Forum: January/February 2011

January 31, 2011
Queen in Question • Class ProfilingThe Hookup Angle

Queen in Question

September/October 2010 CoverMaybe it was prophetic that the first words in the 1970 Chanticleer quoted Led Zeppelin: “Been dazed and confused for so long it’s not true, wanted a woman never bargained for you.” Later that year, the alumni office definitely wanted a woman for Homecoming Queen, when Wilson House and John Terrell [’71, M.A.T. ’73] entered the scene.

Bridget Booher’s article “The Last Homecoming Queen” [September-October 2010], which I greatly enjoyed, gave an excellent account of this event. I became involved in the controversy as chair of the student homecoming committee, a responsibility that came with holding the minor office of senior-class president in Trinity College. During simpler times, the committee (which functioned in conjunction with the alumni office) helped organize the student side of the weekend. Homecoming in 1970 was different; many Duke alums were unhappy about how life was changing at Duke, and the alumni office was understandably concerned about their unhappiness.

My memory of exactly what happened is dim, but I do remember this: Our committee did strive to strike a compromise that somehow satisfied all constituents and avoided any heavy-handed decision decreed by the alumni office. I believe we also had in mind trying to preserve some sense of fairness toward the lovely and talented women nominated by their living groups.

As the article conveys, it seemed to have worked out pretty well. Christy [Stauffer Sturgeon ’71] was a beautiful and charming Homecoming Queen, and John carried out his role with great style and humor. I’m not sure that the alumni were completely at ease, but their grumbling was minimized.

That afternoon lives for me as a wonderful and memorable day, despite all the tension and craziness of the times.

Ben Franklin ’71
Leesburg, Virginia

Though enjoyable, “The Last Homecoming Queen” paints a false picture of the nature and level of activist politics at Duke at the end of the ’60s and, in particular, severely underrates the state of the women’s movement there.

The statement that Terrell’s nomination became “a rallying point for a small but growing group of women’s rights advocates” is ludicrously misleading. To suggest that the women’s movement at Duke was something small and nascent at the time, and that the amusing stunt of putting forth a male candidate for Homecoming Queen was some sort of “galvanizing” event for that movement and women’s political consciousness, is absurd to the point of insult.

In 1968 and 1969, Duke was home to the Student Liberation Front (SLF)—a large, indigenous umbrella organization that encompassed a dozen new- and old-left organizations and boasted upwards of 200 members. There were several women’s organizations, both formal and in-formal, within the SLF, and large numbers of women were active in feminist issues, both on and off campus.

In 1970, I acted as the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) liaison officer to the women’s movement, so I think I knew a bit more about radical women’s organizations than Dean [Mary Grace] Wilson, whose pipeline to left politics must have been a thin one, at best. There was no single organization for women’s liberation at Duke. There were women within organizations like SDS and the Worker-Student Alliance, who proselytized and organized around women’s issues, and there were exclusively female organizations, the largest and most important of which was the Women’s Caucus.

I do not recall any national organization known as the “Women’s Liberation Front,” nor any small and seemingly mousy “Women’s Liberation 11.” The women’s movement I knew and worked with at Duke was dynamic, substantial in size and scope—and militant as all get out.

Gary F. Pugh ’72
Cranbury, New Jersey

Class Profiling

“The Class of 2014” [Gazette, September-October 2010] provides statistics on the 1,748 students enrolled, listing the number of international and minority students among them.

This brought to mind a recent report by Princeton lecturer Russell K. Nieli detailing the findings of two Princeton colleagues as to “just what sorts of students highly competitive colleges want—or don’t want—on their campuses and how they structure their admissions policies to get the kind of ‘diversity’ they seek.”

Because of confidentiality agreements, the eight universities whose admissions decisions were scrutinized are not mentioned, but researchers Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Radford “assure us that their statistical profile shows they fit nicely within the top 50 colleges and universities listed in the U.S. News & World Report ratings,” Nieli writes.

The takeaway of the article is that students applying for admission to America’s highly competitive colleges face admission hurdles of dramatically different height—depending on race and ethnicity: “The box students checked off on the racial question on their application was thus shown to have an extraordinary effect on a student’s chances of gaining admission to the highly competitive private schools in the NSCE [National Study of College Experience] database,” Nieli writes. “To have the same chances of gaining admission as a black student with an SAT score of 1100, an Hispanic student otherwise equally matched in background characteristics would have to have a 1230, a white student a 1410, and an Asian student a 1550.”

And—in a most interesting twist—depending on income. Nieli continues: “When lower-class whites are matched with lower class blacks and other non-whites the degree of the non-white advantage becomes astronomical: lower-class Asian applicants are seven times as likely to be accepted to the competitive private institutions as similarly qualified whites, lower-class Hispanic applicants eight times as likely, and lower-class blacks ten times as likely.

These are enormous differences and reflect the fact that lower-class whites were rarely accepted to the private institutions Espenshade and Radford surveyed. Their diversity-enhancement value was obviously rated very low.”

The Duke admissions statistics you report are interesting. More interesting would be the decision-making model that generated them.

Tom Shuford B.S.M.E. ’68
Lenoir, North Carolina

Christoph Guttentag, Duke’s dean of undergraduate admissions, responds:

In the admissions process, it can be tempting to define diversity simply on the basis of race or economic status or another easily quantifiable characteristic. And in our reporting on the class, we find those categories to be a useful shorthand to describe the variety inherent in the Duke student body.

But in actually making our decisions, we think of diversity in terms of experiences, backgrounds, values, and interests. We seek to create a community where the social and intellectual environment will broaden our students’ experiences in meaningful ways and prepare them for the complex world they will face. When the admissions committee meets to review applicants, the conversations are mostly about the individual and what he or she would offer to, and gain from, the Duke community, rather than which category he or she fits into.

The Hookup Angle

November/December 2010 CoverThank you for Bridget Booher’s article “Sex, Love, and Celibacy” [November-December 2010]. In 2001, during my senior year, I was selected to write an ongoing sex and love column for The Chronicle. As a cultural anthropology major and women’s studies and sexuality studies minor, I hoped to inspire students—especially women—to find healthier perspectives and experiences around sex at Duke.

In my first and only article, I examined Duke’s hookup scene, finding that it often encouraged students to partake in sexual encounters that lacked the true emotional, sensual, or sexual satisfaction it generally takes to please women. To my disappointment and embarrassment, the editor chose not to publish it, saying he didn’t quite see my “angle.”

Though I will always regret not having tried harder to get my column published, I now feel better knowing that dialogues about sex and love at Duke are finally being opened up. I am hopeful that campus culture will continue to evolve from frat-centric into a more healthy and dynamic one. Finally, I hope that Duke women remember that they, too, have a voice in creating cultural change that supports their bodies, minds, and spirits.

Amanda Miller ’02
Marin, California