Silliness washing over Duke in Fall 2003

So far this semester folks at Duke University have been so awash in concerns over The Mantra — racism, sexism, and homophobia, oh my! — that Duke has risked appearing like a parody of the “politically correct” university.

Duke recently made headlines in the Drudge Report because of a party held by the Sigma Chi fraternity. Entitled “Viva Mexico,” the party involved invitations with the look of expired green cards and had a “border control” at the door.

Hispanics on campus were incensed. Hispanic campus groups, including Mi Gente, the LPC Sorority, and the LUL Fraternity, wrote a letter to the Duke Chronicle Sept. 17 saying that the party “degraded and dehumanized” them.

Furthermore, they charged, the problem is not just that of one fraternity, but of the entire campus. Its occurrence meant the entire campus was complicit in the “racism” and “blatantly prejudiced acts” of the party. “The fact that this party went through the residential system and received approval is a stain on the administration as well as the students,” they wrote.

Sigma Chi leaders apologized for giving offense. President Marc Mattioli, who is himself Hispanic, wrote in the Chronicle Sept. 18 that the fraternity chose the theme “mainly because ‘X’ [the Greek letter chi] appears in the name Mexico” and that it was “designed to be a light-hearted celebration of the Mexican tourist scene.”

“There was no hatred or animosity within our brotherhood toward Mexico or Latino people in general,” Mattioli wrote. “As a Latino, I would not have joined, let alone sought to lead an organization composed of racists.”

To his credit, Duke Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta rejected taking punitive action against the fraternity, further annoying the Hispanic activists. In their letter to the Chronicle they wrote, apparently with no irony intended, that the party was “a disgrace to an administration that claims to support acceptance — yet approved this party.”

So on the basis of a light-hearted party that some misconstrued, a group with a Hispanic leader is charged with being racist against Hispancs and, furthermore, with unveiling the rest of the campus’s anti-Hispanic racism.

The transcending idiocy, however, occurred in a Sept. 21 open meeting about the party. Hispanic activists called for judicial action against the fraternity (which administration officials shot down) and for Sigma Chi to apologize in the Chronicle (to which Mattioli explained he already had). Then, as reported by the Chronicle, some of the activists “questioned what good an apology would do, and instead called for broader measures to address minority issues in general.” Those included “the formation of an Ethnic Studies program at Duke as well as an increase in both the hiring of minority faculty and the recruitment of minority students.” Not to mention the obligatory “list of demands [to be presented] to the administration [and] a demonstration.”

But that is silliness perpetrated mainly by students, perhaps egged on by race-obsessed faculty and community members. It pales in comparison with the silliness descended from on high within the Duke administration in the form of its “Women’s Initiative.”

The report, released Sept. 23, blames the environment at Duke for problems women reported to the committee tasked with producing the report. Those problems include:

• undergraduate women “feel pressure to wear fashionable (and often impractical) clothes and shoes, to diet and exercise excessively, and to hide their intelligence”

• “Both men and women expressed dissatisfaction with the dating scene at Duke”

• “Women fear stranger rape, even though it is an improbable event, and wanted greater protection from this.”

• “men and women agreed that men talk more in classes (especially lectures) and worry less about appearing unintelligent in front of peers”

• “the peer culture is not by any means free of sexism, racism, or homophobia, contributing to an environment where women and other groups are often reminded of their needs to prove their worth.”

• Lesbian, bisexual, or “transgender” women “find it difficult to come out at Duke for fear of harassment or isolation.”

In other words, women at Duke will tell you — that is, if you ask them; it’s not as if they’re marching on the administrative buildings with these complaints, and they’re still paying the tens of thousands of dollars required to attend Duke — they’ll tell you that Duke is like everywhere else in the country. And that has Duke plenty upset.