How Will Duke Respond to Black Lives Matter

    Over the past year, the nation has seen racial tensions rise. National news stories of black citizens being killed by cops have become more prominent, one such story occurring in Charlotte, a city that is a two-hour drive from Durham. With Duke University being an elite, well-respected institution, the question of how Duke will use its influence and power to respond to such a huge incident in its home state needs to be asked.

    When looking back at the past year, we can see the evolution of Duke’s work toward the Black Lives Matter movement. . In October 2015, Duke University hosted the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, Patrisse Cullors. The event was sponsored by several groups including Student Affairs, the Baldwin Scholars, the African and African American Studies department, the Office of Civic Engagement and Trinity College of Arts and Sciences.

    A month later, the words “Black Lives Matter” were painted on the James B. Duke statue. Some suggested that the name of the movement was spray-painted on the statue in response to recent hate events at that time including the defacement of a Black Lives Matter flyer. Also in November 2015, Duke students protested a student-administration conversation held by President Brodhead. During this conversation, students expressed their anger and frustration, over inaction by administration in response to events occuring  in October 2015, including the defacement of the Black Lives Matter flyer and a death threat that included a homophobic slur against a freshman student. This sentiment was felt earlier in the year in April 2015 when a sign reading “Duke stands on the back of black and brown labor” was placed on the James B. Duke statue and was accompanied by protests and marches. Duke University, and specifically its students, reacted strongly to the Black Lives Matter movement in 2015.

    However, 2016 is missing the reactions towards the Black Lives Matter movement from administration that were seen slightly in 2015. Although administration reactions were partially due to incidents that occurred on campus in 2015, it would be expected that there would be similar reactions when an incident of police violence occurs in Charlotte, North Carolina. In addition to the incident of police violence in Charlotte, hateful remarks were sprayed on the bridge on east campus recently, and as of now, administration has remained largely silent on that matter as well. There have been responses to the incidents of police violence in Charlotte, North Carolina and Tulsa, Oklahoma from students and faculty members. Some of these responses include protests from Black Lives Matter supporters on campus and one of Duke’s African and African American studies professor, Mark Anthony Neal, conducting a conversation about Black Lives Matter with journalist Marc Lamont Hill.

    However, administration has remained largely inactive in addressing such incidents that occur nationwide and in the home state of Duke University as well as explicit prejudice that occurs on campus. In response to police violence in Charlotte, President Brodhead sent an email to the student body expressing grief and pain and stating that Duke stands for inclusion, healing and standing in solidarity with black colleagues, friends and students to the student body. Although this was an important and necessary message to send the Duke community, it does not suffice in addressing the issue.  Duke University can take steps to address the issue of divisiveness that is seen in the Black Lives Matter movement on  campus more effectively. In addition, with Duke being an elite and well-known institution nationwide, it has a strong platform that can be used to vocalize concerns and address issues that occur not only nationwide, but also in its state of North Carolina.

    The administration at Duke University can take steps to be more proactive with issues surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement by following the examples of what other institutions have done. For example, the chancellor of University of Nebraska-Lincoln sent a message addressing the concerns of Black Lives Matter supporters on campus earlier this year. Some of the commitments the chancellor promised to make were to establish diversity officers in Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, and Human Resources, to establish a Chief Diversity Officer position on campus, and to collaborate with a firm that specializes in diversity mapping for higher education. All of these steps help address the issue of divisiveness that we see in the Black Lives Matter movement. Duke University should look at these actions as models for how to address concerns of Black Lives Matter supporters on campus.

    Action by administration is a desire that students have vocalized in the past and students continue to vocalize this desire. Nefer Batsuli, a Black freshman student from Charlotte, NC, stated, “because of Duke’s influential platform, the institution has the power to foster important conversations about issues surrounding the events that took place. The events that ensued took place within our own state and affected the lives of my own and many other black families from Charlotte. We need to discuss what we can do to prevent such events differently. At a place with people of various backgrounds, reconciliation among ourselves is the first step in challenging the problems of our society from happening again; we need to have intentional and honest conversations not only with people who share our perspective, but also with those who think differently.”

    As incidents of police violence against blacks continue to occur all over as well as incidents of prejudice on campus, Duke is given more and more opportunities to utilize its influence to address these problematic issues. With President Brodhead’s tenure ending after this school year, mysteries remain regarding who will lead this institution. An even more important question to be asked is how he or she will respond to issues that concern Duke students, the state of North Carolina, and the American public. As racial tensions rise in the United States, it becomes more pressing that Duke University pushes for inclusivity on campus and vocalizes to government and authority officials to actively respond to the demands and needs of black citizens, especially when such incidents occur in North Carolina.

Maram Elnagheeb