“Shame,” “sleazy,” “appalling”—these are the adjectives that Cathy Davidson uses to characterize the lacrosse players in her impassioned apologia for the Group of 88’s statement. “Hooligans” is the noun she employs to characterize on-line supporters of Reade Seligmann. These people, she claimed, were “reverting to pernicious stereotypes about African-Americans, especially poor black women”—at least between March 29 and April 6.
About which Seligmann supporters was Davidson speaking? She doesn’t say. Could she have been referring to the earliest of the Seligmann supporters, those who publicly testified to his character beginning in mid-April, at a time well before Nifong’s case had imploded?
Davidson’s piece—in its most charitable interpretation—is a variation on “the lacrosse players are no angels” mantra. This line of argument has appeared with a frequency inverse to the declining strength of Nifong’s case. What percentage of Davidson’s students, I wonder, would generate comments such as those linked above? Maybe for her next N&O op-ed, Davidson can talk about the many students she’s taught that she considers morally superior to Seligmann.
But before doing so, perhaps Professor Davidson can take time away from her administrative duties to read Susannah Meadows’ just-published profile of how this affair has affected Seligmann and his family.
The article leads off with a powerful photo: signs very different outside 610 N. Buchanan than those of the potbangers from last spring. The piece features the sweatervest-clad Duke student talking about what Meadows, correctly, describes as “nearly a year of purgatory for Seligmann and his family.”
Some of the events described in this piece are as powerful as anything to appear in this case: the story of how Reade told his mother that he had been picked in Mike Nifong’s “no-wrong-answers” lineup; how his youngest brother, Ben, reacted to the news; how another brother, Cameron (himself a talented lacrosse player heading to Bucknell in the fall), asked his teacher, “I need to know why bad things happen to good people.”
This blog has focused on the legal, procedural, political, and intellectual elements of the case. Reading Meadows’ beautifully written article is a reminder that these procedural debates have deeply personal consequences.
Betsy Newmark's strong work on this case continues in her most recent column. As the case crumbles, she asks, “what can we expect from all those who were so ready to brand the Duke lacrosse team as a group of racist rapists?” doubtful. Instead, Newmark predicts, “we’ll hear instead calls for healing. The players will be urged to get on with their lives and not to focus on suing
Those for whom the “truth” had no relationship to the facts of the case—such as Wahneema Lubiano, will go on as if the facts remain unchanged from her heyday on April 6, with the appearance of the Group of 88’s statement. Expect no retraction from the Washington Post’s Lynne Duke, who asserted in June that “the Duke case is in some ways reminiscent of a black woman’s vulnerability to a white man during the days of slavery, reconstruction and Jim Crow, when sex was used as a tool of racial domination.”
“Well, no,” concludes Newmark. “Perhaps it’s just a sordid story of a woman making up a story about being raped and a white prosecutor using that story to win an election.”
What lesson should be learned from the case? For Newmark, it’s that “when a story seems to fit our stereotypes, law officers, school officials, the media and the public needed to be more skeptical.” And Nifong’s success in twisting procedure and misleading the court in such a high-profile case raises the question of what “might be happening in the cases that are not so high profile with defendants who can’t afford expensive lawyers.”
Newmark, as usual, is right on target.
A Duke student did some research on what, exactly, members of the Group of 88 are teaching this semester. Several have either left Duke or are on leave. This chart excludes independent studies and other such courses.
Some courses appear to be both academically challenging and intellectually appropriate. Some, on the other hand, appear blatantly one-sided, almost caricatures of the race/class/gender approach that dominates the contemporary academy. Women’s Studies offerings include “Interpreting Bodies,” “Hook-Up Culture at Duke,” and “The Hip-Hop Aesthetic.” Other Group of 88 classes include “Cannibalism and Anorexia: The Anthropology of the Body”; “Marxism and Society”; and “Racism, Capitalism, and De-Colonial Thinking.” And for Wahneema Lubiano, spring semester will bring “Introduction to Critical U.S. Studies” and “Teaching Race/Teaching Gender.” Professor Lubiano declined a request from a DIW reader for copies of her syllabi. She no longer accepts emails from me.
Kim Curtis is offering a course on the “Ecological Crisis and Political Theory.” Those who believe that she’ll be fairly considering the debate between development and environmentalism represent the kind of jurors Mike Nifong would like to see. The Dowd suit’s high profile has brought to light other instances of unusual conduct by Curtis.
For instance, in 2004 she taught a ROTC student named Brad Beaumont, who also played for Duke’s club hockey team. The course was a writing-intensive one, in which a student submitted a final paper, but also submitted two earlier drafts of the paper for informal peer and TA advising. By his own admission,
Such behavior is hardly rare among students, but Curtis elevated it to a disciplinary offense. Based on the disciplinary case file, to which I obtained access, Curtis alleged that Beaumont had lied when he said that he tried to pick up from her office the second draft of the paper. She based her claim largely on hearsay evidence from her teaching assistant (who didn’t supply a written statement to the committee) and another student in the class (who also didn’t supply a written statement to the committee).
If this sounds bizarrely complicated, let me boil it down: Curtis turned in a student she seems not to have liked very much, even though the student produced the final paper for the course. She was, it’s worth noting, acting within the letter of the law—unlike, from all appearances, her behavior in the Dowd case. And there certainly is no equivalent of her accusing
The last time I was in
The act certainly was seized upon by those eager to railroad the lacrosse players as confirming their worst suspicions. Take, for instance, the analysis from the time of Wendy Murphy: “Either [Pressler] didn’t tell [Duke administrators] the whole truth about what happened, he helped the guys cover up, or encouraged it.” Figures more responsible than the ready-to-slander Murphy echoed her sentiments, if in slightly more measured terms.
In fact, the Coleman Committee vindicated Pressler’s conduct, and the behavior of the lacrosse players over the last nine months testifies to Pressler’s ability to recruit students of high character. To my knowledge, the only employee of