I commend President Price for acting to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee. He might reasonably have chosen a more cautious path, deferring the decision until a study committee could make a recommendation. Instead, by removing and preserving the statue now, President Price has created the conditions for a more honest, fruitful conversation about race and memory, free of the public pressure now accumulating around every piece of Confederate iconography.
We should acknowledge that this decision might more courageously have been made years earlier. Like many Duke alumni, I have long loved Duke Chapel as a spiritual home and as the symbol of our University. Even its statuary is part of that significance for me: John Wesley and other Methodist leaders are part of my spiritual heritage, as they were for the Duke family. It is a mark of white privilege that I was able to cherish and grow spiritually in that place, while dismissing Lee's presence as nothing more than a curiosity. The last few years of unbearable tragedy and courageous protest, from Ferguson to Charleston to Charlottesville, have opened my eyes to the ways that our history of white supremacy still lives and breathes.
Late though it may be, the removal of this statue and the conversation that will follow is good news. Another piece of Duke stonework, in the Divinity School's Westbrook building, quotes St. Paul: "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Duke itself is being continually reborn: the campus today is home to a marvelous and diverse community that would have been unimaginable when a graduating class first passed through the Chapel's doors in 1932. As we begin a new academic year, and the tenure of a new president, I encourage the entire Duke community to seek ways of renewing the spirit and renewing the mind, and especially of reckoning with our racial histories and identities. May we all be transformed anew.
Dave Allen is Trinity '04 and M. Divinity '10.