Senior year brought activism, a disappointing basketball season and adjustment to a new normal for the Class of 2021.
The summer preceding senior year saw solidarity and activism related to the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd. Students hosted benefit concerts, participated in letter writing campaigns and started anti-racist book clubs. The Duke Black Coalition Against Policing (BCAP) issued a list of demands that called on Duke to disband the Duke University Police Department and invest in the Duke and Durham communities. The University also announced a plan to combat systemic racism.
The activism continued into the school year, with a K-Ville protest organized by Nolan Smith, Duke men’s basketball's director of operations.
Duke’s fall reopening did not come without its issues.
The University’s decision to reopen in the fall without consulting workers prompted activism from graduate students and Duke Workers United, a group that represents the Duke Faculty Union, Duke Contract Workers United and other workers groups representing municipal employees and transit workers.
Weeks before reopening, Duke walked back some reopening plans that left some upperclassmen without on-campus housing, resulting in a mad dash for off-campus apartments for some and resignation from others.
November 2020 also saw a consequential presidential election, and student political groups and advocacy groups mobilized to get out the vote. Some students adjusted voting plans due to North Carolina limiting registration to college students physically present in their college community.
In October, then presidential nominee Joe Biden spoke in Durham, criticizing the Trump administration’s pandemic response and calling on people to vote.
Some Trump supporters, however, challenged President Biden’s victory, including Rep. Mo Brooks, R-AL, Trinity ‘75. On Jan. 6, a pro-Trump mob, egged on by Brooks, stormed the Capitol the day of the certification of election results. The riot claimed the lives of five people and distressed students across the political spectrum.
But despite the stress and loneliness of the condensed semester, the fall was not without its bright spots. One came in the form of the international hit Library Takeout, a song written to explain Duke Library’s new contactless reserve system.
This year also saw major changes in Duke’s Greek life and selective living.
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The Abolish Duke IFC & Panhel group began with the creation of an Instagram page in mid-July for students and alumni to share anonymous stories about their experiences in Duke Greek life, including experiences with racism and sexual assault.
In part because of activism from Abolish Duke IFC & Panhel, chapters of Zeta Tau Alpha women’s fraternity and Alpha Delta Pi sorority attempted to decharter, albeit unsuccessfully. Duke’s Panhellenic Council also voted to ban mixers with all-male groups.
Others took a different approach. Several fraternities disaffiliated from Duke early in 2021—forming the Durham Interfraternity Council—and began in-person rush processes. These rush events contributed to a spike in campus COVID-19 cases and resulted in a “stay-in-place” order in mid-March.
The men basketball team lost both regular season games to the Tar Heels and, for the first time since 1995, missed the NCAA tournament. The team was also forced to withdraw from the ACC tournament due to a positive COVID-19 test within the program.
But it wasn’t all bad news for Duke athletics. Associate head coach Jon Scheyer earned his first career win when head coach Mike Krzyzewski was quarantined due to potential COVID-19 exposure. Duke women’s golf won the ACC Championship and Gina Kim won the individual conference crown.
The year was also not without its scandals.
In August, Duke implemented new Title IX changes without giving the community time to offer feedback.
In October, Duke’s social media team posted a racially insensitive meme on Twitter to much backlash, only removing the tweet after almost 21 hours.
In the wake of a shooting in Atlanta that killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent, Judith Kelley, dean of the Sanford school of Public Policy, sent out an email that failed to properly name the victims. In response to rising anti-Asian violence, Asian student groups released a list of demands, calling for the University to provide greater support for students.
Students enjoyed a virtual LDOC concert with Flo Milli and Dayglow. After initially restricting the attendees, Duke invited all seniors and students who graduated early to the commencement ceremony for the Class of 2021. Plans again changed to allow each member of the class to bring two guests.
The Duke community mourned the losses of three of its members this year. Graduate student Michael Mutersbaugh died in December and senior Kenna Tasissa died in January. Longtime carillonneur J. Samuel Hammond died in February.