Our DukeEngage group had the opportunity to have dinner with President Price and discuss various topics pertaining to our university last week. I thoroughly enjoyed the event and the thought-provoking questions brought up and the president’s responses. There are three specific moments that really invoked powerful feelings during the dinner.
The first was when President Price opened himself up to our questions. The first question asked was about the administration’s approach to dealing with hate speech and hate crimes while still respecting the First Amendment. Considering that previously we were having a much lighter conversation about work and D.C., the shift in atmosphere was stark and blunt. While I was at first a bit taken aback that we would dive right into the faults in the university, I am quite proud of my fellow colleagues to bring up a topic of much controversy on our campus and across the nation. The culture I was raised in taught me to respect and yield to those in higher positions. Unfortunately, such a culture cannot hold those in power responsible and I am happy to see the way the administration is now being held accountable.
This brings to the second incident. President Price talked in depth about the problem about community on our campus and the lack of cohesion between many. The question then naturally arises: What will the administration do to fix such a problem? I am sure many of the group, myself included, wondered about the solutions the administration could propose that might be able to fix the root cause of many of our school’s flaws. But after listening to President Price admit that he doesn’t have a clear-cut solution, it struck me the entitled nature of our demand for a solution. We as students find ourselves making friends with people who think like us, look like us, agree with us. Yet when the rifts in our school’s community appear, we turn to the administration for solutions. If those of us in the community aren’t willing to put in the effort to keep it together, not even the multibillion-dollar university can fix that.
Partly a result of that feeling of entitlement is one of the main focuses of the night: housing reform. It was only a matter of time before possibly the most prevalent issue on campus was brought up. The discussion over the topic was interesting, but what really stood out to me was how much people cared about housing reform. I had known that Duke was a place of privilege, that most students there were in a position of privilege many would never reach in their lives. It wasn’t until the dinner with the president over housing did it occur to me just how incredibly privileged our community was. When the most salient issue is housing reform, instead of community engagement, labor rights, or other political activism, our privilege really becomes clear. And while I will acknowledge that the housing issue contains elements of increasing diversity, decreasing potential and actual threats to economic inequality, and different forms of social stigma, the fact we focus so heavily on our own well-being is troubling.
I don’t want to make this post seem to be overly critical of Duke students. I know many who do reach out and do wonderful work with communities and areas that need aid. This service should not be merely continued on the scale of the individual, or even the scale of student organizations, but instead expanded to the entire university.