The stir-fry line is closed
I can’t use my food points at the Wa
It’s rained 5 days in a row
I have a midterm, 2 papers, and a problem set due this week
Greek Life is 99% White
He was found innocent
As the girl once clad in her toddler-sized Duke cheerleading uniform with a grin plastered on and sights set high, hearing this mantra for the first time stung like a personal hit. Its pervasiveness initially became apparent to me during my freshman spring after attending my first Me Too Monologues (an annual performance of anonymously submitted monologues addressing issues of identity, hopes, and fears of Duke students) where I couldn’t help but notice an overwhelming theme- everybody is hurting, and all of it is Duke’s fault. I walked out saddened both by the stories of struggles I’d been blessed to know nothing about, and for the blatant contempt for my beloved dream school. How was it that the majesty of the chapel on a sunset backdrop, the honor of a royal blue wardrobe, and the legacy of excellence, prestige, and intellect that I’d spent so long striving for could be the cause of so much personal turmoil for so many? I found myself rushing to Duke’s defense needing to protect the reputation that brought me crashing waves of pride whenever detailing my post high school whereabouts or when playing back the tearful faces of my parents upon acceptance day. However, over my time here the more I tried to deflect the negativity targeted so viciously at my beloved university, the harder it became to ignore.
The following spring I participated in sorority recruitment as a sophomore in Greek life. I looked around the room at the smiling faces of 150 of my very best white friends and sisters as we rushed and wondered why no women of color ever wanted to join in on our fun. Later that semester, a course on sexual health gave me deeper insight into the Duke student conduct system and how women are treated within it. Dozens of cases reported, dozens more kept under wraps, and barely a handful facing disciplinary action for acts that shake and crumble the lives of intelligent and once exuberant Duke women. How could I defend against institutionalized minimization of homogeneity, mental health issues, or sexual misconduct? Surely these were not struggles unique to my university. Though, as I often compared my college experience to that of my best friend, I couldn’t imagine the same disdainful phrase chanted about her school, University of Miami, where I’d visited multiple times and spent many a weekday poolside rather than Perkins bound. Certainly none of the bikini sporting bombshells dotting the main campus ever chanted “Fuck Miami” whilst soaking in the south Florida sun. Though as a private university dominated by Greek life, binge drinking, and prominent sports culture, I couldn’t imagine the school didn’t face the same issues that plague our campus. So what is it about Duke specifically that drives such push back and enmity against the very institution that we all fought so hard to get into?
Six semesters of pondering this question and searching for the root of this contempt and negativity has led to an understanding that these issues are not unique, but rather, the way they’re addressed is. Of course Duke is far from the only university facing these controversies; we didn’t all somehow overlook these Duke-specific problems on Blue Devil Days that should have been red flags. In fact, I’m positive that every school on my Common App has unseemly rates of sexual assault, predominantly white Greek lives, and could use improvement in how they address students’ mental health. What’s specific to Duke is not the struggles our students face more than any other college student, but rather, how we insist on addressing them head on and out loud.
It’s easy enough to ignore institutionalized issues what with two midterms, a paper, and a problem set due this week (not to mention the energy that goes into bitching about the walk up line), but after all, Duke students aren’t often keen on taking the easy route. While the majority of twenty-somethings wouldn’t bother concerning themselves, for better or worse we ended up in a pool of 6,500 outliers who refuse to remain silent…about anything. In the hopes of not sounding too high-and-mighty about how righteous and justice-seeking the student body of Duke University is, I’ll conclude simply with my own acceptance of our beloved “Fuck Duke” mantra.
Related: An Open Letter to Society
By now I’ve come to terms with the once searing phrase that led me to both question my college decision and wonder whether or not I belonged within such a negative and hateful student population. Now I know “Fuck Duke” is not a bash on all that I grew up idolizing; it is not a delegitimizing of the mini pride that swells within me when I sign me emails “Duke University 2019”, or a negation of the camaraderie I feel when I see that familiar Duke blue in line at airport security. It is a student-body-wide push back against what typically goes unquestioned, a call for change, a refusal to let that majestic chapel against a sunset backdrop represent anything but an institution that we can truly be proud to be a part of.