Lacrosse Incident Strains Duke's Community Ties

DNA results are expected as soon as next week for white lacrosse-team players at Duke University. They are accused of raping an African-American exotic dancer. The ordeal has fueled what many say has been a long-standing problem in Durham: friction between the elite, private school and the surrounding community. Leoneda Inge of North Carolina Public Radio reports.

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DNA results are expected soon in the case of white lacrosse players at Duke University accused of raping an African-American stripper in mid-March at an off-campus party. The fallout from the incident has continued this week with the resignation of the men's Lacrosse coach, and the suspension of a player for reportedly distributing an e-mail detailing how he would kill and exotic dancer at the next Lacrosse party.

The ordeal fuels what many say has been a long-standing problem in Durham; friction between the elite private school and the racially divided town. North Carolina Public Radio's Leoneda Inge reports.

Ms. LEONEDA INGE reporting:

College students in Durham, North Carolina, haven't kept quiet since word got out about a young black woman allegedly being sexually assaulted by members of the Duke lacrosse team.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This ceremony today is to let everyone know that we are standing in an effort against sexual assault.

INGE: This week at North Carolina Central University, students held a rally and candlelight vigil for the alleged victim, a student at the historically black university.

Renee Clark is the student body president at NCCU.

Ms. RENEE CLARK (Student Body President, North Carolina Central University): The issues that we face are so minute right now compared to what she must be dealing with, and so, if she's here, if she's not here, she needs to know that we love her and all we're going to do--we're going to make sure that justice is served.

INGE: A call for justice in this case continues to ring out. The reverend William Barber is president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP. He's also a graduate of NCCU, and attended the rally.

Barber says this sexual assault case reveals underlying concerns about race and class. He says his organization, and other community groups, are closely following the incident.

Reverend WILLIAM BARBER (President, North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP): Right now, our focus is on monitoring and ensuring that there's a fair, open, meticulous investigation of these facts. That's what has to happen. Without any prejudice, without any special treatment, without any privileged treatment, breaking the codes of silence and getting down to the truth, that's what we need.

INGE: Barber says it's been comforting to see black and white college students come together to speak out. Barber also has a degree from Duke University, which is only a few miles away from NCCU. He's addressed this sexual assault case on both campuses.

For some students, the assault allegations and media attention have tarnished the University's reputation. Duke senior Iman Hodgevonovich(ph) says only those outside of their campus are really surprised about all the recent allegations, including the racial aspect.

Mr. IMAN HODGEVONOVICH (Student, Duke University): I mean, I've been wondering, for a while now, how would it have been different if the attack had happened on campus, and if it was still a black woman from Durham, but on campus. Would it have strained it as much? Or, if it had happened off-campus but it was a white woman?

INGE: Hodgevonovich says he's also concerned that many of Duke's lacrosse players are getting a bad rap. He says he doesn't suspect all were involved. DNA samples have been taken from more than 40 lacrosse players. The Durham District Attorney's Office says the results of those tests should be released next week.

In the meantime, the Mayor of Durham, Bill Bell, wants peace in a city that boasts an equal population of blacks and whites. The mayor says it's important there be transparency in the handling of the incident, a plea Duke President, Richard Brodhead, has taken to heart.

Mr. RICHARD BRODHEAD (President, Duke University): This episode, whether charges are ever filed or not, whether the students are found guilty or innocent, it teaches us that there are thing--that there are parts of the education we offer here we've got to do better on; education in taking responsibility, education in respect for others.

INGE: Thus far, President Brodhead has taken steps to calm the community. The rest of the lacrosse season has been cancelled, and late Wednesday, Brodhead accepted the resignation of Duke lacrosse coach, Mike Pressler. The University also suspected a Duke sophomore who sent an e-mail message referring to hiring strippers and killing them.

For NPR News, I'm Leoneda Inge, in Durham, North Carolina.

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