Blogs > Cliopatria > Wow

Jun 11, 2006 10:46 am


Nicholas Kristof from behind today's Times firewall:

"As more facts come out about the Duke lacrosse scandal, it should prompt some deep reflection," about not just racism and sexism,"but also about the perniciousness of any kind of prejudice that reduces people — yes, even white jocks — to racial caricatures. This has not been the finest hour of either the news media or academia: too many rushed to make the Duke case part of the 300-year-old narrative of white men brutalizing black women . . . Let's look at facts . . . One of the defendants is Reade Seligmann, whose cellphone made at least seven calls between 12:05 and 12:14," which is"a pretty good alibi . . . Poring over a half-dozen police reports and witness reports filed in court in dribs and drabs, the latest just a few days ago, . . . as I see it, [Nifong] may be the real culprit here," since he"may have had a motive for prosecuting a case that wouldn't otherwise merit it: using it as a campaign tool . . . Unfortunately, many in the commentariat started by assuming that the lacrosse players were thugs. Prof. Houston Baker, who is now leaving Duke, demanded that the university dismiss the coaches and players as a response to 'abhorrent sexual assault, verbal racial violence, and drunken white male privilege loosed among us.' . . . So let's take a deep breath and step back. Black hobos shouldn't have been stereotyped [in the 1930s], and neither should white jocks today."

First David Brooks, now Kristof. No cracks yet in the"blue wall of silence" that has characterized Duke's 500-plus person faculties of law and arts and sciences, not one of whom has publicly questioned the procedural improprieties that have marred this case; and no indication at all that political or legal authorities in North Carolina are willing to step in and restrain Nifong. But perhaps things are changing.

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Robert KC Johnson - 6/12/2006

I've never claimed that the lacrosse players with citations for underage drinking were suspended. I have said that they have been subjected to differing treatment by the administration--I haven't seen Brodhead, or the Group of 88, single out the other 385 at Duke for repeated public condemnation of behavior in which many other Duke students engage.

There's no reason to believe, it's worth noting, that "'coached' student moderation" of alcohol would do anything to address this problem. As far as I know, none of the lacrosse players were cited for public intoxication. The most common citations were for underage drinking, followed by "open" containers. These offenses are equally open to people who've had one beers as people who've had 10. The only way to address this problem is abstinence. If Duke wants to mandate abstinence for its athletes and for all student groups, I have, as I've said repeatedly, no problem with such a policy. I do have a problem when it's effectively imposed ex post facto.

I frankly admit I'm no fan of Coack K or Duke basketball. If the choice is between, on the one hand, a team with better students and higher community service, but also more drinking; and a team with lower community service, weaker students, and less drinking, I'm not sure which I would choose. But, as I've noted before, I don't see student drinking as a character flaw, although I don't drink myself.

I've never defended the lacrosse players personally (with the exception of Seligmann) beyond the argument that I see them, for the most part, as pretty typical Duke students, or students at comparable institutions. The Coleman Committee report, it seems to me, provides considerable evidence to sustain that view. It's unfortunate that in the intellectual climate that currently exists at Duke, this viewpoint can be perceived (correctly) as "defending" the players; and it's even more unfortunate that the faculty and administration--for whatever reason--has chosen to allow their selective condemnation to produce the professoriate's "blue wall of silence" in light of Nifong's behavior toward Duke students.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/12/2006

KC, I think that you really don't get it. A) The 15 students on the lacrosse team (1/3) haven't been suspended for the priors anymore than the 385 others (1/16) have. So, there's simply no discrimination there. B) You can't seem to understand that calling for an athletic team to control itself isn't calling in Pat Robertson or making Duke over into Liberty University. You just ignore the fact that Coach K has had teams at Duke for years that have never had the reputation of the lacrosse team you're so determined to defend. Nobody but you keeps confusing that kind of "coached" student moderation with prohibition or total abstenance.

Robert KC Johnson - 6/12/2006

In this wire-services story, the accuser's lawyer (a friend and supporter of Nifong's--big surprise there) says that if Nifong drops the case, "He'd have hell to pay from the African-American community. They'd say, 'Give her her day in court. What do you have to lose? If you lose, at least the jury made the decision.' So he's kind of stuck."

If this claim is true, it's unfortunate to see that the local African-American community, as it did when it delivered its votes to Nifong, sees nothing wrong in allowing a procedurally flawed prosecution to go forward--one that, in this case, would cost two students a year-and-a-half out of school, their families hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, and that, barring a reverse-OJ jury, one that no legal commentator that I've seen seems to think Nifong could possibly win, given the latest round of police documents released should be the elements of the discovery file that work best for him, not undermine his case.!BAF94543795D175B!327.entry

Robert KC Johnson - 6/12/2006

According to the Coleman Committee report, 400 Duke undergrads had what you call "priors for alcohol-related behaviors" in the last academic year. I've seen no movement against the other 385 students.

The Coleman Committee report doesn't break down the alcohol-related offenses by other athletic teams, or by other student groups. It's likely that most didn't have as high a percentage of alcohol-related offenses as the lacrosse team, but, again, without the data, it's impossible to say. Given that most polls suggest around 20% of college students don't drink at all, there are other teams or student groups at Duke with higher than expected percentages of violations of alcohol policy. I've seen no action against them. And, as the Rolling Stone article makes clear, alcohol plays a major role on the Duke social scene.

On the dismissal of the coach, the Coleman Committee report makes a very strong case that the dismissal was unjustified--that the coach did everything asked of him by the administration, but the administration didn't seem so concerned with underage drinking that it pressed the issue before 3-13. As I've also said, I can see where firing the coach was an understandable, if unappealing, act of scapegoating. I've never criticized Brodhead for doing it.

I've also never said that suspending students charged with a felony was wrong--from a legal liability standpoint, the university has no choice.

On the question of "Duke gentlemen," it appears you're defining this term as people who don't drink. I haven't seen much evidence that such a definition existed on campus before the incident. And it also seems to me a very, very narrow conception of what constitutes "gentlemanly" behavior. Again, as someone who personally doesn't drink and never has, I see no inherent moral superiority or superiority of character in a position of not consuming alcohol.

As I've said before, Duke is a private institution--it can adopt any behavior code it wants. Perhaps in the future, all Duke students will be asked before admission, "Are you or have you ever been in the presence of the consumption of underage alcohol; and, if so, please name names." Or the Group of 88 can invite Pat Robertson to campus to rail against the evils of Devil Rum. What Duke can't do, however, is: (1) establish behavioral standards that differ based on the race or gender of the students; (2) establish ex post facto behavioral standards; or (3) shift the goalposts--as in the Group of 88, which suddenly seems to have discovered the evils of underage consumption of alcohol, an issue unmentioned in their first public statement. I'd submit in this case, the Duke faculty and administration has done all three.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/11/2006

You continue to resist understanding that 1/3 of the lacrosse team members had priors for alcohol-related behaviors. That is a _much_ higher ratio than is true of the Duke student body. Nor are Duke's other athletic teams so highly afflicted. The problem with stereotypes is never that they are flat-out lies -- if they were that, they wouldn't stick and wouldn't hurt. The problem with stereotypes is they highlight demeaning elements of what is true. So, yes, Duke's lacrosse team lived up to stereotype. They weren't particularly unpopular prior to the events at 610, so they're not some oppressed minority. They brought it on themselves. Suspending their season was justified. Firing their coach for failing to control his players' behavior was probably overdue. Suspending students charged with a felony is consistent with prior policy. Re-instating a lacrosse team is probably the right thing to do -- but Duke lacrosse players have rightly been put on notice that they'll be playing only with the understanding that they'll behave like Duke gentlemen.

Robert KC Johnson - 6/11/2006

One more minor point (since you did three straight in the post below, I'm forgiven . . .)

I can't think of one time since I've been at Cliopatria (or, indeed, since I've been in the academy) in which I've criticized students' personal behavior, so I'm not pursuing a new approach in this case. The lacrosse team consists of almost 50 people; I suspect that in any randomly selected cross-section of 50 students, you'd get two or three (ie, like McFayden in this case) who are crude and vile, but I don't see how one can say they necessarily typify the group.

In this particular instance, this group's personal behavior has been investigated to an unprecedented degree by their own university, and under hostile procedures--the Coleman Committee--which nonetheless found clear excessive drinking and lots of positive personal attributes. Certainly based on what I saw from the Rolling Stone article, I'd wager that the lacrosse team's personal behavior stacks up pretty well against any randomly selected cross-section of 50 Duke students. If we want to criticize the 80% or so of Duke under-21 students who drink, fine. But I don't see how such an approach can justify singling out the lacrosse team for particular condemnation. And to the extent that this has been used as an excuse by Duke faculty and administrators to avoid standing up for their own students against what even Kristof is now comparing to a Scottsboro-like injustice, the people at Duke should be ashamed. If the defendants in this case were black and also had engaged in underage drinking, does anyone really think that Houston Baker would have been publicly condemning them and remaining silent about Nifong's conduct?

Robert KC Johnson - 6/11/2006

I'm not sure I can recall too many high-profile social issues where Brooks and Kristof have offered almost identical interpretations. Perhaps you'd care to offer me some other examples, so I can admit the error of my ways in seeing this development as quite unusual?

Robert KC Johnson - 6/11/2006

I'm also sure, to play off Kristof's comments, that the Scottsboro Boys were the equivalent of Rhodes Scholars, and led perfect personal lives.

As the Rolling Stone article recently pointed out, the first section of your list of offenses seems to apply to a pretty good portion of the Duke student body. Again, I have no problem with condemning this behavior. I do have a problem with condemnations that suggest the only people guilty of these offenses were white lacrosse players.

As to the second part of your offenses: the broomstick comment relies solely on the testimony of Ms. Roberts, the second dancer, who appears, at this stage, less than credible. There's absolutely no evidence that anyone threatened sexual assault with a broomstick, unless, again, we want to believe Ms. Roberts (and it would depend on which version of Ms. Roberts' testimony we wanted to believe, since it changed after she was given a favorable bail deal by Nifong). The threatening of an assault, it's worth noting, would be a crime--and Nifong has made no charge. I think it's safe to say that if Nifong doesn't charge it, it's tough to say it happened.

On the racial epithets, we have evidence of one, nor epithets; and it came after a racially charged comment by Ms. Roberts. Worthy of condemnation, yes, but as the Coleman Committee report, hardly typical of the team's behavior.

As to the McFayden email, it's worth noting that the Rolling Stone article asked several (female) Duke students about the email, and they said that they understood his American Psycho reference and didn't see it as a big deal.

My general problem with the behavioral condemnations, as has been the case throughout, is that they have been highly selective.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/11/2006

White jocks embody stereotypes when they behave in ways that aren't even in dispute here: excessive underage drinking at a team sponsored party, pissing off the front porch of 610 Buchanan Blvd., hiring two strippers to entertain themselves, waving a broomstick and threatening sexual assault with it, yelling racial epithets, and sending a thoughtless e-mail threatening to kill and skin people. You continue to write about this case as if these stereotype-fulfilling actions didn't even take place!

Adam Kotsko - 6/11/2006

David Brooks and Nicholas Kristof?! Those guys have been on the vanguard of public opinion again and again and again and again.