In response to student demands presented at the Duke Tomorrow forum Nov. 20, President Richard Brodhead sent an email last Tuesday to the students who organized the forum assuring them of his commitment to deal with the concerns they raised.
The “Demands of Black Voices” document—which addressed bias and hate speech, racial and socioeconomic diversity, mental health and faculty unionization—called for an email to be sent to faculty and students by last Tuesday at 5 p.m. that included a signed statement by Brodhead, Provost Sally Kornbluth and Valerie Ashby, dean of the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences.
The statement was not signed and publicly distributed, as per the student demands, but instead Brodhead’s email noted that the Task Force on Bias and Hate Issues will be responsible for considering many of the demands presented. He added that orientation programs and faculty diversity efforts—which were also included in the demands—are already in place.
“We look forward to working with all members of the Duke community to make the University a better place,” Brodhead wrote in the email.
Brodhead’s email directed further concerns and comments to Kelly Brownell, dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy, and Linda Burton, dean of social sciences, the co-chairs of the Task Force on Bias and Hate Issues.
Students who organized the event said they were not satisfied with the administration’s response and hope to reconvene this week to discuss future plans to engage administrators.
“No one wants any drastic actions, but sometimes that might be the best way to do things,” sophomore Melody Iro said. “All we wanted was them to put a signature on a statement that said, ‘We are willing to listen to you and work with you.’”
Despite the disruption of Thanksgiving break and the approaching end of the semester, Iro said that the group of students who organized the second forum will try not to lose any momentum and will prepare for next semester.
The Task Force on Bias and Hate Issues is slated to be “fully operational” in early January and will post regular updates to a website for the Duke community to access, according to Brodhead’s email.
In the wake of the second forum, students discussed the demands using social media outlets such as Yik Yak and Facebook. Some of the demands most debated among students included the optional reporting of standardized test scores and the renaming of the West Union to Abele Union in honor of West Campus architect Julian Abele.
“There will always be things people disagree on, and we knew that going into this,” Iro said. “We tried to cover as much as we could, but in the end we knew that people were going to get mad because you can never please everyone.”
Faculty members have also joined in the support of the demands. As of Nov. 22, 23 faculty members had signed the “Demands of Black Voices” document to show their support for the protesting students, according to a Facebook post made by Mark Anthony Neal, professor of African and American studies.
Another demand made by students that administrators will have to address this week was a demand for a meeting by Dec. 6 with Ashby, Steve Nowicki, dean and vice provost for undergraduate education, the task force co-chairs and Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs, to discuss the demands further and negotiate a timeline for their implementation.