Mi Gente is offended and shocked at the Program in Education and its PowerPoint presentations that The Chronicle published last week. These presentation slides demonstrate the lack of understanding and respect for Latino communities—especially at Duke and in Durham. The use of sombreros, maracas, cigars and other images of Latino culture were used inappropriately and offensively. Our University often rebukes student organizations for similar acts, but it is even more disappointing and disturbing when these same sentiments come from faculty. This is a clear demonstration of the Program’s ignorance concerning diversity with respect to race.
As a student affinity group, this confirms the discomfort our members feel in the classroom. Often tokenized, students of color look to their professors for support. In the Program in Education, students can rarely turn to faculty for guidance in these situations, and these PowerPoints contribute to the latent discrimination in the classroom. The finding of these slides comes after Mi Gente and students’ efforts to keep Jason Mendez, the Program’s first and only faculty of color, at Duke. At his “Unity Through Diversity” presentation hosted by the Center for Multicultural Affairs, Mendez shared that his two years with the program were the worst he had ever experienced in his career. As well as struggling to feel at home, Mendez disclosed developing a vision problem induced by stress. Stress, he says, he felt because of the uncomfortable and unsupportive community in the Program in Education. Despite speaking with the Director of the Program, Jan Riggsbee, and the Director of Undergraduate Studies, David Malone, to discuss the Program’s lack of diversity in early March, Mi Gente is still concerned about the experiences students of color are receiving in the Program. After being told multiples times in our conversation that we do not understand the University, it is clear that we do understand that our University operates under a patriarchal and discriminatory system that still does not invest in the Latino community.
Because of our small numbers on campus, we operate in the shadows, and with instances like these it has become even more difficult to feel relevant on campus. Although we maintain significant programming throughout the academic year, our population still has no physical space on campus. We organize Latino Student Recruitment Weekend every year in order to help recruit and encourage talented Latino students to come to Duke, but many of us have become disillusioned by the experiences we have felt in the classroom, namely in the Program in Education.
Not only are we offended as students, but we are perturbed by how these presentations trivialize the communities of color that the Program claims to work with in Durham. It is difficult to imagine what motivated the Program to approve these types of publications, but regardless of the reason, it is an excuse. This excuse cannot be issued in the form of a public apology or through another “commitment to diversity.” Duke University and the Program in Education must make substantive changes and tangible efforts in order to create an environment that is conscious of all of its students, their identities and their experiences.
Our academic programs and departments should be held to the same standard as our student groups regarding these racially themed events, and they should not be exempt from retribution. We hope that the rest of the Duke community will stand with us and reevaluate the trajectory of the Program in Education and its leadership.
Mi Gente Executive Council