The ad has been read as a comment on the alleged rape, the team party, or the specific students accused. Worse, it has been read as rendering a judgment in the case. We understand the ad instead as a call to action on important, longstanding issues on and around our campus, an attempt to channel the attention generated by the incident to addressing these. We reject all attempts to try the case outside the courts, and stand firmly by the principle of the presumption of innocence."The disaster is the atmosphere...." -- we're told. The students' perceptions matter and deserve to be "give[n] voice." But the professors don't like how they were perceived by the world outside the university; that was misreading. But if it is perception -- atmosphere -- that matters -- how can you think that you can contribute things to be perceived and avoid responsibility for the effect that you have?
As a statement about campus culture, the ad deplores a "Social Disaster," as described in the student statements, which feature racism, segregation, isolation, and sexism as ongoing problems before the scandal broke, exacerbated by the heightened tensions in its immediate aftermath. The disaster is the atmosphere that allows sexism, racism, and sexual violence to be so prevalent on campus. The ad's statement that the problem "won't end with what the police say or the court decides" is as clearly true now as it was then. Whatever its conclusions, the legal process will not resolve these problems.
The ad thanked "the students speaking individually and...the protesters making collective noise." We do not endorse every demonstration that took place at the time. We appreciate the efforts of those who used the attention the incident generated to raise issues of discrimination and violence.
There have been public calls to the authors to retract the ad or apologize for it, as well as calls for action against them and attacks on their character. We reject all of these. We think the ad's authors were right to give voice to the students quoted, whose suffering is real. We also acknowledge the pain that has been generated by what we believe is a misperception that the authors of the ad prejudged the rape case.
We stand by the claim that issues of race and sexual violence on campus are real, and we join the ad's call to all of us at Duke to do something about this. We hope that the Duke community will emerge from this tragedy as a better place for all of us to live, study, and work.
ADDED: La Shawn Barber is scathing.
MORE: I've been thinking a lot about this post -- minimal as it is. There is so much behind this that could be said, so much going back over the 20 years that I've been a law professor. My office for the last decade or so was once occupied by my brilliant colleague Patricia Williams. She wrote something long ago about Tawana Brawley that maybe not everyone remembers, but you should know if you mean to find your way around American academia. I'll put it in context in this 1997 article by Neil A. Lewis (TimesSelect link):
Critical race theorists, who are on the faculty at almost every major law school and are producing an ever-growing body of scholarly work, have drawn from an idea made popular by postmodernist scholars of all races, that there is no objective reality. Instead, the critical race theorists say, there are competing racial versions of reality that may never be reconciled.Misinterpreted. Remember that word. Professors like it. We mean well. We mean to demonstrate empathy and outrage in all the right places. And if you don't credit us with the grand ideals we intended, we will say you don't read well enough. Try again.
Many theorists say that because few whites will ever be able to see things as blacks do, real racial understanding may be beyond the nation's reach....
Some theorists go so far as to say that what really happened in a particular incident may be no more important than what people feel or say happened. For example, some argue that even though Tawana Brawley, then a teen-ager, made up her account that a gang of white men, one with a badge, raped and defiled her in New York in 1987, her story is still valid because it offers truths about the oppression of black women.
In her book "The Alchemy of Race and Rights" (Harvard, 1991), Prof. Patricia Williams of the Columbia University Law School appeared to suggest that it made little difference whether Ms. Brawley had made up her account. The teen-ager, Professor Williams wrote, was the victim of an unspeakable crime "no matter who did it to her -- and even if she did it to herself."
"Her condition was clearly the expression of some crime against her, some tremendous violence, some great violation that challenges comprehension," Professor Williams said. "Tawana's terrible story has every black woman's worst fears and experiences wrapped into it."
Critics of Professor Williams's comments, however, note that a New York State grand jury investigated Ms. Brawley's story and concluded that she had made it up. Professor Williams, Professor [Suzanna] Sherry wrote, seems "unable to distinguish between Brawley's fantasized rape and another woman's real one."
In a recent interview, Professor Williams said she had been misinterpreted. She meant, she said, that the debate about whether Ms. Brawley was telling the truth obscured that she was a troubled minor.
"Her needs were not dealt with, as they should have been with any child," Professor Williams said. Further, Ms. Brawley was transformed into a stereotype of "black women as hard women who can never really suffer any violation," she added.
MORE: Another brilliant colleague I'm lucky enough to have is Donald Downs -- who wrote this book -- and teaches in the Political Science department here. He emails me this:
The Duke case is symptomatic of the victimhood syndrome has beset too many campuses, and which (as one poster discusses) undermines the agency and vitality of its putative beneficiaries. The case is also symptomatic in another, less recognized sense: members of the economics department published their own dissent to the now infamous "88" and the campus climate that was hostile to due process, and got hundreds of signatures from alumni and other groups. This is precisely what campuses like Duke need: counter-mobilization by faculty who are fed up with this kind of climate and behavior. Perhaps there is hope for Duke, after all, but faculty have to take a stand against the inanity.Professor Downs, you should know, has done just the thing he recommends and organized the faculty at his home institution.