Friday, April 21, 2006

Duke's Campus Culture

The Duke Chronicle has coverage of the first university-wide event, held last night, to address campus culture at Duke. Professor of African and African-American Studies Mark Anthony Neal maintained, “We need an innovated and brave curriculum that will allow our students to engage one another in a progressive manner.” Remembering that this is the same college whose philosophy chairman joked that there were few conservatives on the faculty because J.S. Mill held that conservatives aren’t very smart, I doubt that an insufficiently “progressive” curriculum is Duke’s main problem. When a student in attendance called on Duke to do more address “heretosexism” (again, not an obvious problem issue emerging from recent events), a panel member, in the words of the Chronicle reporter, “described a hypothetical situation about an incoming freshman finds out his or her future roommate is homosexual and thus requests to be paired with a different person. ‘Instead of simply letting people avoid these uncomfortable situations, we should make these students sit down and talk to each other, and to make progress in accepting one another.’”

Leaving aside the question of whether it’s a good idea to force a gay incoming freshman to live with someone who’s homophobic, it would seem to me that Duke has enough issues to consider without inventing “hypothetical” ones.

And if Duke president Richard Brodhead really is serious about using the recent events to improve campus culture, there’s an issue that should be addressed: the “campus culture” of guilty-until-proven-innocent exhibited by a vocal faction of the student body and a very vocal minority of the faculty in the initial weeks after reports of the rape accusation emerged. Duke is, after all, a campus where, before even hearing both sides’ initial version of events, students and some faculty held candlelight vigils and protests with slogans such as “Real men don't protect rapists”; where a prominent faculty member, Afro-Am Studies professor Houston Baker, issued a public letter urging that the lacrosse players be dismissed from school; where students produced a “wanted” poster with photographs of 43 of the 46 white lacrosse players, accusing the players of withholding evidence, with one student participant noting, “It is dangerous to wait for the conclusion of the criminal investigation because the community, in strong numbers, have raised their voices of what this means to the history of the University.”

It’s easy, of course, to question such behavior in retrospect—now that we’ve seen two arrests based on a photo ID that seems, to put it charitably, procedurally flawed. That the accuser was only shown photos of members of the lacrosse team perhaps explains why at least one of the two arrested players seems to have overwhelming evidence that he wasn’t even at the house at the time the alleged rape occurred. (The second, meanwhile, claims to have been at a restaurant at the time of the party, and media reports suggest that he’s not shown in any of the party photos.) And the searches of the arrested players’ rooms—conducted, perplexingly, after rather than before the arrests—yielded nothing more incriminating than a newspaper article on the case and an Ipod., coming after a DNA test that the D.A. had publicly promised would identify the guilty instead produced no matches.

From where does this campus guilty-until-proven-innocent mentality originate? In Shadow University, Alan Kors and Harvey Silverglate suggest one culprit—campus “judicial” systems. At many institutions, a student accused of sexual harassment or assault isn’t entitled to counsel. (My favorite such story in the Kors/Silvergate book involved MIT, which allowed the accused’s family members but not lawyers into campus disciplinary hearings—a policy changed after Alan Dershowitz’s nephew was hauled up on sexual harassment allegations, and Dershowitz got access to the hearing as the uncle of the accused.) Similarly, at many institutions, the accused (or his representatives) cannot cross-examine the accuser, and sometimes can’t even be in the same room when the accuser relays her story. In short, campus disciplinary proceedings relating to alleged sexual offenses often lack any semblance of due process: the accused really is guilty until proven innocent, just as the Duke protesters of a few weeks back, and professors like Houston Baker, maintained about the Duke lacrosse players.

The recent Chronicle coverage suggests a shift in campus attitudes regarding the case—a recognition that at least one of the players seems to have been falsely accused, and that people are innocent until proven guilty, especially in a case like this, where so much exculpatory evidence exists. But I rather doubt that we’ll see Duke examine the “campus culture” that led to events such as the “wanted” poster. Instead, like the panelist at last night’s campus forum who addressed the issue of “heretosexism,” those on campus who previously deemed the lacrosse players guilty will speak of a “hypothetical” case in which the facts better fit their preconceived view.

[Originally posted at Cliopatria.]

1 comment:

S.G. said...

Obviously, at this point, K.C. had not yet been discovered. No comments until this one; written a year later. Since then K.C.'s been discovered by every blogger worth his salt. He's famous now. If he wishes, he can probably leave academia and move to punditry.

It'll be interesting to see how his career plays out in the coming years.