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Community and consent

At a panel discussion hosted by Honor Council on Thursday, students asked representatives from the Duke Men’s Project and the Women’s Center about the factors that cultivate an environment for sexual assault on campus. A common thread of the discussion centered around the notion that, if Duke students are among the brightest thinkers, then why is sexual misconduct so prevalent? “If people at Duke are so smart, why do we see a disconnect between what they learn in the classroom, and how they act outside of it?” asked one student.

The panelists explained that this is a question they explore on a regular basis. Since a survey published in March of last year found that 40 percent of undergraduate women at Duke have experienced sexual assault, campus has been intermittently abuzz with reactions to this finding. The panelists at the discussion remarked that this survey, coupled with the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, have fostered an environment that is more receptive of conversations about sexual misconduct on campus.

This recent moment is anything but abrupt. Concern about the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault has been festering for decades, and now is not the first time in Duke’s history that the problem has been discussed. 

In October of 1979, a student group called Students Toward Equality and the Prevention of Sexism (STEPS) were in the process of creating a survey on sexual harassment that would be distributed to all Duke students. In February of 1988, the results of a study conducted by sociology students found that 37 percent of undergraduate men said they “personally know someone who has suffered sexual harassment at Duke.” These surveys gauging the frequency of sexual misconduct on campus have been periodically introduced for decades. The data is unequivocal—we know that sexual misconduct happens. The real question is why it continues. 

Discussions of sexual misconduct often fixate on gray area issues, even though the campus norms we pledge ourselves to are quite clear cut on the issue. After all, the second line of the Community Standard says, “I will conduct myself honorably in all my endeavors.” Yet, students forget that these endeavors extend past academics, to sports ethics, business practices, environmental stewardship, and to sexual conduct. The third line says, “I will act if the Standard is compromised.” 

Yet, students forget that this action extends past reporting plagiarism or cheating, to reporting an instance of sexual assault of which you are aware. These principles should not be forgotten, because they’re the very standard used to adjudicate cases in which sexual misconduct occurs. Waiting until after misconduct occurs to learn the codes and rules for a case defeats the purpose of having norms in the first place, which is why developing a broader understanding of the application of the community standard is particularly vital today.

Throughout Duke’s history, students have had a central role in the preservation of honor and integrity and in creating conversations about issues that need attention. Years after students vetoed the campus honor code in 1965, a new generation of students felt passionately that the standard needed to be implemented because “Honor is essential to an atmosphere for liberal learning.” They took it upon themselves to draft the early versions of what would go on to become our Community Standard today. Students created women’s groups when they noticed gender segregated clubs on campus, and they wrote surveys to investigate the issue of sexual misconduct. They were capable of creating enormous change. Sustaining and amplifying their efforts is our responsibility.

In 1982, President Terry Sanford wanted to see students connected by “... Some additional honor code embracing more than just a prohibition against cheating and violating specified rules of conduct.” The words of the Community Standard are meant to guide students to be honorable and cognizant members of the community. To embody this standard, we must be leaders in creating change, particularly in the area of sexual conduct, as were the generations of students who came before us.

This week’s column was written by Camille Ampey, a Trinity sophomore.


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