The independent news organization of Duke University

Let's talk campus culture

Ching, chong, chang." Standing with his group of friends, a Duke student slung those words toward my friend and me when we walked through the West Campus Plaza to grab a late night McDonald's snack a couple of weekends ago. At first, I didn't hear what he had said, but I could tell by the sudden change in my friend's demeanor that his words weren't kind. My friend shook his head and told me to keep walking. When my friend finally clarified what the stranger had said to us, I was floored.

I questioned how drunk this student was, because I hadn't experienced this type of mockery since attending middle school in Alabama. Sure, the phrase was bad enough to damper what otherwise was a great night celebrating a friend's birthday, but I figured that this ignorant student did not attend Duke.

We're better than this, right?

I wish that was the only low point I had that Friday night. While my friend and I stood in the McDonald's line, I overheard the student in front of us emphatically state to his friend, "I hate that flaming homo." Once again, I questioned how drunk this student was and hoped that this student did not attend Duke. Unfortunately, his Cameron Crazies T-shirt and Duke hat squashed my hopes that he attended another school. I was left speechless, and I could do nothing except exchange glances of disgust to my friend, who is gay.

We're better than this, right?

If we are better than this, then how come no one in the group outside the Plaza responded to their friend's racist remarks of "Ching, chong, chang" as my friend and I walked by, minding our own business? If we are better than this, then how come the homophobic individual's friend didn't even budge when "flaming homo" and "fag" were said in the McDonald's line? If we are better than this, then how come I'm left disappointed all too often on the lack of maturity and respect on this campus?

After the events of last spring, Duke was afforded the rare opportunity to take a closer look at "campus culture," the way in which we interact with each other on a daily basis. While I respect the administration's desire to respond to key issues by forming committees on race, alcohol, gender and athletics, I can't help but to think that the real change has to start from the creators of the problems themselves-the students.

We know better than any administrator, trustee, parent and Rolling Stone reporter what it's like to be a student in the Gothic Wonderland. I love it here, but what happened to me that Friday night left me in shock. I didn't expect my fellow Duke students to portray some of the most immature and juvenile behaviors and then have none of their friends respond with disgust. We throw out excuses all the time, passing these situations off as "drunken stupidity" or "trivial drama," that we essentially become indifferent when these same situations happen again.

And they do happen again. When I told my friends what happened, I received a slew of similar stories in response, like when no one called out the drunkard making racial jokes at a party on Central last weekend or the sexist remarks made in section last night.

Sadly, I am just as guilty of stereotyping other Duke students and making hurtful, immature comments too. If I am truly honest with myself, I know that sometimes my behavior reflects that of a high school student, rather than a Duke senior.

My utter disgust and disappointment that Friday night, however, was overwhelming enough for me to recognize that when I laugh or say a derogatory joke, I am doing nothing but creating divides between those who know me and those who don't. And when I don't do anything when these events occur, I am just as guilty and immature.

Yes, let's do something about campus culture, but let's not fool ourselves into thinking that some university committee has the answer. Campus culture starts to change with us, the students, and how we carry ourselves every single day, whether in class on Monday or out partying on Friday. If we don't take this opportunity to improve ourselves seriously, then we are failing part of our college education.

After all, we're better than this, right?

Miho Kubagawa is a Trinity senior.


Share and discuss “Let's talk campus culture” on social media.