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,


Sharon Balloch
Sharon Balloch8 years ago

Sound like a school trying to be good but has a few nar do wells.. got to be some in every crowd.. thanks

Rachel Baldes
Rachel Baldes8 years ago

I would like to hear of more instances of problems at Duke, but I really don't doubt it is a homophobic school.

Dan B.
Dan Brook8 years ago

gay rights are human rights!

Morgan Getham
Morgan Getham8 years ago

I don't think it would be fair to judge the entire campus based on what appears to be the actions of probably fewer than a dozen members of one small student group.

I agree with the opinions that one of the students expressed in print: rather than sweeping things under the rug for a year (by which time the memory of the Robinette episode will be fading for most people), I think the Student board's best option would be to continue to allowing the club to remain affiliated and funded PROVIDED they hold new elections after the club passes a temporary charter amendment forbidding all those who have been demonstrated to have participated in or had positive knowledge of the defamatory language on the club's leadership listserv from any participation at all (including not only running for office, but also active support of any candidate for any office) in those elections. Following such elections, the Student board should review the facts and make a final determination to be sure their instructions had been complied with.

The group needs to be given a chance to prove that they are willing and able to move beyond this episode. If they cannot, then they need to be entirely removed from the campus, and other solutions need to be found.

Janice P.
Janice P8 years ago

I would have liked to see more facts presented in this article. The writer, herself, stated that she did not know if the allegations were true. Perhaps the submission of this article was premature, and it should have waited until the facts were known. It is very difficult to make any judgment based on the suppositions made in this article, alone.

Fiona O'sullivan
Fiona O'sullivan8 years ago

Wayne, I just graduated Duke 2 years ago and completely agree that there is a good deal of diversity and they are EXTREMELY generous with their financial aid (the only reason I could attend). However, I do think that a lot of groups remain marginalized on campus, one group being the LGBT community. I agree that Duke tries, with some success, to be diverse, but I still think that there is more that the university could do to help students feel "at home" and safe on campus...

roberto c.
robert m8 years ago

Shame on Duke every child deserves to go to school without any fear....

Heather G.
Heather G8 years ago

thanks for the article

Angela Reed-Fox
Angela Reed-Fox8 years ago

Sounds like there's not a lot of evidence on either side of the argument.

Wayne B. Robinson
Past Member 8 years ago

The comment by Michael C. shows an ignorance of Duke University. As an interviewer of students who wish to go there, I can attest that students of color as fully considered and Duke is not a "white" campus. As for the "rich" part, Duke is exceedinly generous in granting substantial, need-based, scholarships. As for the "prejudice" part, I am sure there is a mix of attitudes on campus. But "Sha C." seems to have a pretty fact based take on the real issue in the Republican Club.