We’ve finished that most sacred rite in the Duke year: men’s basketball. But never women’s. And also never any other sport even though they work hard too. For a senior, it’s a bittersweet moment. The last time seeing throngs of people descend on Cameron, the last time seeing people spend a month living in a tent to see a two-hour game, and the last time realizing how many hours we have poured out while achieving nothing more than our own amusement.
On February 21, we learned that 48 percent of undergraduate women are sexually assaulted while on Duke’s campus. And yet those same crowds who descended to watch people their own age play a game did not find time to descend on the Allen Building to ask the administration what how they’ll exercise leadership on this problem. We mustn’t care very much about sexual assault.
We cheer on the game with a roar. We try to fix life with a murmur. Imagine how much good we could do, if we treated any one thing in the menagerie of inhumanities on this campus the way we treat basketball.
On the average game day, we’ll spend hours standing outside to get the chance to spend hours standing inside. Just standing. For the Game Day of All Game Days, we’ll spend no small pile on a tent and the appropriate accessories, spend hours coordinating who will be in the tent and when, spend over a month living in said tent, and schedule our lives around living in that tent, and for what? To watch a two-hour game.
I have never seen us spend one whole month addressing any of the problems on this campus. I have never seen us care about real harm done in real life as we do about this game. The sexual assault report? We made it just over two weeks between the first report and the last op-ed. The rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidality? We’ve been self-medicating with our usual combination of partying, exclusion, and degradation. That business about not letting students speak their own language? There’s about a week and a half between when the coverage starts, and when the coverage stops.
If you wonder why our administrators do not take these problems seriously, it is because we do not take these problems seriously. If you wonder why these problems persist it is because we allow them to persist. “Bad times, hard times—this is what people keep saying; but live well, and times shall be good. We are the times: Such as we are, such are the times.” St. Augustine understood what we are unwilling or unable to: our world exists in our image. We have the Duke that we make.
There are groups who know this, and who refuse to excuse consistent personal failings as “the times.” Duke Students and Workers Alliance are in their eighth month of advocacy for fair conditions. Groups like the Black Students’ Alliance and Blue Devils United live in a strange flux of steady advocacy for their members and rapid, first response to the worst of the vitriol we spew at each other.
There are individuals on this campus who make noise for the issues. More of us should join them.
There is no abstract “culture” which compels people to treat other like objects. There are individuals who commit assaults and individuals who fail to intervene. But we still cheer loudly for our team. There is no “Duke Difference” that turns high school high achievers into self-loathing depressives. There are individuals who actively put others down, and individuals who do too little to help others up. But we still cheer loudly for our team. There is no “prejudice” that exists outside of the human mind. There are individuals who choose bigotry and individuals who do not check them. But we still cheer loudly for our team.
When a team loses a game, we call it “heartbreaking.” When we see our peers being broken down, we say nothing. We cheer for “one-and-dones.” We are silent toward anyone present for the long four years.
None of this is to say that nothing good comes of how we interact with all things athletic. They’re a reason to carve out time with friends, to share a common experience and cultivate bonhomie. (Not to mention that these teams net no small glory, laud and honor, monetary and otherwise.) I’d be a fool if I thought that the same experience I’m criticizing is not responsible for some part of the shared identity that pushes us forward. As a friend put it, “the game is usually the highlight of the tenting season, but I wouldn’t tent if I didn’t enjoy spending time bonding with 11 of my friends.” But she goes on to say, “we want to be the center of attention, and often our self-centeredness comes at the expense of our peers.”
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And that is exactly the problem. We spend so much time and energy and focus on something that often ends with ourselves. We choose to do this and we can choose to do otherwise. Just consider the infrastructure you have built around this game, and think of how much good it might do in life. How many people’s contacts do you have? How well do you know them? You can carve out hours, days for this game—why not to solve a problem in life? Just imagine how soon we’d be proud of this place if we roared at what’s wrong like we roar for the game.
You don’t win a game by watching it. The people who win, play. You won’t solve a problem by watching it. The people who win, play. Stop being a spectator to what is wrong here. Take charge. Play for the good and play to win. Earn the right to say of yourself as St. Paul said, that “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Wins in Cameron might get us another banner. Wins in the Allen Building bend Duke’s moral arc toward the good.
Tim Kowalczyk is a Trinity senior. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays.