Opinion

Divinity School should practice what Duke preaches – C.P. Mangel

The architecture of this addition to the Duke University Divinity school complements the neo-Gothic architecture of Duke Chapel. The exterior was built using more than 100 tons of stone from Duke Quarry (in NC) and 48 truckloads of Indiana limestone.
The architecture of this addition to the Duke University Divinity school complements the neo-Gothic architecture of Duke Chapel. The exterior was built using more than 100 tons of stone from Duke Quarry (in NC) and 48 truckloads of Indiana limestone. N&O file photo

In a recent poignant essay, the Rev. Brett Webb-Mitchell, characterized the historic and persistent homophobia at Duke Divinity School: “Homophobia is one of the institutional ‘sins’ of Duke Divinity School that has neither been confessed to, resolved, or found reconciliation.” I recoiled at the incidents he described.

Webb-Mitchell, a former Divinity School faculty member, recounts an excruciating incident: “When John discussed his sexuality in a personal essay for one of [his] classes, the professor told him in no uncertain terms that he should drop out of school because he was gay.” Does faith justify this kind of cruelty?

Consider these statistics from The Trevor Project: LGBT young adults consider suicide nearly three times more often than heterosexual young adults; LGBT young adults whose families are “highly rejecting” are eight times as likely to attempt suicide compared to LGBT young adults who experience “no or low levels of family rejection”; and each experience of “LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.” Exposing LGBT students enrolled in the Divinity School to rejection by their peers and professors would seem to be increasing their already heightened risks of self-harming behavior and suicide.

Duke University’s hands are stained with the blood of intolerance. Homophobia causes LGBT individuals, and their children and families, to suffer humiliation, degradation, bullying, sexual assault, violence, domestic abuse, social isolation, depression and suicide.

There are faiths which consider Jews to be emissaries of Satan, and faiths which prohibit interracial unions. What if a student discussed being Jewish in a personal essay and a Duke professor told him he should drop out because he was demonizing other students? What if a student discussed her interracial marriage in a personal essay and a Duke professor told her she should drop out because she was encouraging “breeding of mongrel children”?

What would Duke University do?

The Duke University Non-Discrimination Policy states: The university prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, sex, genetic information, or age in the administration of its educational policies, admission policies, financial aid, employment, or any other university program or activity. Have any students or faculty at other Duke University schools ever been disciplined, suspended, expelled or terminated for actions or conduct in violation of the Non-Discrimination Policy?

For prospective and current students, this policy on the Duke website constitutes a compelling advertisement for a discrimination-free education.

In light of the Divinity School incidents, should we consider this policy to be a false statement?

North Carolina law (§75-1.1) states: “Unfair methods of competition in or affecting commerce, and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce, are declared unlawful.”

What about LGBT applicants and enrolled students who rely on this express offer of discrimination-free education when they agree to pay tuition and take on financial debt in order to attend the Divinity School? Divinity School 2017-2018 tuition rates range from $23,000 to $25,000.

What about students who plan to enroll at Duke Divinity School this fall? Will Duke accept tuition from LGBT students to attend the Divinity School, knowing these students could be subjected to public humiliation, demoralizing judgment, and blatant discrimination from other Divinity School students, faculty and administrators?

Jeremiah 22:17 tells us: But your eyes and heart are only on your dishonest gain, for shedding innocent blood, and for practicing oppression and violence.

If the Divinity School will not abide by the non-discrimination policy, then perhaps Duke should cut the Divinity School loose. (Isn't that what Duke doctors do with malignant tumors?)

At the very least, Duke should revise its non-discrimination policy to read: The university (except for the Divinity School which is wholly exempt from this policy) prohibits discrimination.

C.P. Mangel lives in Chapel Hill.

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