Sunday, April 02, 2006

Rape at Duke

I've been digesting this story since it broke this week... it is bringing back a lot of memories of living in the shadow of Duke University in Durham for two years.

Boy, North Carolina is a strange place, but perhaps no place there is as strange as Durham. Nestled in an apex of the so-called Research Triangle, a pocket of cosmopolitan culture in an otherwise rural and agrarian state, Durham was a city that made its bones on the back of James Buchanan "Buck" Duke's brightleaf tobacco empire. In addition to being the next best thing to a Klansman, he was also the man who gave tiny Trinity College the endowment that would make it an Ivy League school in the early 20th century.

Durham, which now is an economically depressed city (tobacco washing away, and all) with a half-and-half racial split, has this amazing college with a great deal of Land Rover-driving freshmen from Connecticut and New Jersey, flaunting wealth just yards away from some of the poorest bastards you'll ever have the chance to meet. One of the stories we heard upon moving down there was how young white girls were used as ATMs by black males at night in parking lots of off-campus housing. There was a lot of (unfounded) fear in the air, from what I remember, around newcomers from the north.

I only spent two years there, 1999 and 2000, and they were good ones. That part of the south was very cosmo, as I mentioned before, and sometimes I actually felt like the white/black tension among native southerners was better-managed than it is back here up north (easy for me to say, all white and privileged and shit). But I do remember the Duke issue -- that many students were liberal children of Baby Boomers looking to go into public service, but perhaps more were pre-med, pre-law, and Division I athletes. I'm assuming the lacrosse team bastards who are suspected in this heinous crime fall in the latter category.

I have assumptions (which are usually wrong, in my case) and impressions about what goes on in Durham -- there is a fascinating tightrope being walked by students and faculty to maintain the bubble that Duke operates within, proximal to such disadvantage and poverty. (My ex was a grad student at Duke at the time, and I remember there being a plagiarism scandal brought up by her and a few colleagues that was buried as not to attract any attention.) I don't see anything changing immediately in the university's culture, and I don't quite know what it was about this crime that made it national news.

But it's a good start.