Rape Accusations Prompt Introspection at Duke

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Melissa Block talks with Duke University law professor James Coleman, Jr., about his role in an investigation into the conduct of the university's lacrosse team. Coleman's committee, announced this week, will look into the circumstances surrounding a recent alleged rape of a stripper at a lacrosse party. Coleman says his panel will assess whether or not the lacrosse team's actions were part of a pattern.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

Police in Durham, North Carolina are investigating an alleged sexual assault by members of Duke University's lacrosse team. A black stripper, hired to perform at a house rented by team captains says she was raped, choked and beaten by three white men at a party there.

The men's lacrosse coach has resigned, Duke's president cancelled the remainder of the men's lacrosse season. And this week the university president named five committees to investigate things including the university's response to the allegations and the culture of the lacrosse team.

Duke Law Professor James Coleman, Jr. is chair of the ad-hoc lacrosse review committee. He says the group has three weeks to complete its work, and it's going to start by looking at records of complaints about the lacrosse team's conduct.

Professor JAMES E. COLEMAN, JR. (Duke University): We're looking back at the, over the last five years. So the current seniors and then back to a graduating class.

BLOCK: One number that's come out in reporting on this over the last few days is that over the last three years, nearly a third of the men's lacrosse team, about 15 players in total, have been charged with misdemeanors such as drunken or disruptive behavior, public urination, that sort of thing. That sounds like a pretty substantial problem.

Professor COLEMAN: Well, you know, that's what we're going to try to determine. You know, it's been reported in the newspaper here that that's true, and I don't have any reason to doubt it. I don't think they were misdemeanors, but I think that they were certainly cited for criminal misconduct.

Obviously, we're going to look at those records, we're going to see if there are records within the Duke police, because it's an independent police department that has the authority to investigate crimes also.

BLOCK: What else, beyond records, might you be looking at? Would you be, would you be looking for anecdotal evidence, things people said, or heard or thought they said?

Professor COLEMAN: Yes, and we've already called for people who have knowledge about the conduct of members of the lacrosse team to contact us. Obviously we're going to talk to members of the team, we're going to talk to the coaching staff, we're going to talk to former players.

You know, just before I came over here, for example, I received a call from a former lacrosse player who lives in Atlanta now, who heard about this on television and called to offer his help. And so, you know, as we go through this process other people will be identified, and we will try to talk to them.

BLOCK: It does seem that what's alleged here crosses all kinds of lines, whether it's race or sex, violence, class issues, perhaps.

Professor COLEMAN: Right.

BLOCK: It's a lot to try to come to terms with.

Professor COLEMAN: I think that's right, and you know this is almost a perfect storm in terms of the allegations that are being made. I mean, it involves race, it involves sex, it involves, you know, elite universities, it involves privileged students, it involves poor students. You know, a university in the midst of an old industrial city. So, there are some larger issues that are much larger than the lacrosse team or even just Duke athletics in general.

BLOCK: Why did you decide to take on this role? Why was it important to you?

Professor COLEMAN: Well, I mean, I grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina in a very poor neighborhood. And, you know, I've been lucky, you know, I'm probably privileged now. My children are privileged. And, you know, I think it's important for those of us who are privileged to be responsible and to be leaders. And when privileged students are behaving in this way, I think that they're wasting opportunities and I think they're letting us all down.

BLOCK: Professor Coleman, thanks very much for talking with us.

Professor COLEMAN: Good, it's good to talk to you.

BLOCK: James Coleman, Jr. is a professor at Duke University Law School. He is the chair of the ad-hoc lacrosse review committee at Duke.

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