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Who wins?

I tend to be most concerned with the elements of a situation that directly affect me.

So, when I was first coming to understand the gravity of the lacrosse incident, my thoughts immediately turned to the effect the news would have on the prestige of my future alma mater.

Sure enough, my summer was spent listening to the jokes and questions regarding lacrosse of nearly everyone I met. Of course this can't compare to what actual lacrosse players must have had to deal with--an experience described quite powerfully in a summer Chronicle story July 19.

The article highlighted the difficulties facing members of the 2005-2006 men's lacrosse team after being mired in the rape scandal. The sideways glances from passersby, the single-minded fascination of coworkers with the issue, and the empathetic grief felt for the indicted three--these have made recent months a living "nightmare" for the athletes.

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To be honest, though, I don't fear for the long-term prospects of these gentlemen. They will probably remain the objects of adoration of much of the female contingent of the "Duke 500" touted by Rolling Stone. And for the most part they will continue to enjoy their lucrative, highly prized positions in (to use a buzz word of The Chronicle) "New York-area investment banks."

So while the public disparagement of the team and the (almost entirely) baseless indictments against three players indeed represent a miscarriage of justice and of public opinion, I can't help but worry more about the lasting detriment to the reputation of our school.

Since those three will probably not be convicted (although the mere thought of the possibility is horrifying), the national focus remains on the only things that are known for sure, at least to the media: that Duke in Durham is an oasis for over privileged, condescending, drunken louts.

The problem is compounded by the fact that even before this story broke, Duke was somewhat hard to define. Academic bastion or fratty party school? Southern university or relocated Ivy?

Now that our reputation is in the clumsy hands of the media, the dilemma is worse. A reasonable accounting of Duke as it truly is--a good, but like so many others, conflict-ridden school--will be drowned out every time by the shrill cries of a drama-hungry press. We are no longer Duke. We are elite academia on trial--a perfect target.

But we aren't the only losers. The very people who seized upon the incident to further their agendas have seen it blow up in their faces.

District Attorney Mike Nifong may have successfully manipulated his way to a primary victory, but his reputation among the legal community, after various grievous violations of professional conduct, is becoming more and more tattered.

And the voices that were so ready to paint a picture of a prototypical white male exploitation of an innocent black female have seen the alleged victim's story of the evening in question be systematically undermined.

For so many years, rape victims were treated unfairly, as a misogynistic and racist justice system acquitted guilty rapists. But in this case, it is evidence, and not prejudice, that discredits the alleged victim's accusation. The professors, students and pundits who assumed the veracity of her statement (the version she finally stuck with) now have to watch the backlash as she is called all the things rape victims have historically been called (Tucker Carlson: "crypto-hooker"; Rush Limbaugh: "ho").

Although her trustworthiness has nothing to do with her profession as a stripper, and her right to her body has nothing to do with how drunk or high she might have been, and her entitlement to justice has nothing to do with her gender or race, the case does have everything to do with the truth of her story.

The people who assumed guilt before it was proven-simply because of the political and social forces involved and what it could do for their agendas--have made a grave mistake and, I fear, have risked vindicating the words of reactionaries like Carlson and Limbaugh.

Yet the biggest victim of all this prejudgment--other than the three players themselves--is Duke's once strong reputation. Now that the tide is starting to turn, and the case is being undermined more and more, it is time to start rebuilding it. We cannot turn back time, and clearly the damage of the accusation is done.

Our admissions yield already took a hit from the previous year. Even in the event of a complete acquittal, what's been written and said is out there to stay.

But I think that whatever happens in the case, it's time to be proud to go to Duke again. We must refuse to allow the people whose impulsive, ill-informed assumptions--that are now being debunked--to define us.

We are not the only school of privilege and not the only one where drinking is a problem. We're just the one to watch. Let them watch as our darkest hour sees us emerge stronger for the experience.

David Kleban is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Tuesday.


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