Editor’s Note: This piece discusses racist incidents and racial violence.
On Saturday, March 20, residents of Brown residence hall found a printout of George Floyd’s toxicology report with annotations that displaced blame for Floyd’s murder hung on a Black History Month “Victims of Violence” bulletin board. Pictures of the bigoted flier circled through student group chats and social media spaces. This printout rightfully led to a wave of anger and disgust among Duke students. It even garnered attention from the national media.
On March 20, Dean of Students John Blackshear and Jeanna McCullers, Director of the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards told students that a student conduct investigation is underway, but the response has been dismissive and lackluster.
The members of the Community Editorial Board stand with the Duke student community in condemning this graphic form of hate speech as the racially motivated act of ignorance it is. George Floyd was murdered by the police. As the murder trial of Derek Chauvin plays out in the courts, anyone who watched the horrific video from last spring understands there is no other valid interpretation besides what was depicted: officers using racially motivated force that led to the death of a Black man.
Discussions of free speech are important and welcome on university campuses, but when applied to acts of hate speech like the printout, they neglect the pain that such incidents cause. Since the beginning of their investigation, Blackshear and McCullers never went beyond calling this graphic an “anonymous [act] of bias” in their correspondence with students. By not adequately defining this racist incident, the administration is failing to acknowledge and address the specific impact that incidents of bigotry and hate speech have on POC students. By refusing to acknowledge how racism manifests into these incidents, the administration ultimately emboldens perpetrators to continue terrorizing communities of color on campus.
The incident in Brown is disgusting but is certainly not a rare occurrence. It follows in a long line of recent acts of hate-motivated by race and identity on Duke’s campus. In 2018 alone, racial slurs were found at the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture and at Swift Apartments. Additionally, an incident involving a sophomore using racial slurs in a Snapchat post was also made public in 2018. In 2015, a noose was found in the BC Plaza, causing an uproar in the student body. There have also been a number of incidents involving swastikas found across Duke’s campus over the years, and in 2018, flyers proclaiming “It’s okay to be white” were found on East campus. Most recently, Asian members of the Duke community have felt ostracized by Duke’s insufficient response to nationwide anti-Asian racism.
Despite recurrent instances of racism within the student body, administrators have failed time and time again to respond adequately to such acts. Although Duke renewed its commitments to anti-racism and anti-bias within the last year, it has been reluctant to adopt a clear definition of hate speech, bigotry, or acts of white supremacy in the Community Standard despite repeated calls from students for over 6 years to include such provisions. Recently, after the murders of Xiaojie Tan, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Daoyou Feng, Hyun Jung Grant, Soon Chung Park, Suncha Kim, and Yong Yue, seven Asian student groups created a list of demands including one to expand Duke’s definitions of racial violence and discrimination in its Community Standard. Today, there are approximately two full pages in the manual dedicated to the acceptable forms of bridge painting, three pages about hazing and its different levels of severity, but only two paragraphs which discuss harassment and Title IX, which discusses harassment on characteristics like age, gender identity, and race, but falls short of addressing how racism tangibly manifests on campus.
Last fall, Duke began a concerted effort to expand anti-racism initiatives, including $16 million in additional grant funding dedicated to these programs. On the Duke anti-racism website, students can see a list of different anti-racism initiatives along with a progress bar accompanying each initiative. While these actions are welcome, we believe that these initiatives don’t address how Duke should respond to inevitable forms of explicit form of racism on campus. While the hiring of a more diverse faculty and the implementation of racial awareness trainings are admirable goals, Duke cannot ignore inevitable future racist and bigoted attacks on members of its community.
By refusing to accept this reality, administrators predetermined their lackluster response to the George Floyd graphic. Their generalized condemnation of the flyer as an “[act] of bias” is reflective of the way Duke administrators have failed to truly reckon with Duke’s history of white supremacy, the acts of hate which continue on campus, and the specific and targeted impact these incidents have on students from marginalized communities. The university cannot confine its legacy of white supremacy and racism to the names of its buildings or the implicit biases of its staff and students; it must also acknowledge that explicit racism is vehemently alive among a minority of its students.
The outrage about this incident is not an example of political correctness or an attempt to “cancel free speech” on campus. Rather it is students doing what the administration has consistently failed to do on issues of discrimination and bigotry on campus: condemn this incident as an act of racism and acknowledge how it endangers and alienates our Black community. The impact that this disgusting act has had on the mental health and well-being of the entire Duke community is palpable. While the most urgent step is to hold the individual accountable who made this infographic, this incident should act as proof that the Duke administration still has a long way to go in how they address issues of racism, hate speech, and bigotry on campus.
The Community Editorial Board is independent from the editorial staff of the Chronicle and aims to offer thoughtful opinions on a variety of issues; to hold students, faculty and administrators publicly accountable for their statements and actions; and to help students sharpen their journalistic and writing skills.Their column runs on alternate Mondays.
The unsigned editorials are written anonymously by one voting member and based on the consensus of all voting members. Published editorials reflect only the views and opinions of the Board. In an effort to be transparent, the names and brief biographies of the CEB chairs and current members are available at this page.
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