The first time I went to West as a Duke student.
The first time I met her.
The first time I met him.
The first time I had an interview.
The first time I sat feet away from a Duke basketball legend.
Bus culture is Duke culture, and for my three years here, Duke buses set the scene for many of my memories.
Duke buses have seen me at my best, as I primped and prepped for interviews, and at my worst, as I mourned the death of a loved one. They have seen me succeed as a Duke student and struggle as a Duke student. Duke buses have seen me make lasting relationships, and they have also seen me lose them.
Duke buses have traveled with me as I did my own traveling, to discover who “me” is for myself and for others. But, along the way, I’ve done my own observing on Duke buses.
I’ve seen students transform a Duke bus into a mobile Shooters.
I’ve seen countless rides in silence. (Is it really hard to say thank you?)
I’ve seen students use words to destroy others.
I’ve seen Duke students transformed into different beings the moment they step foot on the bus as if we bear crowns of entitlement.
The only difference between a Duke bus and a DATA bus is the Duke logo.
I’ve seen a lot of this, so why was I so affected last week when the role of entitlement was reversed?
Last week, I encountered an incident on a Duke bus that has remained on my mind every day since. Partly because I don’t know what will happen. Partly because I can’t help but blame myself for whatever will happen. I was coming back from class on East when a Duke bus driver stopped the bus and yelled, “I assume you know English, I said get out of the doorway” to a group of young, hijabi girls. He made an assumption about the group’s physical appearance, albeit a false one, and unfortunately, a very common one. I’m not sure what enraged me so much, but I immediately put on my Duke shades and stepped into a role marked by inequality rants that Duke has wired into me.
I saw evil, and I had to fix it.
I talked to the driver: The girls needed justice. And justice is what I got. Justice is what I thought I got. At least, I think that’s what I wanted when I stormed to the front of that bus. But if I did right, why do I feel guilty walking onto every Duke bus?
I was told that the situation was “taken care of” and knowing the power that Mama Duke holds, I can’t help but wonder what this means. Unfortunately, Duke transportation would not disclose any information because of “employee confidentiality,” although I am the student who initiated the report. This lack of transparency is evident in many of Duke’s policies, and although I respect the University’s laws to protect employees, I feel obliged to know if I caused permanent harm to an individual whose life story I barely know.
I have witnessed the damaging effects of words, of both drivers and students. Last week, I was enraged by that driver’s words to a vulnerable group of guests. What the bus-driver said to those girls was offensive and humiliating, so my position on the harm of his words remains the same. But I was only a traveler on his bus. I have no idea how other travelers on other trips treated him on that day. Bad days happen. Mistakes happen. Who am I—who is Duke—to say students’ mistakes are less damaging?
Unfortunately, the reality remains that you can fire or severely financially injure an employee for such remarks, but you cannot fire or as severely reprimand a student for the same remarks. It’s in this double standard that I’m facing an internal struggle.
I am working my best to make amends for the way I reacted to that situation, and I hope the administration will be responsive and support reconciliatory rather than punitive action. Duke has a way to go before having these talks, so I share this with you in hopes that you will learn from my wrongs.
Respect is a two-way relationship, and it takes bus talks like this to remind us we are ALL Duke.
Leena El-Sadek is a Trinity junior. Her column runs every other Monday.