Thursday, March 15, 2007

Essai: A Letter to AMac (Re Duke Lacrosse Context)

Here is my “essai,” more a letter to a commenter, and it will need to stand as my final word on the context of the Duke lacrosse situation. My response to AMac’s civil query, now expunged along with the trolls’ venom, posts from my friends, and my own comments, is here now slightly edited. Some of this below appeared already tonight in an update to my “Perfect Storm” post. I haven't time, interest, or energy for more and spring break is now half over.


I appreciate your suggestion that I read more about the Duke case. I have stated here several times that I will do so. I may disappoint you, because though I have good intentions, I probably won't do much more than an hour or so. When the situation was made public, I read quite a bit about it, and also watched mostly Fox News coverage, for what seemed like an eternity. I work also in American Studies here at Purdue, and the Duke case _in its wider social and cultural context_ is of interest to faculty and students in that interdisciplinary area.

I guess I have to say it again: I am not as interested in this particular situation as I am in the broader cultural issues surrounding it in current higher education, and the history of higher education. I stated as much in an original posting, and my comment upon Penn Professor Sanday's column in Inside Higher Ed supports this.

However, I will try, in limited time and words now, to give some shorthand to my thinking and explain some of the terms I have used, based upon more than average knowledge (though not first-hand or even Durham- or Duke-centric) of the issues of the case and surrounding the case.

Culture of privilege: By this I mean students who attend elite private institutions. That includes me for both graduate and undergraduate. I have worked in higher education since 1982, when I received my PhD, mostly in state institutions, and since 1994, at a Big Ten land-grant institution with a far different culture than my graduate or undergraduate alma maters.

I like where I work, and I see readily that I am the recipient of good fortune with which I didn't have anything to do (third-generation Ivy legacy, professional and adequately paid parents, a comfortable home and decent K-12 public schools, numerous and expensive camps and lessons, and so forth). I know about places like Duke from the inside, as a student years ago and as a former Ivy admissions officer. I don't know Duke much, having visited the campus only two or three times. I worked in North Carolina for eight years, but at a state institution far removed in distance and status from Duke's orbit. Most North Carolinians are indifferent to Duke, so I learned little about the university from people I met in that state.

Culture of violence: By this I am talking about America. It is a violent country, historically and presently. As an American, I am part of that culture. So are students at Duke. Check out some of the accounts of the incident, particularly what was said about the strippers by those present, and also what has been said subsequently on at least one other site I have seen. The comments there reveal much about this culture of violence, IMHO, as well as a lack of civility rampant in many internet forums.

Simmering gang rape: What do you get when a group of young, virile men hire a stripper to excite them sexually amidst profuse alcohol? When I simmer something on a stove, it is slowly cooking, heating along, but if I were to turn up the heat slightly, it would boil over.

Sneer quotes around the word fact: I use quotes around fact to indicate my belief that all facts are provisional warrants. I am not sneering at you or anyone, but merely emphasizing that I see facts as conditional and open for discussion. I also use quotes to indicate my concern that these so-called "facts" be arrogated by one particular viewpoint, with what appears to me to be its attendant literalism and epistemological imperialism.

- A. G.

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