More than 100 students, faculty and administrators gathered in solidarity with University of Missouri protestors Thursday afternoon.
Following a silent protest in which attendees held signs and formed a perimeter around the Chapel quadrangle, a number of students and administrators delivered brief remarks to the crowd. The rally, organized by four graduate students, responded to protests at the University of Missouri and Yale University, but students also noted the growing frustration with the administrative response to acts of intolerance at Duke.
"The incidents that happened in those places are not isolated, nor are they extricable from the incidents that happened here at Duke, at UNC, at N.C. State and other universities and colleges across this country," said Danielle Purifoy, a Ph.D. student in environmental policy.
Several speakers mentioned acts of bigotry that have occurred on Duke's campus in recent weeks, including the defacement of a Black Lives Matter poster and a death threat directed at a gay student, both of which used hateful slurs.
Students also shared stories of racism that they had encountered at Duke and in Durham. One student recounted hearing people yelling "monkey noises" at her and her friends while walking through Craven Quadrangle.
A common theme throughout the speeches was that the administration responded with dialogue without following through with action. For instance, one speaker criticized the administration's stance that a specific policy devoted to punishing hate crimes—which Duke currently lacks—would be inconsequential.
Senior Ryan Chavis, former president of the Native American Student Alliance, noted Duke's lack of Native American faculty as an example of the University's failure to "create a truly diverse and accepting community."
Students also expressed their frustration that Jerry Hough, research professor in political science, will resume teaching at Duke despite a racially insensitive comment that he made on a New York Times editorial in May, noting that Hough was not required to undergo any sort of bias training after the comment.
The rally took place a day before President Richard Brodhead, Provost Sally Kornbluth and Valerie Ashby, dean of the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, are scheduled to hold a forum to address student concerns. Speakers noted that the forum may not be a fully sufficient response.
"What are you saying when you decide to have a press conference but market it to students as a forum?" said junior Levi Brice. "What are you saying when you decide to host a forum for students on a Friday at noon right in the middle of class time? You're saying you don't care."
Purifoy also noted her concern about the timing of the Friday forum, given that it was announced via email shortly after the resignation of Tim Wolfe, former president of the University of Missouri system.
"It feels very disingenuous that President Brodhead decides to hold this conversation only after someone in his position has been forced to resign," Purifoy said. "Where has he been the past few years? If you really want students to take you seriously, you must show up before someone has to force you to."
Students also weighed in on the free speech debate that has permeated national conversation in the past week. In response, one speaker said that "we need to expand our sense of freedom, and we need to have a healthier sense of what freedom actually means."
At the rally, Benjamin Reese, vice president of institutional equity, said he appreciated the efforts of student activists at Duke and around the country and hoped they would continue.
"I'm really deeply shaken by what we haven't done," Reese said. "I take what you say seriously. I am committed, as I've been, but I've redoubled my commitment because you have pushed me in ways you should be pushing me and the nation."
The rally was organized by Purifoy; Seth Pearson, third-year law student and president of the Black Graduate and Professional Student Association; Nura Sediqe, a Ph.D. student in political science; and Felicia Arriaga, a Ph.D. student in sociology. The organizers noted that they were pleased with the turnout on such short notice, as they arranged for the rally only the night before. The event was attended not only by Duke students, but also by students from other colleges, including North Carolina Central University.
"We're not going to be tired," Pearson said. "We don't have the opportunity or the privilege or the permission to be tired. We must continue to fight and continue to rally and continue to protest."
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