The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education was founded ten years ago because of distress that “on issues of race, the political pendulum has swung to the right. Whites, and in many cases blacks, are turning away from government solutions to the advancement of African Americans in our colleges and universities.” The journal’s editors celebrated the “forces of political correctness and multiculturalism” for pressuring colleges and universities to pursue “racial diversity.”
The JBHE certainly provided a “diverse” interpretation of the lacrosse case. Too often, however, its comments reflected the intolerant agenda that characterized the Group of 88’s response to events in Durham. This is, after all, the same journal that, in 1999, gushed about how Duke “scored a major coup in luring Houston A. Baker, Jr. away from the University of Pennsylvania,” predicting that the Group of 88 stalwart would form “a new anchor for the Duke English Department.”
The journal’s initial foray into lacrosse matters came on May 4, 2006, in an item entitled, “We Wonder: How Many White Girls Work Their Way Through College as Exotic Dancers?”
The editors proclaimed,
While it remains unclear what really happened at the party hosted by the captains of the lacrosse team at
, the racial and socioeconomic divisions between the two groups could not be more stark. Most of the white lacrosse players at highly prestigious Duke University come from privileged backgrounds. Finding the money to pay for their education is not an issue. The first two men indicted in the case come from families that live in million-dollar homes. Both men attended elite private preparatory schools. Duke University
The two black women involved were from historically black
. They worked as exotic dancers while in school so they could pay their way in college while supporting their young children. North Carolina Central University
Do our readers know how many white women resort to working as strippers so that they can pay for college?
To my knowledge, this item was the only piece produced in the case terming Kim Roberts a student at NCCU. (In fact, Roberts had attended UNC several years ago, though she never received her degree.) Describing Crystal Mangum as “involved” at NCCU probably was accurate—though Mangum’s status as a full-time student at the historically black institution seemed much in doubt.
JBHE editors also asserted, without qualification, that for “most” of the lacrosse players, “finding the money to pay for their education is not an issue.” The article did not reveal how they gained access to the Duke financial aid records upon which such a claim would be based.
Two weeks later, the JBHE returned to the lacrosse case, after two committees had issued lacrosse-related reports. The first—the Coleman Committee—noted that members of the team drank much too much but had no record of racist or sexist behavior, were good students, treated staff with respect, and had good records of community service. The second—the Bowen/Chambers Committee—produced a document that my colleague Stuart Taylor correctly described as an attempt to “slime the lacrosse players in a report . . . that is a parody of race-obsessed political correctness.”
JBHE readers never learned about the Coleman Committee report, which the journal did not mention. The conclusions of Bowen and Chambers, on the other hand, generated gushing praise. Mike Nifong’s (ultimately fraudulent) allegations, the editors wrote, “present a classic example of the importance of having people at all levels of the administration who are sensitive to racial issues.” Bowen and Chambers, the editors theorized, provided a path for Duke to reorganize itself into a paragon of diversity.
The journal noted Nifong’s triumphs in the primary and general election, both times describing black voters as “key” to the Nifong victories. But the JBHE also—inaccurately—implied that Nifong enjoyed robust support from the Duke student body. In commentary just after the November election, the editors claimed that “the precinct in which many Duke students and faculty reside cast a majority of its votes for Nifong.”
In fact, Nifong was swamped in the precinct in which most Duke students voted. The Recall Nifong-Vote Cheek line took 67.6 percent of the precinct tally, with Nifong receiving only 27.2 percent. (The rest went to the ostensibly anti-Nifong write-in candidate, “Spoiler Steve” Monks.)
The JBHE editors also didn’t reveal how they ascertained in which precinct “many” Duke faculty lived: indeed, as Duke has more than 2,600 professors, it seems highly unlikely that there is a single precinct or even city in which a majority of Duke profs live. As with the journal’s earlier claims about the scholarship status of the lacrosse players, the JBHE seemed to be relying on hearsay evidence and assumptions based on caricature.
In covering the 2007 admissions process, the JBHE mentioned two items not widely disseminated. First, it disclosed that the Duke admissions office sent to prospective minority students “a new publication outlining the close relationship Duke has with the city of Durham.” (Did this document summarize the “separate-but-equal” justice system for Duke students?) Second, the JBHE—using figures it said that Duke provided—stated that “just over 27 percent of all black students who applied to Duke this year were accepted for admission.” This figure was around 40 percent higher than the overall (19.7 percent) acceptance rate.
The Group of 88, according to a January 2007 JBHE item, was a faculty organization focused on the “serious issues of racism, gender, and sexuality that need to be addressed on campus.” (So much for statement author Wahneema Lubiano, just a few days before the ad appeared, describing the document as about the “lacrosse incident.”) And “as a result of her leadership in this group,” JBHE readers learned that Karla Holloway “has received a large number of racist e-mail messages.” The editors did not define what constituted “a large number,” nor did they explain how they ascertained that e-mails sent to Holloway resulted from her “leadership” in the Group.
But the most extraordinary JBHE item appeared the day after Attorney General Roy Cooper publicly declared that the three students were “innocent” victims of a “rogue prosecutor.” How did the JBHE cover the development?
Racism on the Duke Lacrosse Team
All charges have now been dropped in the case of a young black woman from
who accused three white members of the Duke lacrosse team of rape in March 2006. North Carolina Central University
But no one disputes that the woman was heckled and called a “nigger” when she tried to leave the party. One white partygoer was heard to say, “Hey nigger bitch, thank your grandpa for my nice cotton shirt.”
No mention of the declaration of innocence. No discussion of AG Roy Cooper’s unequivcocal denuncuiaton of Nifong, or his revelation of the extent of Mangum’s mental illness. Falsely claiming that “no one disputes” that Mangum was “heckled”—when, in fact, almost everyone disputed such a claim. (No one disputed that Roberts was heckled; Mangum, at the time, was passed out.) Attributing to a lacrosse player a much more inflammatory statement than the one actually uttered—and ignoring Roberts’ acknowledgment that she initiated the racially charged exchange.
Given the high profile of the case, how could a journal that describes itself as focused on events in higher education—which is supposed to seek the truth—ignore Cooper’s declaration of innocence and so blatantly misrepresent the events of the party?