In an organized protest Wednesday afternoon, several hundred Duke students gathered at the West Campus bus stop before walking to the tree where a noose was hung early that morning.
The demonstration was led by the Black Student Alliance with president Jamal Edwards, a junior, leading the way. In an interview following the protest—held in front of the tree on the Bryan Center Plaza—Edwards said the demonstration was not about any single student, but the hundreds of students that showed up in support of those affected by the action taken by "cowards."
"At Duke University, on April 1, 2015, I never thought that I would see this happening at what I am supposed to call home," Edwards said. "It’s not about us as individuals, but rather as a collective to continue the work that so many others have done.... This is not an isolated thing. We definitely expected this many allies to show up and students in the black community to have and share these sentiments, but there’s so much more work that needs to be done. We have to move on with that."
Edwards and incoming BSA president Henry Washington Jr., a sophomore, led the group from the West Campus bus stop to the tree on the Bryan Center plaza where the noose had had been hung. As the students made their way to the tree, Edwards led them in a chant of, "We are not afraid. We stand together." The words were shouted by the several hundred participants, which continued to grow in number as students between classes joined the group.
Once at the tree, Edwards posted a message —"To the cowards of Duke University, we are not afraid. We stand together"—before giving a second speech in which he emphasized the need for allies to continue to stand against acts of cowardice. He also spoke of hateful messages posted to the anonymous social media mobile application Yik-Yak and then led the group in pulling out their phones and deleting the app.
Edwards closed his speech by coming back to the message that the act would not silence the marginalized students on campus, saying, "All marginalized voices matter. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up."
The board is to remain posted on the tree for an undisclosed amount of time and is to act as a defiant message to the individual or group responsible for the noose that the campus' black community and allies will not be silenced, Edwards said.
"The key point of the message is that we recognize all that has happened historically to oppress black Americans in the United States," Edwards said. "[It is] recognition of all the work that still needs to be done, but that we are together and we stand empowered as we keep working. Any sort of attack on our home, attack on our identity, will be rejected and we will protect ourselves. It’s something that we take seriously, and moving forward, we’re together and not afraid in driving out cowards that exist at this University."
Although Edwards said he was pleased with the supporters who came to the bus stop and plaza, he reiterated that the gathering only consisted of a fraction of the Duke undergraduate population.
"I’d say a few hundred showed up today, but there’s still over 6,000 that attend this university for undergraduates, so when you compare those numbers, it still is not enough," Edwards said. "This today, was not enough. Any demonstration that we've done in the past is still not enough because we still have this today in 2015. That's my sentiment."
The University administration responded to the noose with three emails sent to the student body Wednesday, two from Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta and one from President Richard Brodhead and Provost Sally Kornbluth.
Although the emails were sent swiftly following the incident, Edwards said whatever action is taken needs to come from a unified process between the student body and administration—adding that it will not be an easy process.
"That answer lies in the collective collaboration of not just me, but of administration, of students and of allies," Edwards said. "It’s not a quick fix, or else we wouldn’t be here today in 2015 with this problem. It’s going to take a lot of intentionality and continuing to seek the changes that we want to seek."
Brodhead and Kornbluth will speak in a forum on the incident at the Chapel steps Wednesday at 5 p.m., along with student leaders and community members.
Further coverage of this situation will be posted throughout the day.