Waking up to new, unsettling headlines implicating powerful men in instances of coercion and sexual violence have now become the new norm for many. This past week was no exception when allegations of sexual harassment were leveled against Charlie Rose, an American television journalist, talk show host and Duke alumnus. His alleged behavior comes as a shock for some admirers, even with the outpour of accusations placed against prominent figures like Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K. and Harvey Weinstein. While Charlie Rose wasn’t the first person to be accused since the “me too” hashtag went viral—and, unfortunately, will likely not be the last—his connection to Duke necessitates a conversation about how our university fails to prevent predators and the ripples of harm that neglect can cause.
Earning an undergraduate history degree in 1964 and later a Juris Doctor in 1968, Rose spent nearly a decade of his life studying at Duke. During his time here, he was also a member of the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity and on staff for The Chronicle. Post-graduation, Rose has made appearances back on campus at the Duke Law School’s Class of 2016 commencement, been awarded an honorary degree and was granted the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy’s Futrell Award. By all accounts, he was the quintessential, inspiring Blue Devil. Which, perhaps, is partially why the administration has yet to act on these incredibly troubling accusations. Rose is a powerful alumnus who exemplified the perfect combination of wealth, power and visibility. Yet, none of those factors change the deeply disturbing circumstances that are coming to light. The journalism schools at both the University of Kansas and Arizona State University promptly rescinded Rose’s awards and honorary degrees after the news story broke, with school officials commenting that the alleged behavior was worthy of revoking these honors. This kind of swift and decisive action was appropriate and stands as a timely example for Duke and other institutions to follow.
However, Rose’s awards and achievements shouldn’t be the focal point of national discussion. Far too often the sheer star power of the perpetrators can overshadow victims and their trauma within conversations around sexual violence. Headlines center the men and their contributions to film or media while the lives they’ve impacted remain secondary characters. Women continue face obstacles when navigating spaces that are historically dominated by men and there’s no way to account for how many talented actresses, comedians or journalists have been pushed out of the industries they loved because of abusive, invasive men. Mourning is in order for the art not made, the articles not published and the ambitions not fulfilled because of gendered power dynamics that we have failed to dismantle.
Charlie Rose serves as yet another reminder of the painful, degrading realities that women face in any career they choose to pursue. Furthermore, his actions and sense of entitlement to women’s bodies are further evidence that we must do better in preventing misconduct early on. This pattern of exploitation did not occur in a vacuum and likely started well before he was the star of the “Charlie Rose” show. Rose was able to leave Duke with two degrees and an unchallenged internalization that he could objectify women without consequences. This is an institutional failing that can still be seen decades later in the current rates of sexual assault and gender violence on campus. How Duke chooses to respond to the allegations against Rose will be indicative of how committed the administration truly is to creating a safe and inclusive campus, even if it means speaking out against alumni.