Last week, Duke University held a town hall about the history of lynching and “how that history can inform future dialogues about race on campus.”
This event follows the hanging of a noose on a campus tree, which in turn led to anti-racism demonstrations.
It also follows the news that the person responsible for the noose had been identified, but the school won’t release any information on him/her citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Speakers in the town hall meeting—which was sponsored by the history department and was standing-room only—emphasized that the noose found hanging outside the Bryan Center last week must be part of a larger conversation about race relations on campus. Members of the faculty panel spoke about the historical significance of the symbol, and tangible steps the University can take to improve relations on campus.
“Denying race is not the goal—the utter elimination of white supremacy is the goal,” said Adriane Lentz-Smith, the history department’s director of undergraduate studies. “One need not be colorblind to respect difference.”
Nancy MacLean, William H. Chafe professor of history, focused on the necessity of placing the noose in its historical context in order to understand its significance as a “powerful symbol of dominance and oppression.”
“We need to reject the feeble, pathetic excuse that such acts could possibly be just a joke,” MacLean said. “Minimizing these kinds of acts in this kind of way is an insulting evasion. To imagine that a noose in particular might be a joke suggests and unwillingness to see through the eyes of others, to look past one’s own viewpoint of privileged insulation.”
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, chair of the Sociology department, added that “Duke is not a neutral racial space,” and that the school “oozes whiteness.”
Students and faculty together came up with a few solutions to deal with this “oozing,” and yep, you guessed ’em: “increasing the representation of engaged black faculty, mandating anti-oppression training for incoming freshmen and better incorporating dialogues about race in the curriculum.”
Duke’s reticence in releasing information on the noose culprit has led to speculation that the incident was a hoax. But even it turns out to be just that, it’s highly unlikely it would stop meetings like this town hall. After all, it’s the message and intention that really matter, right?