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Duke of past, present and future

Coming right after the controversial events of Duke’s most recent reunion weekend, incoming members of the University’s most recent undergraduate class have arrived on campus this week for Blue Devil Days, marking the end of a whirlwind of major university events during April. The last major month of the academic year, April represents a rare time when past, present and future members of the Duke community converge upon this campus to interact with the institution. Reflecting on the tumultuous events of previous Aprils over the last few years, it is also a month filled with celebration of the University’s future, as admitted students are presented with hopeful visions of their lives within Duke’s gothic architecture and glass boxes.  

The usual celebration and festivities of reunion weekend this year were punctuated by significant discontent and unrest. Last weekend, on the 50th anniversary of the Silent Vigil, student protesters took the stage during President Price’s address to alumni to demand a number of institutional changes, including higher wages for Duke employees, greater transparency by the Board of Trustees and greater support for mental health and victims of sexual assault. This is not the first time that alumni and prospective student weekends have coincided with campus controversies. 

In 2016, Blue Devil Days took place during a week-long student-led occupation of the Allen Building. Their demands included a call for the removal of Executive Vice President Tallman Trask and other top administrators, an investigation into discriminatory behavior by the University’s Parking and Transportation Services as well as a livable wage for all Duke employees. In April 2015, students engaged in marches and demonstrations after a noose was found hanging from the Bryan Center Plaza and a student reported being the target of a racist chant. The protests sparked a campus-wide dialogue on reforming University policies on hate speech to better address racial discrimination and bias, as well as on remedying the forms of discrimination students of color experience at Duke. 

As alumni and prospective students arrive on campus, this month presents a rare moment of convergence between past, present and future members of the Duke community. Yet as these different stakeholders come face-to-face with student activists, it is also an opportunity for collective reflection and reckoning. Amidst the rosy nostalgia of alumni reunions and the giddy optimism of Blue Devil Days, these protests serve as a sharp reminder of the problems that plague the University in the present and the work that still needs to be accomplished. 

For prospective and current students, these moments serve as a chance to learn about how the Duke community debates, organizes and acts to address its shortcomings. No university is free of flaws, but the ways institutions act to overcome flaws can be telling. We encourage prospective Blue Devils to learn, ask and read about Duke’s current campus politics, and how they may be affected by the outcomes of these dialogues should they choose to join this community. For alumni, their direct interactions with protestors this week served as a reminder of their power and responsibility to influence the direction of the University. As with previous campus controversies, alumni reactions to campus events can shape the tone and direction of subsequent dialogues. We urge alumni to think critically about how the needs of the University have changed from the past, and how their support or opposition will influence present and future student experiences at Dear Old Duke. 

This editorial is dedicated to Hannah Wang (Class of 2018), the dedicated scribe for dozens of editorials for The Chronicle. Your editorial voice will be dearly missed. 

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