One thing that continues to fascinate me as I become further removed from the dog and pony show that is the college application process are the various ways that we try to sell Duke University and our $67,000 (and rising!) price tag to potential students and their families. The Admissions Office has a myriad of pamphlets about majors, minors, and certificates, brochures about the clubs and organizations students can get involved in, and of course, facts about the average SAT and ACT scores as well as information about the demographics of our student body. The one particular fact that always leaves me feeling empty is that 50% of the class of 2019 identify as people of color. Duke is, diverse. Yet.
Last Friday, someone found a poster promoting an upcoming Black Lives Matter event, crossing out the word “Black,” adding the word “white” and adding the words “No Niggers,” providing the our campus with what I’m sure they thought was a truly original opinion. On its own, this would be an ugly event; unfortunately this event was preceded five days earlier by a group of presumably drunk males shouting about “fucking Koreans” and “those chinks,” which was overheard by a Korean student. These are not the only events that have occurred on campus that openly attack or deride students of color, they are only the most recent. And yet, how can we, as a diverse university, have such problems? If our administration and Yik Yak are to believed, these are the actions of an individual “troll,” a racist hater, and most certainly do not represent the beliefs of the entire student body. Because, how could we be racist? Our student body is 28% Asian, 11% Black, 10% Hispanic/Latino, and 1% Native American, American Indian, or Native Hawaiian! Also, we totally voted for Obama, and did DukeEngage Kenya, so this is clearly an isolated incident because no one here could be a racist.
Call me a jaded senior, but the idea that this school ceases to be racist just because we’re half people of color is ridiculous. Contrary to the idea that we are creating, in the words of Larry Moneta, “a campus where love trumps hate,” this is one act of too many to list that has told me that Duke University is not made for me and my fellow 50%ers. I respect Dr. Moneta, but I’m sick of being fed this tired PR-friendly line that this school does everything it can do to “instill confidence that [they] genuinely care, that [they] won’t tolerate harm to each other.” No, this school doesn’t care Otherwise I wouldn’t have to call my dad to let him know for the second time this year that someone made a violent gesture (because using the word “nigger” is an indisputably violent act). I wouldn’t have to answer the question “So what is it like to be a black student at Duke. Do you ever feel uncomfortable?” And I wouldn’t have to wonder what racial group, sexuality minority, or gender is suddenly going to be the next target in an inflammatory and factually incorrect thinkpiece in the Chronicle or going to be the punchline of a terrible Yik Yak post.
Duke isn’t even doing the bare minimum to work towards combating this pervasive attitude because it takes comfort in the fact that we are a “liberal” student body. How can we claim diversity when I see photos of students on DukeEngage taking the cliched white voluntourist photos with smiling black and brown children that have 10 times as many people of color than the average bid day photo? The administration might like to spin these as being the acts an individual, but unless the same person planned the “Asia Prime” party my freshman year and made a theme “Pocahotness” the previous year, wrote into the New York Times that the reason black people don’t do well here is because they have “ghetto” names, editorialized that black people need to stop being violent, hung a noose on the Bryan Center Plaza, shouted anti-Asian epithets, and defaced that Black Lives Matter poster, this is not merely an individual problem. Dr. Moneta is correct in saying that we all need to act in the face of hatred, but Duke is kidding themselves if they think they are doing enough to ensure that students of color are not at an environment where their race is going to be the core of the next Duke incident. The worst part about last week was the fact that, after almost 3 and half years here, I was completely unsurprised that it happened. My rage was replaced with a comical indifference; when I saw the photo of the poster, I laughed and thought “Well that’s Duke for you” and went on to finish watching something on Netflix. The fact that I am no longer surprised whenever something racist occurs on this campus is a sign that it’s so heavily ingrained into campus culture that it can barely elicit something more emotional than a caustic laugh from most of the people here and that we, as a school, have not done enough.
It might be an objective fact our school is 50% people of color. Great. Fantastic. And I don’t expect Duke to never have these incidents; I’m not oblivious. But it’s not asking too much to suggest that the administration at least try to take legitimate action whenever these too often events occur. Until this school stops sending us the toothless and halfhearted “we don’t tolerate racism” emails they pulled from the PR-friendly playbook and actually starts to contribute meaningful and concrete solutions to show that they are serious about making this a school that does not tolerate racism and will emotionally support their students of color, Duke does not have the right to boast this statistic. As it is now, the only thing that “50%” represents is the number of the student body whose racial identities can be violently targeted on this campus with complete impunity.