The latest academic publication on the case has appeared, courtesy of Barbara Barnett, who earned her M.A. degree from Duke’s Group of 88-topheavy English Department. The
Barnett identifies herself as a true believer almost from the start of her article. “20%–25% of college students report that they have experienced a rape or attempted rape,” declares she—thereby suggesting that college campuses have a rate of sexual assault around 2.5 times higher than the rate of sexual assault, murder, armed robbery, and assault combined in Detroit, the
Having portrayed the Duke campus as a veritable Wild West, Barnett identifies the context through which the University should have approached the case: the “ongoing discussions about rape and rape myths, masculinity and violence, sports and brotherhood, and the role mass media play in shaping norms of female and male behaviors. Central to these discussions were [sic] notions of power and privilege and the role that sex, race, and class play in shaping contemporary society’s views of authority and entitlement.” Barnett also devotes considerable attention to feminist legal theory regarding the boundary between consent and rape (including date rape). The relevance of these questions in this particular case is unclear, since not only did the players never raise a consensual-sex defense, their attorneys, from their first press conference, explicitly ruled out such a defense.
While critical of what she terms Duke’s “victimization strategy”—the University’s alleged focus on the anguish of the falsely accused players and the harm to its reputation—Barnett argues that Duke did need to show sympathy for one person: the false accuser.
University “materials,” writes Barnett, “failed to acknowledge that [Crystal Mangum] might be going through some anguish.” Why should Duke have done more for Mangum? Because “Duke was being bombarded by challenges that it may not have protected the safety of an [sic] North Carolina Central student.” That these “challenges” were based on a false premise seems of little concern to Barnett. The
In researching her article, Barnett analyzed each of the (88, believe it or not) statements by Brodhead or a member of his administration through the announcement of a settlement with the three falsely accused players. Barnett does find a few things in Duke’s conduct worthy of praise. The University, she writes, used the episode to commit itself to additional “recruitment of women and minority faculty,” for instance. (Of course, it was already so committed, and aggressively so.) But overall, she laments, while “Duke public relations materials stressed that rape was indefensible, they also explained that the university had an interest in protecting(!!) the accused students.”
How did she reach this startling conclusion? According to Barnett, 27 percent of Duke’s statements addressed the evils of rape, but a comparable 21 percent stressed the importance of due process. To get a sense of the meaningless nature of these statistics, consider three key statements in Barnett’s data set: Brodhead’s first (March 25, 2006) remarks on the case; his April 5, 2006 letter to the Duke community; and his summer 2006 response to Friends of Duke University.
Brodhead’s March 25 and April 5 statements would count as documents that both mentioned the evils of rape and mentioned due process. Yet regarding the former: the N&O and AP ignored the President’s pro forma reminder of the presumption of innocence, and quoted his condemnation of rape; the Herald-Sun also quoted the rape section, while summarizing the due process material. And the April 5 statement? It opened with five paragraphs on the evils of rape—and mentioned due process only in its sentence asking people to avoid making up their minds until the authorities acted.
As for Brodhead’s response to Friends of Duke, that document seems to count as among the 21 percent of statements explaining “that the university had an interest in protecting the accused students,” while not among the 27 percent stressing “that rape was indefensible.” In fact, far from “protecting the accused students,” the Brodhead response explicitly undermined them—stating, as it did, that the University would not publicly demand that Durham authorities treat Duke students with the same due process rights as those granted to all other Durham residents.
Only through such manipulation of the data can Barnett sustain her central thesis. I have omitted the internal citations but otherwise quoted in full, to provide the feel of Barnett’s argument:
Duke’s rhetoric mirrored the discourse of Enlightenment philosophers—there is an objective and universal foundation of knowledge, knowledge acquired from the right use of reason will be “true,” and grounding arguments in reason will abate conflicts among knowledge, truth, and power. Duke’s frame of reason encouraged its publics to be thoughtful and careful in their judgments; to believe in the integrity of authorities—the university, the police, and the legal system; and to assume that justice would prevail. Underlying Duke’s arguments was the incorrect assumption that justice will necessarily emerge from a police investigation and courtroom trial; it is an ideal but not always a reality. Additionally, Duke’s framing of its response as calm and logical could be read as a reinforcement of Western patriarchal norms, which equate reason with the disciplined male mind and emotion with illogical female thinking. From the perspective of Duke’s administrators, an emotional response was an undesirable one; however, this point of view ignores the fact that it can be difficult to talk about rape and violence against women in a sterile, dispassionate way.
This thesis leads to a remarkable interpretation of how Duke handled the case. “The University,” she writes, “failed to speak in depth about the larger issues in the case, including sexual objectification of women, the risks of sexual violence on college campuses, and the perceptions of privilege in
To reiterate: no rape occurred in this case. Overwhelming evidence appeared in the public domain almost from the start to suggest that no rape occurred in this case. But, again, guilt or innocence appears not to matter to Barnett: the fact that a mentally disturbed woman made a false allegation against a University’s students was enough, in and of itself, for the University to try to reprogram its students’ behavior according to an extremist agenda championed by the fringe of the academy. And parents could get all this for only $50,000 a year in tuition and fees.
Apply Barnett’s standard to the mirror image of 2006-7 events in
For Barnett, intellectual analysis starts and ends with the race/class/gender paradigm. In a version of events that few who followed the case would recognize, she writes that “Duke seemed oblivious to its position of power in the community. In American culture, whiteness and wealth guarantee privilege, a fact Duke also did not publicly recognize. Duke’s public relations efforts might have acknowledged racial and economic discrepancies between the accused and the accuser and considered how those differences might have been perceived rather than pretending they did not exist.” In other words: Brodhead should have officially endorsed the Group of 88’s statement.
What more should Duke have done? Echoing an earlier complaint of Wahneema Lubiano, Barnett chastises Duke for not seeking out additional guidance from “feminist scholars on its faculty or staff.” Of course.