Last spring, You Don’t Say? went viral with just 17 students. This spring, the campaign decided to take a more active approach and hit the recruiting trail.
You Don’t Say? is a campaign founded by senior Daniel Kort and juniors Anuj Chhabra, Christie Lawrence and Jay Sullivan that aims to raise student awareness about the offensive nature of phrases and slurs used in everyday conversation through photographs shared using an online campaign. Starting Jan. 7, the group began to roll out its second online push, only this time instead of 17 students, the project featured 41 Duke student-athletes.
“Sports are really integral to our campus culture, and with that comes a pretty big microphone around our athletic culture,” Kort said. “It’s easier to dismiss a message if it’s coming from a social justice-oriented group on campus…. By getting people who aren’t traditionally seen as the social justice kids on campus to stand up for this message, it carries a lot more weight. It’s also that these student-athletes care a lot about the issues.”
After running a successful campaign last spring during which their work was featured on HuffingtonPost and CNN, Sullivan—a former Chronicle columnist and current president of Think Before You Talk—and the board of You Don’t Say? met to decide on what their next step would be.
“Around that time, Daniel, me, Christie and Anuj were running the different media stuff at that point,” Sullivan said. “That’s when we were trying to figure out, ‘Okay, this was successful. What do we do next?’ We went and met with Athlete Ally.”
Senior Tara Dalton and junior Lauren Miranda are members of the rowing team and serve on the executive board of Athlete Ally’s Duke chapter along with Brody Huitema of men’s soccer and Dylan Ryan of wrestling. Athlete Ally is a national nonprofit organization focused on ending homophobia and transphobia in sports by educating allies in the athletic community.
Kort—who is the president of Blue Devils United—and the You Don’t Say? board sat down with Duke’s Athlete Ally representatives with the idea of relaunching the campaign they ran last spring. This time, instead of students, they would feature the student-athletes, feeling the platform the athletes possessed would allow the message to reach more than those in the social justice niche.
The notable difference in the 2014 and 2015 campaigns—other than the inclusion of student-athletes—has been the presentation of the photographs. The original photos were black and white and focused more on the words than the subjects issuing the statement. With the student-athlete campaign, the text was moved beside the players’ profiles and the photographs were published in all-color.
The athletes were also encouraged to come dressed in their uniforms and bring any props they wished. And when it came to selecting a term, the athletes were given free reign in order to make the project a more personal experience.
“It was really cool that people got to bring their own topic to the campaign,” Dalton said. “You didn’t have to do something that was directly under the umbrella of Athlete Ally or You Don’t Say? and a lot of people brought their own experiences, which is why people were so eager to get involved.”
Sophomore women’s basketball forward Kendall Cooper decided to join teammate Oderah Chidom at the fall photo-shoot after Chidom told her about the project.
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For Cooper, the campaign instantly hit home. Her brother, Michael, has a speech impediment and has been subjected to harassment. So when an opportunity to speak out on the issue—specifically the word “retarded”—came, the 6-foot-4 forward did not hesitate. As a player on one of the more popular teams at Duke, the decision to speak out came with a platform she knew she had to take advantage of.
“We have a more recognizable face, so when people see our posters around or our quotes, I think it makes a bigger impact on what words people choose to use,” Cooper said. “Me and my brother are kind of close, so I took it to heart as well as he did. I just don’t like the word, it makes me feel a certain type of way. So when people use it around me, I feel offended.”
And as much as the project was meant to present the issues that the athletes had personally experienced with loved ones, many photos feature words that are aimed at athletes and students on a daily basis, not just those that are disadvantaged or marginalized.
“It’s an interesting kind of role to play. I know sometimes at Duke, athletes get a bad rep almost like we’re kind of skating through the normal life of a Duke student,” Miranda said. “Sometimes people don’t think we work as hard, and academically aren’t as engaged. Some of what the people wanted to do is rise up against that stereotype and that reputation we sometimes get. The role of being an athlete is a really empowering one.... We get to kind of break the mold that people impose on us.”
Like any social campaign, the project has been met with its fair share of criticism. Those who oppose You Don’t Say? claim the campaign is based on the grounds of censorship and that those running the project are hypersensitive and attempting to limit free speech. Kort said that last time most of the negativity came from Facebook, although after the relaunch, detractors have taken more to Twitter to combat the project.
Kort and Sullivan have been adamant throughout their two campaigns that the project is not meant to censor speech, but rather to bring a new light to the way students use it. With the student-athletes on board, it would seem the message is being heard on Duke’s campus.
“Often people look at this and say, ‘Oh, they’re trying to censor speech,’” Sullivan said. “What really this is is student-athletes that are taking a stand on a social issue they care about. The word represents something more than that. That’s why it was important to get people who were very passionate about it.”
Cassie Calvert and Sameer Pandhare contributed reporting.