Anti-gay graffiti on bridge re-ignites DCR controversy

Anti-gay graffiti that appeared on the East Campus Bridge near the start of the summer session sparked further controversy between the Duke College Republicans and its former members, who were recently embroiled in a discrimination debate. 

The graffiti was directed at former College Republicans Chair Justin Robinette, a rising senior, who claimed in April he was impeached from his position because he is gay. Following April’s incident, the Duke Student Government Judiciary ruled that the College Republicans did not discriminate against Robinette in their decision.

“Recent intimidation tactics make it hard for me to stay silent, even though I and my officers are being threatened to [do so],” Robinette wrote in an e-mail Monday. “I think what has been perpetrated by members of the DCR against officers who resigned and who are supporting me is inching beyond the jurisdiction of student government.” Robinette claimed he and other former members have received death threats, intimidating Facebook messages and have been cyber-stalked and harassed.

Robinette said he has repeatedly requested intervention from University administrators, adding that he was denied meetings with President Richard Brodhead.

Robinette declined to speak directly with The Chronicle and responded via e-mail, adding that he was advised to have all conversations with media “documented.”

Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta said it is unclear when the vandalism occurred, but that the University dispatched employees from the Facilities Management Department to paint over the graffiti 90 minutes after he was notified of the incident.

“As far as the graffiti is concerned, it doesn’t appear that we have much hope of discovering who did it,” Moneta wrote in an e-mail June 15. “I made the decision to have it painted over.... My effort at this time is focused on support to the student.”

The East Campus Bridge graffiti appeared to read “Lyning F—g Robinet,” “DCR = Righteous” and “Get AIDS in Hell.”

Duke University Police Department did an initial investigation of the incident, but it did not produce any suspects, DUPD Assistant Chief Gloria Graham wrote in an e-mail June 15. The case has since been turned over to Student Affairs, she added.

Normally, the University does not interfere with hate speech on the East Campus Bridge,  but it does paint over harmful statements when they are directed at a specific student, Moneta said.

“Under the bridge policy there’s a distinction between free expression, that however hateful, harmful or inappropriate it is—as long as it’s free expression— it will stay there as long as its not directed at an individual,” Moneta said Monday. “If it’s threatening or harassing and directed at an individual, then the University will get rid of it.”

The language of the University’s bridge painting policy, however, leaves room for considerable debate. Under the policy, groups and individuals from Duke can express their opinions without restriction, except by “legal standards.” The specific legal standards are not defined within the policy.

The College Republicans have denied all accusations indicating that members of the club were the perpetrators of the vandalism. Chair of the College Republicans Carter Boyle, a rising senior, said the club was slandered by the appearance of the College Republicans’ initials in the graffiti.

“The Duke College Republicans decry both the usage of offensive and derogatory language and the slander of their organizational title in this abuse of university property,” reads the formal response released by the Executive Board of the College Republicans. “It is the board’s hope that the greater Duke community will join the Duke College Republicans in a commitment to remove slanderous and hateful language from the vocabulary of this community by following the courses of action laid down by our mutual peers and colleagues serving in the DSG.”

Cliff Satell, former College Republicans vice chair and a rising senior, filed a complaint with the Undergraduate Conduct Board last week. His complaints referred to the bridge graffiti, an e-mail he received from a College Republican that he felt was blackmail and vandalism with the word “f—got” that appeared in the Spring on the dormitory name tag of rising senior Matthew Leonard, former College Republicans vice chair.

Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek said reports of personal threats and hate speech are typically uncommon at Duke, but that the University takes such incidents very seriously.

“I would say any kind of hate speech is a major concern for the institution, and it’s very difficult to know whether there has been an increase,” Wasiolek said. “I can say that within the last several months there seems to be an increase in the reporting of hate speech, and whether that means there’s an increase in the actual occurrence is hard to say.”

Rising junior Bridget Gomez started a Facebook group petitioning the administration to take action against the hate speech and DCR. The group has 258 members as of 9 p.m. Wednesday, most of whom are Duke students.

Wasiolek said University officials are still deciding how best to respond to the incidents both during the summer and in the Fall.


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