Category Archive 'Duke University'

24 Aug 2015

Freshman Summer Reading, Then and Now

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FunHome1
A scene from “Fun Home”.

When you get admitted to an elite university, you receive “the freshman packet,” a large envelope containing a guide to the campus, a course catalog, various brochures inviting you to join organizations or buy things… and a suggested reading list for the summer. At some point, after you arrive on campus in the Fall, there is going to be a Freshman introductory meeting at which the suggested book(s) are going to be discussed. In other words, you will be tested on the reading(s).

In my day, at Yale, the suggested book was Jacques Monod’s “Chance and Necessity“.

I was, I fear, naive as an incoming freshman. I read it as a rather turgid, Continental recounting of the Miller-Urey Experiment, involving the creation of amino acids (the building blocks of life) by passing electrical charges through a mixture of methane, ammonia, water, and hydrogen gases in a closed container. In reality, “Chance and Necessity” was an attempt to dispel my (non-existent at that point) religious faith in order to replace it with the proper sort of faith in materialism and scientism which a good member of the establishment elite ought to have.

An Amazon reviewer summarizes it, thusly:

Jacques Monod, the Nobel Prize winning biochemist, allies himself, in the title of this admirable treatise, to the atomist Democritus, who held that the whole universe is but the fruit of two qualities, chance and necessity. Interpreting the laws of natural selection along purely naturalistic lines, he succeeds in presenting a powerful case that takes into account the ethical, political and philosophical undercurrents of the synthesis in modern biology. Above all, he stresses that science must commit itself to the postulate of objectivity by casting aside delusive ideological and moral props, even though he enjoins, at the same time, that the postulate of objectivity itself is a moral injunction. He launches a bitter polemic against metaphysical and scientific vitalisms, dismissing them as obscurantist. … He refutes teleological explanations of nature as being contrary to the postulate of objectivity, drawing attention to self-constructing proteins as teleonomic agents, followed by an explanation of the role of nucleic acids, reproduction and invariance. This leads him to dismiss Judaeo-Christian religiosity, which accords man a significant role as being created in God’s image, as a nauseating and false pietism and he even goes so far as to recommend eugenic reform. Writing with great clarity and flair, and often in a forceful and idiosyncratic idiom, he puts forward a compelling case.

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Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. I was reading today that incoming freshmen at Duke also have summertime suggested readings, and that certain unenlightened members of the Duke Class of 2019 have had the temerity to resist reading this year’s choice, a graphic novel, titled “Fun Home“.

Duke Chronicle:

Several incoming freshmen decided not to read “Fun Home” because its sexual images and themes conflicted with their personal and religious beliefs. Freshman Brian Grasso posted in the Class of 2019 Facebook page July 26 that he would not read the book “because of the graphic visual depictions of sexuality,” igniting conversation among students. The graphic novel, written by Alison Bechdel, chronicles her relationship with her father and her issues with sexual identity.

“I feel as if I would have to compromise my personal Christian moral beliefs to read it,” Grasso wrote in the post.

Many first-year students responded to the post, expressing their thoughts on Grasso’s discomfort with the novel. Some defended the book’s images as having literary value and said that the book could broaden students’ viewpoints.

“Reading the book will allow you to open your mind to a new perspective and examine a way of life and thinking with which you are unfamiliar,” wrote freshman Marivi Howell-Arza.

However, several freshmen agreed with Grasso that the novel’s images conflicted with their beliefs. Freshman Bianca D’Souza said that while the novel discussed important topics, she did not find the sexual interactions appropriate and could not bring herself to view the images depicting nudity.

Freshman Jeffrey Wubbenhorst based his decision not to read the book on its graphic novel format.

“The nature of ‘Fun Home’ means that content that I might have consented to read in print now violates my conscience due to its pornographic nature,” he wrote in an email.

Grasso said that many students privately messaged him thanking him for the post and agreeing with his viewpoint. He explained that he knew the post would be controversial but wanted to make sure students with similar Christian beliefs did not feel alone, adding that he also heard from several students with non-Christian backgrounds who chose not to read the book for moral reasons.

“There is so much pressure on Duke students, and they want so badly to fit in,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we don’t have to read the book.”

The summer reading book selection committee expected that the novel would be contentious among its readers, said senior Sherry Zhang, a member of the committee and co-chair of the First-Year Advisory Counselor Board. The debate generated by Grasso’s post was “very respectful and considerate,” Zhang said.

Publishers Weekly described “Fun Home”:

This autobiography by the author of the long-running [comic] strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, deals with her childhood with a closeted gay father, who was an English teacher and proprietor of the local funeral parlor (the former allowed him access to teen boys). Fun Home refers both to the funeral parlor, where he put makeup on the corpses and arranged the flowers, and the family’s meticulously restored gothic revival house, filled with gilt and lace, where he liked to imagine himself a 19th-century aristocrat. … Bechdel’s talent for intimacy and banter gains gravitas when used to describe a family in which a man’s secrets make his wife a tired husk and overshadow his daughter’s burgeoning womanhood and homosexuality. His court trial over his dealings with a young boy pushes aside the importance of her early teen years. Her coming out is pushed aside by his death, probably a suicide.

In 1966, those-who-know-better were trying to get rid of your religious superstitions and make you into a good secular materialist believer in progressive scientism and the rule of experts. Today, the goal is to get rid of that old-fashioned religion-based morality and to make you into a politically correct and appropriately sensitive and respectful admirer and supporter of the LBGTQ movement, if not LBGTQ yourself.

08 Mar 2014

Pornstar’s Boss Sent a Letter to the Classmate Who Outed Her

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Belle Knox

Duke University freshman porn star Belle Knox responded to being outed by her classmate Thomas Bagley by giving a series of interviews ( 1, 2) in which she defended her occupation and described her experiences in the most positive terms:

For me, shooting pornography brings me unimaginable joy. When I finish a scene, I know that I have done so and completed an honest day’s work. It is my artistic outlet: my love, my happiness, my home.

Few adult readers will agree with her that acting in porn films constitutes an artistic outlet or believe that her industry really offers a “home,” but it seems at least that her employer was disposed to come to her defense, retaliating for her outing at Duke by revealing her outer’s thousand-dollar-a-month porn habit and mockingly daring him to come out to sunny Los Angeles to star in his own porn film.

Letter to Thomas Bagley

26 Feb 2014

What Does Having a Freshman Sex Worker Make the College President?

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Richard Brodhead, President of Duke — “Lauren” aka “Belle Knox”, freshman pornstar

Emmeline Zhao, at Real Clear Education, interviewed “Lauren”, Duke’s Republican freshman pornstar about her preferred way of working her way through college and Duke tuition costs.

How did it cross your mind to get into adult films?

I’ve always really liked watching porn. I started watching porn when I was maybe 11, and it was something I was always very ashamed about, but I really enjoyed watching it. So when I got to college and was faced with all these financial burdens, I was literally sitting in my room one night, and I didn’t know how I was going to pay for all this, and half joking said to my roommate, “Well f— it, I’ll just be a porn star.” And so we kind of laughed, but then I half-heartedly applied and sent my picture to a bunch of porn agencies. I didn’t expect anything to come of it, but then I started getting callbacks from people saying they saw a lot of potential.

And when I started learning about just how much porn stars make, I realized I could graduate from school free of debt and do something I really love doing without having to bust my ass doing minimum wage jobs that wouldn’t get me anywhere. I knew that with my skills — I don’t yet have a college degree — I knew that all I could get was a minimum wage service job. It didn’t seem economically feasible to me. I didn’t want to struggle in school while working, and it wouldn’t pay my bills. So I just jumped into it, into porn, and really loved it.

What about financial aid? Did you apply for any grants or scholarships?

I have siblings in college, who are being supported by my parents, and my parents are paying $1,000 a month just for their own student loans and my dad graduated 20 years ago. One of my parents is recently unemployed. I was offered $13,000 in financial aid. That wasn’t enough — that’s $47,000 still unaccounted for.

People have this perception that if you cannot pay for college, financial aid will take care of you, and that perception is wrong. If you are very low income, you can get a full ride to Duke, no problem. If you are middle or upper-middle class, you will get screwed in the process. So many middle class students have not gotten sufficient financial aid because on paper, their families look like they have money. Just because I’m not poor doesn’t mean I can afford $60,000 a year for college. Other students from middle and upper-middle class families have said the same thing.

When you look at the state of education in America, middle class students are left out, even harmed, by the financial aid process, not helped by it. People need to come to an understanding about that. Financial aid offices should look at their policies and how they help their students.

What about options for student loans? Government loans would have at least deferred payments for a little while after graduation, interest-free.

I wasn’t offered any government loans — my only other option was private loans at 12 percent interest rates and I knew that by the time I graduated college, I’d have hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. I have seen other members of my family graduate college decades ago still dealing with debt now and I knew it’d give me less mobility. It would also hurt me if I needed to get something like a credit card — hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt is not something I want to carry around and it’s absolutely ridiculous that that’s what the state of our nation is, that that’s an expectation.

I have a friend who comes from a low-income family and pays $500 a year for Duke, and when I talk to him about my problems with financial aid, he doesn’t understand. It’s such a problem to be caught in the middle with financial aid, and people just don’t understand.

I think it’s very poignant that nowadays if you’re middle class, the only way to pay for college is to take out hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans. We need to provide a better financial future for our students. I shouldn’t have to go broke, I shouldn’t have to go into debt at 18 years old to pay for an education.

So why Duke, of all places? Why didn’t you choose a less costly institution?

I was offered scholarships at a lot of places. I was offered full tuition at Vanderbilt, for example, and was accepted into USC, Wellesley, Barnard, Pepperdine, some others. But I visited Duke last year on Blue Devil Days [Duke’s programmed weekend for admitted freshmen], and I remember walking into the Duke Chapel — I’m a very spiritual person — and just feeling an energy that told me, “This is the place you need to be.” And I felt something in the chapel in that moment that told me that I needed to be here and go to Duke and it was something that would be an amazing experience for me.

Would you still do porn if Duke cost less?

No. If Duke had given me sufficient financial aid, if they had given me the proper resources and made college affordable for my family, I would not have done porn. I would’ve just gotten through college and been fine. The financial burden that Duke put on me was absolutely enormous and insurmountable with the resources that I had. …

Why do you say porn is less demeaning than a service job?

Go to the mall and talk to somebody who works at a hot dog stand and ask them about their job. They go to work at 9 a.m., work until 6 p.m., maybe get two five-minute breaks in the day, make $6.25 an hour before taxes, and they’re on their feet all day. They’re working in conditions that are physically and mentally draining. So they’re making maybe $100 a day before taxes for doing 9 hours of hard physical work. You look at that and look at what I’m doing, making $1,000 for two hours doing what I really love doing, which for me is not degrading and is something I feel safe in, you tell me which industry is demeaning?

People say the porn industry is demeaning, but being in a service industry is degrading in and of itself. You’re basically being stepped on. Any job I would’ve gotten as a minimum wage worker would’ve been exploitative, degrading to me, and not provided the money I needed to make, which was $4,000 month. So why would I work 80 hours a week, struggle with school, barely get any sleep and be treated like a second class citizen, when I can do porn for 14 hours a day , make thousands, set my own hours, and have a ton of fun doing it?

Read the whole thing.

Reading this piece, I wondered how Richard Brodhead, president of Duke can sleep at night.

If I were president of an elite university and read in the paper that the combination of my school’s tuition costs and financial aid policies had driven a female freshman to become a sex worker in order to pay her tuition bills, I’d be tossing and turning all night as I thought about what I needed to do about it.

Yes, it is true that young college students do not always have good judgement, and some of them will inevitably make bad choices. But I cannot imagine how the chief executive of a university with such a student could avoid feeling a sense of personal responsibility for the state of affairs in which tuition cost have risen to such a point and where student loans commonly create such a crushing burden that one young woman would make such a choice. The president of that particular university ought to feel that his own policies and administration have, ultimately, turned him into the equivalent of a pimp.

I think that Richard Brodhead when he got up the next morning, after reading the news stories, ought to have summoned “Lauren” to his office as the first thing. He should have talked to her like a Dutch uncle, and explained to her that she had made a serious mistake, one which she would inevitably later profoundly regret, and told her that much of it was his own fault. He should urge to relinquish her part-time cinematic career, and in return offer her full tuition assistance.

He should then arrange a meeting with his financial officers and senior administrators to initiate steps to cut excess spending, reduce numbers of superfluous administrators and staff, and to cut tuition costs drastically while increasing grants of aid to middle-class students.

If Richard Brodhead does not feel personally obligated to do all that, I’d say that he ought to buy a big floppy hat with a feather, a flashy purple suit, and start driving an enormous Cadillac.


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