At a Monday night event, five panelists parsed the question of what "heterogeneity of experience" means on Duke's campus.
The event was sponsored by Duke Student Government, International Association and the Asian American Studies program.
The panelists included Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs; Janie Long, associate vice provost for undergraduate education; Ranjana Khanna, professor of english and director of the Franklin Humanities Institute; Nayoung Aimee Kwon, associate professor of Asian and Middle Eastern studies and director of the Asian American Studies program; and junior Axel Herrera Ramos, cofounder of Duke’s Define American chapter, which advocates for undocumented immigrants.
Herrera said that the creation of effective, durable identity groups is difficult on college campuses due to quick turnover in leadership.
"Once you’ve been doing work for a few years, you’re almost done,” he said.
Kwon celebrated the fact that Duke has now opened up an Asian American Studies program after decades of student-led advocacy. However, even though Duke is a more diverse campus than it used to be, she criticized the fact that students might still refrain from association with others.
“The university just becomes a space where you can hang out with people who look like you," she said, while acknowledging the benefit of having access to communities of people of one's own background.
Khanna said that safe spaces that prohibit specific arguments go against higher learning, so all students should feel comfortable to contribute their opinions provided they have evidence backing them up. She said that professors have the responsibility to help students thoroughly engage with and comprehend material.
First-year Tori Pinedo challenged the University to promote conversation across racial and gender divides.
In response, Moneta called himself an “environmental engineer.” Moneta pointed to the construction of the Bryan Center. He said that he proposed having the Center for Multicultural Affairs, the Black Student Alliance, the office for Sorority and Fraternity Life and other identity groups in close proximity to one another to lead to increased conversation and richer understanding of one another.
Still, Kwon advocated for professors themselves to take some initiative.
“I feel like after class we just go our separate ways,” she said. “And that hasn’t improved since I was here.”
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As a tip to her fellow professors, Kwon encouraged each class to discuss community guidelines during its opening class so that students from all backgrounds can voice their opinions and requirements to learn most effectively.
“If we can just take ten minutes before class to talk about diversity, this University will be in a much better place," she added.