In an effort to promote endowment transparency, student coalition DukeOpen wrapped two of the University’s most prominent statues in opaque black plastic Tuesday.
The two-fold approach began shortly after 11:00 a.m. Tuesday morning and simultaneously covered the statues of James B. Duke and Benjamin Duke on West and East Campuses, respectively. But both coverings were removed at different points during the day. The East Campus tarp was taken down by groundskeepers in the early afternoon—but was replaced following conversations between DukeOpen and administrators—and the West Campus wrapping was removed by students at night, said senior Jacob Tobia, one of the DukeOpen leaders.
“Statues are emblems of our identity and what we stand for,” said another DukeOpen leader Bobo Bose-Kolanu, a second-year doctoral student in literature. “Currently, this is what we stand for—without transparency, you can’t see Duke.”
DukeOpen has been gradually making its way through administrative processes since the Spring. Vice President and University Secretary Richard Riddell said that the proposal will “most likely” be presented by President Richard Brodhead at the Board’s meeting this weekend, The Chronicle previously reported.
As the group of students on West Campus cut the black plastic sheet and painted a blue DukeOpen sign, several construction workers—perched in the highest windows of the library—watched the ongoing process. Before the task concluded at 11:55 a.m., several more students had joined the group.
The scene on East Campus was similar, with passersby stopping to watch Benjamin Duke get obscured by plastic.
The demonstration is part of a push to gain support for the coalition’s cause, along with a student petition that has garnered more than 2,000 signatures, Bose-Kolanu said.
After DukeOpen discovered the wrapping had been taken down on East, organization members spoke with administrators about the tarp removal. The group was permitted to re-wrap the statue following a meeting with Zoila Airall, assistant vice president of student affairs for campus life.
“We had a minor snafu that was a result of poor communication between our group and the grounds managers,” senior Lucas Spangher wrote in an email Tuesday. “But we have resolved those issues and the administration understands that these actions are not vandalism, but are meant as political protest.”
According to the Pickets, Protests and Demonstrations section of the Student Code of Conduct, members of the academic community may “join together to demonstrate their concern by orderly means,” so long as they refrain from “disruptive picketing, protesting or demonstrating on Duke University property or at any place in use for an authorized university purpose.”
The code notes that students planning a protest or demonstration should contact the University Center for Activities and Events before doing so.
The group was careful not to leave any permanent marks on the statue, Tobia said. He added that their goal was not to vandalize nor create excess work for Duke maintenance teams. The group will take the plastic down themselves following the Board of Trustees meeting this weekend.
Late Tuesday night, however, the tarp on West Campus was removed. Tobia said that a bystander noticed a group of four students removing the wrapping at around 11 p.m. He added that the organization is unsure whether they plan to rewrap the statue.
“We look forward to continued action throughout the week, but we would be overjoyed for the administration to make these actions unnecessary by agreeing to a more transparent endowment,” Bose-Kolanu said.
As of 10 p.m. Tuesday, Tobia had received no administrative feedback on the demonstration.
“This is just step one,” he said.