To the end of complacency

I suppose that the farewell columns we seniors are asked to write should highlight the “big lessons” of our four years here. Big things like, “get to know your professors” or “branch out of your comfortable social circles.” If you can’t figure these things out on your own, I doubt a column is going to help you. I imagine there is a huge number of students on this campus who will have wasted four years of what should be an incredibly edifying, formative, and transformative experience. A rehashing of the “big lessons” is not going to change that fact.

One of my professors recently commented in class that Duke students are complacent: complacent with the status quo, complacent with mediocrity, and complacent with the comfortable. While generalizing on this scale is never a good idea, I recognize this complacency in the average Duke student. We resist change on this campus.

When administrators want to invigorate the intellectual life, we moan and groan. We’re happy with our name-brand degrees without required senior theses and with the freedom to get sloppy drunk every Thursday night. “We don’t want to be an Ivy League” seems to be our complacent rally cry. I wasn’t aware that the Ivy League had fiat power over intellectualism on college campuses.

When a publication such as Saturday Night: Untold Stories of Sexual Assault at Duke (emphasis on at Duke) hits our campus, no one bats an eye. Instead, our Interfraternity Council President makes an inane comment to Duke Magazine, “We invite speakers to our fraternity about sexual assault, and we acclimate new pledges every spring to the scope of the issue.” Sounds like complacency to me.

The “scope of the issue” is about 40 reported sexual assaults on Duke’s campus every year, according to the Women’s Center. How many go unreported? How many undergraduate men in sites of social power actually care? White ribbons and mandatory presentations won’t change anything until men on this campus take responsibility for each other’s actions and unilaterally condemn sexual assault in all its manifestations.

Another publication worth developing might be titled, Saturday Night: Untold Stories of Social Exclusion at Duke. Almost any minority on this campus—minoritized by a number of factors including race, class, sexual orientation and lifestyle—could contribute an essay about his or her experience of attempting to gain access to Duke’s tightly-controlled and segregated social scene or about his or her experience of bucking the system and wearing the title of outsider.

Minoritized students first try to make sense of the dominant system of social organization. Once they understand which station in the system they can inhabit, they struggle with the fact that they can never gain full ownership of the social scene of the school they attend. Some students retreat to their marginalized, fringe spaces and communities. Others attempt to assimilate in whatever way they can. For many students, the exclusionary and often oppressive nature of this system leads to a range of emotional struggles: bitterness, pain, impotence and depression, to name a few. Rather than face this fact, the average complacent Duke student looks the other way, perhaps oblivious to the hurtful social practices in which he or she engages.

I hope when I return to Duke for my 10-year reunion, complacency will have become passé. Students will discuss these and other serious issues to better themselves and better the place they live and learn for four years. In the meantime, I salute the students who work tirelessly to improve our beloved Duke University, and I don’t mean those responsible for opening parking lots after hours.

To the students involved in intellectualizing this campus, to the founders of Saturday Night, to the leadership of Common Ground and the Center for Race Relations, to the members of fringe groups on campus, and to all the other non-complacents fighting for a better Duke, I thank you for these past four years.

Christopher Scoville is a Trinity senior.


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