Support For Accused Duke Rapists by Women’s Lacrosse Team Rankles Many
Black America Web.com, News Report, Monica Lewis Posted: Jun 03, 2006
As the Duke University men’s lacrosse team, a nationally-ranked powerhouse, sat out of the sport’s championship tournament this past weekend, the school’s women’s lacrosse team did find themselves in contention for a national title before falling short to Northwestern University 11-10 in a semifinal match-up.
But while the women may have had a hard-fought battle on the field, it’s their non-competitive actions that have left many people angered and upset, but far from surprised.
In the throes of competition, nearly a dozen Duke women’s players sported wristbands emblazoned with the numbers “45 13 6,” the uniform numbers of three men’s players who have been accused of raping a black student from nearby North Carolina Central University last March. The alleged victim, a 27-mother single mother of two, was hired by members of the men’s team to perform an exotic dance at an off-campus house party.
The brouhaha over the numbers has received harsh criticism from community leaders, newspaper columnists and alums of Duke, including Melissa Harris Lacewell, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who earned her Ph.D. from Duke in 1999. While disturbed by the women’s outward display of support for the accused, Harris Lacewell said she is not surprised given the culture and climate that is Duke University.
“The sense of entitlement and privilege at Duke is nauseating,” Harris Lacewell told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “I have often been around wealthy, but there is a sense of entitlement amongst (some) undergraduates there.”
The entitlement, however, is almost on par with the concern that some Duke students have about the school’s image, which has taken severe hits since the alleged attack became front-page news, Harris Lacewell said, who maintained that many Duke students many feel a need to salvage the school’s good name.
“These young women would want to reestablish the privilege that comes along with the Duke name, which has been marred by this,” said Harris Lacewell, who also was an adjunct professor at North Carolina Central from 1997 to 1999. “Today when you say Duke University, I expect you to say the words ‘rape case,’ These students pay a certain amount of money to get a shiny degree that comes with cache and privileges, and they’re going to do everything that they can to get the good name back.”
In addition to preserving the name of their school, the female Duke students are only doing what their foremothers have done -- stand by their men and refuse to see any truth in the story of a black woman, Harris Lacewell said.
“Given the entire history of white men sexually assaulting black women, we always know that white women have been on the side of white men,” Harris Lacewell said. “Historically, it has been race that cuts cross gender.”
“Even though we know that 60 percent of black girls report being coerced into sexual activity by the time they’re 18, when we hear each individual, we attribute that what happened there must have been the fault of what (the victim) did,” Harris Lacewell said. “In this case, it’s pretty easy because (the alleged victim) was working as an exotic dancer, and the (female lacrosse players) think they’re safe because they don’t engage in such behavior. It’s kind of a way of denying that they’re also vulnerable to abuse.”
Dr. Samella Abdullah, a Tallahassee-based psychologist, agreed, saying the women may very well be trying to preserve the reputation of their school, but their support also plays into long-fostered beliefs about black women and sexuality.
“The rape allegations fit the stereotype of black women being a ho,” Abdullah told BlackAmericaWeb.com, adding that the female lacrosse players are entitled to their opinions, but they should balance their beliefs with facts.
“For them to say that the guys are innocent when they weren’t even (at the party), it’s just not even rational,” Abdullah said, likening the current crop of Duke women lacrosse players to the Southern belles of the Civil War era. “It can almost be called prejudice because they’re judging without the facts. It sounds very much like the past South where women, black women in particular, could never call rape because their morals and sexually activity would not support it.”
A recent Temple University graduate and single mother said the morals of the alleged victim should be the last thing people call into question. In fact, the woman said, her determination to provide for her children should be commended.
“She has two mouths to feed, as well as her own, and she’s going to school. If that doesn’t say something about her character, I don’t know what does,” Jade, herself an exotic dancer, told BlackAmericaWeb.com.
Throughout her final year at Temple, Jade managed to bring in big bucks she earned while dancing two to three nights a week at an Atlantic City nightclub, sometimes raking in as much as $2,000 a week, tax-free. Never did classmates who knew of her after-school gig question her values because of they way she carried herself, Jade said.
“I think that they look at me and say, ‘She’s doing what she’s got to do,’ and that’s how people should view this woman,” Jade said of the North Carolina Central student.
Abdullah said black America should honor the fact that women like Jade, the NCCU student and other sisters trying to obtain a college education by dancing are simply finding a way to make ends meet, especially in a society that rushes to judgment when it comes to black women in similar situations. However, she is saddened that their choices often subject them to negativity. In reality, Abdullah said, America needs to understand its role in making people value the worth of a woman’s body amore than her mind.
“We have to have integrity and honor the temple that we live in,” Abdullah told BlackAmericaWeb.com, adding that the very fact that Duke students felt the need to pay for female entertainment proves that, in too many circles, women are not given the amount of respect they truly deserve.
“It’s time that we taught young women the value in honoring their bodies, but we’re simply not doing it,” Abdullah said, shaking a finger at everyone -- including parents, corporations that use sexual images to push a product and clothing manufacturers that make clothes for children that bare midriffs and a lot more.
“Our society," Abdullah concluded. "runs on sex and money."
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