President Price apologizes for Joe Van Gogh firings, addresses recent racially charged incidents

Duke President Vincent Price has apologized in a email to the Duke community for the recent incidents on campus, noting "that we are not where we want to be as a university."

Price addressed the incident of two baristas being fired following vice president for student affairs Larry Moneta's complaint that they played a rap song with "offensive" language, and also acknowledged a recent trend of a “absence of respect for others” that included several racially charged incidents. 

"I am, in particular, sorry that the words of one of my senior administrators recently resulted in two individuals working for one of our on-campus vendors losing their jobs; and while I am pleased that the vendor has taken steps to reverse this action, I apologize for the precipitous and unfair treatment these employees experienced," Price wrote in an email to the Duke community. "We must do better."

Moneta made national headlines over an incident at Joe Van Gogh Friday when he heard "Get Paid" by Young Dolph over the coffee shop's speakers and demanded it stop being played. The song contains the words "n****" and "f***" in the lyrics.

The barista, Britni Brown, apologized immediately and turned it off. It was on a radio playlist that she couldn't hear from behind the counter, she said. She offered Moneta his vegan muffin for free, but Moneta demanded to pay for it.

Moneta wrote to The Chronicle Tuesday that he voiced his concern in a phone call to Robert Coffey, director of dining services, but that his involvement stopped there. By Monday, Amanda Wiley, an employee in Joe Van Gogh's human resources department, told Brown and Simmons to resign or be fired, saying that Duke instructed her to terminate their contracts.

Price's email on Thursday covered the multiple racially charged incidents that have come to light on campus in recent weeks.

“When we learn a racial slur has been scrawled on a dorm door, a social media posting has used abhorrent language, anti-Semitic posters have been distributed in Durham, or workers on our campus have been treated unfairly, we feel angry, discouraged, and disappointed. Duke should be a place where these things don’t happen,” he wrote. “Something has to change.”

Price wrote that he should not and will not succumb to a rush to judgment that “demands instant retribution absent context and deliberation.”

“So where do we go from here? Having now completed my first academic year as president, I am reflecting on these problems of basic decency, and our legacies of racism, intolerance and xenophobia, that continue to follow us, and indeed all of society,” Price wrote. “They do not lend themselves to easy answers or quick fixes. But they will continue to plague us unless we address them directly, honestly, in good faith, and with a healthy dose of courage.”

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