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We urge administrators to grant Allen Building sit-in students amnesty from arrest

More than 40 years ago, students took over the Allen building and demanded a change to Duke's racial climate, just six years after black undergraduates first integrated the institution. They were met with police who were armed with tear gas, riot guns and pistols. Though certainly under less physically aggressive circumstances, over the course of the past couple of weeks, students have found themselves demanding rights for those who have gone unheard yet again. These students are being met with outright opposition, hostility and inflexibility from several administrators in discussions about issues that affect black staff and black people at Duke. In what can only be discerned as an effort to silence the narrative of a Black worker who was hit by Duke's Executive Vice President Tallman Trask and allegedly called a racial slur, the Duke administration has threatened to arrest or sanction nine students who are protesting on her behalf and on behalf of wider institutional workers’ rights--for “trespassing.”

One of Duke's most esteemed and powerful administrators was the offender of a hit-and-run in which the allegation of a racial aggression was made with no response, yet it is the students interrogating the matter who are being threatened with scholastic and criminal sanctions. This fact is simply another manifestation of the disparate experiences to which the staff, students, and faculty of color at Duke as well as their allies have, historically, always been subjected. Whether or not Trask used a racial slur against Ms. Shelvia Underwood, the fact that Duke’s administration has yet to publicly respond to, acknowledge, or apologize for Trask’s admitted contributions to the accident is unacceptable. Duke administrators have proven yet again that their investment in the institution’s brand is greater than their investment in shifting the institution’s problematic culture around race, class and a host of other marginalizing identities.

We, the executive board of the Black Student Alliance, support the student protestors courageously challenging the structures of oppression at work against marginalized people at Duke. We urge President Brodhead and Dean Sue Wasiolek to grant these nine student protesters amnesty from arrest and university sanction. Whether or not you agree with the demands or protests of the Duke Students and Workers in Solidarity, as administrators and thus upholders of Duke University policy, you must honor these students’ right to peaceful protest. As members of an intellectual community that boasts “(dedication) to scholarship, leadership, and service and to the principles of honesty, fairness, and accountability,” we (students, staff, and faculty) should all respect the Duke Students and Workers in Solidarity in their will to have us critically reflect on, then take collective and intentional action against the ways in which Duke staff, particularly those of color, experience their lives here daily.


2015-16 Executive Board, The Black Student Alliance

2016-17 Executive Board, The Black Student Alliance


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