Since Duke’s integration, marginalized students and employees have fought tirelessly for an end to the oppressive environment Duke perpetuates. An environment that, in a multitude of ways, continues to devalue the lives of people of color while simultaneously profiting from the labor of these same members of Duke’s community. Over time students have found many ways to resist Duke’s oppression, from sit-ins to the historical Allen Building Takeover of 1969, but little progress has been made in having their cries heard and attended to. In the midst of these injustices, students are still expected to flourish in an environment that actively antagonizes, trivializes and fails to protect the value of their existence. They are expected to seek and recruit other minorities into this dismal environment as a means to preserve Duke’s image of equality. An image that Duke prioritizes the maintenance of over the lives of those that work and live on this campus to give that image meaning and truth.
Recently, students discovered that Tallman Trask, Duke University’s Executive Vice President, hit Shelvia Underwood, a black woman and Duke employee, with his car and possibly used a racial slur toward her. News of this incident was kept silent for over two years by Duke administration and the Duke University Police Department. Trask committed a felony and abused his position and power to intimidate Ms. Underwood and preserve himself. And while Ms. Underwood only requested an apology from Trask, Duke administration decided to silence her instead.
Nine courageous students decided to conduct a sit-in and issued a list of demands for workers’ rights and students at Duke in response to Duke’s tyranny. Of the eight, highly feasible demands made, two of them have been met, as those students were granted full amnesty after being threatened with arrest and a public apology has been made. However, the journey remains undone as Duke has yet to meet the other demands issued and the protesters and supporters continue to take the steps necessary to mend the wrongs done by Duke administration.
The Alpha Alpha Chi Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. gives its full respect and support to the brave protesters and their goals. Employees, whether full-time or subcontracted, deserve a living wage, especially if Trask can be afforded a six-figure salary after committing a felony. Ms. Underwood deserves full reparations, an outside investigation, and a full and transparent review. Transparency in recruitment of senior administration is paramount in moving forward and avoiding hiring those who would continue breathing life into the oppressive environment Duke has historically fostered for its workers and minority students. It is just as critical to hold administration accountable for upholding the Duke Community Standard and its principles if Duke University aims to be an institution that embodies equity, prosperity, and truth for all members of its community.
The Alpha Alpha Chi Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc.
Torrey Mayes, president