With the semester only days underway, we’ve already seen some of the worst of our nature in and around our campus—racial epithets, skirmishes around Silent Sam and likely dozens of other incidents that never rose to the attention of public scrutiny—often without any clear offender to blame.
“I’m having trouble with your class. I swear I’m trying.” a student pleads to me in my office.
I would like to pose a couple of questions to those members of the Duke “family” who believe the administration is doing enough to address issues of hate and discrimination on campus. Note the quotations, meant to illustrate how loosely a term can be applied as a mere buzzword where it does not belong. The inability of our administrative “parents” to protect and educate the children with which they have been entrusted seems antithetical to my understanding of “family.” Then again, maybe minority students at Duke are the black sheep of this family. Sobering pun entirely intended.
In 2017, President Vince Price made a bold decision. At the height of protests against monuments commemorating the Confederacy, anonymous protesters damaged the sculptural portrayal of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on the exterior of Duke Chapel. Without delay, Price had the statue taken down and promised a debate. The happy result: tensions did not escalate, and Duke demonstrated an institutional awareness of its historical baggage. (Compare that to UNC down the road, where protests against Silent Sam, the Confederate statue on campus, led to no resolution. Monday, the day before classes started, protesters took it down overnight, in a widely reported scene.) Three weeks after Duke’s statue was removed, Price set up a commission which began a long debate on what to do with the newly empty space. In 2018, President Price made a decision that was less brave, unfortunately. In an email last week he decided to follow a recommendation the commission made last December: to leave the space empty. The commission had recommended doing this for a year. President Price now apparently wants the space to remain empty indefinitely. The justification, borrowed from the Dean of the Chapel, is that the empty space may be seen to represent “a hole that is in the heart of the United States of America, and perhaps in our own human hearts—that hole that is from the sin of racism and hatred of any kind.” A plaque will explain this.
Acknowledging our roots as an intrinsically collaborative species, I wonder if it is entirely unrealistic to imagine a society in which individuals give and receive assistance readily, regardless of personal identity. When I reflect on society’s current status though, I realize we are moving in quite the opposite direction. It appears that though our web of diverse, global communities becomes increasingly connected every year, our personal regard for others diminishes in tandem.
Sexual assault is not only one of the most harmful actions committed on Duke’s campus, but it is also one of the most frequent. As one of many Duke students who did not understand the pervasive nature of sexual assault when I came to college, education on the subject has taken time. I am writing this column in an effort to start the discussion earlier, particularly for freshmen and sophomores at Duke, whose awareness could protect victims and prevent rape.
It was in the gloaming at Duke University in late fall of 1966. There was a wet chill in the air, most of the trees were leafless, and a low cloud cover added to the gloom. I was trudging across West Campus from my freshman dorm to the library, overburdened with a load of books and overwhelmed by the pressures of a demanding university. My small-town school had not prepared me for the academic rigor at Duke, nor had my home life hardened me for living on a few hours of sleep a night. I was struggling, scared, worn down, and mindful that flunking out of school could result in a trip at government expense to the exotic landscape of Southeast Asia.
If rapper Young Dolph’s “Get Paid” seems abrasive, crass and cynical, it’s because it is. What choice has our current economic and political system left us? While it is encouraging that Duke has pledged to pay a living wage, $15 an hour by 2019, many workers are left out of this agreement (part-time, contract, graduate student workers, undergraduate workers and some service workers). The latest incident, reported by Katie Jane Fernelius over at Indy Week, serves as an example of why we should keep fighting for a living wage and workplace protections for all members of the Duke community.
Unlike many of my classmates who seemed to have had superior educations in northeastern suburbs or at east coast prep schools, I arrived at all-male Trinity College from a quintessential southern town, small and more than a little provincial. Our worldview was largely untested.
Little did I know then, as the events of 1968 played out around the world, that the Vigil would prove to be unique in its combination of scale (perhaps 2,000 students at the peak), self-organization, and peacefulness. It was also more successful than many others.
I pretended to be straight for 19 years, repressing my feelings so far back that I actually convinced myself that sexuality was a choice.