A series of recent incidents has raised concerns that protestors and marginalized groups on campus are being threatened.

Two banners and a pride flag were removed early Sunday morning from A-Ville, the collection of tents outside the Allen Building where students have been staging a protest in support of workers’ rights for more than two weeks. Another pride flag hanging outside the window of senior Bron Maher’s dorm room in Craven Quadrangle was removed at some point before Thursday morning, and a pride flag his neighbor hung in support was cut down late Saturday night.

“There have been serious concerns about safety,” said Bennett Carpenter, a graduate student in the literature department and columnist for The Chronicle who has been involved in protests outside the Allen Building. “Three homophobic incidents in a row indicates, in my view, a concerted pattern and possibly a group effort.”

Protestors outside the Allen Building also found a flyer Saturday morning near their tents that they said they believe supports white supremacy.

The flyer, which reads, “Car accidents aren’t racist and neither is Duke University #lookbothways,” is attributed to the Traditionalist Worker Party, a group whose website states that it stands for “faith, family and folk” and that “localism and secessionism” are central to its mission.

“We take the white supremacist pamphlet very seriously particularly because it contains a veiled threat in terms of the ‘lookbothways’ hashtag,” Carpenter said.

Junior Carolyn Yao and sophomore Jazmynne Williams, who participated in the Allen Building sit-in, said they were in the tents outside the Allen Building when the flag and banners were torn down. 

“It was around 4 in the morning when I woke up and heard some voices, and I assumed it was someone coming back to sleep,” Williams said. “We found out in the morning that one of the pride flags was gone. We couldn’t find that one although we did recover the two banners, which were in the trash.”

Yao wrote in an email that she saw a running figure when she came out of the tent she was sleeping in. She wrote that one of the banners torn down was the second A-Ville demands checklist banner because the first one was also stolen but not recovered.

“We want to emphasize that banner stealing and flag cutting are reiterated crimes, and are following a concerning pattern,” Yao wrote. “We have to wonder whether there are members of the Duke community—potentially students—who are organizing these hate crimes.”

Williams noted that the flyer being found and the removal of the banners and pride flags occurred within 24 hours of each other.

“I want to believe they were two isolated incidents, but even if they were, then it’s still very strange and very threatening,” Williams said.

Williams also criticized the administration for not immediately responding to the incidents and expressed doubt that the perpetrators would be caught.

Sue Wasiolek, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students, and Zoila Airall, associate vice president for campus life, sent an email to students Monday night addressing the recent incidents.

“Over the past five days, LGBTQ+ pride flags have been stolen, defaced, and hateful messages have been written on personal property,” the email reads. “These acts, while often viewed as small and insignificant, have a huge impact on members of the LGBTQ+ community and are not condoned on our campus.”

Maher, who is also a columnist for The Chronicle, said that he was not exactly certain when the flag outside his window was removed.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty about when it was torn down because I don’t exactly know the last time I saw it up,” he explained. ““It was definitely gone by Thursday, and my guess is that it was taken down Wednesday night.”

Maher noted that although he does not have any indication as to who removed the flag, he was encouraged by the fact that a number of pride flags were hung from neighboring windows in Mirecourt section after his was torn down.

Carpenter said that he and other students filed incident reports regarding the torn down flags and the pamphlet, but added that protestors have not filed a report with the Duke University Police Department because they do not trust the department.

“One of the things that is troubling about this situation is that we’ve been out there protesting DUPD for several weeks for their complicity in forms of institutional cover-up,” he said. “We have been subjected to continual, very aggressive forms of surveillance and harassment by DUPD. One concern many students have is that we no longer have trust in those mechanisms in place that are ostensibly designed to protect our safety.”

Wasiolek said that she found out about both the torn down flags and banners as well as the flyer when incident reports were filed Sunday night.

“Those incident reports have been filed and we will do all we can to identify the perpetrators,” she said.

Wasiolek added, however, that the protestors’ reluctance to contact DUPD could hinder attempts to find the perpetrators because only the police could conduct a criminal investigation.

Maher noted that although the removal of his flag—which he said he first hung in November after freshman Jack Donahue received a death threat—was symbolic, it was not the most extreme example of homophobia he had experienced.

He said that he and his friends have had homophobic slurs directed at them on and off campus, and added that many LGBTQ students had been threatened both verbally and physically at Shooters II Saloon.

“This year I’ve come to understand that this stuff is built up, that there is an environment that produces this hatred,” Maher said. “I’ve had people call me a faggot to my face and not to my face, and I’ve listened as their friends haven’t said anything to correct them.”

Maher added that the recent vandalism—which he said seems to be “kind of in vogue for campus bigots”—is representative of a larger cultural problem at the University.

“I think a lot of it is on students to address this issue,” he said. “It’s about how you treat other people and how you react to other people.”