Apr 082014
 April 8, 2014

Genocide400This week marked the beginning of Remembrance Week at Duke, a time to reflect on the tragedies of past genocide and focus on ways to avoid that tragedy in futurity. In honor of this, the President of the Coalition for Preserving Memory, Liza Meredith, has written about her organization, the schedule for Remembrance Week, and the importance of memory. On Monday, Team Kenan and the Coalition for Preserving Memory co-sponsored a conversation on “The Ethics of Collective Memory.” Later this week, Nathan will write about the complicated issue of remembrance and memorialization. 

The Coalition for Preserving Memory (CPM) is an organization that is founded by Duke students, and is dedicated to memorializing genocide victims from the 20th and 21st centuries in a way that will be relevant and meaningful to future generations.

The mission of CPM really goes back to Duke’s history. Not many people know this, but Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term “genocide” in 1944, was a Duke professor. This completely transformed international justice. Before this, there was no word to describe killing an entire race or ethnic group.

I remember the first time that my parents told me about the Holocaust and how it impacted my family. I felt so empty. I was paralyzed by a sadness and confusion that I had never felt before. The mass murder of 6 million Jews is just incomprehensible to me. 6 million. We hear the number, we can see it written on paper, but what does it really mean? This question lies at the heart of CPM.

We read names from six universally recognized genocides for 24 hours. The most powerful thing we can do is to remember as a community. To say “never again.” These words represent a promise to the past, and to future generations. What’s really special about CPM is that we say these words as a community.We bring together coalitions across campus- from administrators to student groups and sports teams. We create community through remembering some of the worst times in human history. Together, we remember.

This year, we have really tried to focus on the intersectionality of the word genocide. Whether we realize it or not, genocide impacts us all. In addition to a 24-hour name reading ceremony on Rwandan Genocide Awareness Day, we have organized a host of other events. We hope to spark academic conversations about these issues, and will be hosting a Panel Discussion and Dinner about the Ethics of Collective Memory. This event will offer an intellectual space to consider many of these difficult concepts. We are also having a night of music at Baldwin Auditorium, whereby we will explore how through music, cultures can persevere, even after genocide. It will be an eclectic and powerful night featuring a tenor who reached No. 1 on the UK classical charts. The series of events will conclude with the opening of an art exhibit in the Bryan Center that will feature the work of six student groups’ mixed media perspectives on the six universally recognized genocides.

As president, my hope is that CPM will continue to grow at Duke. Over the past school year, I have had the pleasure of meeting student groups and faculty members from all corners of Duke’s campus. I have been humbled by the personal connections that so many people feel to this project. By remembering humanity at its worst, we can inspire humanity at its best. Never Forget. Never Again. Together We Remember.

Apr 022014
 April 2, 2014

By Michaela Dwyer

Carolina Phoenix players hold newsprints of Berg's newsprints.

Berg’s photograph newsprints of the Carolina Phoenix.

Last Saturday, multicolored lights swirled outside The Bar in downtown Durham and a crowd of what were ostensibly nighttime clubgoers filed in. Rather than sweaty bodies on the dance floor*, though, a large projection screen, rows of chairs, and tables holding bowls of movie popcorn filled the space. People were gathering for MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts Candidate Amanda Berg‘s thesis film screening, part of her documentary project called ‘Every Body Hit Somebody’—a combination of still photography and film documenting semi-professional women’s tackle football team The Carolina Phoenix. Central to Berg’s work, both ‘Every Body’ and otherwise, are questions about gender, sport, community and society formation. Michaela sat down with Berg to chat about her current projects, the ethics of getting to know a group of people while documenting them, and the “everybodyness” of tackle football.

Kenan Insider: So, first: why the title ‘Every Body Hit Somebody’?

Amanda Berg: The phrase came from one of the loudest Phoenix fans. A father of one of the players liked to cheer from the sidelines, “Everybody hit somebody! Everybody hit somebody!” It is a spirited description of what goes on during a football game. It also implies equality in saying that “everybody” should participate in the hitting. Tackling is one of the most masculine aspects of the game and the thing society has the hardest time giving women access to.

I chose to make it “Every Body” to hint at the relationship between playing football and forming an identity, the separation between mind and body. There is something very special about tackle football that other sports don’t have. The way bodies collide is unique to this game. For many of the women who play football that contact is an empowering part of the sport and affects their lives in positive ways on and off the field.

From Amanda Berg's 'Every Body Hit Somebody' photo exhibition.

From Amanda Berg’s ‘Every Body Hit Somebody’ photo exhibition.

KI: Your photography and documentary work has ranged from photo essays concerning women and binge drinking to film, photography, and zine work that engages the military communities of Fayetteville and Fort Bragg. What about this current project—and the stories of the women on this team—felt important to tell, to share?

AB: It’s almost indescribable. The Phoenix seemed important from the first time I ever saw them practice— their love of football, their willingness to challenge gender boundaries, their vibrant, confident, diverse personalities and most importantly their success as a team. Winning a national championship is news— where was it printed?

KI: At the film screening on Saturday evening, [Arts of the Moving Image Lecturing Fellow and Artist in Residence, as well as one of Berg's thesis advisors] David Gatten talked about your relentless approach to artistic revision: you made a version of this film, and then made it again, and then made it again. What were some of the hardest decisions—possibly ethical decisions— you moved through before ending with the film/the project in its final state? 

AB: The hardest decision was editing out voices. I was able to do four big interviews. When I set out I imagined I would interview everyone on the team. In the final edit you only see two of those four. I struggled knowing how many perspectives the audience was missing out on. I think editing a project at all can be seen as an ethical dilemma, especially when you are representing other people’s experiences and not your own.

Berg announcing her film on Saturday night.

Berg announcing her film on Saturday night.

KI: The mood of the event on Saturday is hard for me to describe. The screening and the event felt, in a lot of ways, like they belonged to the team—most of whom were present, chanting and being open about recognizing themselves onscreen. But that magic didn’t feel exclusive, either; I can connect to so many aspects of the work, from gender, to communities built around a sport or art, to the ways we carve out space in busy lives to pursue our passions. Would you say that there is an ideal audience for this film and for this project or not?

AB: Saturday was special. I’m so glad you could make it! I don’t envision a ideal audience. I do think watching the movie for the first time with the team can’t be replicated. They are as much an audience as I am. I was a spectator of their season.On Saturday the roles reversed as they watched my performance. I hope the film moves through the world as a product of our collaboration.

KI: What was it like to get to know the team through documenting them? Were there ever points when you had to take off the ‘artist’ or ‘documentarian’ hat?

AB: Getting to know the Phoenix was like stepping into your favorite sports movie and being taken under the wing of the main characters. It was fun, inspiring and instructive. It’s a little hard to answer the hat question. Working on this project taught me how to be myself; the Phoenix showed me what it meant to be a confident woman. So even though there were moments [when] I was less focused on pictures and just enjoying myself, I was always in touch with who I was, why I was there. I think I just wore a really bright hat the entire time.

A still from Berg's film.

A still from Berg’s film.

KI: If you were to combine the words “ethics” and “art” in the same sentence, what comes to mind?

AB: A few words pop into my mind: vulnerability, consistency, plurality, thereness, process, human, beautiful.


*Writer’s note: There was, indeed, a dance party—after Berg’s film screening.

Berg’s collection of photographic prints, part of ‘Every Body Hit Somebody,’ is on view in the Allen Building First Floor Gallery through this Friday, April 5. Find more information about the ongoing MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts here

Apr 012014
 April 1, 2014

ThomasPoggefinalBy Nathan Nye

Arithmancy…that’s the word I kept repeating to myself yesterday. For those unversed in little known occult practices or Harry Potter, arithmancy is the idea of magic through/with numbers.

My mathematically inclined friends would want me to point out that all math is somewhat magical to them. I would point out to them that the only people who agree are in insane asylums or math departments. As you can see, I am a number adverse human. I understand their importance, while also being unable to make myself work with them. Partially, I express skepticism at numbers because I am bad at them, and partially because my generation has been raised with the idea that you can make numbers “say” anything.

I was reminded of this point yesterday as Visiting Human Rights Fellow Thomas Pogge gave a lecture called “Getting Serious about Ending Poverty.” What that title does not belie is that part of the seriousness Pogge is referencing is quantitative seriousness.

According to Pogge, more than the level of poverty having changed over the past 20 years, the way in which we calculate poverty has changed. We’ve switched from raw numbers to percentages, redefined who was impoverished, grouped households and converted number using decontextualized currency exchanges, which all build to a seeming decrease in the poverty level.

My skepticism seemed to be warranted.

However, watching Professor Pogge break down those numbers and skewer international organization’s claims with math any fifth grader could do was somewhat mystifying. It made me remember that process is important, and an understanding of process can be an incredible tool. It’s good to stay in touch with the fact that it’s hard to make moral evaluations when I can’t understand the data.

Maybe my math friends are right, maybe there’s a magic in numbers.

For more on Professor Pogge check the DHRC@KIE page for an interview with him about his work.

Mar 252014
 March 25, 2014

By Michaela Dwyer

Writer’s note: over Spring Break, I traveled with Nathan, Christian, and a group of alumni from the Ethics, Leadership & Global Citizenship Focus cluster to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Our objective was to study firsthand the forces behind and effects of a controversial Constitutional Court ruling that came down last fall in the Caribbean nation.

“Let me confess: I love Santo Domingo. I love coming home to the guys in blazers trying to push little cups of Brugal into my hands. Love the plane landing, everybody clapping when the wheels kiss the runway.

If this was another kind of story, I’d tell you about the sea…How when I’m driving in from the airport and see it like this, like shredded silver, I know I’m back for real…And I’d tell you about the traffic: the entire history of late-twentieth-century automobiles swarming across every flat stretch of ground, a cosmology of battered cars, battered motorcycles, battered trucks, and battered buses, and an equal number of repair shops…I’d tell you about the shanties and our no-running-water faucets and the sambos on the billboards…I’d tell you about my abuelo and his campo hands, how unhappy he is that I’m not sticking around, and I’d tell you about the street where I was born, Calle XXI, how it hasn’t decided yet if it wants to be a slum or not and how it’s been in this state of indecision for years.

But that would make it another kind of story, and I’m having enough trouble with this one as it is. You’ll have to take my word for it. Santo Domingo is Santo Domingo. Let’s pretend we all know what goes on there.”

(excerpt from “The Sun, The Moon, The Stars,” which opens Junot Díaz’s short story collection This is How You Lose Her)

Before we left for the Dominican Republic, I’d often wake up from naps dreaming in the language of Junot Díaz. I typed little notes in my iPhone, fragments for the novel I’ll probably never write. And fragments they were: these absurdist tableaus would never resolve. They always hinged on a missing part: some Spanish phrase that I couldn’t remember, or at least remember to articulate correctly.

Moon and rooftop as seen from the Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo.

Moon and rooftop as seen from the Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo.

I’d spent many weeks pretending I knew “what goes on there.” I read a lot about the ruling, about the DR’s and Haiti’s colonial history, about race in the Caribbean. I imagined the ways in which I could beef up my Spanish language knowledge—once-substantial, at least by grade-school standards—before I’d have to use it on the ground in Santo Domingo. I reviewed some vocabulary with my younger sister, an AP Spanish student. But the words were mostly from her “Valentine’s Day” list. No se funcionan for day-to-day verbal exchanges, unless I arrived in the DR with the urge to tell strangers I loved them.

Despite my “only connect” mantra, I did not. I arrived with too much luggage and hair that curled instantaneously when I stepped off the plane and into the funnel of tropical humidity. I arrived straddling excitement, graciousness, and uncertainty. This mix manifested in my telling our group to tone down our volume in the airport, at the hotel, in a restaurant—as if this would tone down the glaring otherness of our majority-light skin colors, our American clothing, our preponderance of English. I’ve noticed that when I’m abroad I want to do everything I can—and in the least showy way—to blend into the culture at hand. I tend to see this as a highly individual project. While I know I can’t be the people whose everyday lives I’m intersecting and whose land I’m traversing, I study their movements ad infinitum to figure out how I can choreograph myself to least impose.

But what about when you’re helping to lead a group of Duke undergrads in a city and country that is new to all of you? When your status in the country is difficult to articulate, resisting common boxes like turística and misionera while filling them at first glance? When about half of you speak workable Spanish and you have meetings scheduled each day with judges, community organizers and activists, and migration officials, almost all of which end up being conducted entirely in Spanish? ¿Pueden ustedes entender español?, you’re asked. ¿Hay alguien que va a traducir?

Monument to the Mirabal Sisters, Santo Domingo.

Monument to the Mirabal Sisters, Santo Domingo.

There we were—there I was—hinging again on that missing Spanish word, in what hinged on feeling like an absurdist tableau. But, of course, it was not. It was my body sitting in a conference room chair, pulling linguistic threads together with our Spanish-speaking students to translate in paraphrases to our group; my head darting around from the passenger seat of our taxi, jabbering with our weeklong driver Jose as he smiled and pointed out the monuments along the Malecón—the seaside road named, in part, Autopista 30 de Mayo to commemorate the date of dictator Rafael Trujillo’s assassination in 1961. On the same road, back east toward the Zona Colonial, a large column dedicated to Las Hermanas Mirabal stands triumphant in a roundabout, its pointed top reaching straight for the sun. Turning from the window, I’d smile back at him, regularly astounded that one highway could serve as both memorial to a country’s complicated history and the fastest way from where we were staying to the government district downtown. In these moments of quiet observation it wouldn’t really hit me that I’d just spoken mostly in Spanish. It was just the thing to do, if I wanted to know where I was and what I was doing.

Incidentally, it was thinking and talking in Spanish that encouraged and still encourages me to find words for my range of emotions that week. I’m neither Dominican nor Haitian, and I can’t really know what goes on there, as Díaz writes. I clapped, along with everyone else, when the plane landed, but I’m sure my applause resonated with a different sound than those returning home.

Similarly, I don’t feel the effects of this ruling in my day-to-day life: I enjoy assured citizenship and legal state residency, and my impulses in “feeling Southern” or “feeling American” are validated in turn. Over the course of a week in Santo Domingo we heard from figures who think lifetimes of “feeling Dominican” aren’t sufficient for claiming nationality, and others equally boggled by why and how the law wouldn’t take into account these same claims, sent forth by individuals and communities with voices as vibrant as Díaz’s. They know what goes on there. But I think Díaz is right in his sly suggestion that we all need to try to pretend, together. Pretending is at once luxury and necessity; we need space to imagine better, to brainstorm ways to make our stories heard; but mostly we’re just trying to get through the day-to-day. And if our stories don’t circle back to an acute awareness of this level of being, we’re doing it wrong.

It’s easy for me to wallow in the abstract anxiety of “doing it wrong” when I’m in a foreign city, be it Berlin or Santo Domingo. It’s not as easy to expel the privilege inherent in this approach, to speak in a language other than my native tongue, and to get over my “otherness” long enough to simply hold a conversation and just be. It’s a small gesture, un gesto pequeño, a half-saunter on the sidewalk—but it’s a step.

Mar 212014
 March 21, 2014

Hi Dear Readers,

photo (5)

We’re officially announcing that the Kenan Institute for Ethics has found a new home! Our exodus from the West Duke Building is now at an end and we’ve been given new quarters in Bay 4 of Smith Warehouse. A huge thank you to the University for their quick work and our new neighbors who have had to put up with people moving in equipment!

Now that we’re re-housed The Insider will be back to its Tuesday/Thursday regular postings from us.

Look forward to our thoughts on our trip to the Dominican Republic to study statelessness and citizenship next week!


Feb 262014
 February 26, 2014

By Michaela Dwyer

As you’ve probably heard, the Kenan staff—and the entirety of the West Duke Building occupants—are currently officeless after the classroom ceiling collapse last week. With the bulk of our spring programs under way, it’s business as (mostly) usual, though—as we work from home, coffeeshops, and co-working spaces around Durham and the Triangle. Stay tuned for updates over the coming weeks, and be sure to keep up with our Twitter and Instagram for news.

KIE staffers Katherine Scott, Michaela Dwyer, and Nathan Nye: sad to be (temporarily) officeless, happy to be (temporarily) reunited.

KIE staffers Katherine Scott, Michaela Dwyer, and Nathan Nye: sad to be (temporarily) officeless, happy to be (temporarily) reunited.

In the meantime, and as we Insider writers reboot from the transition, check out this roundup of writing, event information, and updates from Kenan programs at home at Duke and in Durham as well as abroad.

-DukeToday: Michaela wrote a brief piece about Hoi Polloi’s Republic, presented by Duke Performances and Manbites Dog Theater through this Sunday. Last Friday night, KIE professor Wayne Norman joined Hoi Polloi artistic director Alec Duffy (T’98) and Executive Director of Duke Performances Aaron Greenwald for a post-performance discussion of the play, adapted from Plato’s The Republic. Event and ticketing information here.

-Our DukeImmerse:Uprooted/Rerouted students have made it to Nepal and Jordan, respectively, and are writing weekly personal narratives about their experiences on-the-ground. You can find their first-week reflections here.

Richard Powell, Faulkner Fox, Duncan Murrell, and Michaela Dwyer at Junebug. Photo by Katherine Scott.

Richard Powell, Faulkner Fox, Duncan Murrell, and Michaela Dwyer at Junebug. Photo by Katherine Scott.

-Last week, we had a wonderful crowd of 72 folks show up for our Ethics Film Series screening of Junebug. Michaela moderated the panel, which included Duncan Murrell (Writer in Residence, Center for Documentary Studies), Faulkner Fox (Lecturing Fellow, English Dept.) and Richard Powell (John Spencer Bassett Professor, Art, Art History, and Visual Studies). The conversation, fueled in large part by a very engaged audience, delved into topics ranging from religion to gender to art’s unique ability to straddle both the universal and the particular (and, in this case, the Southern). We look forward to seeing you at our screening of the documentary deepsouth on Tuesday, March 18. We’ll be joined by the film’s director, Lisa Biagiotti, as well as Dr. Kathryn Whetten (Professor of Public Policy and Global Health and Director of the Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research).

-The deadline for our second round of 2013-2014 Campus Grants is this Saturday, March 1! Find info about applying, as well as the application, here. One of our fall awardees, MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts candidate Sarah Garrahan, is preparing to premiere her Fare Project, which features a food truck-based mixed-media installation exploring food workers’ rights. Find a schedule of events—including community dinners—on the project website.

Until soon!

Feb 132014
 February 13, 2014

By Michaela Dwyer

This past Sunday I tweeted, “note: don’t wear Keds to a rally.” It was “favorited” (that benevolent form of Twitter approval) in quick succession by three friends.

The previous day—and the night previous to that—I’d spent much of my time mind-circling around the proper attire for Saturday’s Moral March on Raleigh/HKonJ. I felt like I was preparing for a dance performance or field trip, much like the over-conscientious grade-schooler I once was. Then and now, my mother had ensured I had a bevy of warm jackets at my disposal. Also heavy-duty winter gloves. (I have Raynaud’s, so cold-weather outings quickly feel like an assault on my extremities—if numbness can be classified as an assault.) But I couldn’t decide on shoes: would the mood be rowdy, and would, in turn, nicer boots get scuffed? Would more sturdy hiking shoes prevent me from wearing the style of coat in which I felt most comfortable, most myself? What image did I want to present of myself to the other ralliers and would that image align with maximum body heat?

As I paced around my room considering outerwear and shoes, I realized I was treading a deeper insecurity about the next day. At the march, what would happen? Presumably, thousands of people from around North Carolina and elsewhere would walk a few blocks toward the State Capitol in downtown Raleigh. People would speak. There would be banners and flyers. There would, as online information claimed, be no civil disobedience—en contra to the Moral Monday protests that took place over the summer last year.

But what about the number of possible negative happenings that those bare-bones probablies don’t include? Violence—physical or otherwise—against the marchers, provoked by the sheer number of people gathering en masse? Overcrowding? Counter-protests? A pandering pile of cookies left out by our governor ? Promises of more of the legislation we were rallying against? Cold fingers and toes?


The DukeImmerse students and I have lately been reading a book of “anthropological philosophy” called Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation. The author, Jonathan Lear, profiles the Crow Nation just before their confinement to reservations, and how such confinement devastated Crow culture as tribe members knew it. A statement by Plenty Coups, the last great Chief of the Crow Nation, propels Lear’s investigation: “When the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground. And they could not lift them up again. After this nothing happened.”

The March on Saturday.

The March on Saturday.

Lear writes at length about what he thinks Plenty Coups means by such a pronouncement: After the traditional Crow culture is rendered non-functional by the introduction of a new culture and way of life (the reservation), things couldn’t “happen” in the same, or even remotely similar, ways that they used to.

At least partly to cut through my chronic fear of the unknown, I’ve been thinking about what it means for something to “happen” in the first place. Recently I feel as though I’m regularly bombarded by news about bad things happening: someone I’m close to being diagnosed with a serious illness, the perpetuation of statewide policies that I feel violate my rights as a woman, supporter of public education, voter, human, et al. My job at Kenan quite naturally brings me into contact—however physically removed—with issues facing communities worldwide that could be categorized as “heavy” and “complex.” It is both a privilege and an overwhelming task to sit, reflect, and write on these various happenings each week, to tidy and term them, at least for my mind’s own sake, under “ethics,” when I know that my contribution is not immediate and that these occurrences lie largely beyond the power of my outstretched arm.


On Saturday, that arm ended up bundled in a meager sweatshirt. I chose to cover my core with a down vest I haven’t worn since high school, and the two friends I drove to the rally poked fun at me (“nice vest!”) in the same way one might “favorite” a tweet. Underneath was a sweatshirt emblazoned in Helvetica with the words “Support Your Local Artist”; I thought the statement mildly appropriate for the event. I found the sweatshirt, discarded, while working for a state-funded program at Meredith College last summer, when Moral Mondays were hot, literally and figuratively, and I presided over teenagers while many of my peers marched a few miles down Hillsborough Street. I imagine that the bulk of those peers, and also several of those teenagers, were at the march this past Saturday. I didn’t see many of them, but I was at the back of the crowd and had no real sense of its size. It turns out there may have been 100,000 people there. Among them were more Duke undergraduates than I’ve seen at any off-campus event besides designated bar nights in downtown Durham.

Last fall, a friend, mentor, and former teacher wrote the piece I’d like to write about why I had to at some point stop imagining the rally into a negative realm, or at least straddle that fear while standing, flimsy Keds laced, among an enormously calm, ethnically and generationally diverse group early Saturday morning. He writes,

“The Legislature has made clear that it’s time to pick sides. The human instinct is to hope that this too shall pass, but this is no longer operative. We want to think bad things are just temporary and that eventually right-minded people (to be named later, but people with more strength and greater resources) will put this thing right. We want to believe this because we want to believe that the universe is essentially just.

But things do not just pass. And while we’re waiting, things are being done that can’t be undone.”

I think back to Plenty Coups. “When the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground. And they could not lift them up again. After this nothing happened.” Our (because it is our) North Carolinian predicament is far different, our contextual narrative far from that of a singular devastation. But we’ve internalized pieces of a similar threat as it pertains to us today. Laws and policies, especially those that come to counter the ways in which many of us live or want to live our daily lives, are peculiar at best and obliterating at worst in their power to ride along with our habits one day and invalidate them the next. After this nothing happened. It’s hard to think of our habits as something we actively create, as what’s happening, especially when it’s laws, policies, and major [largely negative] events that make the news. It’s radical to imagine that our quotidian experience matters on the large-scale. It’s radical to gather with tens to hundreds of thousands of people to attach bodies, signs, and a march to that imagination.

And it felt radical, on Saturday, to be a part of that happening. To say yes, we are able, and we are making this happen right now.

Feb 072014
 February 7, 2014

By Nathan Nye

Western journalists love the Olympics. In a 24-hour news cycle, there must be constant fodder to feed the bloated cable media machine and the Olympics are months worth of pre-packaged entertainment.

The most recent trend in news articles is about the somewhat, shall we say, lacking facilities in Sochi. Just look at these tweets from journalists who have gone early to the games.

People have asked me what surprised me the most here in Sochi. It’s this. Without question … it’s … THIS. pic.twitter.com/1jj05FNdCP — Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) February 4, 2014


Okay, let’s talk about the dogs. Apparently, both Sochi campuses (Coastal and Mountain) have a TON of stray dogs.

Previews - Winter Olympics Day -5

Apparently the number of stray cats and dogs exceeds 2,000.

One journalist made one of the dogs her mascot and named him Sausage. Soon after meeting her puppy love, Sausage went missing though.

Maybe she didn’t know that getting attached to the dogs of Sochi wasn’t a wise move, because heartbreak couldn’t be far off. In order to rid themselves of the excess canine company the Olympics Organizing Committee has hired a private catch and kill “pest control” firm. The media is having a wonderful time reporting that there are roving gangs of killer dog catchers battling roving gangs of stray dogs. It’s the kind of image that newsmakers crave.

So, why isn’t the image of roving gangs of right wing fascists attacking LGBT people on Russian streets getting the same press coverage? Because, that’s happening too.

To be fair, there has been much coverage of Russia’s anti-LGBT policies on many levels. We’ve talked about the anti-Western rhetoric that’s inspired it, the injustices LGBT people could face, and a little bit about police brutality in relation to protests by LGBT people.

But did you know groups of vigilantes have, seemingly without consequence, begun to patrol the streets of some Russian towns in order to find, expose, humiliate, and torture LGBT Russians.

The rest of this blog post will not be pleasant, because I think it’s important not to mince words when it comes to persecution.  So, here are some of the things that are happening in Russia right now that aren’t playing out in Western national media.

Activists from Parents of Russia are handing out bags with ropes in them to LGBT people and telling them to hang themselves.

LGBT protestors are getting publicly beaten in front of the police who then arrest the bloodied protestors because they are violating Russian law.

People who are not dressed in a way that conforms to gender stereotypes are being punched in the face while walking down the street and then kicked and harassed by gangs in front of crowds. No one intervenes.

And a group called “Occupy Pedophilia” is finding victims online and luring them to be tortured. They find young, gay people, often posing as a romantic interest and then get them to a secluded spot. Then they reveal the gang of people waiting to harass them. They restrain them, beat them, force them to drink urine, pour urine on their head, sexually assault them, and sometimes rape them. All of this is videotaped in order to further humiliate their victim. The attackers don’t blur their faces or hide their identities. They don’t care. Watching them shows the complete impunity they have in Russia.

One was recently blinded. One of their victims died from the internal injuries he received from the multiple beer bottles that were forced into his body. Another committed suicide. No arrests have been made.

The following video is from Human Rights Watch and depicts some of this violence. It is incredibly disturbing and viewer discretion is certainly advised.

The story of Russian homophobia shouldn’t be about the moral grounding of new laws that discriminate against gay people as it’s been reported by most media outlets. This story should be about the fact that most Russian cities now have gangs of citizens outside of the law who feel safe abducting and torturing an entire group of people based on their perceived sexual orientation.

It’s easier to forget these atrocities in the face of equivocal statements from President Putin, passive aggressive Olympic delegation appointments by President Obama, and hilarious stories of Sochi’s unpreparedness. But forgetting isn’t an option for the persecuted LGBT people of Russia. It’s not an option for the teenagers who have videos of their torture passed around Russian social media.

It wasn’t easy for me to write this blog, because I’m a lover of cross-cultural ethics and an advocate for cross-cultural understanding. Even when I feel disgust, I try to ground an opposing view in my own mind. I try to remind myself that my values aren’t universal. I try to formally acknowledge context and assume my own ignorance, but this time I will not.

I cannot.

I won’t excuse or be silent when brutal, systematic attacks threaten a minority. I won’t accept tepid diplomatic rebukes as a solution to human rights violations. I won’t allow myself to fall into the seductive spirit of the Olympics and revel in a grandeur that hides a deep malignancy.

We need to be vigilant that we aren’t passing over these stories because they feel old or disheartening. Maybe the public should know that there are gangs of dogcatchers in Sochi, but they should definitely know that there are gangs of violent self-appointed inquisitors destroying LGBT people’s lives. We should remember to be informed. We should commit ourselves to finding solutions. We should remember that there is wrong in the world that needs to be remedied. And we should hold onto that fact until our work is done, like a dog with a bone.

Feb 052014
 February 5, 2014

By Michaela Dwyer

I have struggled to start this post because it feels impossible to write a photograph.

Somewhere, sometime, it was once said—or at least written down—that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” When I worked on Recess as an undergrad, my fellow writers and editors volleyed this unsourced quotation back and forth repeatedly—or at least when we were feeling contemplative about our endeavors, our responsibilities as budding cultural critics. How do you write about music if, when you boil it down, it’s just two mediums rubbing against each other? How do you explain dance without moving your body? How can you know what it means to be another person without, by some magic empathy potion, transmogrifying into said other human being?

A few days ago I sat with the DukeImmerse: Uprooted/Rerouted students as they discussed a photography and writing assignment they’d done over the weekend. Since winter break they’ve been training themselves in the type of fieldwork around which their curriculum and experience this semester is built. In little over a week, the twelve students will split up and travel through mid-March to Nepal and Jordan, respectively, to conduct life-story interviews with refugees. These interviews are, of course, with people the students have never met before; they can take place for anywhere between two and eight hours; they aim to collect data about the qualitative experience of displacement. None of the students have previously visited either country. And, for many, this semester marks their entry-point into the political, cultural, medical and ethical issues experienced by refugees and displaced peoples worldwide. On day one of Field Ethics class, program director Suzanne Shanahan told the students they were, at Duke and in Durham, “already in the field.” This proclamation was met with serious faces and ambivalent giggles. I wrote in my notes, next to a sloppy Venn Diagram (“engagement” in one circle, “field research” in the other, and “ethics” in the overlapping space between): “WE ARE IN THE FIELD ALREADY.”

How to be in a field we already know so well? How to dance about architecture? How to talk about anything at all? Sometimes I experience an anxiety so debilitating that I can’t “start” in the first place. It’s the fear embedded in the prospect of doing things wrong, of not properly conveying the nuance and complexity that propel us to talk, document, relate in the first place. When setting off to do interviews with refugees, the ethical stakes amplify intensely. These are people whose livelihoods have been placed at the whim of political decisions beyond their control, who have been shuffled en masse and categorized and quantitatively researched but perhaps infrequently asked how they feel—physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally—when any of that happens.

I take a quick inventory of the number of people I can rely on to ask me how I feel on a regular basis, who can translate a facial expression to ameliorating conversation, or a movie suggestion, or an internet link to a painting that person thinks I’d like. I think about how my structures of comfort are quite complex and deep, and about how my memories of the spaces I’ve inhabited for the 22.5 years of my life thus far are accessible and re-inhabitable by a short car ride. I think about my basic freedom to advocate and assemble, in this country, for things I feel are right and wrong, and the possibility—which I must believe will always be a possibility— to push these feelings toward policy. I say all this not to render a contrived comparison of my life to that of a refugee, nor to superficially enumerate my privilege; the latter, especially, feels to me a project far too continuous and nuanced to try to put down in a pithy sentence on paper (or, the web). The former overwhelms me in its crudeness. I envision a Venn Diagram: me on one side, a Bhutanese refugee woman my age on the other. In the middle are our similarities, bullet-pointed and double-spaced. I shudder at the idea that this exercise could bear a hint of our essences or idiosyncrasies, a slice of something akin to the “truth” of each of us as human beings living in the world in 2014. And, of course, for whom do we bear this information? Data-collecting agencies? Governments demarcating cartographies that further restrict the movement of populations, communities, individuals?

But then, in class, we look at one photograph taken by one student in fulfillment of a field photography exercise investigating instances of “joy.” The photo is framed by a closed car window, and in the center of the image, a multi-colored moth perches on the side of a palm. A ray of sun hits it right on the wing and for a second everything is illuminated—the way the photographer sees emotions, the connection between animate and inanimate things. The class discusses. It seems important, they note, that this particular photographer and subject may not necessarily attach “joy” to a smiling human face. It seems plausible, they note, that this mini-exercise could resemble a way to attune to cultural differences “in the field.” We move to the next photo to compare (and contrast).

We are in the field always because we need to know where we come from in order to grow an analytic imagination. This is the imagination that allows us to understand that there are people besides ourselves in the world who are doing exactly the same—feeling things, remembering events and emotions, and documenting them according to their own metrics. How overwhelming to embark on this complexity, and how seemingly difficult to find the answers. But, if anything, the answer must be in the [field] attempt.

Jan 292014
 January 29, 2014

moving-midway-spBy Nathan Nye

Growing up in a small, Southern town, I’ve always been around old houses. My favorite of these was my granddad’s. A two story monstrosity with massive ceilings and wide plank flooring. The glass in the windows had a rippled texture because that was the closest the manufacturing process at the time could achieve to clarity. A framed newspaper in the bathroom had a small picture of the house with a few other area homes, which bore the headline “Houses for Which War Was Fought Still in Bladen County.” I should clarify; the war the headline is referencing is the Civil War. It’s a very old house. I spent countless hours there sliding down the wide balustrade or hiding in one of its many rooms with my cousins. We didn’t hide in the room that was rumored to be haunted by a Confederate ghost though—no one wanted to risk it. Recently, we sold the house and it’s felt like another loss after my grandfather’s death. That home had become the epicenter of my family and redefining that sense of place has been a challenge.

I couldn’t help but dwell on my own history with old houses when watching Moving Midway the first offering in our Ethics Film Series last week. Made by film critic Godfrey Cheshire, Moving Midway tells the story of his cousin Charlie Silver deciding to literally pick up and move his family’s antebellum plantation home to escape the encroaching spread of suburban development. In the process of making the film Cheshire finds and connects to a branch of his family descended from the slaves of the Midway Plantation. The film traces the literal journey of the house and the figurative journey of a family that finds their identity being fundamentally reshaped. Inherent in the film are questions about history, place, and identity. What does it mean to be Southern? What do we owe to history? How can we begin to make sense of and discuss slavery today? In some ways it’s this last one that got the least attention (though perhaps deserved the most) in the film. I won’t consider this a fault of the film, it would be impossible to cover all the material the story offered, but I found myself still mulling the issue over days later.

The question of engagement with the history of slavery really stuck with me after this film and the discussion. I found myself wanting to accept the surface story. I found myself wanting to feel a sense of closure and joy watching 96-year-old Abraham Hinton, the grandson of one of the plantation slaves sign the Midway guest book. I wanted to revel in a moment of great personal significance for a man whose incredible life’s recognition is late, but nonetheless worthwhile. I also know that while metaphorically powerful, that pen stroke does not create parity. Growing up in Southern schools, where my parents were taught about the Civil War as “The War Between the States” or even better “The War of Northern Aggression,” and it was emphasized to me that slavery was only part of the myriad of reasons for the Civil War, I don’t know that I’ve ever had a frank conversation about slavery and its shockwaves. I had relegated slavery as a horror lost to time whose effects could certainly be felt, but were not always present. I felt a sense of overwhelming (and obviously self-indulgent and useless) guilt at this revelation last week. I say this in the full awareness that I’m not adding anything to the dialogue, but rather recognizing a dialogue I wasn’t taking part in.

And while it’s not a solution to properly historicize and recognize any sin of human history, confession is a first step. I think it’s necessary that I dismantle my own sense of undiscussable horror to delve into the reality of history’s woes in order to understand them better. Because glossing over humanity’s downfalls underwrites their importance, and becomes a downfall of my own. Maybe the ghosts that haunt old houses are the ghosts of silence.