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We are not content to be used freely. Duke women deserve better

guest column

During this year’s first-year orientation program, a monologue video from our 2020 Virtual Storytime program was shown to the entire Class of 2024 without any notification or consent from the author of this story, the actress who told the story, or the All of the Above Team. We can only assume given the content of this monologue and the national dialogue surrounding privilege and race, that Duke decided to air it for Race and Equity purposes—to show that the school was “woke” and embracing stories like these.

After months and months of preparation, one week before our March 2020 showcase, All of the Above was challenged to reimagine our spring showcase after Duke students were notified they would not be welcomed back to campus. Our biggest concern was figuring out how we would respect the countless hours that our actresses put into practicing their performances and the bravery that our authors put forward to trust us with their stories. The AOTA exec team and actresses worked tirelessly to film together an alternative virtual series, titled “AOTA Storytime 2020,” featuring some of the monologues on the lineup for our canceled in-person show. Our community still deserved to listen and engage with these stories, even if it was on their laptop or their phone from home this time around.

It was incredibly inconsiderate that our video was used, very obviously, as the face of Duke’s racial equity initiative, without any notification of such actions or proper credit where credit was due. As Leila Milanfar, a beloved alumna (Trinity ‘20) and former director of AOTA wrote in an email, “consent and trust are incredibly important values of All of the Above and we hold the protection of our authors and actresses above all else.” All of the Above was created to be a platform for women to share their stories safely, and while we are always open to having our content (i.e. published monologues, videos et cetera.) used in an outside capacity, the nature of these stories can be extremely sensitive to both viewers and those involved in creating them (authors, actresses et cetera.). In order to protect these entities, before approving any outside use of our work, we notify and ask both the actress of the piece and the author of the story for consent. 

We greatly appreciate the apologies we have received from Jordan Hale and the FAC Board Programming Committee and their cooperation in making this right.

We hope that moving forward what happened to our organization can be a learning opportunity for us all that using content written by others, especially the faces of women of color without consent, notification or proper compensation is not only disappointing but unacceptable. 

To be clear, All of the Above is extremely honored to be highlighted during O-week and given the platform to show new Dukies the work of groups like ours that are uplifting intersectional female-identifying voices. This being said, Duke can and must do better to “make sure we are not so focused on the intent of our work we forget the impact of our most vulnerable communities who live in places of oppression each day,” as written by New Student Programs Director, Jordan Hale in an apology email after being confronted with this incident.

Our privacy policies that we have protected for more than a decade were violated in Duke Today’s original article by excluding the important disclaimer that none of the monologues performed by our actresses in our videos were written by these actresses and included a screenshot from our YouTube channel of the actress performing the monologue without her consent. This unfortunately will have lasting consequences for our program as a result (i.e., lack of trust between potential authors and storytellers afraid their work will be exposed without permission). 

The actress featured in the video that was used for O-week programming and the face of the now-edited Duke Today article is Jenna Clayborn, Trinity '20, a Black female student who performed a monologue about race and identity. We are sad to see that this happened to Jenna. We ought not to sit idly by and allow such injustice against women to be passed over. Put simply, COVID-19 has clearly shown how much women in this world have been silenced and devalued—the lack of justice for the death of Breonna Taylor, the “playful” shooting of rapper Megan Thee Stallion and the stories of our own Duke women that have been shared on the @abolishdukeifcandpanhellenic Instagram page. We can really go on and on. We can do better. We must do better. 

All of the Above deserves the right to be consulted before our content is published elsewhere just like any other organization at Duke. AOTA is one of the few safe spaces for womxn at Duke and it ought to be fiercely protected by all entities on this campus. While we cannot change the past, we have the opportunity to move forward and be better. 

We don't like the way that Duke went about using our content, but we do agree that these messages are incredibly pertinent today and should be discussed on a larger scale. More than 300 individuals have supported Jenna's speaking out about this event on Twitter, giving us hope that Duke students know our community is better than this. We can, will and must be a better Duke moving forward.

Editor’s note: Asked by The Chronicle about the use of AOTA’s content, Jordan Hale wrote in an email, “I hope this can be an example of how, when you make a mistake, you own up to it and seek to make amends. AOTA has been professional in our communication with them, made sure we understood the error of our ways and been responsive in our attempt to correct our mistake. I look forward to continuing to follow their organization and see the work they put together in the future.” 

This column was written by Cornelia Fraser, All of the Above (AOTA) President & Co-Director. Cornelia is a senior undergraduate student at Duke majoring in Public Policy and African & African American Studies. 

Created after Nan Keohane’s Duke Women’s Initiative in 2003, AOTA is a showcase that presents pieces written anonymously by female-identifying Duke students. AOTA strives to present a unique collection of female voices, to spark honest dialogue, and to unite the Duke community. We pride ourselves in being Duke’s oldest monologue showcase and in being the only all-female produced performance at Duke. 

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