Friday, November 10, 2006

Duke Case: The 'listening' statement

photo of 'listening statement' ad. in Duke Chronicle, April 6th, 2006Updated: Within hours of this post, the Duke African & African American Studies Department pulled the 'listening statement' (.pdf) file off their website.

The infamous full-page 'listening' statement (see text/image below) was signed and then published by "The Group of 88" in the Duke Chronicle, the independent daily newspaper of Duke University, on April 6th, 2006. The advertisement featured statements from Duke students indirectly condemning the Duke lacrosse players and exculpating the alleged victim of their gang-rape.

"The Group of 88" were a mixed bag of people connected to Duke University.
The group's collective profile is revealing. To begin with, only 69 of the 88 are tenured or tenure-track faculty: seven were visitors (it's understandable why they would care little about the fate of Duke students); seven teach in the University Writing Program; and one each was a program registrar, graduate student, program administrator, clinical nurse, and "affiliate" to an unspecified Duke program. Statement sponsors haven’t explained how they determined who was eligible to sign the document.

The 69 permanent faculty signatories included only two professors in math, just one in the hard sciences, and zero in law. (It would have been difficult indeed for a law professor to have signed a statement deeming irrelevant "the results of the police investigation.") Of the permanent signatories, 58—an astonishing 84.1 percent—describe their research interests as related to race, class, or gender (or all three), in some cases to an extent bordering on caricature. KC Johnson
The 'listening' statement reads like a deranged blogger's angry rant about sexism, racism, and sexual assault. It included eight anonymous and three attributed quotes that were allegedly made by Duke students.

One of the quotes in the 'listening' statement is attributed to Danielle Terrazas Williams, a first-year student in Duke's Ph.D. program in history. Two of the quotes are from Audrey Christopher, a recent graduate of Duke. Both women are African-American, but were not Duke undergraduates when their quotes were used for "The Group of 88" advertisement.

There are eight other unattributed quotes in the statement. None of the quotes used in the 'listening' statement are directly attributed to any Duke undergraduate. Who exactly were the Group of 88 listening too? ESPN gave this report on how the 'listening' statement was created:

Wahneema LubianoWahneema Lubiano leaned forward in her office chair and pored over the copy for the full-page ad one more time. What Does a Social Disaster Sound Like? the headline read.

It was just minutes before the copy deadline for the April 6 issue of The Chronicle, Duke's daily student newspaper. Lubiano had taught literature and African and African-American studies for 10 years, and her campus activism on race and gender issues cast her in a comforting light for many of her students. She'd heard them describe a campus culture dominated by a small but powerful class of rich, white students who led a privileged life many white kids at Duke took for granted. She'd heard accounts of a few brutal rapes on campus and about the far more pervasive trend of date rape.

As March turned to April, Lubiano felt her students' frustration rising again, fueled by the feeling that in the wake of the scandal, no one was listening to them. The head of her department had charged her with giving African-American students a voice. Theirs were the dozen quotes that appeared on the page she was getting ready to submit.

"We want the absence of terror. But we don't really know what that means … That's why we're so silent."

"I was talking to a white woman student who was asking me, 'Why do people' -- and she meant black people -- 'make race such a big issue?' … They just don't see it."

Lubiano thought back to the last week of March, to the night she'd first heard those words. About 75 students had crowded into a second-floor conference room at the John Hope Franklin Center, named for one of the most prominent African-American professors in school history. They were there for a forum on black masculinity, but the focus had changed to reflect the sordid drama playing out on campus. Tensions were high as the space filled. There were two white women in the room, Lubiano remembered, a few Latino and Asian students and a couple of white faculty members. Everyone else was black.

Given this background, did the Group of 88 fully know what they were signing? Since the publication of the advertisement none of the 88 signatories have apologized or removed their signatures from the statement. None have said anything, in the way of positive support, regarding the injustice that three Duke students are suffering.

Academic Stud Muffin - Alex RosenbergOne member of the Group of 88, Alex Rosenberg, the R. Taylor Cole Prof. of Philosophy, has recently been creatively reinterpreting his support of the "listening" statement. Last month Prof. Rosenberg gave The New York Sun this reason for signing the statement:
...Mr. Rosenberg signed the letter supporting the "We're Listening" advertisement. Mr. Rosenberg said he did so because he was concerned with the prevalence of alcohol on campus and bothered by "affluent kids violating the law to get exploited women to take their clothes off when they could get as much hookup as they wanted from rich and attractive Duke coeds."
Prof. Rosenberg now claims in a recent comment at the Duke Chronicle that he was simply "complaining about the culture of drunken loutishness on campus." Both of Prof. Rosenberg's recently stated reasons for signing the "listening" statement are disingenuous. Drinking or alcohol is not mentioned at all in the listening statement.

Given its timing and the reference to "what happened to this young woman" the advertisement was clearly about going after the lacrosse team for perpetrating a crime, regardless of what the truth was.

Why can't Prof. Rosenberg or any of the other members of the Group of 88 simply apologize for their "rush to judgement?"

One Duke graduate put it this way:
The behaviour of the whole group of "88" is in fact much more repulsive now then it was back then. As rushed as their judgment may have been, back in the spring the "famous" professors may have believed that a rape did indeed occur. Wrong as it is to sentence somebody before knowing all the facts, they had at least *some* kind of arguably positive motivation nourishing their irrational animus.

However, the way they behave now, when the truth is known, must be known even to them, cannot be excused in any imaginable way. They do not care about the students they have vilified. They are too small to say "I'm sorry". They do not care about the callous suffering they (not the wrongly accused Duke students) have inflicted on fellow human beings (not to mention students they - the Magisterial Instructors - were supposed to educate, nurture and protect).

They do not care for having administered an extraodinarily powerful credibility hit to the very causes they purport to hold dear - women rights and racial justice.

All they care now is the safety of their own skin and shoddy tenures, their own shattered reputation, their own muddied public persona. Compared to this kind of behaviour, somebody hitting and running, abandoning his/her accident victims to die in their own blood, is by no means different, except for the higher degree of premeditation and more cynical avoidance of responsibility manifested in the Group of 88 way of "passing the buck".

We are listening to our students. We’re also listening to the Durham community, to Duke staff, and to each other. Regardless of the results of the police investigation, what is apparent everyday now is the anger and fear of many students who know themselves to be objects of racism and sexism, who see illuminated in this moment’s extraordinary spotlight what they live with everyday. They know that it isn’t just Duke, it isn’t everybody, and it isn’t just individuals making this disaster.

But it is a disaster nonetheless.

These students are shouting and whispering about what happened to this young woman and to themselves.

. . .We want the absence of terror. But we don’t really know what that means . . . We can’t think. That’s why we’re so silent; we can’t think about what’s on the other side of this. Terror robs you of language and you need language for the healing to begin. 1
This is not a different experience for us here at DukeUniversity. We go to class with racist classmates, we go to gym with people who are racists....It’s part of the experience. [Independent, 29 March 2006] 2
If it turns out that these students are guilty, I want them expelled. But their expulsion will only bring resolution to this case and not the bigger problem. This is much bigger than them and throwing them out will not solve the problem. I want the administration to acknowledge what is going on and how bad it is. 3

Being a big, black man, it’s hard to walk anywhere at night,
and not have a campus police car slowly drive by me. 4

Everything seems up for grabs--I am only comfortable talking about this event
in my room with close friends. I am actually afraid to even bring it up in public.
But worse, I wonder now about everything. . . . If something like this happens to
me . . . What would be used against me--my clothing? Where I was? 5

I was talking to a white woman student who was asking me “Why do people --
and she meant black people -- make race such a big issue?”
They don’t see race. They just don’t see it. 6

What Does A Social Disaster Sound Like

You go to a party, you get grabbed, you get propositioned, and then you start to question yourself. [Independent, 29 March 2006]7

. . . all you heard was "Black students just complain all the time, all you do is complain and self-segregate." And whenever we try to explain why we’re offended, it’s pushed back on us. Just the phrase "self-segregation": the blame is always put on us. [Independent, 29 March 2006] 8
. . . no one is really talking about how to keep the young woman herself central
to this conversation, how to keep her humanity before us . . . she doesn’t seem
to be visible in this. Not for the university, not for us 9

I can’t help but think about the different attention given to what has happened from what it would have been if the guys had been not just black but participating in a different sport, like football, something that’s not so upscale. 10

And this is what I’m thinking right now – Duke isn’t really responding to this. Not really. And this, what has happened, is a disaster. This is a social disaster. 11

The students know that the disaster didn’t begin on March 13th and won’t end with what the police say or the court decides. Like all disasters, this one has a history. And what lies beneath what we’re hearing from our students are questions about the future. This ad, printed in the most easily seen venue on campus, is just one way for us to say that we’re hearing what our students are saying. Some of these things were said by a mixed (in every way possible) group of students on Wednesday, March 29th at an African & African American Studies Program forum, some were printed in an issue of the Independent that came out that same day, and some were said to us inside and outside of the classroom. We’re turning up the volume in a moment when some of the most vulnerable among us are being asked to quiet down while we wait. To the students speaking individually and to the protestors making collective noise, thank you for not waiting and for making yourselves heard.

We thank the following departments and programs for signing onto this ad with African & African American Studies: Romance Studies; Psychology: Social and Health Sciences; Franklin Humanities Institute; Critical U.S. Studies; Art, Art History, and Visual Studies; Classical Studies; Asian & African Languages and Literature; Women’s Studies; Latino/a Studies; Latin American and Caribbean Studies; Medieval and Renaissance Studies; European Studies; Program in Education; and the Center for Documentary Studies. Because of space limitations, the names of individual faculty and staff who signed on in support may be read at the AAAS website:

1 Unattributed quote made at March 29th forum, or elsewhere
2 quote by Danielle Terrazas Williams, a first-year student in Duke's Ph.D. program in history, taken from Independent
3 Unattributed quote made at March 29th forum, or elsewhere
4 Unattributed quote made by an African-Amerian male at March 29th forum, or elsewhere
5 Unattributed quote made at March 29th forum, or elsewhere
6 Unattributed quote made at March 29th forum, or elsewhere
7 quote by Audrey Christopher, a recent graduate of Duke, taken from Independent
8 quote by Audrey Christopher, a recent graduate of Duke, taken from Independent
9 Unattributed quote made at March 29th forum, or elsewhere
10 Unattributed quote made at March 29th forum, or elsewhere
11 Unattributed quote made at March 29th forum, or elsewhere

Listening Statement, (.pdf removed), African & African American Studies
Not your video ho - Black female students at Duke say they feel constantly under attack - by Fiona Morgan, Independent, March 29, 2006
Open Letter to Brodhead - KC Johnson, July 19, 2006
The Duke 88 - KC Johnson, April 23, 2006
Duke-in-Wonderland, KC Johnson, Aug. 29, 2006
'Group of 88' faculty hears criticism in wake of lax scandal - Duke Chronicle
Brooklyn College Professor's Web Log Defends Duke Players - The New York Sun, Oct. 27, 2006
Months later, unanswered questions haunt Duke - ESPN, Sept. 7, 2006
Group of 88 +Faculty [list] - Friends of Duke University
Dear Cowards, - another list of all 88 members of The Group of 88 - Crystal Mess

update: Since the African & African American Studies department quickly removed the original 'listening statement' from their website, here below is an image (click to enlarge) of the original.

update #2: One of the comments on KC Johnson's blog pointed out that Google still had a copy of the document in its cache.

update #3 - Jan 18, 2007: Did the Duke "Gang of 88" falsify their 'listening' statement?

update #4 - The departmental endorsements at the end of the advertisement were later shown to be falsified. Also, the question of who paid for the ad has not been answered. Were departmental funds used? It seems likely.

Listening Statement
TJN / background:
Guide to the Duke 'Group of 88'
Duke Lacrosse Saga in Pictures
Duke Case: Index/Timeline

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