Approximately 100 students gathered on the steps of the Duke Chapel Friday afternoon in response to a Black Lives Matter flyer in White Lecture Hall that was vandalized with racial slurs.
Junior Henry Washington, president of Black Student Alliance, gave a speech emphasizing the need to take this event in stride and as a reminder to remain fervent in demanding equality. The defaced poster—which advertised a talk to be given next Wednesday by Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of the #BlackLivesMatter movement—was present at the event. Although many expressed anger on social media outlets like Facebook as news of the vandalism spread throughout the afternoon, Washington took a more positive route in his message.
“Standing here in all of my anger and radical, unapologetic blackness, what I have decided to do here before you is to smile,” Washington said. “I have decided that the cowardice and tomfoolery of an anonymous troll will not affect my experience.”
Washington also noted the need to continue conversations about race, gender and sexuality in daily life.
“It is not enough to sit idly by while black lives continue not to matter,” Washington said.
Washington said he was pleased to see the amount of student support on short notice and hopes that next week’s events will continue the conversation.
“I’m always pleased to see such a large gathering of people in the service of this message,” Washington said. “It’s really affirming to me to see that not the entire campus necessarily buys into racist stereotypes and ideologies that produce this kind of thing and keep it happening over and over again.”
Keizra Mecklai, president of Duke Student Government, attended the gathering and said that more must be done to solve the issue of racism on campus.
On April 1, students gathered after the discovery of a noose on campus, mobilizing near the West Campus bus stop before marching to the tree on the Bryan Center plaza in which the noose was hung. Last semester, there were also reports that drunken white male students had chanted a racist song at a black female Duke student on East Campus.
“I really hope the campus will respond to this and recognize that there are fundamental inequalities in the way that we treat certain racial groups on campus, certain students on campus,” Mecklai said. “These moments of racism aren’t isolated incidents. They’re real and they affect students and we need to be doing something about them and be active about that at all times.”
Earlier in the afternoon before the gathering, Sue Wasiolek, associate vice president of student affairs and dean of students, said that the flyer had been taken down early in the afternoon and that she had just been made aware of the vandalism. She noted that she could not provide any more information at that time.
"I don't know who took it down and I don't know who [vandalized it], but [the vandalism] is very, very unfortunate," Wasiolek said.
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Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta echoed Wasiolek's message.
“I’m disgusted every time something like this happens,” Moneta said. “I wish we lived in a world where racism and sexism and homophobia never occurred, but that’s unlikely.”
Students in attendance at the gathering expressed disappointment that similar events have continued to occur on campus.
"This is not a micro-aggression—this is an aggression. Not even aggression, just hate," senior Busi Sibeko said.
Sophomore Miles Ndukwe explained that he encountered similar anonymous hateful writing last summer during DukeEngage in Charlotte.
“Seeing that just got me so distressed to the point that I’m desensitized to stuff like this,” he said. “I’ve seen stuff like this so many times that it just does not faze me.”
After Friday's events, Moneta sent an email to students Saturday evening lauding students' responses to the vandalism, but did not provide any more information about the vandal or administrative response.
Following April's noose incident, BSA and DSG created a list of action items to reduce racism at Duke, including a revamped orientation curriculum, a pre-orientation program for black students and the publication of community safety and bias incident reports.
The Executive Board of the Black Graduate and Professional Student Association also released a statement over the weekend applauding the efforts of other students, but urged faculty and administrators to more directly respond to the incident.
"Expunging racism from our campus means that this university cannot afford for you to effectively condone such actions by your silence," the statement read.
Ryan Zhang and Stephanie Wu contributed reporting. This story was updated at 2 p.m. Friday to include Wasiolek's comment, after 4 p.m. Friday to include the information from the gathering and Sunday evening to include Moneta's email and the BGPSA executive board statement.