New School Year, New Microaggressions

This concludes the first week of school for students at Duke and many other colleges and universities across the country. Students have studied, made some friends, and already learned some new lessons. And I shouldn’t have been surprised to see so many people back at Duke who are either closed off because of “religious beliefs” or just openly rude.

Duke was trending on Facebook on the first day of school due to the Class of 2019, the incoming freshman class. The fact that we made national news for infamy isn’t surprising by far, but the fact that we made it on the first day was a new record. A freshman student posted in the Duke Class of 2019 page about how he wouldn’t be reading the book because it violated his religious beliefs. The post didn’t get too many arguments, mainly because people didn’t really think too much of it at first, including myself. The book Fun Home was the freshman reading book for this year, and at Duke, while it is highly recommended, it isn’t required for a freshman to read it. Students will discuss it with their fellow freshman in their Freshman Advisory Counselor groups as a way to bond together. In addition, this is the first instance for students to see the diversity that Duke has to offer, and it allows you to see that there is more than just what they offered you in whatever school you came from. I didn’t have that opportunity last year because I was at band camp, though I wish I had a chance to, because coming from a high school that literally is trying to fight the stigma of uneducated ghetto areas, it would have been nice to know that I wasn’t alone, that maybe I wasn’t the only student who felt like I needed a support system of my peers.

In addition, the student explains explicitly that he refused to read the book due to his religious beliefs, because he’s a Christian. This hurt me, as a queer Christian. Yep; you heard me, we do exist. Now I’m not going to go into specifics, because one’s relationship with God is personal, but I got baptized at the end of September of last year. And I know that I am not the only student, at Duke, in this country, or in this world who fits this intersectional space. For this student to tell others that they refused to read a book that shows a person discovering their sexuality because it’s against their belief, it was a slap in my face. We hear it all the time, that by Leviticus, being gay is a sin. But by that other notion, so is eating shrimp and doing things on the day of Sabbath, which I know people do all the time. And if all sins are equal, as people argue, then why not have the same type of outrage when you see people eating shrimp? Will you refuse to eat in the freshman cafeteria because they serve foods that God condemns? If you run away from everything that is against your religious beliefs, then I’m afraid that you’re going to find yourself trapped in a solitary room until the end of time.

In addition to microaggressions against LGBTQ+ people, I have, of course, experienced my first racial microaggression of my sophomore year. I was hanging out with a friend of mine in his dorm and we decided to head to my apartment to cook dinner and just talk and relax after the long first week of school. There was a concert on campus and I kind of wanted to get away from the area before it got really hectic. On the way to the bus stop, we passed the Delta Sigma Phi section on our campus. Delta Sigma Phi, better known as D-Sig, is known for sitting outside, mainly shirtless, on their section bench. And of course, that’s where they were yesterday, blasting music, getting ready for the concert. As my friend and I passed their bench, they decided to put on a rap song. They were all white guys, and my friend and I are black. I don’t even know what song it was, but to see that group of white boys blasting a rap song as we passed them infuriated me. I wanted so badly to be able to go and tell them off, but being outnumbered, my friend talked me out of it, we continued to the bus stop, and I tried to put it out of my mind. Immediately my mind ran to the list of sorry excuses I could use to explain it away. But I couldn’t. This fraternity is certainly not one to stand in solidarity with black affiliated groups, and often when they have parties and events, the number of people of color in attendance are usually slim to none. Listening to rap music is not only a Black and Hispanic thing, but it did originally start with poor groups of Black and Hispanic people coming out of the revolution for basic rights in the late 1900s, and it has been appropriated by non people of color throughout recent decades. Them putting that song on as we passed was disrespectful, and a micro-insult. They got to turn that song on when they thought it was cute, laugh and have fun as us black people pass, and then turn it off just as easily, because at the end of the day, they don’t see themselves as part of a raced population, and that by doing that doesn’t affect them at all.

I have missed seeing Duke in full swing, but so far, this year has been really disappointing. The desire here to be colorblind clearly is not successful, and is much more harmful than helpful. And I know that I made my choice to be here, but when I chose this school, I expected my presence as a student, in all my spaces, to be respected at the very least. If this is only the first week of school, what else is going to come?

-JW

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