Monday, April 03, 2006

Text Of Professor Baker's Letter To Duke

Text Of Professor Baker's Letter To Duke
POSTED: 12:29 pm EDT April 3, 2006
March 29, 2006

Awaiting the Restoration of Confidence:

A Letter to the Duke University Administration

Television screens tuned in to MSNBC on the morning of
March 29, 2006, broadcast a headline in bold red: DUKE
RAPE? At the bottom right corner of the front page of
The New York Times on the same day was an article
about the rape allegations roiling Duke University.
How is a Duke community citizen to respond to such a
national embarrassment from under the cloud of a
"culture of silence" that seeks to protect white,
male, athletic violence and which apparently prevents
all university citizens from even surveying the known
facts? How can one begin to answer the cardinal
question: What have Duke and its leadership done to
address this horrific, racist incident alleged to have
occurred in a university-owned property in the
presence of members of one of its athletic teams?

The alleged crimes of rape, sodomy and strangulation
of a black woman at a party populated in some measure
by the Duke lacrosse team reportedly occurred on March
13. University administrators knew about and had begun
to respond internally within twenty-four hours
following the incident. But Duke University citizens
had no public word from our university leadership
until President Richard Brodhead called a press
conference on March 28. Two weeks of silent
protectionism left all of us vulnerably ignorant of
the facts. Receiving e-mails and telephone calls of
concern from friends nationally and internationally,
we have been deeply embarrassed by the silence that
seems to surround this white, male athletic team's
racist assaults (by words, certainly -- deeds,
possibly) in our community.

It is virtually inconceivable that representatives of
Duke University's Athletic Department would allow its
lacrosse team to engage in regular underage drinking
and out-of-control bacchanalia. It is difficult to
imagine a competently managed corporate setting in
which such behavior would be tolerated (and swept
under the rug), or where such a "team" would survive
for more than a day before being tossed out on its
ears by security. Moreover, in a forthrightly ethical
setting with an avowed commitment to life-enhancing
citizenship, such a violent and irresponsible group
would scarcely be spirited away, or sheltered under
the protection of pious sentiments such as
"deplorable" -- a judgment that reminds us of Miss
Opehlia in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin,
saying that slavery was "perfectly horrible." Such
timorous piety and sentimental legalism, in the
opinion of the author James Baldwin, constitutes
duck-and-cover cowardice of the first order.

There is no rush to judgment here about the crime --
neither the violent racial epithets reported in a 911
call to Durham police, nor the harms to body and soul
allegedly perpetrated by white males at 610 Buchanan
Boulevard. But there is a clear urgency about the
erosion of any felt sense of confidence or safety for
the rest of us who live and work at Duke University.
The lacrosse team -- 15 of whom have faced misdemeanor
charges for drunken misbehavior in the past three
years -- may well feel they can claim innocence and
sport their disgraced jerseys on campus, safe under
the cover of silent whiteness. But where is the black
woman who their violence and raucous witness injured
for life? Will she ever sleep well again? And when
will the others assaulted by racist epithets while
passing 610 Buchanan ever forget that dark moment
brought on them by a group of drunken Duke boys?
Young, white, violent, drunken men among us --
implicitly boasted by our athletic directors and
administrators -- have injured lives. There is
scarcely any shame more egregious than one that wraps
itself in the pious sentimentalism of liberal rhetoric
as though such a wrap really constituted moral and
ethical action.

Duke University's higher administration has engaged in
precisely such a tepid and pious legalism with respect
to the disaster of recent days: the actual harm to the
body, soul, mind and spirit of black women who were in
the company of Duke University lacrosse team members
as far as any of us know. All of Duke athletics has
now been drawn into the seamy domains of Colorado
football and other college and university blind-eying
of male athletes, veritably given license to rape,
maraud, deploy hate speech and feel proud of
themselves in the bargain.

Many citizens have weighed in, and one hopes all
departments, programs and concerned members of our
university community will speak out forcefully for
swift and considered corrective action.

But of course, it is not exclusively our academic
administration that seems to have refused decisive and
meaningful action. The most deafening silence -- and,
quite possibly, duplicity (which is to say, improbable
denial) -- has marked, in fact, Duke's Department of
Athletics. Where was Joe Alleva before Tuesday's press
conference called by President Brodhead? Where now is
the commercial charisma of Coach K, who could
certainly be out front condemning Duke athletes who
call people out of their name from the precincts of
university-owned housing? Why aren't such stalwarts of
Duke athletics publicly and courageously addressing
the horrors that have occurred in their own domain? We
remember the very first day of our new President's
administration -- how he and Coach K shared the media
dais, and the basketball magnate was praised for his
bold leadership. It all seems rather like an
Indonesian shadow play at this moment of crisis. All a

What is precipitously teetering in the balance at this
point, during weeks marked by inaction and
duck-and-cover from our designated leaders is, well,

It is very difficult to feel confidence in an
administration that has not addressed in meaningful
ways the horrors that have occurred to actual bodies,
to the Durham community of which we are an integral
part, and to our sense of being members of a proactive
and caring community. Rather, gag orders and trembling
liberal rhetorical spins seem to be behaviors du jour
from our leaders.

There can be no confidence in an administration that
believes suspending a lacrosse season and removing
pictures of Duke lacrosse players from a Web page is a
dutifully moral response to abhorrent sexual assault,
verbal racial violence and drunken white, male
privilege loosed amongst us.

How many mandates concerning safe, responsible campus
citizenship must be transgressed by white athletes'
violent racism before our university's offices of
administration, athletics, security, and publicity
courageously declare: enough!

How many more people of color must fall victim to
violent, white, male, athletic privilege before
coaches who make Chevrolet and American Express
commercials, athletic directors who engage in Miss
Ophelia-styled "perfectly horrible" rhetoric, higher
administrators who are salaried at least in part to
keep us safe, and publicists who are supposed not to
praise Caesar but to damn the unconscionable -- how
many? Before they demonstrate that they don't just
write books, pay lip service, or boast of safe
citizenship -- but actually do step up morally,
intellectually and bravely to assume responsibilities
of leadership for such citizenship. How many?

How soon will confidence be restored to our university
as a place where minds, souls and bodies can feel safe
from agents, perpetrators and abettors of white
privilege, irresponsibility, debauchery and violence?

Surely the answer to the question must come in the
form of immediate dismissals of those principally
responsible for the horrors of this spring moment at
Duke. Coaches of the lacrosse team, the team itself
and its players, and any other agents who silenced or
lied about the real nature of events at 610 Buchanan
on the evening of March 13, 2006. A day that, not even
in a cliched sense, will, indeed, always live in
infamy for this university.

A responsible, and in many instances appalled -- and
yes, frightened -- citizenry of Duke University is
waiting -- and certainly more than willing to join
considered actions by bold leaders to restore
confidence in a great institution and its mission.
Today, I polled my class whose enrollment is
predominantly women and white. All said that nothing
had happened in terms of this university's response
that had left them anything but afraid. The shame of
this is unconscionable. Still, these women will surely
sleep better this evening than the black woman injured
at 610 Buchanan Boulevard by the white lacrosse team's
out-of-control violent partying will ever again rest
in her life.

Professor Houston A. Baker, Jr.
George D. and Susan Fox Beischer Professor of English
Editor, American Literature


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