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Caldbeck, the penitent Duke bro?

Last Thursday, Justin Caldbeck, the disgraced ventured capitalist and Duke alumni (Trinity, ‘99), was on campus to speak to students in a finance class about the dangers of “bro-culture.” Caldbeck famously resigned this past summer from Binary Capital, a leading venture capital firm in the Silicon Valley, amidst a wave of sexual harassment claims by female peers in the industry. According to Bloomberg Businessweek and The Chronicle, Caldbeck gave a 51-slide presentation to about 50 students in which he highlighted the toxic masculinity inherent within the Silicon Valley and at Duke. Caldbeck, in speaking to the class, also stated that he took “full responsibility for his actions” and highlighted the “importance of speaking out against sexual harassment.” 

Caldbeck’s speech and presence at Duke was obviously problematic in a number of regards. Although Caldbeck did emphasize taking “full responsibility for his actions,” nonetheless his emphasis on “lacking self-awareness” and blaming the toxic “bro-culture” at Duke and the Silicon Valley for his actions does not justify the fact that as an individual, self-cognizant man in a position of power, he sexually harassed his female peers, notwithstanding obvious structural factors. The fact remains that he was obviously “self-aware” of the problematic, misogynistic nature of “bro-culture”—rather he quite oppositely relished in it from his position of power. 

Moreover, although Edward Tiryakin—the lecturer who hosted Caldbeck—stated that he thought Caldbeck represented a “good learning lesson” for his students as someone “who did some pretty bad things and lost a lot of money,” clearly Caldbeck is benefiting professionally off his wrongdoings as evident by his recent actions. Caldbeck has embarked upon the much-trodden path of past offenders, portraying himself as a “penitent sinner” and in the process professionally benefiting off of speaking events as well as his very public, self-styled campaign of “self-awareness.” Clearly, even for the most egregious sexual offenders, there is definitely a professional afterlife—as evident by the “Head of Self-Reflection, Accountability & Change” himself. 

However, Caldbeck is correct in highlighting the toxic masculinity inherent at Duke and consequently within the professional world. A former walk-on for Duke’s basketball team and a fraternity member, Caldbeck noted in his talk of a common culture of sexualizing and objectifying women ingrained within male organizations on campus. At a campus where 40 percent of undergraduate women report being sexually assaulted, it follows that such an unsafe environment continues into the professional world where men like Caldbeck can continue their actions in a male-dominated workplace. As someone who has engaged with this “bro-culture” ever since his days at Duke, it is deplorable that it took an entire professional scandal for Caldbeck to become conscious of the inherently problematic nature of this undeterred chain of toxic masculinity. 

Caldbeck’s presence on campus as well his post-scandal behavior is especially shameful as an alum who is clearly professionally benefiting off of his previous wrongdoings. Moreover, instead of using the Caldbeck case as an example of “It can happen to you” in order to deter sexual assault/harassment on campus and in the professional realm, we should aim to instead ameliorate the structural, cultural causes of such behavior in a way that recognizes the fundamental human right of every student and employee to feel safe. It is going to take more than a one-dimensional act of public penance from a disgraced Duke-affiliated sexual-harasser in order to truly create a campus and professional world where everyone feels safe. 


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