Thursday, April 06, 2006

Riding the Storm 

You have probably read over the last two weeks about the Duke University lacrosse team that has been charged with sexual assault and the result of those charges on the university. It got worse yesterday, and the president of Duke, Richard Brodhead, has done the only thing he could. Brodhead has tried to respond since the beginning of the scandal, but he's in a difficult position. As of this hour, DNA samples from team members have not been processed, and it is the word of victim against the word of the players. To have moved too quickly might have condemned the innocent. To have kept silent would have left the university in a terrible relationship with internal and external publics.

Brodhead hasn't kept up with the news headlines in terms of informing alumni of what happened, but he has tried. He sent this e-mail to alumni last week.

Dear Duke Alumni,
Many of you will have heard by now news accounts about allegations against the Duke lacrosse team, which the captains of the team deny. Yesterday evening, Director of Athletics Joe Alleva and I met with members of the news media to discuss the situation. My statement announcing the suspension of lacrosse games and a supplementary statement amplifying on a question from the press conference are available on a special website:
http://www.dukenews.duke.edu/mmedia/features/lacrosse_incident/. I invite you to read them so that you will be better informed about what is happening at Duke.
It's understandable to feel badly when terrible things may have happened at a place you love, and I've heard from many of you who have expressed sadness, anger, outrage, and frustration about the lacrosse situation. Let me also say that as painful as these times are, the test of a school is not preventing bad things from ever happening, but in addressing them in an honest and forthright way. In my meetings with students, faculty, and administrators, I believe Duke is doing just that. I urge you to keep informed of developments by checking the website as the days go by.

Sincerely yours,
Richard H. Brodhead

Brodhead's action yesterday shows he means what he says in terms of addressing bad things in an "honest and forthright way." No one is going to emerge from this incident without scars, but the university appears to be riding the storm.

True public relations, however, will be to fix the situation that allowed this to happen in the first place. Team members apparently were unsupervised for years and allowed to slip into ugly habits. The university would be in a better position had it done something about that before the incident.

I suspect the University will come to see that it was an incident waiting to happen: A general culture of entitlement and arrogance at the University, and to this the sub culture of athletics particular to Duke. (Those at the University understand what one means about the particular sub-culture cultivated and tolerated at Duke.)

Add to this the mix of the misogonistic hip hop thug pop culture packaged and marketed to kids by the likes of an MTV; perverted, the pervassive pornographic images and no wonder hineous and inhumane behavior erupts.

College sports, pop culture and the blindness of our institutions....

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