As representatives of Mi Gente, AAA, ASA, Diya, and NASA, we are pleased to announce the creation of the Latinx, Asian American, and the Native American programming spaces within the Center for Multicultural Affairs. The Latinx space will be taking the place of the current Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, and the Asian American space will be taking the place of the Center for Leadership Development and Social Action. These student centers will serve to facilitate the enrichment of the social, political and cultural interests of each of these groups. In addition, the Asian American and Latinx spaces will each house a program coordinator for their respective centers, and the Native American space will house a graduate student. These new spaces are an incredible step towards making campus a more inclusive and equitable place.
Having a physical space is not only a logistical victory, but also a deeply emotional and symbolic one as well - many students within our communities do not feel that they have a place to be safe on campus, or a place to call home. Indeed, institutions such as Duke have historically been exclusionary and harmful to students who have looked like us. Being able to claim a physical space dedicated to our well-being, to helping us to understand a part of our identity, is a key component of working to make students in our communities feel included. In addition, hiring staff who are paid to help with programming and advise and support students takes some of the burden off of students, many of whom have had to juggle building community and understanding their own identity while simultaneously being full-time students.
We want to thank those who are relocating to accommodate these new centers: the Center for Leadership Development and Social Action, the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, as well as any others who are moving spaces. In addition, we would like to thank the Office of Student Affairs and the Center for Multicultural Affairs for working with our respective communities in acquiring and implementing the construction of the spaces. Additionally, we would like to thank the CMA for its commitment to each of our communities prior and beyond this announcement. Despite catering to every cultural student group, hosting academic, cultural and social events they have managed to create a safe space that feels familial for many students. As the university reorganizes in the future, we stress the importance of bringing the CMA to a larger and more visible space as they shape multi-culturalism on this campus.
We want to pay special recognition to student activists and community members who have pushed for change in the past. This important change didn’t happen in isolation - students at Duke have always demanded justice, from the Allen Building Takeover in 1969 to the most recent 2015-2016 demands by Concerned Students, Mi Gente, and AAA/ASA/Diya. More broadly, the national context of protests at Mizzou, Yale, Ithaca, and more challenged universities nationwide to examine whether they could do better to work for marginalized members of their community. We also want to specifically congratulate Mi Gente for their work in challenging the broader Duke community to think about what it means to recruit Latinx students without taking steps to ensure that current Latinx students feel at home.
We write a joint statement to show that our communities support each other as we work towards many of the same goals. In fact, there has been a history of progress for our communities happening in tandem. In 2003, concerned students read a list of demands to the university president for respective Latino, Asian American, and Native American cultural centers. In addition to the cultural centers, these students asked for Native and Asian American studies and the strengthening of a Latino and Sexuality studies program. We look forward to continued collaboration between our communities, which will only be strengthened by the close proximity of our spaces. At the same time, though we are writing this joint statement, we want to recognize the nuances and differences of our communities - a brief section about the specifics of each community follows.
On a national scale, Asian American student activism has ranged from the 1968 San Francisco State strikes that established the first Ethnic Studies program/first Asian American Studies program, to the founding of the first Asian American Studies within the Ivy Leagues at Cornell in 1987, to the hunger strike for Asian American Studies at Northwestern in 1995, to continuing efforts today by Asian American students for countless causes.
Asian American students at Duke specifically have a long history of activism at the university. Though countless efforts have likely been forgotten due to the challenge of retaining institutional memory, we do know some of the history. In 1995, Asian Americans pushed for a space for ASA as well as an administrator to specifically work with the Asian American community. In 2002, members of the Asian American community pushed for an Asian American Studies program, resulting in a Center for Asian and Asian American Studies and an eventual faculty hire in Asian American Studies. The center dissolved, and the faculty hire either left or was not retained. In 2013, after the racist “Asia Prime” party, students once again demanded faculty specializing in Asian American studies. In 2016, ASA, Diya, and AAA reiterated the demands from after the “Asia Prime” party, and also demanded an Asian American Student Center.
Until now, there have been no institutional resources on campus explicitly for Asian American students, other than those that students have created for ourselves through groups such as ASA, Diya, and AAA. Thus, a staff member dedicated specifically to Asian American student communities is a fantastic first step. However, looking forward, we expect that we will need additional staff members to adequately serve our communities. Specifically, a full Asian American Student Center would have an East Asian American, South Asian American, and Southeast Asian American staff member to address the different needs of these respective communities. We also wish to continue working and organizing towards an Asian American Studies program, as today, there are no faculty whose primary area of research is Asian American Studies.
In 2005 in a letter to President Brodhead, Mi Gente urged the university to assert its commitment to the Latinx community by establishing a culture center, obtaining an office space, and diversifying faculty and staff. In January 2016, the current council published a letter boycotting the Latino Student Recruitment Weekend, along with the revised demands, in an effort to raise awareness and redistribute the burden of recruitment and retention. Previously, Mi Gente, along with an admissions counselor, had funded and organized the weekend long events.
The boycott has resulted in several positive outcomes in addition to the creation of this space, one of which being that the administration has agreed to finance the Latino Student Recruitment Weekend and the weekend will be hosted in April as in the past. While the space is adequate today, as the fastest growing demographic in the nation, in the South, and at this institution, we anticipate that in the coming years this space will need to be reevaluated for its physical size and the size of its staff. For the Latinx community, the creation of a center is a gain of space, but also a loss since the Mi Gente office will be reorganized to meet the needs of another community. In the future we would like to have a visible Mi Gente office to continue serving the undergraduate population. Although we are pleased that for this boycott to have had positive outcomes, we must stress the importance of diversifying the faculty and creating academic spaces to engage pieces studying and historicizing Latinidad. The need for an increase in Latinx faculty members is further invaluable as we define, as an elite institution, what is culture, literature, and history of Latinxs in this intellectual project.
NASA has been pushing Duke to become a more inclusive campus for Natives since 1995. The major demands we have been reiterating through the years call for the appointment of a Native faculty member, the establishment a Native student center, and the creation of a Native studies program. None of these demands have been satisfied or even seriously attempted. Having faculty that looks like us is necessary because it is important to have faculty members who understand the issues faced by Native students. Being such a small portion of campus, change is hard to initiate without support. Native Americans on our campus are consistently overlooked by administrators, faculty, and students. We hope that these new changes are the first steps to fixing this unhealthy climate.
For the Native American students, the need to see representation through a Native faculty member is especially pertinent considering there are no existing faculty members. Looking forward, the CMA is projected to hire a Native American graduate student staff member that will aid NASA’s programing. This is a huge step towards revamping our organization and towards creating representation on our campus. We are thankful that this new graduate student faculty position has been created for NASA, while simultaneously recognizing that this is long overdue.
As leaders within our respective communities, we are glad that these spaces are centrally located in the Bryan Center, but must note the lack of visibility of each of these spaces on the bottom floor. Since this project is being housed outside of the Center for Multicultural Affairs, we stress the importance of increased funding for the CMA and the University Cultural Fund in order to not only fund cultural, political, and identity organizations and the increase of staff dedicated to each of the individuals missions, but to also fund the general multicultural initiative. On the student side, with this allocation of space, we foresee the growth of programming and collaborations and ask that SOFC’s guidelines be reevaluated to accommodate these efforts.
Having addressed the concerns and demands that have not fully been met, we understand that it will be the responsibility of future students and the administration to continue to define and reevaluate what it means to have an inclusive, equitable environment. Today, however, we are proud of the path that Duke has taken and we look forward to the exciting changes that these student spaces and staff members will bring to our communities.