Last night, during a particularly long Skype session with an Australian friend, I launched into a story that involved an undercover sex scandal, an incidence of cyber-bullying, a broiling political climate and the public confession of many people’s darkest insecurities. As excellent as my story-telling skills are, my friend was only listening half-heartedly, having been distracted by the sudden appearance of a large spider in her bedroom (yes, it is Australia). After the appropriate steps were taken (read: shrieking and spraying), she apologized and resumed the conversation with this line: “Sorry, you were talking about some TV show. Which one was it? Scandal?”
But I had not been talking about a fictitious TV show at all. I had, of course, been describing the latest events sweeping across the Duke University campus and spreading to some parts of the nation. And my friend’s unwitting mistake only highlighted the absurdity of the charged controversy that has circulated around campus this Spring. With the media frenzy surrounding our part-time porn star, the insidious presence of Collegiate ACB, the hauntingly honest What I Be Project or the permeating DSG elections, it seems that campus has never been more dramatic. A small part of me is half-expecting the long lost love child of Larry Moneta to appear and take over the school.
Of course, many of the above issues are contentious by nature and deal with relevant, eye-opening ordeals that do deserve a great deal of attention. For example, Lauren’s choices in sex work have made us consider the portrayal of women at Duke and the meaning of feminism. The What I Be project has promoted an air of authenticity and confession that challenges the notion of effortless perfection. The 40 Percent Plan calls into question the role of agency in our extracurricular student experience. If there is one thing I hope you take from my columns, it is that I am always an advocate for open, unfettered discussion on life, love and where to go for lunch. Much of the conversations regarding issues recently brought to light are ones that ought to be brought up.
But it also seems to me that the excitement surrounding these topics is less about its substance and more about its juiciness. The shock value. It is the scandal, the drama that keeps the hushed discussions circulating again and again rather than the crux of the matter. It is the scandal that has begun defining every new update and every new revelation. Rather than contributing to healthy discussion, much of the discussion of late has a slippery feel to it, and there is the disturbing sense, at times, that all of this sensation is steeping our campus in a state of maliciousness.
And I don’t deny that I’ve taken part in relishing the scandal. I’ve felt myself being caught up with each turn in the plot, each new update. I’ve passed judgments on those I have no right to, talked about people as if I understood their intimate thoughts and relayed choice pieces of gossip that I had no place in repeating. But enough is enough.
Enough of sick websites like CollegiateACB that allow a cruel and malicious distribution of every rumor on campus and the trash-talking of individuals.
Enough of conversations that attempt to deconstruct the motivations and predict the next moves of prominent campus figures.
Enough of judgments, and, certainly, enough of the drama.
Because I did not come to Duke to indulge in the cheap pleasure of dramatized conflict. Neither did you, I think. We came to Duke to get a damn good education, and, yes, that means, inevitably, we will confront situations that make us uncomfortable and people who challenge us to see new perspectives. So a student at Duke is a porn star. So that girl in your lab is recovering from an eating disorder. Both of these people add yet another unique character to a school where everybody has an individual story to tell. In some instances you might know about it. In most, you don’t. In either case, they do not exist to entertain your curiosities and give you your fill of juicy gossip.
At the end of the day, our campus is a bubble. A bubble where the weather no longer makes sense and the squirrels are the sassiest in the world, but it is a guarantee that eventually every single one of us will leave this bubble. We are going to move on. We are venturing into the world beyond and will find that it cares very little about the campus commotion at Duke in the Spring of 2014.
So enough is enough. And the irony of writing a somewhat dramatic column about not contributing to drama has not escaped me. But shall we try? Shall we be kind to each other? Shall we forgo sensation and drama?
Can we agree that scandal has had its 15 minutes of fame?
Isabella Kwai is a Trinity sophomore. Her column runs every other Thursday. Send Bella a message on Twitter @tallbellarina.