"Cherry Blossoms Among Magnolias?": A History of the Asian American Experience at Duke

Campus Controversies

As more students of color came to Duke in the 1990s, greater attention was paid by both the administration and students in creating an environment conducive to tolerance and free of racism and bigotry – although not always succeeding on both ends of the university structure. In the last twenty-five years, three high profile “anti-Asian” incidents in particular stand out in the ongoing process of ameliorating Duke’s often tense racial climate.

Although these events are just a few of the many reported and unreported incidents of anti-Asian behavior on campus, the reaction to such events signaled a new rise in Asian American consciousness at Duke that was often missing on campus before the era of mass Asian enrollment in the 1990s.

Original Jim Funk Cartoon in the September 1993 Chronicle

The original version of the cartoon that appeared in the September 27, 1993 edition of The Chronicle.[1]

1994 Version of Jim Funk Cartoon

The revised version of Funk's cartoon that appeared in the September, 26 1994 edition of The Chronicle with a "new offensive element."[2]

The 1994 Jim Funk Cartoon Controversy

On September 26, 1994, a cartoon appeared in the Monday edition of The Chronicle that poked fun at the stereotype that Koreans eat dogs. The cartoon, part of a series called “Roadkill,” was penned by James R. Funk who at the time was a Duke senior in the Engineering School. Almost immediately, the cartoon caused an on-campus controversy with many students of Asian descent finding it extremely offensive and racist.

Although the original version of the cartoon was published a year earlier in 1993, the revised rendering that featured “a new offensive element” attracted much more attention. Reaction to the cartoon was so extreme that a group of unidentified students went as far as to hang a banner outside the Bryan Center denouncing Funk and satirizing him as a white supremacist. The controversy helped to facilitate discussions on racial sensitivity and free speech among Duke’s increasingly diverse student body.

Winston Chi, Victim of Incident

Winston Chi, victim of the alleged hate crime. From the Class of 2001 Freshmen Directory.

1998 Hate Crime Against Winston Chi

On April 2, 1998 Winston Chi, an engineering freshman of Asian descent, allegedly became a victim of a hate crime when he was verbally accosted by a group of Caucasian students driving a Cherokee Jeep on East Campus who hurled racial slurs at him. Chi reported the incident to the Duke University Police, and it was subsequently investigated as a hate crime. As with most racial incidents at Duke, a forum was convened involving various organizations on campus like Diya, Spectrum (Duke’s inter-cultural organization) the Black Student Alliance, and the Asian Student Association.

Although the incident prompted many minority students including Asian Americans to voice their concerns about the racial climate at Duke and helped to facilitate dialogue between Duke’s many disparate cultural groups on campus, for the actual victim the incident proved too much. Winston Chi eventually transferred to Stanford University the following year.

The incident prompted responses from various campus organizations.[3]

Protesters also distributed emails allegedly sent by the fraternity to advertise the party, which went on despite warnings from the administration.[4]

  1. Newspaper Cartoon, “Roadkill,” [September 27, 1993], July 1993-October 1993, The ChronicleRecords, Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.
  2. Newspaper Cartoon, “Roadkill,” [September 27, 1993], July 1993-October 1993, The Chronicle Records, Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.
  3. Reports, “Discrimination/Hate Crime,” [1998], Box 1, Asian Student Association Records, Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.
  4. Georgia Parke, “Duke Kappa Sigma Party Ignites Firestorm of Criticism,” The Chronicle, February 5, 2013, accessed June 16, 2016,http://www.dukechronicle.com/article/2013/02/duke-kappa-sigma-party-ignites-firestorm-criticism.


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