I can’t stand here and let this happen

Writer: 
August 6, 2018

I don’t remember the moment particularly well. I remember shaky hands and picking at the holes in my jeans. I remember making small talk with the nice alumni around me. It almost made me feel bad for what we were about to do.


I remember right after, gathering in the Mary Lou Williams Center and sitting on the ground and letting the air come out of me for the first time in days.

What I know about the part in the middle is mostly from videos. There is a man flipping me off and yelling, “F--- you!” ere is another man, yelling to my friend Razan, who stands tall in her hijab. He says, “Go back to your country!”

There is the long, resounding chorus of boos. There are rows and rows of people who turn their backs on the stage while I lm the speeches from the front. There is a mother who turns her little boys around. They look younger than ten.

The disruption lasted about twelve minutes. It happened over Reunions Weekend, during an event called “The State of the University.” President Price was to speak—and student activists, frustrated with the slow pace of change across campus, wanted to spark a conversation. I was scared before I got involved, and I was scared all the way through. Afterward, I was so scared that I sat in the grass of the quad, watching the annual Native American Student Alliance powwow without talking, wanting my mom. I called my boyfriend, and my words broke in my throat. He let me cry until I was done.

And when I was done, I stood up and went on with my day. I met a friend at the Nasher Museum, turned my phone off, and tried desperately not to talk about the light-headed fear that consumed me. I interviewed her in the library’s Link recording studio for my podcast, and when she left I sat in the silent, foam-covered booth, breathing again.

I wished I could turn off my brain.

It may seem odd that I would even participate in this act of protest if it struck so much fear into me. It seems odd to me, too, in some ways. I was raised not to call too much attention to myself and to trust the system—to be respectful and civil. And so I was afraid to make a scene, afraid to be controversial, afraid because I knew how easily I could become hated.

If I came home from school upset with a stubborn classmate, my grandma would stroke my hair and other simple advice. “You catch more flies with honey,” she’d tell me, and I would laugh and think of squirting bottles of honey on all of my opponents. It was the kind of growing up that prefers you not ruffle feathers and makes you think that shouting gets you nowhere.

But it was also an upbringing that taught me to seek justice. It taught me to question authority and feel deeply. It taught me to spend late nights holding close friends as they, reeling, recounted their assaults. It taught me to feel anger and pain as a full-time teacher cried, telling a room of Durham-based organizers about her recent eviction. It taught me to drop my homework every week at 2 p.m. and head to Community Empowerment Fund to meet with members struggling to find steady employment.

And so, I maintained two fears, and I held them both at Duke. I was terrifyingly, stupefyingly scared of being hated. I read the comments on my Chronicle columns, the ones that called me a crybaby, and I knew that those words referred to a violent past—one that dismissed women and Jews and students of color based on their mere existence. This fear threatened to keep me from action, threatened to keep me in my place.

But there was another fear, too. is one felt like walking into a classroom and knowing you didn’t belong or hearing about the boy who screamed “F--- you, n-----!” at a black student in his dorm who still lives down the hall from her. It is what my disabled peers feel when they enter yet another building where they can’t even use the restroom and what you feel when you see your assaulter ordering food at the Brodhead Center and you have to walk in the other direction.

I feared that in my complacency, I would become complicit.

Most of the people in Page Auditorium on April 14 probably thought I hate Duke. Some readers may think so, too. But I still believe that love heals all wounds, and I love Duke more than any other place I’ve ever encountered. It is because I love it that I want to improve it.

I learned that my two fears did not have to be in opposition—that I could face both without sacrificing who I was. Action and disruption are not at odds with love; they are acts of love. They get us talking. They help us face our fears.

Abrams is a rising junior majoring in public policy and history with a certificate in documentary studies. She is spending her summer interning with the Southern Poverty Law Center.