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In the main field of Duke Gardens, where the gargantuan stick sculpture used to make its home, there’s a grassy slope under the shade of a magnolia tree. A small slope, close to the Flowers Drive entrance, adjacent to the gravel path which leads you to colorful, terraced flower beds and the koi fish pond. We’ll call this spot Gardens Slope™, because I don’t have much patience to think of a more creative name. Gardens Hill is an appropriate alternative, and I might use them interchangeably. Might.
I am in denial.
On Monday, February 17, Duke’s Program in American Grand Strategy will host war-monger John Bolton for a conversation on “The National Security Challenge of 2020.” Professor Peter Feaver, who will interview Bolton, commented that Bolton’s various roles in the Reagan, Bush (I and II) and Trump administrations present an “exciting opportunity to hear first-hand from a significant figure in American policy-making.” However, AGS’ announcement fails to list Bolton’s many concrete “achievements” beyond his titles. So, to better understand why Professor Feaver speaks so highly of Bolton—and why we should all be so excited to hear from him—I present the following list of John Bolton’s greatest hits:
Most days, I find myself in West Union nibbling on a salmon and kale poké bowl while dreaming of the next controversial topic to whine self-righteously about in my esteemed Chronicle opinion column. One drab and monotonous day, as I choked down another piece of unseasoned fish, Duke did my work for me—President Price announced that a small group of “impact investors” had passed the proverbial “GO” and would receive $100,000 in Monopoly money to boost their chances at being the next Goldman Sachs executive to cause a financial crisis.
In 1999, the state of North Carolina incarcerated Lyle May in Raleigh’s Central Prison, placing him on death row. North Carolina has not executed anyone since 2006, so while he probably won’t be subject to the form of state-sanctioned murder known as the death penalty (though as long as execution exists, his fate is uncertain), he will almost certainly never leave prison. In 2004, despite the criminal-legal system’s attempts to completely sever Lyle from society, he began correspondence courses with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Adams State University, and Ohio University. These courses allowed him to earn college credit, an associate’s degree, and progress toward a bachelor’s degree from a distance, and his education blossomed into public writings for his own blog and outlets like The Marshall Project and Scalawag.
I was 20 years old before I took my family’s history seriously. A month in Atlanta for a fellowship, where I listened to a friend share his ancestral stories, finally shook me from my self-absorbed daze so I could reflect on my place among familial roots teeming with stories to listen to, research, carry with me.
About a year ago, Duke administration almost succeeded in eliminating health insurance for most students on financial aid. The policy change was intentional; its subtle implementation followed by the administration’s sheepish reversal in the face of public pressure reflected a university more concerned with saving a few bucks than its students’ access to basic healthcare. Although students and their families won, President Price’s explanation of the decision carried an implicit threat: “We do not have unlimited financial resources...the broader challenge to university finances has not gone away.”
This week, I want to talk about Fannie Lou Hamer. But first, let’s talk about land.
We thought of the [Black] men, women, and children that had gone into the buildings to make up Duke University...the blood to be squeezed out of black bodies to build a university for white minds… only white minds… If white people had labored in the factories of the American tobacco industry for less than enough on which to live, they have had the satisfaction of knowing that their children may reap the benefits in a school that provides the very best training. If [Blacks] have done the same thing, it must pierce their hearts to know that Duke University has been built for every other race under the sun but theirs...[the African American] stands alone as the one human being on earth too loathsome in the eyes of the American white man to share the benefits of Duke University.
I’ve recently been the unwilling participant in a (not-so) mysterious game against myself. The game, which has lasted a few weeks now, is simple: at every moment I am equally as likely to sob as I am to emit a (loud) cross between a chuckle and a cackle. The bit is that I don’t know which one will emerge in any given moment, a dash of anxious spontaneity I never asked for but experience nonetheless. And, sadly, there’s no prize at the end—only the unavoidable pity in the eyes of a stranger observing my face (which looks something like the image above) in Pitchforks. If one wanted to psychoanalyze me, they could point out the pressures of classes or relationships collapsing in on me, and classify my game metaphor as a useful distraction from actually unpacking and addressing my own issues. On the other hand, pursuing such deep introspection sounds like hard work. Thus, when I walked into Mad Hatter’s last Thursday to catch up with a former professor, I remained in the thick of my game-like fantasy, desperately worried my ugly crying face would emerge and she’d be forced to witness it.
Last Wednesday, Duke notified GoTriangle that it refused to sign on to one of Durham’s largest-ever mass transit infrastructure projects, the Durham-Orange light rail. Citing patient safety and research concerns due to potential construction vibrations, electromagnetic interference, power and utility disruptions, and the high cost of liability insurance, Duke declined to sign a cooperative agreement necessary to secure a land donation from the University. The agreement would also bind the University to further negotiations in order to make the project eligible for federal and state funding. The announcement immediately sparked community outrage—North Carolina Congressional representatives, city council members, county commissioners, and groups like the Coalition for Affordable Housing and Transit condemned Duke for turning its back on the community. Duke’s decision not to support the light rail jeopardizes a decades-in-the-making, $2 billion project designed to create equitable mass transit and affordable housing.
On February 13th, 1969, tear gas hung thick in the air outside of the Allen Building. More than one hundred local police officers and National Guard troops had been called in to bring order to the protest; dozens of white students stood nearby to support their classmates. Approximately 75 of Duke’s first Black students were inside the building in a struggle they hoped would change the University forever.
As volunteer advocates at the Community Empowerment Fund (CEF), a nonprofit that works with individuals toward goals of financial independence, we often work alongside justice-involved community members (those who have come into contact with any part of the criminal justice system) who routinely confront a society that continues to punish them long after they leave detention in the criminal-legal system. As they begin the slow work of rebuilding their lives and rejoining their respective communities, they must navigate limited housing options, employers who refuse to hire them, bureaucratic and nightmarish expungement processes and a public conditioned to fear and disregard them. One consistent barrier is the “Box”—a question on the initial employment application asking if the applicant has ever been convicted of a crime. Resulting in the disproportionate rejection of African-American and Latinx job applicants, this Box represents a prejudice ingrained in so many employers against the formerly incarcerated. It is a codification of denied opportunity to those seeking economic stability for themselves and their families. We witnessed countless individuals confront the disappointment, discouragement and rejection generated by the Box, and being forced to start over again. More often than not, we witnessed this rejection when CEF members applied to jobs at Duke University and its Health System.
Whether in the classroom or in the common room, critical conversations about poverty rarely happen at Duke. When you are surrounded by stone walls, glass boxes, and manicured lawns, it can be easy to insulate yourself in their comforting presence.
The Durham and Regional Affairs Committee of Duke Student Government realizes you live in Durham—but we want to make it your home. Here’s who we are and what we’re doing to improve Duke’s engagement with Durham and North Carolina.