I am a Duke alum. I am also, at this point in time, a Duke employee. My views do not reflect the opinions of anyone, other than myself (that’s in case someone wants to get me fired for saying what I am about to say). This isn’t meant as a personal attack on anyone, or an attack in general. I don’t bite. Hard.
My main concentration at Duke was in English. My second concentration was in Slavic Languages & Literature. I am a humanities person by heart and, perhaps, by biology (the neurons inside my head light up and do funny dances when I re-read Bulgakov, for example). I am a fan of high-falutin’ academic mumbo-jumbo, of allegory, post-modernist mind-games, and words like “construct.”
When news of what supposedly happened at the lacrosse house in March reached my delicate ears, I foamed at the mouth. I was furious. It seemed so obvious – the lacrosse team had been out of control. Some of these kids had a reputation. So many of us had heard stories. The Chronicle ran an article alleging that teammates had made racist remarks concerning a black fraternity. It was waiting to happen.
A bunch of other stuff came to the surface – my own experiences with sexual assault, the experiences of my friends, the many very real issues that we have to live with today: the poverty in Durham, the relative wealth of the majority of Duke students, race, gender, rape, rape rape.
The lacrosse case is now officially a debacle. For months now, I have been trying to articulate my own complicate thoughts on its continuing development, and I think I’ve got it:
You can’t unravel the horrors of modern-day life with sloppy attempts at “justice,” just like you can’t fix a deep and delicate wound with a giant sledgehammer.
Much of the discussion surrounding the case has disheartened me. As a former Duke student I try, and sometimes fail, to avoid taking things personally. The rift between students and professors has been particularly hard to take – not because anything has been directed at me, but because the assumptions that have been made are, I believe, hurtful to university culture as a whole. Self-critique is important – but not when it’s encouraged with a sense of mistrust. The mistrust was there long before that party in March – perhaps it’s good that it has, at least, risen to the surface. Although without any meaningful discourse on the subject (and I mean real discourse – not just articles directed solely at one’s peers, or blanket allegations in the press) – things will only deteriorate.
A number of people seemed almost eager to have the students found guilty – all this after a shoddy line-up too, never mind the more recent developments, following which no one appears to have spoken up. A multitude of people who have talked about the privilege of Duke students often forget to mention that they themselves are privileged as well. To be associated with Duke, on a high professional level, that’s amazing privilege right there. We’re all in the same boat here, I think. We can and should rock it, but overturning it won’t be constructive.
And now there is the silence following the more and more obvious developments in the case. Silence from almost everyone, except for Dick Brodhead.
Like Brodhead, I believe that Nifong is, at best, incompetent. I also believe that said incompetency has played right into the hands of every sexist, racist asshole who’s ever cared to express their opinion on modern society. As a Duke feminist who is, at this point, strongly critical of Nifong’s actions, I have to struggle so that my voice may not be appropriated by them. Sometimes, I struggle in vain. Other times, people see the word “feminist” and leave me the hell alone. Good riddance to all that. But the sour taste in my mouth remains. People like me have gotten it from both sides – and the process has been educational. Getting slandered and destroyed for one’s views, because of one’s nuanced position is no fun, and guess what? This sort of thing comes from both the “guilty” and the “not guilty” camps. Very, very educational indeed.
The accuser’s story is difficult to deal with. As pissed as I am at Nifong, I still want to shout that it’s OK that to be inconsistent – rape fractures the mind, making it difficult for a person to remember things exactly. And yet, the recent removal of actual rape charges, due to the fact that the woman can suddenly no longer recall whether or not she was penetrated with a penis, after insisting that she was coming many, many months later – is troubling. I don’t wish to attack the accuser personally – but it looks like my earlier suspicions were not merely random.
I am someone who will always give rape victims the benefit of the doubt, but to a reasonable point. Right now, I am befuddled, to say the least. The obvious question to ask is “why would someone make a false allegation”? Although I believe this sort of thing is a whole lot more rare than some of the web’s most passionate misogynists, the question is an interesting one, and there are a number of possible answers, among them: anger, psychological trauma, serious mental health issues, etc.
When I was a freshman at Duke, my RA told our entire group that there was a rape in one of the bathrooms of our dorm. A few years later, the “victim” turned to have been a liar. Someone out there was only lucky that the “victim” chose to pin the blame not on a specific person or persons, but a nebulous stranger. It turned out that she had mental health problems. These things happen. People ought to have the presence of mind to sort them out before they turn disastrous.
In this specific case, the police looked at Dukecard records and, I believe (someone please tell me if I’m wrong here), footage from a security camera, and told the “victim” that she was obviously lying. The case was closed. Anyone see any contrast to Nifong’s attempts to ignore electronic evidence in the Duke lacrosse case? Anyone else bothered by this?
I know I am. Bothered, and scared, and worried about what’s really going on with the accuser, whose situation has obviously been appropriated by Nifong. I am beginning to believe that she was raped – by someone else. Someone with enough power over her to screw with her head. It’s a theory, anyway.
As for the team itself – I stand by the comments I made this summer: the players were boorish, the party obviously wretched, and the team should have been reigned in long before March 2006. None of this makes it OK for the players to go to court over something that they, it would seem at this point, did not do. This isn’t Stalinist Russia. The sentiment of “they’re rich assholes, let them rot” is fit for a gulag. I don’t personally know any of the accused – but I’m not going to jump to conclusions any more. They have not been proven guilty. They’ve already been punished for their privilege a hundred times over, in case anyone is keeping score. Their response, and the response of their peers, will probably involve retreating even more into said privilege. We are Dukies, we are happy to be Dukies, kiss our asses – I’ve leveled this sentiment at a number of people who have tried to put me on the defensive about having attended Duke. Communication is a two-way street, after all.
Duke is not a city on a hill. Sexism and racism are real – not figments of our hyper-active imaginations (us humanities people are so often accused of running wild). But groupthink is the death of all actual thought – and we shouldn’t be engaging in it just because it’s convenient, just like we shouldn’t rely exclusively on our own personal experiences to try to justify what is happening in Durham today.
There are lessons to be learned here. For example, I am getting more and more concerned about DA’s with agendas, and their power to destroy; I am imagining now hundreds of cases of poor kids, the ones who can’t afford expensive lawyers, being railroaded in this manner, while we sleep and dream…
With thanks to KC Johnson. I don’t always agree with him – but I do appreciate his blog.