Duke University Alumni Magazine

After large protests in Seattle contributed to the failure of the World Trade Organization talks, should we expect global trade discussions to move in a new direction?

The round of talks for which the trade ministers gathered in Seattle would have expanded the reach of the WTO to cover areas like agriculture and services, areas in which the U.S. would gain by opening foreign markets, and, yes, textiles, an area in which developing nations would gain. This need not be incompatible with strong international environmental, worker-rights, or other laws.

The WTO has become a symbol of all that is wrong in the international economy. It has come to stand for irresponsible logging of rainforests, exploitation of workers in sweatshops, the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs, and a host of other issues. These problems are real, they are indeed by-products of the international economy, and it is right to put them on the agenda. But dismantling the WTO would not solve them.

The real issue is not whether to have a WTO, but how to build an international system of labor, environmental, and human-rights standards as effective in these realms as the WTO is in trade. We should be talking about how to build on the WTO, not whether to knock it down.

--Frederick Mayer, associate professor of public policy and political science

Despite President Clinton's rhetoric of concern for the protesters' issues, the official U.S. representatives present in Seattle were pushing for a free-trade agreement on forests that would have accelerated the loss of endangered tropical rainforests.

The U.S. was also advocating removal of barriers to trade in genetically engineered products, despite recent studies documenting serious concerns in the agricultural area (soil toxification and the killing of non-target insects like monarch butterflies), and despite the fact that there are no studies of the long-term impacts of a diet of such biotech food.

The planners of the meeting ran into a stone wall, created in large part by the failure of earlier trade agreements to improve the well-being of people around the world. Instead of better conditions, millions of people have witnessed a worsening of living standards and the creation of secret courts and trade tribunals with the power to rule against a country's hard-fought environmental laws.

--Brent Blackwelder '64, president of the environmental organization Friends of the Earth

While undergraduates were contemplating spring break, and even post-finals week, we decided to pester 13 of them with a serious question:

Has the call to boycott Myrtle Beach and South Carolina, because of the Confederate flag flying over the capitol, changed any of your vacation plans?

Answers varied across the board and, incidentally, did not tend to divide at the Mason-Dixon Line. Nearly everyone agrees that Myrtle Beach is "too cold" and had not even considered it as a spring-break destination. (Others, like freshman Ravi Gupta and sophomore Melissa Berger, apparently do not find it cold enough, planning instead to make their way to the ski slopes of Colorado and elsewhere.) But, Duke

Student Government, which voted to endorse the boycott, seems to have gotten students to think about the issue--and many to rethink their plans.

Gupta says he would prefer to be better informed before making a decision to boycott, but he doesn't agree with South Carolina's actions: "It would definitely make me think twice" before visiting. Jillian Woodruff, a senior, gives full support to the boycott and has decided to take DSG's suggestion and head north to Virginia Beach instead of Myrtle after finals are over.

Freshman Steven Huey declares that calling for the boycott is the right of the NAACP, but that even while he himself would support the boycott, student government should not be involved in the issue.

Others looked at the picture from a different angle, urging boycotters to consider the possible effects of their actions. Junior Pete Rawlinson, who will go to Myrtle Beach as planned at the end of the year, points out that the boycott will "just hurt local business" instead of serving its intended purpose. Senior Amanda Scovil also doesn't agree with "damaging the economy of the population" when the state government is the target.

Northerners and Southerners alike were able to see the pro-flag side of the argument. One senior from New York, Denver Brown, says his South Carolina friends, whom he'll visit over spring break, feel that the Confederate flag is just "a symbol of the South." This view paralleled that of Texan freshman Lindsay Harrison: "I understand how it can offend, but it's mainly a Southern pride thing to a lot of people." And sophomore Britton Crigler represents the opinion of his home state of South Carolina, saying the flag is "not a symbol of slavery," but of "rebellion."

Freshman Alison Haddock expresses concern for the boycott's potential effects on the Duke student body. She says it would be "sad to lose the [post-finals] tradition"and that it is not worth the risk of dividing the students between Virginia and Myrtle beaches.

But, if anyone is still considering the Palmetto State as a spring or summer destination, first consult sophomore Melissa Berger. Flag or no, she advises against going to Myrtle Beach--"too skanky!"

--compiled by Nathan Faulkner '03

"We should have talked openly about this in December, bringing home the shocking import of this death as a cautionary tale for others, while the emotional wounds were still fresh."

--President Nannerl O. Keohane, speaking to Duke's trustees in February, on the university's delay in disclosing details of an alcohol-related death last fall

"Our purpose there was to be part of a general movement. We were there to allow students after us to go to schools wherever they wanted to. Decades have seen the fruit of that struggle."

--Constance Jackson Carter '68, among some of Duke's earliest black undergraduates, reflecting on integration thirty years after Duke began admitting black students

"We've got a health-care system for the haves and a sick-care system for the have-nots. It's cheaper to provide primary preventive health care for everybody."

--Joycelyn Elders, former U.S. Surgeon General, telling a Griffith Film Theater audience that social problems cause the biggest barriers to health-care reform

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