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Students highlight disconnect between discourse, administrative action at open forum Friday

<p>President Richard Brodhead, Provost Sally Kornbluth and Valerie Ashby, dean of the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, addressed students Friday.</p>

President Richard Brodhead, Provost Sally Kornbluth and Valerie Ashby, dean of the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, addressed students Friday.

Tensions were high Friday afternoon at a community conversation convened by administrators in response to recent racist and homophobic incidents on campus.

President Richard Brodhead hosted an open forum in Page Auditorium at noon for students to express their concerns and ask administrators questions about their responses to these events. Brodhead—along with Provost Sally Kornbluth and Valerie Ashby, dean of the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences—outlined several actions that they have taken or plan to take, including expanding implicit bias training, developing a website that answers questions about punishments for perpetrators of hateful acts and creating a task force to tackle issues of bias and hate on campus. He explained that addressing these issues must include efforts from the entire Duke community.

“No single administrative thing is the solution to the whole problem,” he said.

Before the a event, a large group of students took the stage to demand another meeting at a more convenient time with more advance notice—next Friday at 5 p.m. The group began a call-and-response chant directed at the administration, saying, “You have created a space for us to fear for our lives, and you continue to maintain that space.”

They also repeated “Whose university? Our university,” and continued to chant “Duke, you are guilty” as they exited Page Auditorium. Kornbluth later said she would be in attendance at the conversation next Friday.

Read: Duke searching for solutions in wake of racial incidents

A main focus of the approximately 90-minute forum—which filled Page Auditorium and was broadcasted on the Bryan Center plaza using a speaker—was whether students or the administration were more responsible for implementing change on campus. Several students called for more action from the administration and questioned what specific actions they are taking to prevent further incidents.

“It is not my responsibility,” said senior Adesuwa Giwa-Osagie. “It is your responsibility, because I paid for my education and I paid for this experience.”

Brodhead noted that action by the entire campus is needed and that students should speak up to educate each other about becoming more tolerant.

Ashby, however, said the responsibility to address these issues should not rest on students’ shoulders, explaining that change must begin through the actions of faculty and administration.

“We’re going to have conversations that lead to action,” she said. “Anything we say we’re going to do, we’re going to do. It’s just that simple.”

Ashby noted that this change will not happen “overnight,” adding that she is visiting different departments of the University to discuss Duke’s values and will hold department chairs accountable. She also said new faculty will be held to high standards during their annual review. In addition, she noted that all faculty serving on search committees are required to undergo implicit bias training through the Office of Institutional Equity.

“We will evaluate the entirety of the person—you can’t be a great scholar and intolerant. You have to go,” she said.

Read: Students urge admins to take action following latest on-campus event involving discrimination

Ashby's comments on holding faculty accountable were relevant to several students' concerns that research professor Jerry Hough—criticized for racially charged comments he made on a New York Times editorial last year—will teach classes next semester without having undergone any bias training.

Another topic discussed was the noose incident last Spring, which a University investigation found was the result of a lack of cultural awareness and was not a racially motivated statement.

“Can you honestly tell me that you believe there is no racial motive behind the incident last Spring?” senior Katrina Miller asked.

Brodhead explained that the student who committed the act received a serious disciplinary sanction, though the details of the sanction could not be divulged due to federal law. Three investigations—by federal, state and local law enforcement—took place and none of them resulted in a criminal charge, he said. Although many students are upset that the student in question was not expelled, Brodhead noted that he does not think the University should punish individuals based on “the passions of the community.”

In addition, implicit bias training and the ability of students to report incidents of bias or discrimination were addressed.

Giwa-Osagie criticized the University's priorities, pointing out the lack of bystander intervention training and specific forms for students to use in reporting discrimination-related incidents. She noted that Duke found the money to “build a million dollar glass door” but has not yet implemented bystander intervention training or bias report forms. Although there is an incident report form available for students, it is not specifically dedicated to instances of bias or discrimination.

Brodhead said that solutions are in the works. He noted that the Office of Institutional Equity has recently doubled its capacity to do implicit bias training. Ashby added that mandatory educational components addressing bias are being considered.

Duke does currently have a Bias Response Advisory Committee within the Office of Student Affairs—however, Brodhead said a new task force will be created that will strengthen existing efforts to combat bias and will be modeled after the University's Gender Violence Task Force.

Kornbluth also announced that Duke has opened a search for a vice provost for faculty advancement whose main responsibility will be “diversity and inclusion” on campus.

Miller added that because of the recent incidents, she no longer feels safe on campus as a black woman at Duke and asked the administration to address her fears.

“You say you’ll be here next Friday at 5,” she said. “But where are you going to be tomorrow when I’m walking home from the library at midnight afraid, angry and scared to walk around my own campus because I don’t know if the person walking next to me or the person sitting next to me in class is the one who defaced that poster?"

In response to Miller’s concerns, Ashby promised to keep her door open in the Allen Building for students looking to discuss their individual situations with her, but acknowledged that these issues go beyond any individual.

“Let me talk to you,” she said. “This is about you. You asked the question what I can do right now, and I’m telling you what I can do right now.”

Matthew Bunyi, a graduate student in the Sanford School of Public Policy, also criticized The Chronicle for multiple opinion pieces in recent months and encouraged changes to the way opinion pieces are handled.

“We’re not saying don’t publish those things. I’m saying go find somebody who is going to publish something that responds to that on that same day,” he said.

Several students noted that the anonymous social media app Yik Yak allows users to post discriminatory comments without fear of repercussion, calling for administrators to shut down the media platform. Brodhead explained that he did not know if he had that ability but acknowledged the dangers of students being able to post anonymously.

Junior Christine Wei raised concerns regarding staff diversity in Counseling and Psychological Services, socioeconomic diversity in student recruitment and mental health on campus.

“As someone who can’t afford to look like someone who is wealthy, I don’t feel as if I belong on this elitist, privileged campus,” Wei said. “Our university is supposed to be a microcosm of society, but where are the voices that have gone unheard?”

Kornbluth said that faculty members agree with Wei on these issues, noting that their goal is for students to eventually “see themselves in the faces of the faculty.”

She also noted that immediate action would be taken as a result of Wei’s observation that there is only one Asian-American counselor in CAPS.

Conversations addressing the recent incidents on campus and how to improve campus climate will continue to take place, Brodhead explained.

“None of us ever had the idea that this would be the only time we’d talk to anyone in this room,” Brodhead said. “This wasn’t the first day we thought about these issues, and this isn’t the last day we will think about these issues.”

Ryan Zhang and Amrith Ramkumar contributed reporting. This story was updated to to more accurately reflect the size of the group that addressed administrators and students before the forum, correct the link to the story about the recent defacement of a Black Lives Matter flyer and clarify who announced the new vice provost for faculty advancement position. The Chronicle regrets the errors.

Adam Beyer | Digital Content Director

Adam Beyer is a senior public policy major and is The Chronicle's Digital Strategy Team director.


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