Slander. Dehumanization. Rape. Ugly as those thoughts may be, what happened March 13 at an off-campus apartment leased by members of the Duke University men’s lacrosse team is still legally unclear. But the societal implications echo through what is a private, supremely expensive university (tuition is roughly $43,000 a year) with a massive out-of-state student body (about 85 percent of Duke’s undergraduates hail from outside North Carolina). That night also echoes through sexual, racial, gendered and economic wounds. It echoes through everything.
A black woman, mother of two and student at Durham’s other university – the historically black, commuter, state-funded and non-Ivory Tower North Carolina Central University – was hired as an exotic dancer for a bachelor party that night. She ended up dancing for more than 40 already inebriated young men, almost all of whom were on the lacrosse team. Hours later, she emerged from the house and alleged that she had been pulled into a bathroom by three white men, raped, sodomized and verbally assaulted with a seemingly endless reservoir of racial slurs.
The facts of the case are still unclear. The Durham district attorney said there is enough physical evidence to prove that “a crime” took place that night. Multiple witnesses, totally unrelated to the victim, claimed to the Raleigh News & Observer that as they walked in front of the same off-campus property, young white men spewing racial slurs accosted them.
Durham police took three days after the initial report filed by the victim before searching the house. Duke itself has come under fire for only investigating the team and the crime two weeks after the first allegation. The lacrosse team, expectedly, has launched a barricade of silence, obediently offering DNA samples while holding the party line that no crime occurred at their party. The facts will, hopefully, govern the process of the trial, and our first concern has to be the victim. But to get a full grasp of the event, we have to look through an abstract lens.
The crime, if it did indeed occur, is sexual, racial and economic at the same time. It appears – the case’s ultimate political meaning is its appearance – as if a select group of ultra-privileged white men playing a historically and culturally aristocratic, white sport at an isolated, private, elite university slandered, harassed and raped a single black mother from a working-class university because, well, they could.
It is important that I stress that no party has been charged yet, but even without the illumination of a trial, the crime appears to represent a frightening, emblematic trope in our universities, our social cohorts and our generation: the privileged white male’s casual abuse of the other.
The particular sting of the case is who exactly violated whom. The privileged and the elite violate the figure from the other side of town: the black, the feminine, the blue-collar and the “non-Duke.” By locating a person outside our definition of community, we’ve already taken a step to dehumanizing them, making them into the “other.”
If we consider Duke a peer university, and I believe we should, we must locate this crime within our own environment.
Schools like Duke, Vanderbilt University, the University of Southern California and the University of Pennsylvania all have famously used architectural (walls, gates, etc.) and other constructs to divide painstakingly their top-tier, entitled students from the city and state their institution inhabits. But how do we separate the people in “our” community from “the other”? Should we? Does Duke bear any responsibility to the victim, Durham, North Carolina Central State – or only to its own students, the alleged criminals?
Where are the divisions at our University? One of the blessings of a state university is that the institution forces us, from the dorms to the classroom, to deal with people we can’t identify with, we’ve never dealt with before and who may not look like us.
Who is the “other” for you? How do you define your community? Are the University employees who clean Angell Hall in the dead of night part of your concept of community? The homeless Ann Arbor resident you walk past thrice weekly? What about the Eastern Michigan University student who resides in Ann Arbor – is he part of our community? Is an out-of-state student who simply studies here for a few years more a part of a community than a lifelong resident simply because his parents can foot the always-rising tuition?
McGarvey is a Daily associate arts editor.