Gated community at Duke is not the answer
Here we go again. Duke officials are talking about closing more campus roads. All in the name of safety. Not sure how closing Towerview Drive will stop crime on Central Campus. But administrators seem to think that'll do the trick.
This has been Duke's ongoing approach to security: Close the streets and put up fences and gates. Over the past 10 years, it has been methodically isolating the campus from the rest of Durham.
History tends to repeat itself at Duke. Several years ago, more than 60 faculty, students and staff at Duke sent a letter to the administration, saying the creation of a gated community won't solve the problem: "Our major shared concern is the way that the administration appears to have decided that the best way to achieve safety and security for our community is to close it off from what surrounds it, to exclude those external to our community from access to it. Like the thinking that governs the increasing popularity of 'gated communities,' this is premised on the belief that exclusion rather than inclusion, closed borders rather than open borders, segregation rather than conversation, is the best way to ensure safety and security."
The letter (which never received a reply) reminded the administration that, "the majority of rapes, as well as petty-theft crimes on campus, are committed not by those outside of the Duke community, but by those within it."
So, it's not clear how blocking campus roads will stop crime on campus.
During negotiations over re-zoning East Campus, Duke officials privately insisted on being able to build a future 8-foot fence and gates with card readers around East Campus if they wanted to -- while publicly saying they "have no plans to build a fence."
After saying they had no such plans, the university built 8-foot fences and gates along sections of its southern boundary, lowered its parking lot gates during off-hours, misled City Council about their plans to gate Maxwell Street and, more recently, built 8-f00t fences on the edge of Central Campus.
Administrators also tried to build a retail cocoon on Central Campus that would have further isolated Duke students from Durham. (They pulled back, only after opposition from nearby neighborhoods.)
And a 45-year old woman, walking her dog on East Campus, was stopped by a Duke police officer who asked her: "How long do you intend to be on campus?"
Taken together, these events create a troubling pattern. Is Duke trying to isolate itself from Durham?
The Duke administration needs to honestly and openly answer these questions before blocking off more campus roads.
High-level administrators, who only take Chapel Drive to get to their 24-hour reserved parking spots, apparently don't understand the impact of a dusk-to-dawn curfew on cross-campus roads like Towerview and Science Drive. Housekeepers and janitors arrive before dawn, catering staff often come even earlier. Scientists, working on sensitive experiments, need to access their labs at all hours. Do Duke officials expect all these people to park off-campus and walk to their work-stations on a cold winter morning?
The recent Chronicle editorial was absolutely right: "The administration’s proposal to close roads around Duke’s campus, such as Towerview Road, does more harm than good" (Securing the area, no hysteria, 8/28/13).
Others at Duke have worked hard to improve town-gown relations. Duke Engage volunteers are building bridges with dozens of Durham nonprofits. First-year students spent much of Orientation Week beyond the walls. Closing campus roads will undermine the many good things Duke is doing in Durham.
John Schelp is a Durham resident.