Yesterday, Duke students started their fourth week of spring-term classes. Offerings include a cross-listed course in women’s studies and cultural anthropology entitled “Hook-Up Culture at Duke.” An appropriate subtitle would be “Group of 88 for Credit.”
Instructor Anne Allison’s syllabus avoided the following sentence from the course’s previously published catalog description: “Finally, what does the lacrosse scandal tell us about power, difference, and raced, classed, gendered and sexed normativity in the
The syllabus asks, “What is ‘hook-up culture,’” and “is the concept useful for framing gendered, raced, classed, and sexualized experiences at Duke?” (The implicit answer, of course, is “yes.”) The goal of the course? “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.”
Multiple references to “campus culture” in the syllabus seem to be no accident. Allison, a Group of 88 member, also co-chairs the gender subcommittee of the Campus Culture Initiative. She joined the recently-resigned Karla Holloway and Peter Wood to provide extreme anti-lacrosse professors (who comprise, at most, 20 percent of the arts and sciences faculty, and probably less) with a majority of the CCI subgroup chairs.
The class requires six ethnographic research projects (interviews and observations, in this case of other Duke students). The syllabus lacks mention of approval from Duke’s Institutional Review Board, a prerequisite for any academic class involving college students observing and interviewing other college students. Nor does the syllabus include a class devoted to teaching students how to conform to often rigorous IRB guidelines. I e-mailed Allison to ask what sort of IRB clearance the students had received; she did not reply.
Given the firestorm of criticism that has greeted the Group of 88’s seeming disregard for their own institution’s students, Allison might have been expected to show extraordinary care in how the course framed the lacrosse case. Instead, she took the opposite approach, creating an almost laughably one-sided syllabus.
The course’s run-up to the lacrosse case occurs over a four-week period, beginning with students spending a week on Peggy Sanday’s Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood, and Privilege on Campus. The book’s deskjacket leaves no doubt of its theme: “how all-male groups such as fraternities or athletic teams may create a rape culture where behavior occurs that few individuals acting alone would perpetrate.
Allison moves on to a week’s examination of “sports and alcohol,” with the featured reading a book by William Bowen—whose previous involvement in the lacrosse affair, the Bowen-Chambers report, was appropriately described by Stuart Taylor as an attempt to “slime the lacrosse players in a report . . . that is a parody of race-obsessed political correctness.”
The course then detours to an essay by Allison’s fellow Group of 88 member, Kathy Rudy, who explores how “many urban-based gay male, lesbian, and mixed-gender sexually radical communities (such as leather and/or S/M groups) portray their interests in sexuality in terms of arousal and pleasure . . . Thus, as long as people consent, a wide variety of practices can be authorized in this system, such as non-monogamy, group sex, anonymous sex, domination, etc.,” leading to “the possibility that these sex groups are in the process of providing for us a new kind of ethic based not on individuality, but rather based on community.” Keep this rhetoric in mind when viewing the latest denunciation of the lacrosse players for hiring strippers from Group of 88 member Alex Rosenberg.
Having framed a discussion of the lacrosse case through texts on fraternity gang rape, the relationship between college sports and alcohol, and the superiority of radical sex alternatives, Allison moves on to the course’s examination of the lacrosse case.
For an overview of the events of the evening, what of Ed Bradley’s painstaking review of events of the evening? Allison instead assigns Buzz Bissinger’s Vanity Fair article, most notable for Kim Roberts suggesting that a rape could very well have occurred, despite both her police statement and her more recent assertions.
For a case overview, Allison chooses Peter Boyer’s New Yorker article, which portrays Brodhead as quoting Shakespeare while his campus burned, but treats as wholly credible the anti-lacrosse faculty extremists—Peter Wood and Orin Starn—with no balancing voice from, say, Jim Coleman.
To top off this one-sided litany, Allison assigns Janet Reitman’s Rolling Stone screed, most notable as an example of how journalists can abuse anonymous sources. Though the course assigns other Duke committee reports (such as the university’s report on the status of women), Allison wants nothing to do with the Coleman Committee report, which noted that the lacrosse players drank too much, but also were good students, with good records of community service, and who treated both their colleagues and Duke staff with respect.
The broader cultural context through which Allison has students interpret the lacrosse players’ behavior? Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons and the movie Rules of Attraction, whose plotline imdb.com describes as, “The incredibly spoiled and overprivileged students of
Students are asked to complete six assignments involving interviewing and observing other Duke students. The results seem pre-ordained. Specific assignments include students exploring “the links between eroticism, capital, bodies, and identities at Duke.” Or examining sports teams “in terms of the themes covered so far in class: gender, race, heteronormativity, power, everyday culture, image and prestige of Duke. Consider the role of alcohol in these cultures.” And finally, “Hook-up Culture at Duke” has students look into the role “played by race, gender, sexual preference, class, drinking, and selective groups (Greeks, sports teams).” Students are told to “do participant observation”—though it’s not quite clear how.
If students’ results fails to conform to Allison’s preconceptions, it appears they’re out of luck. I wouldn’t recommend any of the students examining what the lacrosse scandal might tell us about, to use Allison’s language, “the institutional setting of Duke itself”—a campus culture where 88 faculty members could sign a rush-to-judgment public denunciation and then, months later and after the underlying case has imploded, issue a “clarifying” statement proclaiming that they’d do it all over again.
It would be, of course, almost inconceivable that these assignments would yield a positive portrayal of Duke students. IRB guidelines require human subjects to give their “informed consent” in any interview or observation. Why would any Duke student allow himself or herself to be used by Allison to use class time to salvage the Group of 88’s tarnished reputation?
Hat tip: C.O.