“No your black life does not matter.” –Nov. 13, Duke University
On Friday, Nov. 13, President Brodhead held an open conversation in response to various racial injustices happening on campus and at institutions of higher education across the nation. The conversation took place at the end of the week during which student protests motivated by racial injustices at the University of Missouri resulted in the resignation of their president.
During the conversation, students voiced concerns about discriminatory acts they have experienced first-hand on campus. Some referenced university proceedings such as those related to discriminatory statements within the Chronicle, the noose hung on campus last Spring and the defacement of the Black Lives Matter poster. Others shared instances of being harassed with the likes of racial slurs and even monkey calls. Each of the students expressed his or her belief that the Duke administration should be doing more to prevent such hate acts. President Brodhead, accompanied onstage by Provost Sally Kornbluth and Dean Valerie Ashby, declared that racial intolerance had no place at Duke, and he promised that the university would take steps towards prevention.
Following the conversation, many discriminatory statements directed towards Black students were posted on Yik Yak—a social network that allows users to engage in discussions anonymously. First-year student Senita Portlock created an album on Facebook comprised of such Yaks. Initially the album consisted of more than a dozen Yaks. Now, however, the album contains over four-dozen Yaks, many of which were in response to the second University-wide conversation. The second conversation, held on the following Friday, Nov. 20, came about as a demand by students at the first conversation, reason being that the first conversation occurred at 12:00 p.m., a time when most students are in class and were therefore unable to attend and share their voices. More than 150 Facebook users have shared the Yik Yak album, suggesting that it is indeed a problem that needs to be addressed.
At Duke, African-Americans comprise only 10 percent of the undergraduate population. Many Black students including myself already feel isolated and wonder if we truly belong here: is our presence genuinely valued or are we simply being used to make diversity statistics more alluring to prospective students? Multiple Yaks perpetuated this thought: “If you’re black and you feel unsafe then just get the f--- out”; “Can we kick BSA [Black Student Alliance] and BLM [Black Lives Matter] off campus?”; “Why are these people allowed on campus? We should have a policy that the next time someone b----es about their ‘quality of life’ they should be on the next bus to UNC… Oh wait the black [population] would be nil.” The sheer mass and virulence of these posts reinforces my position as an outsider on this campus.
One of the main reasons why I chose to attend Duke was because of the diversity it promised. Duke advertised a nearly utopian campus where students from around the world came together harmoniously. As advertised on the Duke Student Affairs webpage for Culture and Identity, “Diverse backgrounds, beliefs and perspectives are a hallmark of life at Duke, an integral part of a liberal arts experience, of your experience. What you learn here about yourself and how you grow as a member of this community will help you throughout your life.”
Within my first week here as a freshman, I realized that most of the friend groups forming contained students of the same race. At my high school—a public school in Baltimore, M.D.—students of all races were friends with each other; we all hung out together and shared the high school experience while unified. I was convinced this diversity would be heightened by a magnitude I couldn’t even fathom at Duke, and so far I have been let down.
Diversity is possible. And not brochure statistics that merely translate to numbers but an inclusive campus where everyone is open to engaging fellow students regardless of their differences.
Duke ought to prevent students from harboring such deep prejudices. In the same way all students are required to complete a Writing 101 class, there should be a mandatory half-credit cultural competency class for all first-years and transfer students. The class should expose students to various cultures in addition to debunking racial, gender and other prejudices that are unacceptable at Duke. This would allow such problems to be confronted and resolved at the beginning of a student’s time on campus, preventing him or her from continuing as problematic in the future.
These Yaks certainly taint the idea of a truly diverse Duke being possible anytime soon. Sure, these viewpoints may only be held by a small number of students on campus, but the fact that they exist here at all is disheartening. Creating a cultural-competency class for all first-years and transfer students has the potential to prevent prejudice from manifesting into hateful acts against minority students. If people hold these stereotypes about one race, what prevents such prejudices from being held towards others?
Stay woke, Duke.
Danielle Holt is a Pratt freshman.
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