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Fires are blazing across the globe. From Alaska to the Amazon Rainforest, millions of acres rich with people, plants, and wildlife are burning. In recent months, Australia has been devastated by some of the worst wildfires in the continent’s history. It is now estimated that over 1 billion animals have been killed due to the devastating fires. In New South Wales and Victoria, Australia’s two most popular states, nearly two dozen people have died and 1,500 homes have been destroyed. As of January 7, 32,400 square miles had burned since the blazes began.
As we return from Thanksgiving break for the final week of classes, it’s easy to get wrapped in all of the assignments and tasks that need our attention before we head home for Winter Break. We were temporarily withdrawn from the craziness and commitments of being at Duke to spend time with family and friends, only to return to Duke a couple days later to work our way through the home stretch of the semester.
We often speak about the Duke community, but who does that include? Students, faculty, administrators and Coach K are certainly part of it. But this list fails to mention the people who enable our community to function in the first place: staff.
This week, millions of people across the world are participating in the Global Climate Strike to call for the end of fossil fuels usage and to demand climate justice. Hundreds of people gathered for the Triangle Climate Strike in Raleigh on Friday and multiple Duke environmental organizations hosted a rally right here on campus. It’s inspiring to see how much momentum has grown for climate action.
Last weekend, I volunteered at the Duke Coalition for Preserving Memory’s annual Name Reading ceremony to commemorate the victims of the seven United Nations recognized genocides. During this event, hundreds of students and community members recited the names of individuals who were killed in these crimes against humanity for 24 consecutive hours on Abele Quad. As I read aloud the names of people who lost their lives in the Armenian Genocide, many thoughts went through my head. Why hadn’t I ever been taught about this? How could I read posters describing genocides as “ongoing” and not be enraged? What does “Never Again” mean if horrendous acts of ethnic cleansing continue to take place?
Imagine if during Orientation Week, you were guaranteed your dream job or top graduate school program upon graduation. Duke would no longer be seen as a stepping stone for the future. Instead, every student would have the opportunity to make their Duke experience what they really desired. How do you think your four years as a Blue Devil would differ as a result?
“Hey, how are you?” “Good, how are you?” “Good, thanks.” How frequently do you have this conversation each day? I’m guessing at least a dozen times. But, how many of those times do you say how you really are? I’m guessing not too often.
We have just completed the annual ritual of rush. Hundreds of students spent hours on end meeting with members of fraternities, sororities, and non-Greek selective living groups (SLGs) with the hope of being accepted to a tight-knit social communities. For some, bid day was the day where their dreams came true, opening the door to the exciting years ahead of new friendships, events, and a strong support network. For others, bid day represented the disappointing end of what appeared to be blossoming relationships and the shattering of your vision for the Duke experience that lay ahead.
“How’s everything been at Duke?” While studying abroad last semester, I expected to hear from my friends on campus about late nights at Perkins, struggles with recruitment, cheering at Cameron, and hilarious memories from the weekends. However, I felt uneasy asking this question because it pretended as if the semester had been like any other. Even for those of us who were across the ocean, it’s impossible to escape an unfortunate conclusion: our campus is under attack from intolerance and hate.
Are you an elitist, religion-hating, military-squashing, hippie liberal or a racist, sexist, xenophobic, gun-worshipping, conservative? Were you a snobby, privileged, and corrupt Hillary voter or an uneducated, deplorable, and complicit Trump voter? Likely, you wouldn't want to be identified with these derogatory stereotypes. I don't think most other Americans would either.
Today, we frequently talk about political polarization. We complain about how Democrats and Republicans are more focused on messaging and achieving political wins than fulfilling their duties to govern. We condemn gerrymandering, voter suppression, and money in politics for hijacking our political system. I wholly recognize that these are inexcusable problems, not only tarnishing the reputation of Congress and the presidency, but also undermining the fundamental democratic philosophy of "one person, one vote." However, these are merely symptoms of a systematic problem - an unwillingness to listen to those with whom we disagree.
I firmly believe that one of Duke's greatest strengths is its diversity. Our university provides an unparalleled opportunity for students of any race, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and political affiliation from nearly 100 countries to talk, learn, and grow from one another.
But, this is often forgotten in the classroom. Many of my conservative friends find themselves uncomfortable or unable to speak up in class discussions. They have expressed fear of being verbally attacked or simply dismissed and disregarded. Although I would classify myself between a progressive and moderate Democrat, I've felt ostracized on multiple occasions for being the most conservative person in the room. My perspectives have been diminished simply because I am a straight white male. As someone who loves to speak out in classes, I am very concerned that if I sometimes feel reluctant to express my thoughts, many others will choose to stay quiet. Not only does this undermine that student's ability to explore and develop ideas—what I consider the core value of a Duke education—but it deprives every student in the class this same ability.
Outside of academics, I've often seen that people largely refrain from discussing controversial topics with those who are likely to disagree with them. How often do you see students in Greek life, SLG’s, and independents speak together about housing reform? When was the last time you had a conversation about affirmative action at Duke amongst a multi-racial group? Have you ever discovered a political disagreement with a friend and solely tried to hear them out?
I fully understand the importance of standing up for what you believe in. And I know that many issues including abortion, race, gun violence, and immigration can be extremely polarizing, especially in 2018. I also recognize that some views other people hold might offend you, your heritage, and your values. But, how can we ever expect the United States to make progress on these issues if some of our nation's best and brightest rising leaders—us—can't even have a conversation about them?
I'm not saying that we need to come to a consensus or make an agreement. But, we should stop thinking of the people who disagree with us as our enemies. We have to stop making generalizations and stop dismissing the perspectives of well-intentioned individuals. We need to speak with those who differ from us and earnestly listen to them and their viewpoints. We must dare to respectfully disagree, while always remembering that each of us are members of the Blue Devil family—a community built upon and strengthened by our diversity.
Hidden deep within the Republican tax bill is a provision that deals a devastating blow to wildlife, the environment and human rights advocates nationwide. The Senate voted to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling in the vulnerable coastal plain. Proponents argue it would generate vast sums of money. In reality, the revenue wouldn’t even cover a single day of the federal government’s expenses.
I am alarmed by Duke’s pursuit of fossil fuels through the natural gas combined heat and power (CHP) plant despite the University’s environmental stewardship. A new long-term commitment to natural gas would severely damage the Earth and Duke’s standing as a climate leader. Duke offers amazing “green” resources including the Nicholas School, Smart Home, and Sustainability Initiative. Is it worth compromising this legacy to pursue a project over 2,000 Duke Community members oppose?