Again Avuncular

Presidential e-mail note to students addresses recent events

Short-lived tradition: Tailgate veered from harmless fun to dangerous excess.

Short-lived tradition: Tailgate veered from harmless fun to dangerous excess.
Larsa Al-Omaishi/The Chronicle

After a fall full of publicity about several embarrassing incidents—widespread sharing of a recent alumna’s sex slideshow, a series of apparently misogynistic party invitations e-mailed by fraternity members to Duke women, and the cancellation of the popular Saturday morning party known as Tailgate after an intoxicated minor was found passed out in a portable toilet—President Richard H. Brodhead sought to bring a measure of perspective, and admonition, to the recent events.

In an e-mail message to students in November, Brodhead invoked the famous letter sent by President Terry Sanford twenty-five years ago that challenged fans in Cameron Indoor Stadium to “cheer and taunt with style” instead of with profanity. Echoing the earlier letter’s avuncular tone (it was signed “Uncle Terry”), Brodhead sought to address “the most boorish student conduct” by students this fall, which has created, fairly or unfairly, “a wildly distorted image of Duke.”

“Tailgate, a community celebration that regularly veered into excess and even danger, had to be canceled last week,” Brodhead wrote. “Cartoonish images of gender relations have created offense and highlighted persistent discomforts. Like every other college in America, we have too much drinking on this campus. We’ve had our eyes opened to the serious costs of apparently harmless fun.” The president continued by challenging students to face up to “features of student culture that strike you as less than ideal,” to “speak openly about them, and have the courage to visualize a change.” He then expressed appreciation that students have already begun to do so.

“Duke’s best tradition is that it’s not stuck in traditions. You’ll show yourselves true Duke students to the extent that you regard this university as yours to envision and yours to make. I challenge you to make it something great.”

Read The Chronicle's coverage of Brodhead's letter.


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