Students present demands to administrators at follow-up forum Friday
Students presented a list of demands regarding racial equity and campus inclusion to administrators during another contentious discussion in Page Auditorium Friday.
The event, titled “Duke Tomorrow: Student-Organized Discussion with Brodhead and Administration,” was organized by a group of students after the previous week's noon forum proved inconvenient for many students and faculty. President Richard Brodhead, Provost Sally Kornbluth and Valerie Ashby, dean of the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, listened to student demands and offered answers to questions from the audience. In response to accusations that the administration is moving too slowly on issues of diversity and inclusion, the three administrators made it clear that they are taking these issues seriously, but will not react without carefully considering all possible solutions.
“In a university, you have to actually think things through and work them through to find out what can be done, and we will not skip that process," Brodhead said. "At the same time, I will tell you that it is our plan to look at these things seriously and to find out where the most progress has to be made.”
The event began with a brief history of previous student demands regarding the racial climate on campus as well as a full reading of the “Demands of Black Voices,” a list of desired administrative actions and changes in policy, divided into 10 categories. The categories address bias and hate speech, racial and socioeconomic diversity, mental health and faculty unionization. They conclude with a demand that Brodhead, Kornbluth and Ashby agree to the other demands and announce their agreement to the Duke community by 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Students noted that recent student activism at Yale University and the University of Missouri show that they are not alone in their struggles. Many also expressed concern about the lack of immediate tangible actions by the administration to combat racism.
“We acknowledge the administration for creating a task force in an attempt to work towards the elimination of bias and hate on campus. However, it is extremely inappropriate to expect students to wait until April 2016, five months from now, for mere recommendations to be made," declared one student on stage. "The oppression and lack of safety we feel as students on this campus will not wait until April 2016."
Representatives of Mi Gente and Asian American Alliance also spoke to the administrators, presenting their own demands for change.
The Mi Gente representatives called for "increased pay for all black and brown labor," stronger support for Latino and Latina faculty members, a new cultural center and a public apology from administration for failing to deal with Latino student issues, among other demands.
The discussion was later opened to the entire auditorium, and several students brought up controversial issues in the University's recent and long-term history.
Sophomore Zachary Faircloth, president of Duke Students for Justice in Palestine, noted that administrators were quick to address recent faculty unionization efforts, as well as outside pressure to prevent the Muslim call-to-prayer being led from the Chapel bell tower in January.
"It seems like...you all respond a lot quicker to people threatening your money than people threatening your students' safety," Faircloth said.
Brodhead replied that the decision to cancel the call-to-prayer was not influenced by any pressure from donors. He also said that faculty are free to have their own opinions on the issue of unionization regardless of the administration's position.
Matthew Bunyi, a graduate student in the Sanford School of Public Policy, stated that a demand to name the new West Union building after Julian Abele—the black architect who designed West Campus—could be a "quick win" for Duke. In response, Brodhead said the decision would be up to the Board of Trustees.
The discussion briefly descended into shouting when one student asked about how to maintain free speech while still combating racism.
“When did we decide that, in the name of tolerance, we are intolerant to others?" freshman Elliot Lin asked. "Instead of challenging that racism, we have decided to shut it out completely.”
Another student shouted from the balcony that racism is not free speech, sparking a heated argument about limits on free speech. Sophomore Taylor Jones, who moderated the event, asked students to take the conversation outside of Page.
Brodhead stated multiple times throughout the event that he wanted to ask a question, but was ignored each time.
In the closing minutes, Jones challenged the administrators to acknowledge certain problems that students face. The last question of the night cut to the center of student concerns.
“Do you promise to move forward honestly and quickly to effectively put an end to the institutionalized inequalities currently instated on this university?” she asked.
Brodhead responded by encouraging the student body to take ownership of the issues moving forward.
“I said it last week and I’ll say it again. We’re here because this is all of our university," he said. "It affects all of us, it needs all of our work, it takes all of us working together to make it better."
Compared to the previous week's forum, some students preferred the format of this event.
"I came because it seems like this is more student-run and a safer space for student voices to get out," said Amanda Mathew, a sophomore.
Some students and faculty at the event expressed optimism for the future of these issues on campus, noting that they are hopeful that student activists can make a difference.
“It's an honor to be a teacher at Duke if these are the students I’m going to teach," said Matteo Gilebbi, senior lecturing fellow and cultural advisor in the Romance Studies department. "It’s great that they brought up the issue of unionization. I think this is part of the same issue, to make Duke a better place. I’m honored to be part of this movement.”
Neelesh Moorthy and Claire Ballentine contributed reporting.
This story was updated Sunday night to include an audio recording of the event.