Duke: Vicious Rape Of Black Woman

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Amid new revelations about a criminal investigation into an alleged gang rape by men's lacrosse players at Duke University, the team's head coach resigned on Wednesday, and the institution's president canceled the team's season.

Later, the president, Richard H. Brodhead, announced a five-step plan to respond to "angers, fears, resentments, and suspicions" that the alleged rape of a black woman by white men has provoked, both on the campus and in the surrounding city of Durham, N.C.

In the first of two written statements issued on Wednesday, Mr. Brodhead attributed the cancellation of the lacrosse team's season to the "sickening and repulsive" content of an e-mail message that was cited in a previously sealed search warrant that a county court released on Wednesday. He had suspended the team's season last week following accusations that three of its members assaulted and raped an exotic dancer, who is a student at the nearby North Carolina Central University, at an off-campus team party on March 13 (The News Blog, March 29).

The warrant, which authorized the search of the on-campus dormitory room of a lacrosse player, states that the player sent the e-mail message from a Duke account in the early hours of March 14, immediately after the party.

According to the text cited in the warrant, the student wrote, possibly in jest, that as a sequel to "tonights show," he planned to invite strippers to his dorm room, where he would kill and skin them. He indicated in graphic detail that those activities would bring him sexual pleasure. He encouraged recipients of the e-mail -- addressed "to whom it may concern" and presumably sent to friends, one of whom submitted it to investigators with the Durham Police Department -- to join him.
While federal privacy law prohibits educational institutions from disclosing the details of student disciplinary action, Mr. Brodhead says in his statement that the student who sent the e-mail has permitted the university to say that it has suspended him.

The state district attorney for Durham has said that results of a DNA test, for which 46 of the team's 47 players submitted samples, will be ready next week. Investigators excused the only black player on the team from the test because the woman who made the accusation said that she was attacked by three white men. There were also allegations that lacrosse players who attended the party used racial slurs against passersby outside the party.

The resignation of Mike Pressler, who had coached the men's lacrosse team since 1991, is effective immediately. In 16 seasons, Mr. Pressler compiled a 153-82 record for Duke, winning Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year honors three times and leading his squad to the 2005 national championship game, which it lost to the Johns Hopkins University. Before its suspension, the Duke team was ranked No. 2 in the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division I.

The team has forfeited all games since March 25, but until Wednesday was still practicing on the campus. The cancellation of the season, however, applies to all team activities, including practices. It also renders uncertain the plans of seven high-school seniors who were recruited by Duke's lacrosse program and committed in February to enter next fall's freshman class. Mr. Pressler and Joseph L. Alleva, director of athletics, declined to comment on the team's future.

For more than a week, many Duke students and faculty members, as well as local residents, have protested on and near the campus, and criticized what they saw as a slow and inadequate response by the university administration to grave allegations against the players. The department of African and African-American studies, along with several other academic programs, sponsored an advertisement that appears in today's issue of the campus newspaper, calling the situation a "social disaster."

"We're turning up the volume in a moment when some of the most vulnerable among us are being asked to quiet down while we wait," the message says. "To the students speaking individually and to the protesters making collective noise, thank you for not waiting and for making yourselves heard."

Houston A. Baker Jr., a prominent professor of English and of African and African-American studies at Duke, said in a statement last week that the administration's "silent protectionism" of the lacrosse team was "duck-and-cover cowardice of the first order."

Mr. Brodhead acknowledged such sentiments in his second written statement, issued Wednesday night. "We can't be surprised at the outpouring of outrage," he said.
"It is clear that the acts the police are investigating are only part of the problem," he said. "The episode has brought to glaring visibility underlying issues that have been of concern on this campus and in this town for some time."

The incident has shaken Duke and Durham along deep fault lines of race and class. Those who have spoken out against the administration's handling of the issue have associated the lacrosse team with white male privilege. On the popular social-networking Web site Facebook, the team's page says: "This is the Duke men's lacrosse team. Our boys want for nothing."

Mr. Brodhead acknowledged that to many residents of Durham, a sense of entitlement "has seemed to be the face of Duke." He outlined the positive contributions of Duke students to the local community but said that "this is not a moment to take comfort or mount defenses."

Instead the president announced a five-step plan to respond to the critical issues that the controversy had raised. Under that plan:
James E. Coleman Jr., a professor at Duke's law school and a member of the university's athletics council, will lead an investigation of the men's lacrosse program based on reports, separate from the criminal allegations, of "racist language and a pattern of alcohol abuse and disorderly behavior." Multiple members of the lacrosse team have records of offenses like underage drinking and public urination, which have been brought to light in recent days.

William G. Bowen, president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and a former president of Princeton University, and Julius L. Chambers, a former director of the Legal Defense Fund of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and former chancellor of North Carolina Central University, will lead an investigation of the administration's response to the allegations against the team. "I want to address the concern that my administration did not respond as quickly as we should have and to learn any lessons this episode can teach," Mr. Brodhead said.

Prasad Kasibhatla, an associate professor in Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment and chairman of the Academic Council's student-affairs committee, will examine student judicial processes and practices and make recommendations for reform.

Robert J. Thompson, vice provost for undergraduate education and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, will direct a "campus culture initiative" to "evaluate and suggest improvements in the ways Duke educates students in the values of personal responsibility, consideration for others, and mutual respect in the face of difference and disagreement."

Wilhelmina M. Reuben-Cooke, provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of the District of Columbia, and Roy Bostock, chairman of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, both of whom are emeriti trustees of Duke, will lead a presidential council of higher-education leaders and local representatives to critique Duke's overall response to the controversy.
"This is a deeply emotional time," said Mr. Brodhead, "as well as a rare opportunity for education."

The reporter is an alumna of Duke University.
Copyright © 2006 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

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