- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2006

DURHAM, N.C. — The case seems to fit the stereotypes so perfectly.

The purported rapists are white, the woman is black.

The men go to Duke University, the expensive private college with the championship sports teams and big television deals. The woman studies across town at chronically underfunded North Carolina Central University.

The men are lacrosse jocks, many of them recruited from tony Northern prep schools. She’s a 27-year-old divorced mother of two who went to the Duke students’ house to do some exotic dancing and make a little extra money.

It’s so easy to see the incident at the shabby university-owned house — just a mile from the iconic Gothic Duke Chapel — in terms of powerlessness and privilege, town and gown, black and white. Many on campus and in the streets of this gritty working-class vertex of the famed Research Triangle are framing it just that way.

But not everybody is comfortable with that.

“I think along with the awfulness of the incident has come a real desire to condemn a lot of the Duke students because they are people of privilege, maybe,” Durham resident Paul Montgomery said as he stood outside the Trinity Park house where the party happened. “I just hope people kind of take into account that there is … more than meets the eye.”

The white, three-bedroom house with the crumbling black shutters sits on the edge of Walltown, a predominantly black and poor neighborhood outside the school’s low stone wall where many residents still refer to Duke as “the plantation.”

On the night of March 13, a black woman made a tearful call to 911 to complain that a white man from the house at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd. — which was being leased by three lacrosse team members — had shouted a racial slur at her and a friend. She told police that someone had recently defaced a neighborhood car with the letters “KKK.”

“I’m just so angry I didn’t know who to call,” the woman sobbed in rage. “They didn’t harm me in any way, but I just feel so completely offended, I can’t even believe it.”

That same night, a woman says she and a partner went there expecting to entertain a bachelor party of five, but that they soon found themselves surrounded by more than 40 drunken men barking racial slurs.

“We started to cry,” she told the News & Observer of Raleigh. “We were so scared.”

She told police she and her friend left the house. Jason Bissey was smoking a cigarette on the front porch next door and said he heard some of the party demand a refund.

He heard one shout an obscenity followed by, “Thank your grandpa for my nice cotton shirt.”

Someone from the house apologized and coaxed the women back inside. It was then, the woman says, that she was dragged into a bathroom and raped, beaten and choked by three men for a half hour.

Police say medical evidence is consistent with a sexual assault. Officers recovered the woman’s makeup bag, cell phone and identification from the house — as well as four red-polished fingernails she says were broken off during the struggle.

A judge ordered 46 members of the team to submit DNA samples, the results of which are expected this week. Because the woman says her attackers were white, the squad’s lone black member was not tested.

People on and off campus were outraged that it took police nearly three days to search the house. They were even more incensed that it took two weeks for the university to make the decision to suspend the team’s season.

Protesters have marched almost daily, banging pots and pans outside the white house and demonstrating in front of Provost Peter Lange’s home. Signs alternately condemning and supporting the players have appeared and disappeared from the players’ now-vacant house.

The team captains issued a statement last Wednesday expressing “sincere regret over the lapse in judgment in having the party.” But they say the DNA tests will prove “that any allegation that a sexual assault or rape occurred is totally and transparently false.”

Durham is a fairly racially balanced city. Blacks and whites each make up about 45 percent of the population. But Duke does not mirror the community at large — only 11 percent of the 6,244 undergraduates are black.

The economic chasm between the university and the town is also large. It costs about $44,000 to attend Duke — $3,000 more than the mean household income in Durham, and about $34,000 more than the in-state cost of attending North Carolina Central.

Slightly more than half of Duke’s lacrosse team came from private schools, including the lone Durham native, but assistant sports information director Art Chase said many receive some form of financial aid.

Duke says it wants to be a good neighbor. University President Richard Brodhead said the school recently bought the house on Buchanan Boulevard and 14 others because of complaints of raucous parties and uncivil behavior.

“When we decided to purchase these properties, it was our intention to turn them around and sell them to single families, to do something good for the neighborhoods,” he said last week.

Duke does have a history of outreach in Walltown and the larger community. Durham native Maya Jackson remembers fondly how Duke students would come to her elementary school to help out.

But the 23-year-old junior sociology major at NCCU also acknowledged that there has always been “an air” about Duke students.

“Some of them came off as snooty,” said Jackson, who is black. “That can be said the same for Central students. — It just comes off a little bit stronger when it involves Duke students.”

Said Rayone Bland, a black divinity student at Duke: “There is really a sense of, ‘I’m entitled to do what I want to do.’ It’s kind of like the staff and judicial affairs and everyone is just here kind of to keep the country club running and to keep everyone happy. So there’s really not any accountability, I don’t think, for students.

“So being told ‘No’ for the first time, I mean, is mind-blowing for them.”

All over town, there is a sense that battle lines have been drawn. One afternoon, Jeff Shaw, 20, a sophomore from Winston-Salem, sported a brand-new Duke lacrosse T-shirt he bought to show his support for friends on the team.

“I feel like it’s Duke and Durham against these people” on the team, he says.

Last week, several hundred people gathered on the East Campus for a “Take Back the Night” march from the student union to Duke Chapel. The annual protest was planned months ago, but recent events gave it a special urgency.

As Flannery Hysjulien waited for the rally to begin, she bent low in front of a garbage can and stared at a flier plastered there. It bore the heading “PLEASE COME FORWARD” — and the names and pictures of nearly the entire lacrosse team.

The 25-year-old Durham native, a white student in social work at the University of North Carolina in nearby Chapel Hill, says she has watched Duke try to build bridges with the community. She says it is a difficult task only complicated by this latest incident.

“I really think there is a feeling that this connects to a history of racism in Durham and discrimination in Durham that is still very much felt by residents of Durham,” says Hysjulien, who was on campus for the march. “I think we’re a city that remains quite divided, although we’re attempting to become a more unified community.”

As the crowd massed, a white man with a bullhorn leaned out of a nearby dorm window and shouted, “The lacrosse team is innocent.” Another walked across the quad, pumping his fist and shouting hoarsely, “They’re innocent.”

Jeannine Carpenter, 30, who is studying linguistics at Duke, doesn’t think the incident should reflect on the Duke community as a whole. But for many people, the white Ph.D. candidate knows it inevitably will.

“There’s a stereotype of white Duke privilege that can’t always be denied,” she says. “I think that there’s always historical truth in stereotypes. Whether it’s present day or not is definitely a question.”

AP writer Emery P. Dalesio in Raleigh and AP sports writer Tom Withers in Indianapolis contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide