Barry Saunders

After campus stupidity, some quick and forceful campus action

Duke President Richard Brodhead, center, listens to speakers during a university-wide forum Wednesday, April 1, 2015 outside Duke Chapel on Duke University's campus in Durham, N.C. after a noose was discovered hanging from a tree outside a student center on campus.
Duke President Richard Brodhead, center, listens to speakers during a university-wide forum Wednesday, April 1, 2015 outside Duke Chapel on Duke University's campus in Durham, N.C. after a noose was discovered hanging from a tree outside a student center on campus. tlong@newsobserver.com

Drats! Foiled again.

That line is snarled by every cartoon villain from Snidely Whiplash to Boris Badenov when their evil plans go awry.

Want to bet it’s also what the noose-hanger at Duke University exclaimed upon viewing the response to his – I’m going out on a, ahem, limb here and assuming it was a male – gutless act?

The Civil War ended 150 years ago this week. Could it be that one of the survivors from the losing side, slithering from a cave and unaware that hostilities had ceased, hung a yellow noose from a campus tree? If so, I reckon he intended to intimidate or foment discord on the campus, to rend it into combative sides.

He miscalculated. Hundreds of passionate yet peaceful Duke students gathered on the steps in front of Duke Chapel on Wednesday to show that they weren’t down with what the retromingent, yellow-bellied yellow rope-hanger stood for.

Out in front

Duke officials said only that the person who hung the noose last week is no longer on campus, but was otherwise not forthcoming with information about him. Again, I’m going out on a limb here.

That, if anything, is the only thing the administration did wrong. Otherwise, the responses of Duke President Richard Brodhead and Provost Sally Kornbluth and the students who’ve spoken out since the noose was discovered near the Bryan Center have been exemplary.

Public relations companies always say the best way to handle situations such as these is to get out in front of them. That’s what Brodhead did.

Prior to Brodhead’s quick action, N.C. State University Chancellor Randy Woodson and the chancellor at the University of Oklahoma were unequivocal in demonstrating that they won’t countenance such intolerance and intimidation on their campuses.

At NCSU, Chancellor Woodson came down hard on the fraternity that thought it was the height of hilarity to joke in a pledge book about rape and lynchings.

“We know what they say their values are, but we see evidence with a number of fraternities not living up to those values,” Chancellor Woodson said in an interview. He has ordered a review of the entire Greek system on campus and immediately closed the Tau chapter of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity.

The pledge book was reportedly filled with quotations including, “if she’s hot enough, she doesn’t need a pulse.”

No noose was found, but some frat dude presumably gazed longingly on a campus tree and mused in the pledge book “that tree is so perfect for a lynching.”

Always with us

An upset caller from Washington, D.C., who said she lived during the period when trees in her home state of Georgia bore strange fruit – that’s what Billie Holliday called the lifeless bodies of black men who’d been lynched and whose bodies still hung from trees – asked what was going on at Duke, if the black students were OK.

I explained to her that the president and provost were addressing the issue. It appears that every Duke official was in Indianapolis for the basketball game Monday, but in an earlier story Kornbluth expressed her desire to see faculty members engage their students in frank discussions on race.

Minority students on college campuses are justifiably distraught and on guard over what appears to be an increase in racial incidents – or at least bolder expressions of them. I hate to disillusion young people, but if they are searching for a campus or even a world where such dunderheads don’t exist, they’ll be searching forever.

You know how in the Bible it says the poor will be with you always?

So will the stupid, so the best students can hope for is what Duke, Oklahoma and NCSU have – leaders who won’t tolerate racism, homophobia and sexism, not even under the guise of fraternity.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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