Class of 2023: From Rowing to Research: How Gabrielle Butler Learned to Embrace Challenges at Duke

Gabrielle Butler

Senior Gabrielle Butler has wise advice for incoming Duke students: Challenge yourself to try something new and stick with it.

“First-years and incoming students tend to try and find the ‘best fit,’ i.e., where they feel most comfortable,” said Butler. “In a lot of ways that's great, but change happens when we're being challenged, and the risk of taking that challenge ends up with many rewards.”

Butler is a double major in Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies (GSF) and Evolutionary Anthropology with a minor in Chemistry.

During her first year at Duke, Butler did something she never thought she would do: joined the Men's Rowing Sports Club as a coxswain.

“There were a lot of times when I thought about quitting but sticking with something that was a bit outside my comfort zone has made me into a better, more confident, and stronger individual,” Butler said. The role of coxswain not only helped challenge Butler to build confidence, but many of the skills she learned have transferred to academic pursuits as well. Her senior thesis focuses on intimacy and transactional relationships by analyzing contemporary art. “When I reflect on my journey in the major, it's a culmination of all the work I've done before: without realizing it, I have been writing about art, intimacy, and gendered transactional relationships since my sophomore spring,” she said.

She describes the project as a combination of intense scholarship, an exploration of her own personal life, and the subjects that have been animating her journey in Gender Studies.

One of her favorite things about GSF has been the faculty she’s gotten to know during her time at Duke. “The GSF faculty are so accessible and accommodating, while also pushing you to be the best critical thinker and writer you can be,” said Butler. She said that she has formed close relationships with many of the faculty and has loved the variety of discussions she’s gotten to be involved in in classes.

After graduation, Butler will pursue a Masters' Degree in Biomedical Sciences at either Duke or Tufts Medical School. “I'm excited to continue my education before pursuing an MD, and especially excited to see how my GSF education will factor into my medical education!”