There seems to be something of a tactical split developing among the Group of 88, the Duke faculty who issued a public statement in late March promising to “turn up the volume” and thanking campus protesters who had distributed a wanted poster containing photos of the lacrosse players while banging pots and pans outside one player’s residence, shouting, “Time to confess.”
None, of course, have removed their signatures from the statement, or expressed any concern about the procedural improprieties associated with how local authorities have treated three of their own institution’s students. The majority of the signatories seem to be following the path of William Chafe, who, after evidence emerged suggesting that at least one of the accused is demonstrably innocent, shifted without explanation. The old context? "Sex and race have always interacted in a vicious chemistry of power, privilege, and control." And "Emmett Till was brutalized and lynched in Mississippi in 1954.” The new? The heyday of Frances Willard.
But a smaller faction seems inclined to follow the lead of Houston Baker, who departed Duke for Vanderbilt with a series of emails suggesting that the lacrosse players are probably guilty of more than one rape. In this morning’s Durham Herald-Sun, Group of 88 member Karla Holloway, a professor English, similarly acts as if the case is just as Mike Nifong described it on or about March 29, when he was deeming the matter a hate crime and demonstrating to a national TV audience exactly how the accuser was choked (while neglecting to mention that it appears as if in all of her many versions of the incident, the accuser didn't mention having been choked).
In her letter, Holloway, who is currently chair of the Race Subcommittee of President William Brodhead’s Campus Cultures Initiative, complained about “the athletic spaces of Duke where it has become painfully clear that for some, the rules of the game are different.” Duke, she proclaimed, is a campus beset by the “problematic issues of race, respect, and equity” (it’s worth remembering, as I’ve noted before, that Group of 88 members are talking about a campus where a department chair could jokingly explain away the faculty’s overwhelming ideological imbalance by noting, “If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire.”) It might be that the Duke Chronicle was wrong when it chastised the Group of 88 for "listening" to a handful of students while ignoring the "several thousand others of us” undergrads who disagreed that “Duke breeds cultures of hate, racism, sexism and other forms of backward thinking.” But at this stage, the campus newspaper has more credibility on this issue than someone who signed the Group of 88's statement.
Holloway continued on how difficult this entire process has been for her. “Of course you want a chance to make your campus better,” she recently told the Herald-Sun, "but at what cost? When you are serviced to fix the problem and you are also the victim, it’s a double duty.”
Holloway holds an endowed chair in English. Moreover, I’m a bit dubious about how anyone who joined what David Brooks has termed Durham’s “witch hunt” by signing the Group of 88’s statement defines “victim.”
Holloway also informed Herald-Sun readers that “her committee has been working hard all summer, fully informed by many documents, including those from the President's Council on Black Affairs, the Duke University Black Alumni, as well as students, administrators and faculty members.” Yet today, when people e-mailed Holloway to ask about her letter, they received the following reply:
Thank you for your message. However, I will be away from the office and will not be reading email regularly until August. Until that time, the most reliable way to reach me is to post your correspondence . . . If your message is urgent or time sensitive, please contact the English Department Office.
Perhaps Holloway’s subcommittee isn’t working all that hard on campus this summer. (But then again, it doesn’t need to do so, since its conclusions appear to have been laid down by the Group of 88's statement.) Or perhaps Holloway is simultaneously toiling away on campus this summer while she’s out of her office and not answering her email until August—just as one of Nifong’s targets, Reade Seligmann, was simultaneously committing a crime while he was videotaped at an ATM machine a mile away. The last three months have shown that the law operates differently in Durham; perhaps physics does as well.
Update: Ruth Marcus has an opinion piece in today's Washington Post that Prof. Holloway might want to use as a guide of how to approach an issue with an open mind. Marcus says she initially assumed the players were guilty, and makes it clear she still doesn't think much of the team members (this is a recurring issue: the tendency to assume that all players on the team are alike. As Reade Seligmann's recent court filing illustrates, this simply isn't true.)
Anyhow, Marcus goes on to admit that, unlike Prof. Holoway, she was willing to allow the facts to sway her opinion. "The paucity of physical evidence; the accuser's prior unsubstantiated rape charge; her changing stories that night; sloppy and unreliable identification procedures -- any of these alone, and certainly all of them together, make it hard to understand why the prosecution is going forward and impossible to imagine that it could win a conviction . . . Reade Seligmann's lawyer has presented evidence that during the post-midnight time frame in which the attack allegedly occurred, Seligmann called his girlfriend six times and another person twice (12:05 to 12:14); was picked up by a cab (12:19); used an ATM (12:24) and returned to his dorm (12:45). The lawyer tried to present this evidence to the prosecutor before the indictment but was rebuffed . . . In contravention of accepted practice, the photographs shown to the accuser included only members of the lacrosse team, no similar-looking 'fillers.'"
"The confluence of Nifong's political interests and the prosecution," Marcus continues, "is itself another reason for discomfort. He brought the first charges just before a primary in which the black vote played a key role." She admits that she, like an increasing number of people, finds the likely course of events "so troubling"--that Nifong "began with a dubious case and stuck with it as it became shakier."
[Originally published in Cliopatria.]