On Friday afternoon, approximately 250 students gathered on the Chapel steps to show support for the LGBTQ community on campus following a death threat in East Residence Hall containing a homophobic slur.
Freshman Jack Donahue—a resident of the dormitory who was singled out in the graffiti—spoke at the event as well as Bernadette Brown, director of the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, and Tyler Nelson, president of Blue Devils United. The graffiti was written in sharpie on the wall of a first floor hallway and was found at approximately 3 a.m. Thursday morning. It was removed Thursday afternoon.
The speeches given Friday urged the community to consider the incident not as an isolated event, but rather as part of a systematic problem that needs to be addressed.
“What happened on our elite and progressive campus was a death threat, a hate crime, an assault on the LGBTQ community and a threat to contaminate our campus,” Donahue said.
Nelson urged Duke to assume a zero tolerance policy against similar acts of violence, enforce mandatory cultural competency training for all students and create a sexuality studies major. The need for cultural competency training was brought up recently following the defacement of a Black Lives Matter flyer Oct. 23 and the discovery of a noose on the Bryan Center Plaza April 1.
In his speech, Nelson used last year’s exhibit in the Rubenstein Library, “Queering Duke History,” as an example of how the University has remembered past intolerance on campus but has yet to help rectify the situation for current LGBTQ students.
“Today is a reminder that those events are not all in the past,” Nelson said. “It is a reminder that this campus is not yet safe for queer students. While this may appear to stand alone as an isolated incident, it is not.”
Nelson further implored the administration to take note of this incident and not let it disappear from memory.
Brown’s speech addressed the topic of allies of the LGBTQ community and suggested constructive ways to continue the conversation without belittling others.
“I don’t even know why we have a label for allies. We just want you to do the right thing,” Brown said.
Donahue said in his speech that the perpetrator is unimportant and later added that he believes it is unlikely this person will be caught. He also called out anonymous users who posted on the social media outlet Yik Yak for being indifferent, encouraging all bystanders to take action.
“To those idly standing by, what you are doing is as hurtful to me and my people as anything that any bigot can scrawl on my wall or even nail to my back,” Donahue said.
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Although the issue has gained traction on social media and though local media affiliates attended the event, Donahue explained that he believes that the attention is misplaced and that passive support is insufficient.
“The fact that an event of hate has to be what has to bring a community together is saddening,” he said.
Some members of the LGBTQ community said they felt unsafe on campus following the graffiti. Freshman Quinn Baker decided to sleep off-campus Thursday night in the wake of the incident.
“This has actually been a fear of mine since the first week of school that I was going to come back and there was going to be hate speech and slurs scrawled on my wall,” Baker said. “I convinced myself that couldn’t happen on my campus. It’s happened now, and I’m angry.”
Despite the circumstances tied to the event, some students noted that public awareness represents important progress.
“It’s important that this stuff is happening because it shows us that we still have to do work, and we can’t just celebrate Coming Out Day and give out shirts,” senior Andrew Jacobs said.
Senior Zack Fowler noted that since his freshman year, the CSGD has become more prominent on campus—especially after moving to the top level of the Bryan Center—but added that there are still strides to be made.
“Instances like this are a sign that we’re not there yet,” Fowler said.
Correction: This story was updated to remove an incorrect pronoun she referring to Quinn Baker because Baker identifies using the pronoun xe. The Chronicle regrets the error.