Duke University has a penchant for attracting negative press. No other college can get so much attention for a racist and sexist party invitation that it winds up being featured on the Today Show. But despite its portrayal in the media, Duke is probably one of the most socially aware schools out there. What other proof than the large group of students constantly calling attention to what is wrong with it? You can’t get more than a hundred people to protest against racist party invitations anywhere else in America.
Duke's new program to train feminist writers is further proof that the school is trying to change from within — and that the mainstream media, predictably, is minimizing or even ignoring these efforts.
The first time Duke appeared in the blogosphere for racist and sexist party invitations was back in 2010, when students flyered campus with three Halloween party invitations from three different fraternities. After this incident, all three fraternities were put on probation and had to meet with the Women's Center after appearing on multiple blogs and news sites like BroBible, Jezebel, the Huffington Post, and Gawker.
Given that Duke administration always sides with free speech, as being a racist/sexist is not technically a crime, Duke student activists seem to have become savvy at using the media to put pressure on student organizations and administrators to change.
After all, just a couple months ago, activists went and flyered party invitations from Kappa Sigma fraternity to a racist Asian themed party — the story that was featured on the Today Show. Similarly, Yale students got together to sue the institution for Title IX violations two years ago, and UNC and Amherst students rallied against their respective schools for mishandling sexual assault cases just a few months ago. This kind of history on college campuses, including Duke's, points to how valuable a program about blogging can be, as students continue to have a vested interested in new media as platforms for social change.
In fact, the kinds of things that don’t get publicized enough about Duke are the feminist blog, Develle Dish, which ran the first story on "Frat Mail" in 2010, the Who Needs Feminism campaign that went viral on Tumblr, the WHO Speaks campaign regarding body image, and Duke’s Feminist Week, Sex Week, and Eating Disorder Awareness Week events. Despite all these activist efforts, Gawker had to make fun of Duke’s efforts to raise feminist bloggers through the Duke Writ(H)ers program.
According to the Duke Chronicle, the Writ(H)ers program is “an initiative to create a community of feminist-oriented writers.” The program highlights little known facts about the media, including the fact that women only make up 20% of writers in traditional media, 33% in new media and 38% in college media. These statistics speak to how women’s voices are marginalized in all forms of communication, and how women’s stories are marginalized. This program should be lauded for addressing a structural issue of sexism in communications and media — an issue which affects what kind of media we can consume, the representation of women in the media, and what stories about women get air time at all.
The students who signed up for this program are mostly experienced writers who are not necessarily looking for writing tips so much as career advice and networking opportunities for entering the new media industry after college. These students’ interests range from economics, politics, feminism, pop culture and social justice.
Unfortunately, while readers and reporters nationwide focus on the perpetrators of these racist and sexist acts, the people who bring the media to focus on these issues continue to be sidelined.