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Where is Duke on racism and diversity really?

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The national focus on Duke’s racist anti-Asian frat party may have subsided with Kappa Sigma’s suspension of the Duke fraternity pending an investigation.

But the situation is far from over.

Last week, the Asian Students Association and Asian-American Alliance filed a formal complaint with the university. They will meet this week, but the initial public response from the university was, to say the least, disappointing.

On NBCs TODAY, Larry Moneta, the vice president for student affairs, gave a particularly meek response to the situation, saying, “Acting boorish and foolish is not in and of itself a violation.”

Violation of what? Does Moneta need to cite chapter and verse here of some campus code? Couldn’t he just blast the racist activity as having no place in Duke’s campus life?

Instead, he gives a Caspar Milque-toasty meditation on boorishness.

The word “boorish” may cover racism, but not all boorishness is racist. (For example, vomiting on a party guest, a frat party tradition, is boorish but maybe not racist, unless one vomits on just particular guests.) But how can Duke get away with passing off the self-proclaimed “#racistrager” as mere boorishness?

It can’t.

Nothing short of a firm condemnation would have sufficed.

Late last week, in a campus e-mail (the passive, cowardly way to communicate on such an issue), the university did announce it was indeed suspending the frat. But on Sunday, Moneta told the Duke Chronicle that the suspension had “nothing to do with the Asian theme party.”

What? Moneta told the paper that there were other issues being investigated and declined to go further due to confidentiality agreements.

Talk about having your fig-leaf and eating it too.

Public schools would have reason to be hesitant about censoring a frat, wary of any First Amendment violations. But I’m an absolutist when it comes to free speech. Nothing wrong with sponsoring a competing party condemning a racist one. (Who said debate had to be drab?)

Still, Duke as a private institution doesn’t have the problems of a public institution. So why isn’t it tougher on this campus diversity issue?

Maybe because Duke in general hasn’t taken this sort of thing very seriously in the past.

On a campus where every group is a minority (Whites are at 47 percent), Asian Americans are the No. 2 group making up 21 percent of the campus. Then comes students in the “international/unknown” category at 16 percent, and then come African-American students at 12 percent.

The largest non-White minority on the Duke campus and this is how we’re treated?

It comes as no surprise really to people on campus.

In a campus opinion piece in the Duke Chronicle, Prashanth Kamalakranthan, a Duke junior, talks about real racism all around the campus’ Ivory Tower. In the last year, he cites two cases involving the Durham police and the brutal treatment of African-Americans. Another involves a campus administrator and her treatment of housekeeping staff.

Kamalakranthan writes:

The Duke community’s interest in these issues—in stark contrast to the fury over the racist frat party—ranges from modest to nonexistent. Such passivity and disinterest toward real, material racism surrounding us each day amid professed commitment to fighting racism is specious and incredibly disappointing. Moreover, it is precisely the unaddressed nature of broader racism that feeds events like the Kappa Sigma party, which is sadly not without precedent at Duke.

And that is ultimately the problem with racism diversity on an elite, White-oriented campus. It doesn’t really know how to deal with it. To them, it’s all academic.

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