Several days ago, as public criticism of the Group’s action intensified, the Group of 88’s statement mysteriously vanished from the Duke server.
Another interdisciplinary program has stepped into the breach, however, ensuring that anti-team propaganda is readily accessible through a Duke academic website.
The Duke women’s studies program homepage supplies a link to none other than Karla Holloway’s “Bodies of Evidence,” in which the Group of 88 member posited, “White innocence means black guilt. Men’s innocence means women’s guilt.” The logical extension of this argument: the only alternative to condemning black women is to find the lacrosse players guilty, regardless of the lack of evidence against them.
Since “justice,” claimed Holloway, “inevitably has an attendant social construction,” judgments about the lacrosse case “cannot be left to the courtroom.” Instead, it seems, Duke’s women’s studies faculty must serve as the final arbiters of the truth.
The Duke women’s studies program includes 18 faculty members—of whom 13, or 72.2 percent, signed the Group of 88’s statement. The only academic work listed on the program’s homepage is Holloway’s article, which appeared in the summer 2006 edition of Scholar and Feminist Online.
This decision leaves two disconcerting options:
(a) “Bodies of Evidence,” an article published in an obscure journal with little academic standing, constitutes the most distinguished piece of recent scholarship produced by a Duke women’s studies professor.
(b) Program administrators included the link to express solidarity with Holloway’s extremist message.
The women’s studies program, home to less than five percent of the arts and sciences faculty, hosts the chairs of fully half of the Campus Culture Initiative subgroups. In addition to Holloway, who chairs the race subgroup, women’s studies and cultural anthropology professor Anne Allison co-chairs the gender subgroup.
Before the lacrosse case, Allison’s academic reputation came from her moonlighting as a “hostess” to research a book examining what she described as “the Japanese corporate practice of entertaining white collar, male workers in the sexualized atmosphere of hostess clubs.” She then attracted some national attention in 2003, when she violated Duke policy by using University funds to pay for an advertisement criticizing the Bush administration’s foreign policy.
Allison seems not to have learned the lesson about the inappropriateness of mixing academic efforts with her personal political crusades. In spring 2007, this professor—who outlines her research interests as “the ways in which desire seeps into, reconfirms, or reimagines socio-economic relations in various contexts in postwar Japan”—will be co-teaching a course entitled . . . “Hook-Up Culture at Duke.”
As the course introduction explains,
This course, designed as a direct result of events last year on campus, will give students a unique opportunity to examine and reflect upon gendered/sexualized life at Duke in relation to contemporary life in the
We will ask: how has the history of university attendance in the U.S. (in terms of race, class, and gender) impacted campus culture? Are new technologies changing intimate or familial relationships between people? How are distinctions between “at home” and “at work” (or public and private) linked to new kinds of subjectivity and sociality? How do particular bodies gain value in contemporary commodity culture? And finally, what does the lacrosse scandal tell us about power, difference, and raced, classed, gendered and sexed normativity in the US ? US
Each course unit will include theoretical readings that contextualize Duke campus culture within these larger US cultural and economic formations, emphasizing the ways that “hooking-up” at Duke must be understood in relation to larger intersections of sex, gender, power, and capital. To this end, in addition to theoretical readings, we will also devote a substantial portion of the class to both case studies (drawn from popular media, film, or ethnography) and to Duke-focused student ethnographic research projects.
The goal of the course is two-fold: 1) to understand “hooking-up” at Duke in terms of larger frameworks of race, capitalism/consumerism, class, lifestyle, identity, (hetero)normativity, and power, and 2) to enable students to critically assess both the nature of Duke hook-ups and the institutional setting of Duke itself.
If this course were to constitute a legitimate academic offering, it would have to address—among other items—questions that Allison would prefer to avoid, such as:
- What does the lacrosse scandal tell us about
’s excessively broad rape statute, in which demonstrable innocence doesn’t in and of itself constitute grounds for dismissal? North Carolina
- What does the lacrosse scandal tell us about racialized politics, and how a district attorney can sell his soul and abandon all legal ethics, pander to a portion of the electorate by appealing to symbolic justice, and gain office?
- What does the lacrosse scandal tell us about groups like the state NAACP, for whom “difference” is such an important characteristic that due process rights appear to depend on a defendant’s race, class, and gender?
- And, finally, what does the lacrosse scandal tell us about, to use Allison’s language, “the institutional setting of Duke itself,” a university where 88 professors could sign a rush-to-judgment public denunciation, while the president publicly responded to the arrest of two of his students by telling local business leaders, “If they didn’t do it, whatever they did is bad enough.”
Does anyone seriously believe that Allison’s class will explore these or related questions?
Some students can use “Hook-Up Culture” as part of a year-long seminar featuring Group of 88 members using classes to rationalize their actions of last spring. This semester, Group of 88 members Thavolia Glymph (best remembered for having lamented that things were “moving backwards” when the DNA tests showed no matches to lacrosse players) and Susan Thorne are teaching a class that, according to the syllabus, “emerged out of our discussions of the allegations of sexual assault and racial taunting at the now infamous lacrosse party of March 2006. The criminal charges have not yet been tried in a court of law, but the allegations alone constituted a ‘perfect storm,’ rapidly escalating into a social disaster of extraordinary proportions.”
I asked Thorne why the course’s reading list contained no items on the legal background of Jim Crow justice; or examining, why, in the past if not in the current environment, civil rights groups had championed due process and procedural regularity; or whether Durham authorities had a tradition of overriding civil liberties depending on the political popularity and race/gender of the defendants; or whether some could interpret the real “social disaster of extraordinary proportions” as the extraordinary disregard of due process by Durham’s political and legal elite.
Thorne replied, “While due process is certainly the key issue with respect to the individuals involved, the firestorm generated by the allegations is the result of town gown problems that long predate the incident.”
Civil liberties, it would seem, are not a central concern—either academic or personal—to Duke’s ethnic and women’s studies faculty.
Hat tip: T.D.