The recent #DUBetter demands presented at the “Duke Tomorrow” panel left me astounded. As I perused through the combative list of ten demands—not suggestions—delivered to President Brodhead, shame and regret engulfed the numb body that sank into my seat.
Demeaning authority figures is a tactic that should be reserved for cases of barbaric and nonsensical transgressions. Accosting an esteemed university President who took the initiative to invite all Duke students, faculty and staff for an open conversation, is detrimental to the unified, mature front that we—believers in racial equality—should strive to project.
I, an unaffiliated and concerned student, find it difficult to “ingest” all of these demands in the aggressive manner they were presented. Yes, an outlet to report discriminatory events (such as the incident in March where a black student was reportedly taunted by racist chants) would be an excellent addition to the responsibilities of the new Task Force on Bias and Hate Issues. Yes, teaching tolerance can be effective at bettering the community our Duke Standard purports.
But yes, too, we must acknowledge the fact that knowing racism is awful does not stop racists, and effective professional development is also needed for the education requested. Moreover, yes, too, expecting a comprehensive approach to be drafted a couple days after the demands are presented is impractical and counterintuitive to the meaningful solutions needed.
And, I may add, comparing Duke’s swift decision to not allow the Muslim call to prayer from the Chapel, after the pronounced criticism of a religious figure who called upon alumni and donors to withdraw their support, neglects the arching issue of greater American intolerance. Comparing acts, rather than striving to set precedents, is acutely fruitless. The director of Duke’s Islamic Studies Center, Omid Safi, has written a brilliant piece on pluralism and its place at Duke, reflecting this point.
On the topic of greater education on race, I ask, shouldn’t the education on biases, institutional racism and anti-oppression be extensive enough to not demand further diversity training specifically for members of the Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council?
Furthermore, in a country where the Federal Bureau of Investigation defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, or ethnic origin or sexual orientation,” defining hate speech on campus as “speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups” is too broad, period. One may even say, “I am offended by the broad definition of hate speech.”
Beyond investigating all accusations of hate speech, the mandates on diversity, while well intended, fail to hit a key requirement of an actionable solution—this point is downright unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruling on Bakke v. Board of Regents found racial quotas illegal. Guaranteeing a specific numerical quantity of female and professors of color is an example of a quota, and it creates artificial diversity that undermines the capabilities of minorities. Also, while hiring practices can be ameliorated, the subjectivity of the term “person of color” desperately needs to be acknowledged, and the definition must be refined.
Additionally, addressing the cycle of poverty and educational inequalities that are perpetuated in unjust systems is a taboo entry point to meaningful discussions on racial inequalities that the demands strive to tackle. Recognizing slavery is not enough, and looking beyond the rhetoric to modern applications of racial inequalities may better equip society in general.
When it comes to increasing socioeconomic diversity, there is much to be said about point-blank demanding free tuition, room and board for students of families making under $75,000. Only through thorough investigation into the endowment, financial aid stipends and overall economic reality of Duke can any group of individuals demand anything from an organization. Without providing any context for the seemingly arbitrary value of $75,000, this demand loses its clout.
In my brief look into the University’s finances, as of mid-2014, the endowment allocation to financial aid was $1.54 billion. At Brown University, the endowment was $3.2 billion in mid-2014, yet families earning more than $60,000 with more than $100,000 in assets do not make a financial contribution. Even at Stanford, where the endowment was more than three times that of Duke’s in June 2014, tuition, room and board are only covered for families making less than $60,000. These numbers highlight the intricacies that the demands overlook; I hope to see demonstrated family need in financial aid processes truly reflect those needs, but recognize that understanding the topics of hand is an essential component of making a compelling and serviceable claim.
Perhaps delivery that maturely reflected the profound nature of these grievances, coupled with a deliberate list of suggestions presented respectfully to university administrators, would have prompted the desired response of these concerned students. They are not alone in their distress over the escalating racial tensions across the United States, prompted by the events in Ferguson and the rising social media presence of activists and protesters alike.
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And may I note my absolute lack of contempt against the authors of the DUBetter demands. I am not stranger to racism, and I stand in solidarity with young activists striving to rid this world of concrete injustices, even in unexpected ways. But I also must articulate my frustration with the delivery and content of certain demands made by my peers. The 50 years of silence in response to the plight of minorities on campus should only empower students to take even greater diplomacy when bringing these contentious topics to campus once again.
At the end of the day (or at least 5 p.m. on Tuesdays), making demands is not the way to enact change on the scope of a respectable higher-education institution. We came to Duke for a liberal arts education and the opportunity to gain the tools needed to change the world. Let us remain cognizant of our privilege as students here, act in a respectable way that reflects our ability to speak up to share our thoughts and articulate our visions for our beloved university.
Sabriyya Pate is a Trinity freshman.