It’s not easy to put together an unapologetic defense of the Group of 88, but Samson Mesele at least tried to do so in yesterday’s Chronicle. The Group, he lamented, are the true victims in this affair, “browbeaten and savagely misrepresented.”
1.) The Group is really student-friendly.
“The 88 professors who published the ad last April did give their support,” argued Mesele, “to the students who spoke up at the March 29 forum.” Mesele quoted another Duke student, Paul Slattery, who asserted that claiming “the 88 don’t support students” really means “the 88 don’t support the right students.”
This viewpoint would be more reasonable if dozens of Duke faculty regularly took out ads in the campus newspaper proclaiming their “support” for different student blocs. Of course, that doesn’t happen. And “support” occurs in many ways: by holding the forum and allowing the small number of students to publicly address their concerns, the faculty showed “support” for the students.
So why, then, did the Group feel compelled, one week later, to show even more “support” for this handful of students through a denunciatory ad talking about what “happened to this woman” and thanking the protesters for not waiting?
One of the anonymous students allegedly said, “Being a big, black man, it’s hard to walk anywhere at night, and not have a campus police car slowly drive by me.” Would not a more effective way of showing “support” for this anonymous student have been demanding that the Duke Police Department cease its apparently official policy of slowing down when officers see big black males on campus? (Of course, if the Duke Police do not engage in such behavior, such a protest would have been meaningless.)
Or what about Group member Alex Rosenberg, who has repeatedly stated that he signed the ad because he was concerned with the prevalence of alcohol on campus and bothered by “affluent kids violating the law to get exploited women to take their clothes off when they could get as much hookup as they wanted from rich and attractive Duke coeds.'” Which students was he supporting?
It seems, alas, that the Group was more concerned with exploiting the case to champion their personal, political, and curricular agendas, rather than to “support” anyone. As one of the Chronicle commenters correctly noted,
Once again, the main issue is not what was said in the Listening Statement (everyone has a right to an opinion) it is *how* and *when* it was said. The Listening Statement was sound bites taken out of context which were placed in the public domain that came out at the height of the lacrosse crisis. And this had a profound effect on the accused students, the university, the community, and, ironically on the 88 professors themselves.
2.) The students’ statements had nothing to do with the lacrosse case.
Argued Mesele, “The student testimonials from the AAAS event . . . did underline Duke students’ troubling experiences with such nationally felt problems as racism, sexual violence and class privilege—and as such, their words were used in the ad.”
To my knowledge, no transcript of the March 29 forum exists. The ad, of course, uses anonymous quotes from alleged Duke students, but there’s no way of knowing how or when the ad’s primary author, Wahneema Lubiano, assembled these quotes. Nor is there any way of knowing how many of the ad’s signatories actually saw all 11 quoted from alleged students before the ad appeared.
In the event, here are some of the alleged quotes from anonymous Duke students:
- No one is really talking about how to keep the young woman herself central to this conversation, how to keep her humanity before us . . . she doesn’t seem to be visible in this. Not for the university, not for us.
- I can’t help but think about the different attention given to what has happened from what it would have been if the guys had been not just black but participating in a different sport, like football, something that’s not so upscale.
- If something like this happens to me . . . What would be used against me—my clothing? Where I was?
It is hard to see how these quotes addressed “nationally felt problems as racism, sexual violence and class privilege.”
3.) A tension exists between “social justice” and “criminal justice.”
This argument is a new one. Mesele obtained a statement from Group of 88 member As Lee Baker, who claimed, “The so-called 88 were focused on social justice, while many of the most adamant supporters of the lacrosse players were outraged that there was a miscarriage of criminal justice. Now, the question is in this climate, can one embrace both?”
There’s an implicit assumption in that statement, of course, that “the most adamant supporters” of the lacrosse players aren’t focused on social justice—continuing the 88’s problem of making public statements based on caricature. As I’ve noted before, I’m a centrist Democrat, and have been a very active supporter of gay rights and abortion rights campaigns. I support Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008. The people at the Liestoppers blog are local
On the other hand, the 88/87 have remained defiant, silent about Nifong even as his misconduct was condemned by the state bar and as their own words were cited by the defense as one reason on why a change of venue was needed. Some of their number (Karla Holloway, Grant Farred, Alex Rosenberg) have made inflammatory statements attacking other Duke students who have sympathized with the lacrosse players. That’s not behavior most would consider consistent with championing social justice.
As someone who’s followed this case very closely, moreover, I’ve seen no evidence that the 88 are at all concerned with a miscarriage of criminal justice in this case, in which the people targeted were targeted in large part because of their identity a students at the 88’s own school.
4.) Brodhead was a guiding ideological force behind the Group.
The night of April 5, 2006, Brodhead wrote in a mass e-mail that the incident “troubling our community... has brought to glaring visibility underlying issues that have been of concern on this campus and in this town for some time-issues that are not unique to Duke or Durham but that have been brought to the fore in our midst.” The next day, The Chronicle printed an advertisement titled, “What does a Social Disaster Sound Like?” . . . Thus, the dialogue about the “underlying issues” to which Brodhead referred has not ended.
It would be interesting to know if Mesele’s sources are forwarding this argument. This connection certainly goes well beyond anything Brodhead has said publicly.
In the end, a 1975 Duke alum did a pretty good job of summarizing this latest Group apologia.
1) We should renew our conversation about the ad, although no link is provided and whose only online remnant appears to be a cached copy of a deleted web page.Mesele, at least, deserves credit for making the case, which is more than we have seen from most Group members.
2) Critics who say the 88 professors did not defend the accused are wrong, because the 88 did give their support to students who at the March 29 forum spoke about their troubling experiences with racism, sexual violence and class privilege.
3) Matters of social justice are of such profound concern that it is appropriate, indeed courageous, to advance it on the back of an utter hoax.