In his Tuesday column in the Duke Chronicle, Duke senior Gregory Morrison said:
I’ve long been of the opinion that so-called “campus culture” problems get vastly more attention than they deserve, and I made a vow never to dedicate a column to them.
He went on to use as his operational definition of “campus culture” a few discrete incidents (the incident that resulting in Tailgate ending, and Karen Owen). If this is his, and the popular understanding of campus culture is, I think groups working to combat the more deleterious elements of it are going to face a tough time. I actually think calling it a campus culture does it a disservice, because, more often then not, its just about “culture” in general — Duke becomes a place where social boundaries of race, religion, SES, nationality are crossed more so than I think a lot of neighborhoods or high schools that Duke students come from, but the issues are by and large, issues that are not constricted to campus.
Here’s my response to Gregory’s column, posted on the comments section of The Chronicle:
Campus culture isn’t just about a few isolated incidents. I agree with you that Karen Owen, Tailgate, etc.–the “headliner” stories have received too much attention. These embarrassing incidents, receiving national media attention, did indeed reflect the decisions of a (fairly) small number of people.
Even strictly speaking about “public incidents” though what about the hate speech that has occurred towards sexual minorities on benches and on the East Campus bridge? What about people who have had their BDU flags torn down? What about, as Ryan was right to point out in her column today, the number of sexual assaults on this campus? What about the compendium of DCR comments that were allowed to circulate, without criticism in their listserv (ignoring for a second the impeachment), about religious minorities, sexual minorities, and racial minorities?
To speak only of discrete events though would be doing a disservice to the very definition of culture. Culture takes place in all of the small exchanges that occur between individuals, in dorm rooms, at Shooters, in the classroom, on the plaza. Campus culture is about LGBT students who don’t feel like Duke is a safe environment for them to come out–or who come to Duke and feel pushed back in the closet. Campus culture is about women who don’t feel like their male peers in science labs take them seriously, or about female professors afraid to have children because they fear it would threaten their chances at tenure. Campus culture is about less socioeconomically privileged students who feel like they have to hide their SES status to fit in, or who don’t feel like they can talk to their friends about being stressed out about money. Campus culture is about the sometimes unhealthy amount of drinking on campus that is really normalized–a degree of drinking that can lead to really tragic situations.
Campus culture by definition, is not about the experiences of a few people, its about the experiences of everyone.
I think you’re really invalidating what other people go through at Duke to say that Campus Culture isn’t worth talking about.
Improving the Honor System isn’t a bad idea, and you’ve put forth some good arguments for it.
That having been said, judicial action alone isn’t going to change our culture, because only a fraction of what constitutes culture would make sense to include in a judicially-modeled-honor-system (for issues including freedom of speech and the extent of personal freedom that it is important to maintain).
Culture won’t change unless it is talked about, and, if anything, The Chronicle only grazes this issues (Ryan Brown and Bhumi Purohit’s awesome columns come to mind.)