Duke students remain committed to fight against political correctness

A group of Duke University students say they have attracted significant criticism for opposing various “demands” for diversity initiatives, but are refusing to back down from their position.

The Duke Open Campus Coalition (DOCC) was established in response to a diversity ultimatum presented to the university by student activists last fall, and first attracted attention with an open letter to University President Richard Brodhead in January expressing “grave concern about the tactics of some protestors and the substantive demands they are making,” which include diversity quotas for tenured faculty, mandatory diversity training for all students and faculty, and an official protocol for responding to bias incidents.

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An online petition soliciting support for the group’s message had attracted 226 signatures as of Wednesday morning, but DOCC co-founder Zach Heater told Campus Reform that the group has also come under fire from multiple directions since the letter’s publication, most notably in the form of  “a fairly critical assessment from the Editorial Board of The Duke Chronicle” published one week after the DOCC letter.

Referring to the Coalition’s objections to the tactics employed by some activists—such as absconding with copies of the student paper to protest its content and pressuring new student senators to adopt politically correct views—the editorial notes that “protestors [sic] often resort to drastic tactics as a result of prior failings,” and argues that this can be justifiable under the right conditions.

As an example, they cite the 1969 “Allen Building takeover,” during which 60 black students barricaded themselves in inside to draw attention to their demands for equal rights.

The editors likewise dispute the DOCC’s criticisms of mandatory “reeducation classes” and “quotas” for the hiring of minority faculty, countering that college students “are constantly being educated and reeducated by the media, our classes, and our peers,” and saying that the DOCC is making a “straw man” argument by suggesting that “hiring a diverse faculty necessarily trades off with quality.”

Heater and fellow DOCC co-founder Breanna Atkinson responded to criticisms of the group in an op-ed Tuesday, explaining that the Coalition does not oppose having a community conversation about the demands, but does object to their portrayal as fundamental rights and the insistence that they be implemented without open debate of their merits.

They begin by drawing a distinction between “The Black Demands” issued during the Allen Building takeover and more-recent ultimatums from students—the “Demands of Black Voices” presented in November and similar requests made by the Hispanic student organization Mi Gente in January—pointing out that “demands are justified … when an established right is being violated,” but not in the pursuit of mere benefits.

Whereas “The Black Demands of 1969 demanded equal police protection for black students, a right which was guaranteed but not upheld by Duke administration,” they claim that “today, the situation is completely different,” because “both the Demands of Black Voices and Mi Gente request items not guaranteed to students as a right, even though they may be beneficial.”

Both groups have demanded that Duke reform its hiring practices in order to increase the number of minority faculty members, which Heater and Atkinson claim amounts to proposing “a new core objective in hiring faculty: ethnic diversity.” And while they concede that diversity offers benefits in an academic environment, they also point out that “students do not know whether the university can construct diversity in a way that is manageable and beneficial.”

More worryingly still, the DOCC op-ed asserts that those advancing the demands have refused to even to engage with fundamental questions about the merits of their plans, impugning the motives of skeptics and responding with “condescension and judgment” to honest questions from classmates.

“In the end, the issue today is not that the administration ignores student demands … the issue is that students are making demands rather than making their case,” Heater and Atkinson say, predicting that “demands will continue to be met with a lukewarm response—by both administrators and students—until those making the demands can engage with the questions and critiques of the larger student body.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @FrickePete