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Faculty Discuss #RaceMatters Before Large Audience in White Lecture Hall

Haynie and Neal at RaceMatters

Kerry Haynie and Mark Anthony Neal address a series of racial incidents during the summer on campus and throughout the country.

After an American summer defined by racial controversy, Duke faculty Monday held a discussion on how the university and the country has responded to racial incidents and whether it is even possible to talk about race in America.

More than 200 students, faculty and community members packed the White Lecture Hall to hear Professors Karla Holloway (English), Kerry Haynie (political science), and Mark Anthony Neal (African and African American studies) share their expertise – and sometimes disagree -- on issues such as the symbolism of the Confederate flag, the threat to voting rights, the university’s response to the noose incident on campus last spring, as well as the social movement that has arisen around police brutality.

WUNC radio host Frank Stasio moderated the discussion.

“Walking down the street as a black male shouldn’t be an occupational hazard,” said Neal defining the context and significance of the talk, the first organized by the Duke Council on Race (DCORE).

Neal said the #BlackLivesMatter movement is unprecedented in that it acknowledged both black women’s voices and queer voices.

“They’re using the technology at their hands to do incredible work,” he said. “It’s not traditional grassroots organizing. It’s what I call the distinction between the digital world and the analog world.”

Haynie disagreed and said he doubted that a movement spurned by Twitter is sustainable. He referred to the number of ways social media can morph core issues can morph into tangents.

“I wonder if this -- threads turning into tangents -- is the case with these movements. I wonder if come 2016, what will the issues be,” Haynie said. He lamented that more college students did not protest when the state of North Carolina took action to prohibit voting on college campuses.

“You would have thought all hell would have broken loose. Losing the right to vote shouldn’t be business as usual,” Haynie said.

All panelists were critical of how the university handled the noose hanging on Duke’s campus last spring. Holloway and Haynie each said the anonymity of the apology offended them.

“How do I judge the sincerity of an apology without knowing who has given it?” Haynie said, pointing out that the apology was released over the summer when the majority of students are not on campus.

Holloway said the timing of the anonymous apology also prevented Duke faculty from using it as a teaching moment.

“The opportunity of our expertise is often overridden by the moral and cultural panics of the moment,” she said. “It points to our inability to have a conversation. We don’t even trust ourselves to have the conversation. We wait until students leave or graduate.”

Stasio asked if there was a way to have a conversation about race on campus.

“One of the motivations for creating DCORE is to be a place to have this kind of conversation and do this type of programming. We need to get at these issues, and be uncomfortable. But we can wrestle with these issues in a respectful way.”

Haynie agreed.

“You should be able to come to a place like this and say whatever you want to say. Defend your point of view. This is who we say we are but we rarely put it into practice,” Haynie said.

As faculty, “we actually disagree on a lot,” Haynie said. “We engage each other across divides. But many people are afraid to put themselves on a panel like this… it’s a difficult thing to do.”