I went to Duke University. I am also a black woman and a feminist. Since last year, these facts sparked dozens of conversations and questions from co-workers and friends. The lacrosse incident at Duke in which a black woman was allegedly raped, assaulted, and racially demeaned has infuriated and confused me throughout these months. I thought we as a society were improving our race relations as years went by. These kids seemed to be going backwards.
Now, with more and more evidence coming out, I have no idea what to believe. At first, I ranted along with everyone else about the guilty players. Now, I truly don't think there will ever be a clear story as to what happened that night. It's not disputed that racial slurs were cheerfully said. Even worse, this case has severely hurt future rape victims. It was bad enough that people stopped to question the morality of this woman in determining whether or not she was raped. Even if she had sold herself to 50 men before she got to that party in Durham (or while she was there for that matter), if she said "no" to the people in question, it was rape. It has become even harder for victims of rape to come forward and accuse their attackers. Regardless of the eventual outcome of this trial, because of the victim's waffling back and forth on the specifics, this case will be seen as a sort of proof that certain women can't be trusted. This hurts women everywhere. Every one of us could be painted as morally corrupt if necessary.
Today I interviewed a white high school lacrosse student for admission to Duke in the fall. Before the interview I admit that I wondered why he'd even want to go to Duke and join their lacrosse team. There are so many other places to go. Did he not care about women's rights? Was he racist and felt like he'd be at home on the Duke Lacrosse team?
I opened up with "Why Duke?" He told me all of the same reasons that I had when I decided on Duke 11 years ago. He wants to be challenged. He wants to meet new friends. He likes the weather of North Carolina. He loves jazz and sports medicine and likes the idea of a place that encourages well-roundedness. He thinks it'll be great to get away from the cliques of high school. And, he loved the calm vibe that he and his mom had when they walked on campus last year. One of his last questions was whether or not the atmosphere has changed on campus since "the incident."
We chatted for a while about how racism and sexism still exist in the world. How Duke is no different from any other place. I said that people are now talking more about these issues on campus. People are starting to listen to one anothers' viewpoints. It shook up the apathy that was so prevalent when I was there.
And, in my life at least, this is the one positive thing about this whole debaucle. People are talking again. We're not just sitting back in our happy diverse worlds falsely believing that everything is ok while prejudices continue in our collective subconscious. I have a little more hope for the future. Today I dispelled some preconceived notions that I had about a person that I'd never met.
Happy Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. May we keep striving towards his dream.