Is Homophobia Heating Up at Duke?
Over the past year I have been quite proud of my Alma Mater, Duke. Winner of both the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and lacrosse tournament, I have worn more Duke tee shirts than I did in my four college years combined.
Unfortunately, today, my pride in Duke has turned to distaste.
Back in April, Duke University junior, Justin Robinette, was forced to give up his position as chair of the Duke College Republicans. According to the campus group, the unanimous impeachment vote was in response to several instances of unprofessional conduct. However, according to Robinette, it was because he is gay.
There is no proof that Robinette was in fact removed due to his sexual orientation. Members of the group cite numerous instances in which Robinette “pushed” a lot of formally active members out of the group and fixed group elections. However, we are not told of any specific instances.
Cliff Satell, former College Republicans vice chair, spoke out, saying the impeachment was premeditated. “It was set in stone before anything happened,” he said. “These people, all of them, voted three weeks ago to re-elect Justin. And during the three weeks where it was discovered that he is gay… the next meeting that was held… he is impeached.”
A few members, including Satell, resigned after Robinette’s impeachment.
I do not know whether or not these allegations are true. Either way, the University didn’t act swiftly enough to open a discussion about the conflict and the issues it presents. By failing to publicly address the issue and promote LGBT rights, the Administration let these bad feelings fester.
Sure enough, just one month later, this anti-gay sentiment re-emerged in a more public way. Anti-gay graffiti was found on Duke’s East Campus Bridge. The graffiti read “Lying F***ing Robinette, DCR = Righteous, get AIDS in hell.”
According to Satell, the Administration’s response to this outrageous defamation included “token conversations” in which they asked all parties to “play nice.”
“We’re sort of coordinating a set of responses specific to the individuals and contemplating what’s the best and most inventive way to turn it into a teachable moment for the campus,” said Larry Moneta, Duke’s Vice President of Student Affairs.
Perhaps student affairs will rise to the occasion as Moneta claims. However, as proven by the graffiti incident, this type of harassment and intimidation towards the LGBT — or any — community must be acted upon immediately. Furthermore, it will be difficult to find a “teachable moment” while the majority of students are away from campus for the summer.
Rather than immediately sending out a campus-wide email condemning the graffiti, the University chose to remain silent. Almost a month later, the Administration is still silent. I am concerned for Duke’s LGBT community and for the University as a whole. These two incidents may be early signs of a campus trend. This trend cannot be stopped by student activists alone. It must be supported from the top-down. Duke’s Administration is responsible for not only churning out academically impressive graduates and winning sports teams, but for creating a safe and welcoming community for all students.
photo credit: Creative Commons - Chuck Bargeron, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org