Class, Privilege, and Rape at Duke
or For the First Time Ever, Allison Has Chosen a Title that Reflects the Contents of the Post
I spent part of Saturday morning sitting on the floor of the Phoenix airport, attempting to choke down a truly odious chicken caesar salad sandwich while half-listening to the TV behind me. As I fumbled to get the foul tomatoes off the mayonnaise-soaked bread, I heard CNN briefly above the airport noise:
Then nothing. Then "incident...house off campus...investigation."
Oh well, I thought. Finally one of the off-campus frat boys has committed an act of vandalism stupid enough to get themselves caught by the police, and CNN is running a special on town-gown relations. That must be it.
This is what I continued to believe until I got to work that night, where Beth informed me that 46 members of the lacrosse team have been DNA tested under suspicion of gang-raping, sodomizing, and strangling an exotic dancer they hired for a party.
I want to talk about this, but I don't want to talk about race, even though the victim is black and her attackers are white (46 of the 47 members of the lacrosse team are white, thus the testing number). I'm not qualified to comment on that, and there are people working on race relations at Duke who are far more eloquent, dedicated, and intelligent than I, and it is they who should be consulted on what this means. I read somewhere in the Chronicle that it appears to the rest of the world that we are still fighting Jim Crow down here at Duke, and I am not disinclined to believe that statement. But I'm not smart enough to weigh in on this in any other capacity than that.
I want to talk about Duke. I want to talk about Duke's judicial system. I want to talk about the fact that Duke's judicial system is seriously, dangerously broken, and that brokenness is what leads to incidents like this happening. I want to talk about how I believe that the status of Residence Life is directly responsible for Duke's social culture, and I want to talk about how unfair that is.
Every time Duke gets an endowment (which is becoming more and more common), I hear students complaining about how that money isn't invested in what they want to invest it in - housing. Dorms still aren't air conditioned, the water quality is highly suspect throughout campus, and Epworth is slowly sinking into the ground, inch by groaning inch. Why do they not fix housing, people wonder.
What few Duke students understand is that RLHS is an entity with an independent operating budget. No matter how much money is pledged to Duke, RLHS never gets a cut of it. They are totally dependent on rent revenues from the rooms students occupy to maintain their payroll and repairs. This is a large part of the reason why Duke has a mandatory three-year on-campus living clause - without that money, RLHS would be unable to maintain repairs on the dorms, thus encouraging more student flight from sub-standard housing, ultimately leading to a downward spiral in which dorms are closed altogether. Of course, RLHS does not want that, and I am willing to bet that one of the motivating factors behind the imminent Central revamp is RLHS' desire to keep seniors on campus so as to keep getting money from them, rather than having them flee to the Belmont.
Here's another thing people don't necessarily understand: Duke's alcohol system and, by extension, our domestic honor system as a whole, is messed up. I would go so far as to say it is irreparable, even.
Duke students will beg to differ with me on this, I am sure. I bet some would even say that there isn't ENOUGH drinking going on on-campus, Duke is trying to kill the school's social scene and that makes Duke the Enemy, and all that claptrap I keep reading in the Chronicle. The students who make this kind of statement are a. stupid and b. allowing their own penchant towards committing various illegal acts to cloud their judgement. The campus-wide amnesia about Raheem Bath's death in 1999 allows Duke students to forget that Duke's social scene will, in turn, kill them if given half a chance.
If they stopped for a minute and thought about what they were saying, Duke students would realize the truth: Duke does not have it out for underage alcoholics on campus. I say this with total certainty.
I would venture the guess that every single solitary resident of Duke's campus has a repeat offender living on their floor with them. Repeat offenders are students who get written up once and are a bit nervous. They go to the RC and receive a dressing-down. Then they drink in their room again, and get written up again, go back to the RC, get a dressing-down. The third time it happens, they may have to write an essay on personal responsibility. But by the fourth or fifth or sixth time it happens, the repeat offender realizes that they will NEVER get in any real trouble for what they have done. I know of residents who have been written up more than ten times without getting booted out of housing (the purported consequence for repeat offenders). I know of residents in Brown, the freshman substance-free dorm with a supposed first-strike-you're-out policy, who have gone on drunken rampages and not suffered anything more than a stern talking-to. And, lest you label me a Puritan, I am not necessarily talking about low-key Coronas and a football game here. I am talking about drinking that leads to destructive behavior, obnoxious behavior, vandalism, and midnight hospital trips.
On the flip side of this coin you have the school administration, which likes to pretend every so often that they're thinking of abolishing fraternity sections to scare them straight. These same administrators then go to tailgate before football games, an event at which I would venture to guess more than 75% of the attendees are underage (but 100% of the attendees are wasted), and hand out water bottles so that no one gets dehydrated. These same administrators then make a big show out of hemming and hawing and fussing about student integrity and the honor code when something like underage drinking busts and other extra-legalities go down, seemingly ignoring the fact that they're FACILITATING THIS KIND OF BEHAVIOR. And no one has ANY plans to change ANY of the standard policies.
Why does this kind of thing happen at Duke, you ask. The answer is two-fold: first, there is an old guard of alumni and trustees that pines for the old days at Duke when beer ran like water down the middle of the quad and are loath to make any strong policies enforcing OBEYING THE FREAKING LAW. These people ignore the fact that although drinking at 18 was legal when the majority of them were here, that is now no longer the case, and they are being idiots. Many of these same people have legacy children who are now Duke students and would yank their donations should daddy's little girl ever be punished for drinking.
Second, because of RLHS' independent operating budget, they will not (ever)(ever)(ever) evict someone from housing. Ever. They need the money, and they can't afford the outrage, and so this complacency has set in that allows everyone in the system to keep violating the rules with no consequences. The only way RLHS can even strike back at these people is if they are members of a fraternity, in which case the fraternity can be (and has been, in two cases) disbanded. But because the individuals do not get kicked off campus, they are free to, oh, rent a house somewhere off East and resume their activities there.
The bottom line is that, despite all its high-flown rhetoric to the contrary, Duke consistently promotes the creation of a society where its residents have no respect for the law or the consequences of their actions on others, because this respect is never forced upon them. So despite the horror of it, the utter evil and heinousness of the acts performed that weekend, no Duke student or official should be able to pretend that this rape is an aberration from the spirit of this school. Regardless of whether alcohol was involved in the rape (though it was), this is about how Duke creates a fundamental culture of disrespect and disregard of the law. Alcohol is just the medium.
And Aaron, upon proofing this post, has driven home the point that not all people who make illegal alcohol-related decisions are rapists. I know that. I drank underage on occasion myself, and I didn't get in trouble for it either, and I am not evil because of it. But Duke's alcohol policy serves to reinforce the pre-existing sense of entitlement some of our students come packaged with, and it's that sense that was in play two weeks ago when this rape happened. If Duke took its mission to create the new giants of this world seriously, it would impress on them that there ARE consequences for transgressive actions.
THIS is what causes the strain in Duke-Durham relations; THIS is what ensures that Duke will never have the undergraduate population of intelligentsia to which it aspires, and will instead continue to play daycare to a bunch of drunken, spoiled brats with the moral intelligence of two-year olds; THIS is the dynamic that creates a subgroup that will go out and drink themselves into oblivion, cheering themselves all the way, just after having been accused of raping a woman who was just putting herself through SCHOOL. And in doing so, the university that seems to pride itself so on creating America's Future Leaders will vomit up a subgroup of young men and women intent only on getting away with whatever it is they happen to have done this time.
RLHS must be allowed access to the university's endowment, and that endowment must be wrested from the hands of the AARP-ready alumni who pine for the old days of Duke. Until this happens, Duke will continue to be segregated between earnest, (mostly) law-abiding, hard-working kids and drunken yahoos. When RLHS and a conscientious administration have the power to curb the irresponsible, destructive behavior that goes on here every year it will be possible to close the Duke-Durham divide and produce a student body of the kind to which a university of this caliber is obligated.
I'm TIRED of it. I'm TIRED of this school, because for every repeat offender it churns out Duke disrespects not only me and every law-abiding, morally-intact member of its population who's just here to get an education, not only Durham and its citizens who are forced to put up with the repeat offender's crap when their sense of entitlement spills over the retaining walls of East onto the streets, but the mission of higher education to which it supposedly adheres so deeply. This is not the school to which I thought I applied.
*I know nothing has been proven, and I know innocent until proven guilty, for anyone who's considering broaching the subject. Just pretend I went through and wrote "alleged" before every instance of the word "rape" (otherwise it messes up the rhetoric). And even if it turns out that this didn't happen, a conclusion at which I am inclined to laugh uproariously, my point stands. Duke has averaged a rape per semester during my time here, along with god knows how many more unreported date rapes. The same principle is in play.*
*Late edit (3-31): I want to make it clear that by "administrators" I don't mean RCs. RCs have the worst, most thankless job at this university, and deserve far more support than they ever get. Hi, Anne.*
*Later edit (4-4): Thanks to Inside Higher Ed for the link. I welcome all through-clickers to comment.*