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One year ago, after months of divisive rhetoric and troubling headlines during his election campaign, Donald Trump shocked the world by becoming the 45th President of the United States. Duke students, like so many others, spent that fateful evening crowded together around television screens and laptops to watch states turn blue and red as votes were tallied into the early morning hours. Now, more than 365 days since that night, Americans are faced with a country and federal government that looks vastly different from the previous administration. With this important anniversary behind us and new sets of challenges likely waiting on the horizon, it’s worthwhile to reflect on how our nation has transformed and what this presidency has meant for America so far.
Nearly a month has passed since Harvey Weinstein’s numerous sexual assault and harassment accusations sparked a massive online campaign to decry abusers and demand justice for survivors. Now, some of the latest waves of allegations have shined a national spotlight on Alabama Republican, Roy Moore. The GOP Senate candidate has been accused of inappropriate sexual misconduct with five different minors, some as young as 14 years old. Moore denies the allegations entirely, but the revelations have stirred up controversy within GOP leadership as well as among the broader American populace. Several individuals who have come to Moore’s defense have attempted to normalize this predatory behavior by calling relationships between grown men and children biblical or comparing the charges to the severity of stealing a lawn mower. These repugnant endeavors to gloss over serious allegations necessitates a confrontation of our societal tendency to oversexualize young, female-coded bodies.
Last week, millions of financial documents called the Paradise Papers were leaked from a Bermuda law firm that have revealed how various American colleges and universities, including Duke, have been exploiting a tax loophole that has allowed these institutions to hide away endowment funds through offshore accounts. For obvious reasons, this story has countless moral implications for the University, which has implicated Duke in a complex web of institutional hypocrisy involving questionable investment practices. Yet, the headline has been buried within the chaotic avalanche of White House updates and Duke’s administration has declined to comment on its involvement. Nonetheless, this revelation serves as an important opportunity to emphasize issues of financial transparency and to scrutinize the inherent conflicts between Duke’s stated mission and its actual institutional practices.
Earlier this week, Florida State University made national headlines when administrators indefinitely suspended Greek activity on campus after the recent death of a fraternity pledge. This tragedy comes amidst a year of many fraternity-related deaths from around the country. Last February, a Pennsylvania State University student died when his brothers failed to get him medical attention after he sustained injuries from falling down the stairs at a party. Following that, in September, a Louisiana State University student died with a .495 BAC during pledging. These high-profile cases have garnered nation-wide attention, but few concrete actions seem to have been taken to prevent similar situations. The swift measures taken by FSU’s president were a courageous exemplar of how to handle this type of event and serves as an opportunity for other universities to consider what should be done about problems within Greek life.
This past Tuesday, two gubernatorial elections and a special election for a state legislature has shifted the balance of political power within the country towards the Democratic Party. In Virginia, Ralph S. Northam decisively defeated his Republican opponent in a tense race for the governor’s mansion in Richmond. Up north, Philip D. Murphy reclaimed the governorship of New Jersey for the Democrats, defeating Kim Guadagno who had been hand-picked by Republican governor Chris Christie as the GOP nominee. Moreover, out west in the suburbs of Seattle, a special election for a state senate seat has resulted in a solid “blue wall” of Democrat dominance stretching from Olympia, Washington to Sacramento, California.
Grayson Allen caused a stir two weeks ago when he was quoted describing Chipotle’s new queso as “underwhelming” at ACC Media Day. Although Bloomberg described the Blue Devil’s disparaging comments as simply echoing the trend of negative criticism that the company has received over its new menu addition, fans still took to their social media to support or shame Allen’s remarks. Last week, Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter also found himself implicated in a controversy related to sports marketing when his comments blaming NFL protests for poor pizza sales received waves of instant and merciless backlash via social media. Some fans have even threatened to boycott the official pizza sponsor of the NFL, and in a strange turn of events neo-Nazis have declared the brand the official pizza of the alt-right. Although seemingly unrelated, both events highlight the ways in which capitalism, politics and sports have become intertwined within our consumerist society. In light of these recent events within the realm of high-profile sports, it is a relationship worth examining in significant depth.
At the end of last week, Duke announced its course offerings for the second annual Spring Breakthrough program. The program offers underclassmen an opportunity to take a free week-long seminar style class during spring break. The program is the brain child of Provost Sally Kornbluth and is meant to encourage students to explore unfamiliar academic fields in a stress-free environment. The program provides students with an amazing opportunity to learn about fascinating topics along with a generous meal allotment, all subsidized by Duke. Nonetheless, problems with Spring Breakthrough still remain, primarily the program’s focus on enriching the academic experiences of underclassmen to the exclusion of upperclassmen.
Last Thursday, the GOP leadership unveiled their proposal for a new, controversial tax plan titled the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The bill, if passed, will cut nearly $1.5 trillion in federal revenue, mostly in the form of significant tax reductions for corporations. Despite the intense debate and outrage ignited by the new tax plan, Republicans in Congress intend to preserve the plan in its basic form with an aim to pass the legislation through the White House by the end of the year. Although the main aim of the new tax code according to conservative lawmakers centers around encouraging economic growth and businesses, the actual text of the bill and the projected outcomes of its implementation tell a different story.
Last week, the Trump administration blocked a planned ban on a pesticide linked to numerous adverse health effects. The pesticide, chlorpyrifos, is manufactured by Dow Chemicals, which donated $1 million for Trump’s inauguration. Despite reports by the EPA that the chemical can lead to nerve and organ damage and developmental disorders in children, the president blocked the ban, enraging many public health experts. Moreover, this action follows a slew of actions by the Trump administration to roll back chemical regulations and stifle research on dangerous toxins. Time and time again, instead of informing and protecting the public, the Trump administration has been working with his financial backers—in this case the $54 million chemical industry lobby—to further the interests of big business at the expense of the American public.
Jonathan Kozol, an activist for public education, spoke at an event last week hosted by Duke’s Program in Education. For the past fifty years, Kozol has been both an educator and a researcher of public education, gaining notoriety as one of the most high-profile critics of inequalities within public-school systems. Perhaps most controversial of Kozol’s remarks at the event was his blatant condemnation of charter schools. Though Kozol’s criticism of charter schools may seem particularly biased, his polarizing remarks nonetheless represent an important voice within the present debate concerning public education in North Carolina.
This Wednesday, the newest round of hopeful DukeEngage applicants will be submitting the last of their forms for the well-known service learning program. This deadline marks another year of curious and excited scholars ready to commit themselves to an immersive eight weeks of living abroad and working on a wide variety of humanitarian projects. However, as wonderful as this opportunity may appear on the surface, it isn’t free of valid and important critique. The core components of this program require—and have much to gain from—serious consideration of questions surrounding western saviorism and student intent. With this, as well as the nearing paperwork submission deadlines in mind, questions of how Duke students should be approaching these types of international undertakings are more than worth exploring in earnest.
In a matter of days, seniors will embark on the very last class registration process of their undergraduate experience. While the 1,739 students who make up the class of 2017 have only a handful of courses left at our beloved institution, their brighter-eyed underclassmen peers will continue to be vying for finite spots in semesters beyond this year’s graduation ceremony. Time leading up to the notorious two weeks of awaking at 7 am and lightening fast mouse clicks are filled with hours spent pouring over course offerings and careful calculations of the minutes it takes to get from one building to the next building. As Spring 2018 registration closes in, it’s important to think critically about the influences and mechanisms guiding your selection process. The promise of a new semester’s fresh start allows for a biannual remember that each class is a unique opportunity to develop new sets of knowledge and grow as a person, rather than simply being a way to satisfy another minor requirement.
Earlier this month, a devastating bombing shook the city of Mogadishu in Somalia, resulting in upwards of 300 civilian casualties and hundreds of others left with severe injuries from the blast. Families were destroyed and lives were irreparably changed in a matter of seconds after an explosive-laden truck detonated, causing what was the most fatal terrorist attack to occur in Somalia and one of the world’s largest since 9/11. However, despite the severity and magnitude of the event, you might not have even been aware it happened. This serves as just one example of a larger irresponsible pattern in Western media reporting habits that under-prioritize regions outside of Europe and North America.
This week, The Chronicle reported that Project Wild—a popular pre-orientation program for incoming first-years—had been suspended this year after 23 students were cited for trail blocking and public nudity on a previous trip. Although the two-week wilderness experience will be reinstated after a probationary period, the details of the revelation have stirred controversy among members of the Duke community. This particular incident echoes a common conflict groups and individuals often find themselves within the insulated Duke bubble: tension between being accustomed to Duke’s rules while also being subject to the penalties of actual laws outside of campus. Today, we evaluate this fine line between being liable to the university and being bound by the law that governs the world outside the Gothic Wonderland.
With the fall semester over halfway through, every student on campus is most likely bogged down with their own particular load of problem sets, midterms and research papers—all of which seem to be inexplicably due at the same time. Along with the pressures of maintaining various extracurricular activities and friendships, the height of the academic semester can feel somewhat exhausting for the average Duke student. By the time most students wrap up for the year and begin their three-week hibernation during winter break, quite often the past fall semester will feel as if it blew by in flash. Unfortunately, for many, those countless espresso-filled late nights spent in Perkins studying for the latest EGR midterm seem to embody the sentiment of the Duke experience: work hard, and play hard later. Nonetheless, in such a high pressure academic and social climate, it remains important both for one’s mental and physical well-being to maintain a healthy, relaxing lifestyle here at Duke.
Now that the primaries have concluded, candidates Steve Schewel and Farad Ali are set to face off in the 2017 Durham mayoral election on November 8th. Even if the race has not been as hot a topic on campus as it has been in the rest of Bull City, this election represents an important turning point for the future direction of Durham. Consequently, Duke students should be motivated to exercise their civic duty as Durham residents. Unfortunately, student turnout for local elections has been low in recent years, with the local precinct encompassing Duke reporting the lowest voter turnout in the city. Even if our stay is temporary, we are obligated to critically examine the ways in which Duke as an influential institution with deep historical ties to Durham will continue to affect the community landscape and vote accordingly.
Coursera, Udacity, Udemy and EdX: these were some of the names behind the proliferation of education technology startups that led The New York Times to dub 2012 “The Year of the MOOC” (Massive Open Online Courses). Amidst a flurry of high investment and enrollment rates, these startups were touted as the “new public Ivies” that would “change higher learning forever.” By offering university courses online at little to no cost, these companies were seen as ushering in a revolution in higher education; with such programs no longer would rising tuition costs and academic elitism prevent the average Joe from pursuing a college degree.
Administrators recently released a blueprint for the university’s new strategic plan, titled “Together Duke: Advancing Excellence Through Community.” The new plan emphasizes three major focal points: building up the natural sciences, opening doors for graduate students and improving global engagement. As with the previous 2006 strategic plan from the early Brodhead era, it is likely that the new strategic plan will heavily influence the direction of Duke for the next ten or so years. Consequently, it is important that the student community understands exactly what these long-term theoretical goals will actually entail for the greater Duke community, and voice our collective opinions and concerns.
Against the backdrop of the recent national discussion surrounding sexual harassment post-Weinstein, “Me Too” has emerged as a powerful statement highlighting the societal pervasiveness of a seldom discussed crime: sexual violence. Actress Alyssa Milano instigated the recent social media thread a few days ago to “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” and it has since turned viral, dominating nearly every realm of social media. From tweets by celebrities such as Lady Gaga to Facebook posts by personal acquaintances, the campaign has clearly done its job. With millions of people posting “Me Too” on their social media accounts, it is impossible for anyone to dismiss pervasive sexual harassment and assault as relics of a bygone era. Sexual violence remains firmly entrenched within our present culture, which still clearly struggles immensely with gendered imbalances of power.
Adam Silver, commissioner of the NBA, was quoted in an interview this past Tuesday declaring that the one-and-done rule is “clearly not working for the college game.” It is simple to see in light of recent events that this flawed rule is not the only aspect of college sports failing to benefit the league or athletes. Earlier this month, the FBI implicated a number of big-name NCAA basketball programs in a huge bribery and corruption scandal—as commented previously in “An athletic disgrace.” Similarly, earlier this week, the NCAA finally ruled on the matter of UNC’s recent athletic scandal. The NCAA has ultimately ruled that UNC did not violate any academic rules with its “paper class” fraud, which allowed student-athletes to deceptively maintain their academic eligibility. As we get excited for basketball season here at Duke, it is worthwhile to examine the commotion occurring at the national level of college sports. Such pressing problems with the NCAA remain extremely relevant as Duke, a research university with a Division I sports program, struggles to maintain its balance of top-tier academics with high-level athletics in the current national debate.