To all involved in the Duke rape case

May 04, 2006|By MARK FRANEK

In the late 1980s, when I was an undergraduate at Duke University, I stumbled into a lacrosse party in a dormitory, which was situated about a lacrosse-man's long-pole throw from the office of the president. I didn't see any strippers, but the party was rowdy and raucous in the way that most college parties are when they involve alcohol, a high percentage of male student athletes and one oblivious resident adviser.

This was before the university boxed out members of the lacrosse team and moved its residential quarters to an off-campus but university-owned house, away from the center of campus and closer to Durham. In hindsight, this was a very bad idea.

Even an oblivious resident adviser is better than no resident adviser, which should be a lesson to all colleges around the country that nudge their most nettling groups around campus the way the church once brushed abusive priests under the parish rug. Problems don't just go away with a change in venue. They need to be checked head-on.

Like a critic who happens upon a battlefield after the battle is over (or nearly over) and stabs the wounded, I have some comments and advice. A debacle about the size of this one, even if it doesn't involve rape charges, is simmering under the surface of all college campuses where athletes are given special treatment.

To the black, 27-year-old woman at the center of this national spotlight, who supports her child and tuition payments at North Carolina Central University by stripping: A bodyguard or a friend - preferably of the male, weight-lifting variety - would have prevented this incident from escalating. But what happened to you is certainly not your fault. This is assuming, of course, that you are telling the truth.

To the two white sophomores who were charged with rape, sexual assault and kidnapping in connection with the incident: We'll give you a reprieve until we hear from a jury. A friend or a peer - preferably of the levelheaded and sensible variety - would have prevented this incident from escalating, though it is not your fault you are accused of rape. This is assuming, of course, that you are telling the truth about your innocence.

In America, you are presumed innocent until proved guilty. But it doesn't help matters in the court of public opinion that one of you was arrested for assault in Washington, D.C., in November in an incident that allegedly involved violence and the use of anti-gay slurs.

Of course, the accuser also has a police record, which just proves that convictions (of all kinds) scale the walls that separate divisions of race and class.

To the Durham County prosecutor, who is supposed to represent the rights of the victim and the interests of the larger public: Congratulations on the election victory Tuesday. How does it feel to unabashedly use - and potentially destroy - young people's lives for political gain? You'd better be right.

To the captains of the Duke lacrosse team: Hand in your captains' armbands with the rest of your uniform. Captains don't let their teammates commit stupid acts, even on the weekends when the coach isn't looking.

To the unknown member of the lacrosse team who reportedly yelled a racist remark ("Thank your grandpa for my nice cotton shirt") from the porch of the party: You are an embarrassment to every alumnus who has passed through the vaulted archways of Duke. Thanks, kid.

To the member of the lacrosse team who e-mailed a vile and disgusting message to other members of the team a few hours after the party - and who eventually was suspended from the university: Don't bother reapplying. Good luck in the transfer market.

To the rest of the members of the Duke lacrosse team (many of whom are innocent of any wrongdoing): Stinks to be you. Nobody thought to tell you that membership has its privileges - and its pitfalls. Don't mention that you played lacrosse for Duke at your next job interview.

To the coach who resigned before he could get fired: Revise rM-isumM-i, get new job and never again ignore the shenanigans of your players. (Huddle up: If a disproportionate number of your players start to accumulate violations of the campus conduct code and local laws, it may be time to blow the whistle before the administration does it for you.)

The hardest balls to dodge are not those thrown directly at your head. Great coaches lead both on and off the field.

To the Duke president and his inner circle: This is a devil of a case, but a self-inflicted one. I'd like the Duke mascot to tape this comment to his blue forehead (like he does before all home basketball games): "My kingdom not for a horse, but for more black students."

This disaster probably would not have occurred if the team - and the university - were more diverse. Race matters, for lots of reasons.

By the way, the Duke women's lacrosse team is ranked among the best in the nation. Its members are not known for their boorish behavior. Unless it occurs during a game.

Mark Franek is dean of students at the William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia. His e-mail is mfranek@penncharter.com.

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