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Letter: If these walls could talk: Stop whitewashing global health at Duke

We've all seen it. The Duke student who goes abroad to a low-resource setting, does something mildly humanitarian for two months, comes back acting like they saved the world, and then posts problematic pictures to prove it. 

You might assume that Duke disapproves of such egregious examples of the white savior complex. You'd be wrong. The reality is that Duke endorses this behavior. If you don't believe me, go walk inside the Duke Global Health Institute at Trent Hall. 

The first thing you'll see is a picture of a white woman escorting a dozen Tanzanian children through a field.

Walk a little further and you'll see this enormous floor to ceiling image of a woman blessing some Black children with her MacBook. 

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Which is just a couple doors down from another enormous image of a Duke student dumping water out of a bucket for about ten small children to compete for.

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You would think that the Global Health Institute of all departments would be aware that this is not okay. I guess not. The fact that the Duke Global Health Institute approved these photos is indicative of glaring ethical issues within the department. I find it ironic that as a global health major, I have to take ethics classes from a department with such appalling conceptions of photography ethics. 

These photos aren't harmless. These photos damage local communities by perpetuating stereotypes that people need "saving," and often by implying that white people have the power to do so. This is unequivocally false. 

I always call out people who post blatant white-savior complex photos to Instagram. So why shouldn't I call out institutions who smear them on their walls? Duke students will always take problematic photos when they're abroad, but they'll probably be less likely to if they're not incentivized by the departments who oversee them. 

I'm calling on the Duke Global Health Institute to stop whitewashing global health and start whitewashing these problematic walls.

Ryan Fitzgerald is a Trinity senior majoring in biology and global health.


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