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Students call for increased measures against hate and bias, stronger consequences and more transparency

In March, Duke’s Asian students demanded that Duke adopt a standardized hate and bias policy. 

Their petition called for Duke to update the Duke Community Standard and Office of Student Conduct’s Undergraduate Policies to “explicitly address discriminatory, marginalizing, and oppressive conduct by recognized student groups.” 

The petition also called for the University to update the Duke Community Standard pledge to include the following statement: “I will value others regardless of race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, religion, national origin, age, ability status, citizenship status, or other identity.”

The letter was co-written by the Asian American Alliance, Asian American Studies Working Group, Asian Students Association, Southeast Asian Students Association, Diya, Japanese Culture Club and Korean Undergraduate Student Association. By May 29, it had just over 1,000 signatures. 

Duke has a Hate and Bias Working Group, which was formed in summer 2020 to “review and revise the undergraduate student harassment policy outlined in the Duke Community Standard.” The group is led by Jeanna McCullers, senior associate dean of students and director for the OSC, and Clay Adams, associate dean of students and director for parent and family programs. 

But Duke’s Asian student groups claimed the working group wasn’t getting enough done. 

There is “still no sufficient standardized hate and bias policy in place,” the petition read. “There’s a lack of transparency, accountability, or commitment to implement any of their recommendations other than a progress bar on a website.” 

As of Monday, nine of the 39 commitments listed on the Anti-Racism at Duke site were indicated as being fully implemented, including renaming West Residence Hall and Reuben-Cooke Building, creating a steering committee for first generation and low income students, implementing the “Foundations of Equity” orientation program for first-years, supporting Durham Public Schools students, conducting annual senior leadership training and initiating a campus-wide diversity, equity and inclusion survey. The rest were designated as “initiated” or “in planning.”

“I recognize that students are eager for clear evidence of meaningful change, and [the anti-racism website] is intended to offer that,” wrote Mary Pat McMahon, vice president of student affairs, in an email to The Chronicle in March. “I want to ensure our students are heard on these crucial issues, and I sincerely thank our student leaders and the many student affairs team members who strive to make continuous progress and address bias and hate.  We remain committed to staying the course on these efforts.”

'Are you actually going to take our recommendations?'

Asian students first demanded a standardized hate and bias policy on Feb. 11, 2013, when the Asian American Alliance gave the University administration “Demands for an Inclusive Duke” in response to the racist Kappa Sigma “Asia Prime” party

The petition asserts that these demands still haven’t been met eight years later, even after being “reiterated by various affinity [organizations] in 2015, and then again in 2016, and then another time by People’s State in 2018.” 

In 2015, then-President Richard Brodhead announced a Task Force on Bias and Hate, which produced a final report and recommendations for inclusion in May 2016. One of the recommendations established an advisory committee of undergraduate, graduate and professional students, faculty, staff and alumni to advise the president and provost on issues of hate and bias. 

Chaired by Kathryn Whetten, professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy, and Paul James, then assistant vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, the committee's goal was to look for areas for improvement in Duke’s responses to acts of hate and bias. 

The advisory committee “ended up creating a website only updated three times, and still no sufficient standardized hate and bias policy in place,” the Asian student groups wrote. 

Although a new Hate and Bias Working Group was created in 2020, there is a lack of transparency, accountability and commitment to implement any of the working group’s recommendations “other than a progress bar on a website,” the student groups wrote in the petition.

“In September 2020, the [2020 Hate and Bias Working Group] released an internal preliminary report, with no updates since. The only news related to the hate and bias policy was an incident in Hollows, for a window decoration referencing a rap song,” the groups wrote.

The student groups called for Duke to clarify that the Student Conduct: A-Z Policies “indicate that entire student groups, not just individuals, will be held accountable for the conduct of individual members,” similar to the policies implemented for COVID-19 and the Duke Compact.

The groups further demanded that Duke create a timeline and the proper allocation of resources implementing findings from both the 2016 Task Force and the 2020 Working Group. It also advocates for a regularly updated website to “track the progress of the task force involved with the creation of the new official hate and bias policy,” the creation of a “clear and concrete consequences for violating the new hate and bias policies the same way they were implemented for COVID-19 and the Duke Compact” and greater transparency in the hate and bias reporting and investigating process with respect to the privacy of the victim.

The Chronicle reached out to Kelly Brownell, Robert L. Flowers distinguished professor of public policy and co-chair of the 2016 Task Force on Bias and Hate, for comment. Brownell referred The Chronicle to Whetten. Whetten did not respond in time for publication.

The Chronicle reached out to McCullers for a request for comment. McCullers did not respond in time for publication.

McMahon said that the 2020 Hate and Bias Working Group established a process for the OSC to more effectively utilize the hate and bias "accelerator policy" already existing in the Duke Community Standard for undergraduates. Under this policy, incidents that are determined to have a bias component have a more significant consequence for students found responsible for a  Community Standard violation.  

“We plan to continuously communicate this policy and its usage as the campus resumes more typical routines this coming fall semester,” McMahon wrote in an email.

Cartier Robinson, Trinity ‘21 and diversity and a member of the 2020 Hate and Bias Working Group, said that members of the working group were told to only give recommendations, such as the incorporation of a new mandatory course that would discuss how to prevent hate and bias. 

Robinson said his committee had found people at Duke willing to help create this mandatory course, but was told the working group had a limited scope. 

“We were actually going to do some of the work but we were told, ‘OK, we’re just setting recommendations,’” he said.

In April, the University’s Office of Institutional Equity rolled out its first campus-wide survey on diversity, equity and inclusion. More than 12,800 students, faculty and staff responded. 

Robinson said that conducting the survey was “great,” but he worries that the University doesn’t have a clear timeline to carry out changes.

“One of the questions I asked was, ‘Are you all going to actually take our recommendations? I didn’t want to sit there and waste my time,’” he said. 

While most students graduate in four years, the push to change Duke’s hate and bias policy can drag on for many years, he said. 

“It’s really tough on the students, because we want to see things change, but we don’t see some of these changes in effect until we’re alumni,” he said.

Senior Christina Wang, Duke Student Government president and a member of the 2020 Hate and Bias Working Group, believes Duke should be more transparent with their hate and bias investigations, and that there should be “firm consequences” for hate and bias incidents.

Wang said that issues of hate and bias will be a big priority for her tenure as DSG president.  

“Something that I definitely want to do [this] year is continuing to ask for and push for open communication with administrators, not just with DSG, but especially with student groups, such as the Asian groups that put these demands together,” Wang said.

'I myself get burned out'

Since summer 2020, the work of the Hate and Bias Working Group has continued through the Campus Climate Committee, co-chaired by Joyce Gordon, director of Jewish life at Duke, and Annie Kao, assistant vice provost for undergraduate education.

According to Gordon, the CCC’s task is to “identify ways to ensure that the undergraduate experience is welcoming, inclusive and intellectually expansive.” 

Committee members are gathering information about what the University community would want the campus climate to look like through interviews, focus groups and surveys with students, faculty and staff. They are also “[identifying] and [elevating] un-implemented recommendations from prior reports and documents,” including the 2018 People’s State document and the 2016 Report of the Task Force on Bias and Hate Issues referenced in the Asian student groups’ petition. 

The CCC’s work from the spring 2021 semester will continue during the fall. A final report, including a list of recommendations made and actions taken, will be released in spring 2022.

Tori Pinedo, Trinity ‘22 and a member of the CCC, wrote that the CCC is “making progress” by providing direct resources to marginalized Duke employees and student groups, such as providing Chromebooks for non-exempt staff. Some of the CCC’s ongoing projects include advocating for Land Acknowledgements to be the norm in documents like course syllabi and providing holiday bonuses for non-exempt, hourly staff—who are predominantly Black and brown people—instead of using money for staff holiday cards.

The CCC recently voted to recommend the hiring of a permanent, full-time University employee under the provost’s office to work with issues of anti-bias and anti-racism. This recommendation will be passed on to University leadership, according to Pinedo.

Pinedo believes this initiative is important, since the new position could foster a better relationship between admin and student leaders as well as keep the University accountable. 

“This CCC committee is volunteer-based, and I myself get burned out spending unpaid labor into sharing my experiences with admin about racist and inequitable situations I’ve experienced within the Latinx and first-generation/low-income community at Duke,” Pinedo wrote.

Aside from working groups and task forces, what is University administration doing?

In addition to organizing working groups, Duke administrators have individually been working with the students who wrote and advocated for the petition.

Shruti Desai, associate vice president of student affairs for campus life, has been working closely with student leaders from the Center for Multicultural Affairs. Their work involves looking carefully at space, representation and resources to ensure that the CMA is a strong partner with students whose identities include those in AAPI affiliated groups. According to Desai, the CMA was in the process of finding a new staff member with experience supporting Asian-American and Pacific Islander student groups in June.

In September, the CMA hired Maij Vu Mai as assistant director. Mai’s role includes providing programs and services in the areas of community engagement for Asian and Asian Pacific Islander community members, multicultural education, social justice education and leadership development.

McCullers and John Blackshear, associate vice provost for undergraduate education and dean of students, will be issuing a yearly outcomes summary in August 2021 which will include conduct summaries unrelated to COVID-19. 

“As a team, we are committed to continuous partnership with student groups and ensuring that the student experience at Duke becomes one that is ever more more equitable and just, and we know we have work to do to maintain momentum, listen carefully to students and act in a way that engenders ongoing trust,” McMahon wrote.

Editor's note: This article was updated to reflect that the CMA recently hired Maij Vu Mai as assistant director.


Katie Tan

Katie Tan is a Trinity sophomore and a features managing editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.

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