the town you live in.  Philadelphia has this wonderful radio station called WHYY, and it airs some of my favorite programming including RadioLab, Snap Judgment, American Roots, and The Best of CarTalk.  It also airs some of my least favorite programming (see Prairie Home Companion, Wits, You Bet Your Garden, and anything having to do with pledge drive season).  And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that every weeknight at 7:00 pm I switch my radio dial to 88.5 WXPN to catch Kids’ Corner with Kathy O’Connell. [Ed. note: you can listen to WHYY live from in/outside of Philadelphia here. Also, lolz @ show called You Bet Your Garden]


A vintage shot from the student activism days

What question should I ask the next person? Ask them what we should name the (hypothetical) new planet!

Get to Know a Donor: Kate Khanna

1508517_10204050909257636_7173309032247005902_nIf an academic journal had a baby with a dance party, Kate Khanna would probably be the result. While Kate lived down the hall from me freshman year, I didn’t really get to know her until she moved a few blocks aways from me in Brooklyn in 2014. Right away, she reached out to me, and within a week it was as if we had been best friends for years. Kate is cynical but optimistic, determined but empathetic, and other combinations of things that aren’t really antonyms but still make her into a complex, fascinating person to talk with. She didn’t love New York, so she moved to Boston on the promise of an unpaid, part time internship doing qualitative research in health care, a field she wasn’t familiar with. Once moved, Kate got a part time job at a cafe, taught herself stats on the side, and got hired as a full time staff member at her organization. Now she’s all applied to sociology PhD programs. Despite my displeasure at her moving away from me, I have to admit she had a pretty kickass year in Boston, and I’m really excited to find out what’s next for Kate!


Besides affordable housing, a cause that matters to me is: feminism/gender equity. As a soon-to-be sociologist, my nerd-out topic of choice is the way that gender norms inconspicuously pervade our daily lives and reproduce gender inequality. I am fascinated by the cultural assumptions, linguistic choices, and preconceived notions that often subtly influence gender ideology.


What’s your favorite anthropologic concept? Oh man (gendered term). Did they teach us those? I would say that one of my favorites is the idea of the Maussian gift. Named after the French sociologist Marcel Mauss, it refers to the way that giving a gift generates a debt that must be repaid and therefore creates a social tie between between the giver and recipient in the meantime. Very theoretical, but I’ve found it surprisingly relevant to real life.


Kate and Becca in Central Park

How would you describe the difference between NYC and Boston? New York City and Boston have so many differences. But besides just the fact that there’s so much more room to walk on the sidewalks in Boston, I think the culture and lifestyle are drastically different. In New York, everyone is transient, very few people will stay there longterm, and it’s such a hodgepodge of people (which is great!) that there’s not as much of a feeling of belonging or community. In Boston, once you’re in Boston, you’re in BOSTON, and don’t you forget it. Also, no matter how much money people have, people (at least our age) don’t live extravagant lifestyles. You can have a nicer apartment or eat at some nicer restaurants, but for the most part people live, eat, and play in much the same way. There are no loft apartments or extravagant meals or bottle service at clubs. That’s just not the way most people choose to live.

My favorite feminist joke, expression, etc. is: I like the t-shirts floating around the Internet right now that say “A woman’s place is in the House and the Senate.”


The best egg replacer for recipes is: Yogurt! The secret for cookies is yogurt. Cookies don’t need much glue, just moisture, so as long as the recipe doesn’t call for more than a few eggs, a rounded spoon of yogurt per egg does the trick. The other secret is to find cake recipes with the right oil and water combinations that just don’t require eggs. The more you’re “substituting,” the harder it will be to reproduce the original dessert. [Ed. note: Kate is vegetarian, and does not eat eggs]

Kate as Lana from Archer [with me as Wikipedia 🙂 ] on Halloween!

What question should I ask the next person? What is one piece of life wisdom you’ve learned in the past 5 years? Might be a hard one, but could be really interesting, especially depending on the person’s age!

Joe’s question: How do you solve a problem like Maria? And isn’t our problematization of Maria itself, a problem? In response to the former: they didn’t teach me how to solve anything, only how to problematize it. And in response to the latter: perhaps, but you would have to problematize the problematization of Maria to find out.

Get to Know a Donor: Rachel Bloom



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.
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.



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

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.


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.


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.

Get to know a donor: Sam Sanders

If you don’t already know (in which case, remind me to harass you over email or something soon), a big part of Bike & Build is fundraising. Each rider raises at least $4,500 by asking friends, family, and their dentists (they literally tell you to do that in the manual) to help chip in. Groups then allocate the money to affordable housing organizations across the country, who apply to Bike & Build’s competitive grants. 

I’ve been really blown away by the people I know’s generosity in giving to this meaningful cause, and I wanted to show off some of the awesome people who have been so gracious in helping out. On this blog, I’ll be showcasing donors through this Get to Know A Donor series.

First up, we have the indomitable Sam Sanders. Sam was once described to me as, “who we all would be capable of being if we all stopped reading random internet stuff and wasting all our time and lived completely up to our potential, maybe” i.e. she is unreasonably accomplished. I met Sam in college, where she was famous for her cheerfulness, larger-than-lifeness, extreme love of life and everyone in it (she told me she loved me within the first ten minutes of meeting me freshman year, in the Ratty), and being the smartest, most capable person alive. At school, Sam majored in History, was nationally ranked in debate, turned down a promised spot at Brown Med School for the chance to take Orgo 2 and the MCATs, and also somehow had a social life. I know I am missing things, because Sam knows everyone so she must have met them doing some club or something I’m not even aware of. I once saw her sleep sitting down, with her legs crossed.

After graduating, Sam cut down her already sparse sleep schedule to work for two years at McKinsey, spending her weekends volunteering at Planned Parenthood. She’s now at Harvard Medical School because of course she is. I have personally benefited from Sam because she gave me my amazing roommate (and her best friend since childhood), Alexandra, so now I both owe her and know all her embarrassing stories from the age 4 onwards.

But rather than sharing any of those, here is Sam, in her own words, kicking off our getting to know donors with an amazing person and great friend.


Besides affordable housing, a cause I care deeply about is: More transparency for Americans regarding healthcare options. I think it’s so hard to navigate the current system, especially for Americans not covered by their employers, and frankly it’s made access to healthcare for low-income Americans challenging (even under the Affordable Care Act).


Sam (left) with her twin sister, Beryl

What’s your current sleep schedule like? Crazy. My closest friends know this, but I generally go to bed around 9p on weekdays and wake up at 4a. On weekends, it’s more like midnight to 8a.

Why did you decide to go to Harvard Business School when you’re already a high-ranking executive in Mandy & Associates? How do you hope completing this degree will affect your career within the company?  Wonderful question.  To be clear, I haven’t actually gotten into HBS — I’m hoping to get in, but I apply in the fall for the MD/MBA program.  Fingers crossed!  In terms of how I think it will help my career at Mandy & Associates — I think that the HBS degree goes a long way.  I’m hoping for better career advancement opportunities at M&A after I get my MBA…but we’ll see whether Mandy feels the same way… [Ed. note: Sam is already a student at Harvard Medical School, and is hoping to enroll in Harvard Business School as well because medical school is very easy if you don’t combine it with something else. Mandy & Associates is the company her dog, Zoey “Mandy” Sanders runs. M&A employees many people both in and out of the Sanders family. Mandy is an alumnus of Harvard as well.]


“You have to put that one. What is that, a chalkboard with science?” – Joe

What was your favorite debate case?  Is it sad that I don’t remember like any debate cases I used? I just remember having a ton of fun my sophomore year debating with Joe.  I remember we used to run this Greek mythology case that was ridiculously one-sided…poor decision on our part…

What’s your go-to meal when you need to feed yourself or others?  Easy. Lean Cuisine.  Who doesn’t love a delicious frozen meal?

If you could make something required reading for everyone on the planet, what would it be?  I think Don Berwick’s Escape Fire speech is probably one of the most powerful pieces I’ve ever read about the US healthcare system.  It was published by the Commonwealth Fund, if anyone’s interested.  A short and quick read.

Can you teach us how to do something you know how to do, please?
 I used to be a competitive racewalker, but that would probably require us to be in person…

What’s the neatest thing you’ve learned recently? I recently finished learning how to perform a basic physical exam on a patient!  That was pretty cool!


Sam with her parents at her white coat ceremony in medical school!

Question of your choice; answer of your choice as long as it’s truthful. Or convincing, I guess. Can’t think of anything good!  Would you be interested if I told you that my favorite color is purple? [Ed. note: yes.]

Question Jenna should ask the next person: What is your “spirit food,” and how do you think it reflects your personality?