This weekend, Duke will host prospective students for the annual Black Student Alliance Invitational (BSAI). The events of the weekend—including panel discussions with current students, a mixer between the Black Women’s Union and Black Men’s Union and National Pan-Hellenic Council step show—are open to all Duke students, but serve to provide a glimpse of life on campus for students deciding between Duke and other colleges and universities. We commend efforts by the Black Student Alliance and the Undergraduate Admissions Office in conducting such a large-scale event, and as the weekend approaches, we reflect on the purpose of BSAI and what it might signal for our community.
This program is a key step for our University toward expressing support for and reaching out to members of marginalized communities who choose to join us on campus. Many black students across the country may find Duke’s location in North Carolina, in a region with a deeply-rooted history of racial discrimination, to be unsettling. Incidents such as a noose being hung on the Bryan Center plaza only strengthen a sense of discomfort felt by many on campus, making some prospective black students unsurprising wary of this university. BSAI is an attempt to combat these qualms, to make it clear that Duke is a welcoming community by showcasing and celebrating our black culture and emphasizing our support systems for black students.
However, like other student recruitment weekends—Latinx Student Recruitment Weekend and Blue Devil Days—BSAI paints Duke in an overly rosy light by displaying aspects of Duke that may not be apparent in the everyday. The predominance of black culture on campus this weekend is not indicative of the campus climate year-round when such events are less frequent and not as well-attended. Even though celebrating black culture and spaces like the Mary Lou Williams Center is imperative, as a University, we only gather to recognize the importance of our black community when it serves our recruitment efforts. Perhaps, by pushing beyond a presentation of black culture to include information on how experiences of black students differ in other realms of the university, BSAI could help paint a more realistic picture for prospective students.
With our support fully backing BSAI, we turn toward the larger, Duke community to question the creation of similar outreach programs for other marginalized groups on campus. Because of House Bill 2 and recent incidents of hate crimes on campus, Duke should turn its attention to prospective students who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Recognizing that our state’s social climate could deter students from the community from attending our university, Duke should organize events to embrace and celebrate our LGBTQ+ community on campus. This formal commitment could take many forms including a similar recruitment weekend organized with the assistance of Blue Devils United or more robust programming during Blue Devil Days. We believe that Duke has a responsibility to express a wholehearted commitment to the safety of students who attend our university, especially in this political climate.
The success and importance of BSAI should not be understated. The weekend allows the black community on campus to welcome prospective students with open arms and the University to express a profound commitment to the recruitment of black students. But we should recognize that the weekend is an important step in a series of many the University must undertake to help make campus more inclusive. Hopefully, our commitment to prospective black students extends beyond their acceptance of the invitation to our university.
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