I haven’t commented on the Karen Owen affair because Owen’s affront to basic decency seemed so obvious. (Owen, for those unaware, is the Duke graduate who chronicled, through a PowerPoint replete with photos, her sexual exploits with multiple male Duke student-athletes.) The PowerPoint went viral, and even prompted a Today Show segment, which helpfully used Owen’s actions to recall the lacrosse case—insinuating that a false allegation against Duke male students, inflamed by a rogue district attorney, had relevance to an invasion of privacy by a Duke female student, after voluntary sexual intercourse.
It’s not difficult to imagine how the Duke campus would have responded had the genders of the Owen affair been reversed—i.e., if a male Duke student had publicized, sometimes in mocking terms, his sexual interactions with multiple Duke female student-athletes. Doubtless we would have seen jeremiads against Duke sexism, and perhaps even calls for another Campus Culture Initiative. Yet the Group of 88 and their allies on the faculty were silent as the grave.
Until now. Jezebel reports that three Group mermbers—History professors Jocelyn Olcott, Sally Deutsch, and Peter Sigal—used an official Duke list-serv for to invite History majors to an “informal gathering” with them. The topic? “Sex and the Student: Historical Perspectives on Karen Owen’s Sex List.”
Olcott (a gender specialist who once team-taught a course with Wahneema Lubiano) articulated a thesis for the gathering that combined an attempt to rationalize Owen’s decision with academic pablum: “The idea simply is that Karen Owen isn’t a person in a vacuum but rather someone within a particular historical context, subject to all the contingencies and forces of her time and place. My hope is that the setting will give faculty and students alike a chance to think through what some of these contingencies and forces are.”
And what of Olcott’s co-facilitators? Perhaps Deutsch can recall the time, just after Mike Nifong began his pre-primary publicity crusade, in which she deviated from her syllabus—in a class that contained several lacrosse players—to deliver a guilt-presuming analysis about how Southern white men had a pattern of assaulting and disrespecting black women. In language that echoes Olcott’s announcement for the Owen affairs, Deutsch asserted that because her course spent “extensive time on [naturally] race and gender relations,” it was appropriate for her to use class time to contextualize the incident, thereby helping to “explain why people were so upset.”
And perhaps Sigal, whose scholarship combines “poststructuralist gender studies and queer theory influences” with use of philology and postcolonial theory to “understand the texts that I read as literary devices which I decode in order to represent the cultural matrix,” can offer his personal perspective—as seen in the photo below, from his Facebook page—about sexually-themed exhibitionism and the internet.