University Delves Into Campus Culture

The Chronicle Online
Duke University

The events of the past few weeks have magnified controversial topics on Duke’s campus.

To discuss issues of sexism, racism and student social life, approximately 400 members of the Duke community gathered in the Chapel for “A Conversation on Campus Culture” Thursday evening.

The event was sponsored by the Kenan Institute for Ethics and 25 other campus organizations.

“This has been a painful time for people with ties to the institution,” said Elizabeth Kiss, director of the Kenan Institute and moderator of the event. “We are here to discuss the set of issues about Duke’s culture that have been brought to the surface by the events of the past few weeks.”

The conversation was a part of the University’s response to recent rape allegations. President Richard Brodhead announced the formation of five committees_s one of which tackles the issue of campus culture. Members of the committee were also named Thursday.

The panel, which featured nine members, included Brodhead, Dean of Students and Vice President for Student Affairs Sue Wasiolek, Dean of the Chapel Sam Wells and Professor of African and African-American Studies Mark Anthony Neal.

Wasiolek cited comments written by students on blogs, including one student’s comment that Duke was leaning towards a “culture of crassness,” which adversely affected the intellectual atmosphere of the University.

She also discussed popular student activities primarily based around alcohol consumption.

“Students have talked about events such as Krzyzewskiville, tailgate, [the Last Day of Classes]-do these events define who we wish to be?” she asked. “And what would happen if alcohol was eliminated from all these events?”

Junior Andrew Nowobilski, a panel member and co-founder of the Duke Political Union, said he felt the atmosphere on campus is not as intellectual as he had hoped before coming. “I was disappointed, to be honest, that I haven’t seen the spontaneity to engage in discussion here,” he said.

Nowobilski also added that Duke must “radically change the way we live together” in residence halls in order to prevent segregation between different living groups.

He suggested having more living groups based around intellectual interests.

Brodhead said the controversy surrounding the lacrosse investigation galvanized the campus. “This is a moment to look at things and ask if those things are what we want for ourselves,” he said. “We have to get everyone into this discussion to get anywhere.”

Brodhead also commented on the lack of undergraduate presence at the forum. “The median age is much higher than I had hoped,” he said. “Changes are going to have to be made by the students.”

When audience members were invited to make comments or ask questions, one student asked what Duke could do to address the issue of “hetero-sexism.”

Senior Dinushika Mohottige, a panel member, said Duke should do more to encourage the acceptance of alternative lifestyles. She described a hypothetical situation about an incoming freshman finds out his or her future roommate is homosexual and thus requests to be paired with a different person.

“Instead of simply letting people avoid these uncomfortable situations, we should make these students sit down and talk to each other, and to make progress in accepting one another,” she said.

Neal said issues of discrimination and intolerance could be alleviated by changes in academics.

“We need an innovated and brave curriculum that will allow our students to engage one another in a progressive manner,” he said.