Duke Lacrosse Scandal Stirs Racial Divide

The coach of Duke University's lacrosse team has resigned, and the university's president has cancelled the lacrosse season in the wake of allegations some team members raped a black exotic dancer at a party. Jessica Jones of member station WUNC in Chapel Hill, N.C., reports that the case has stirred racial and class tensions on campus and the surrounding community.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. In North Carolina, Duke University Lacrosse Coach Mike Pressler has resigned because his players have been accused of raping a stripper. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand. Pressler's resignation coincides with the release of an email that sheds new light on the team's behavior. Shortly after a woman hired to dance at a team party said she had been raped, a player wrote that he planned to invite strippers to his dorm room and kill them. It's unclear if the email was a joke, but on campus there is little surprise that Coach Pressler resigned. Jessica Jones of North Carolina Public Radio reports.

JESSICA JONES reporting:

Late last night there were big TV trucks parked all over the center of Duke's sprawling green campus, just like they have been almost every day this week. Standing not far away from the trucks' steady hum, sophomores Andy Collins and Alex Becksted(ph) say they think the coach's resignation is the only way for the Lacrosse team and the University to make a fresh start.

Unidentified Male: There's no way that you can really fix anything at this point, so even if he was a fall guy, it's probably better for him and the team in the long run to get past it.

Unidentified Female: Yeah, I think he knows what's going on. I think he knows about the social environment and the things that they have done. I mean as far as I know, they've always had a little bit of a reputation like that.

JONES: Police are investigating charges that three players raped and sodomized an African-American woman hired to dance at a party on March 13. Police say the party included under-aged drinking and racial insults shouted at black women. Duke's President, Richard Broadhead, says when Pressler offered his resignation yesterday he thought it was quote "quite appropriate".

Mr. RICHARD BROADHEAD (President, Duke University): By this point there's a lot of behavior that has been acknowledged and established, and at some point that's something we need to take responsibility for and step up and act in response to. And that's really the basis for today's acts.

JONES: Broadhead has cancelled the rest of the men's lacrosse team's season. He's convening five campus groups to lead reviews of separate issues raised by the sexual assault allegations against the team. Broadhead has also suspended the lacrosse player who sent the offensive email. The player wrote he planned to kill strippers and cut their skin off. Broadhead says when he read it he was sickened.

Mr. BROADHEAD: Whatever the person meant who sent it, we read it in the context of allegations of sexual assault, violence, serious crime, and I think that just in the presence of that larger context we looked at it and it was just repulsive.

JONES: Few people disagree, but some worry that the lacrosse players are being tried in a court of public opinion. Attorney Joseph Cheshire of Raleigh is representing one of the team's captains.

Mr. JOSEPH CHESHIRE (Attorney, Raleigh): As vile and disgusting as the email is, as immature as it is, the content being what it is, is it gross? Yes. Are there again societal and moral issues to be discussed here? Yes. But was there a sexual rape in that house that night? I believe that the evidence will show that there categorically was not.

JONES: The case has raised major issues around race and class and the relationship between Duke and Durham. Earlier this week a rally was held at predominantly black North Carolina Central University in support of the alleged rape victim. She's a student there. The head of the State NAACP, Reverend William Barber.

Reverend WILLIAM BARBER (North Carolina NAACP): We want justice. And we recognize that these are alleged perpetrators, they have civil rights, but we want to ensure that there is justice and that there is a thorough investigation.

JONES: No one has been charged in the case yet. Forty six out of forty seven players have submitted DNA evidence to the State Crime Lab, but no results have been made public. For NPR News, I'm Jessica Jones in Durham.

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