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Profs stand by 'social disaster' ad

One year and three innocent lacrosse players after 88 Duke faculty members endorsed an advertisement about a perceived "social disaster" on campus, some signatories now express relief that all charges against David Evans, Trinity '06, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann were dropped April 11.

Still, the ad's signers-dubbed the "Group of 88" by some media and bloggers-said they stand behind the general sentiment of the full-page ad, which was originally printed in The Chronicle April 6, 2006.

"I feel... a tremendous sense of relief," Jocelyn Olcott, assistant professor of history and women's studies and a signatory of the ad, wrote in an e-mail. "We have a lot of work to do to close the wounds that have opened up, but I hope that the healing can start now."

Several ad signatories said they were not surprised by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper's decision.

"To me, it seemed like an anticlimax because the real turnaround came just before Christmas, because the whole trail of misconduct of [Durham District Attorney Mike] Nifong came to light," said Claudia Koonz, professor of history, who also signed the ad. "I don't know why it took six months."

The ad framed anonymous quotes from students responding to a perceived campus culture following the lacrosse party around the question, "What Does a Social Disaster Sound Like?"

"These students are shouting and whispering about what happened to this young woman and to themselves," the ad's introduction read.

Individual signers acknowledged that the ad's position could have been misconstrued, but added that they would still support its overall message.

"Were the authors naive? Definitely," Koonz said. "I would definitely still support [the ad], I would just add one more sentence: 'Let the justice system decide.'"

It is unclear who authored the ad.

Peter Sigal, associate professor of history and a signer of the ad, said the statement did not necessarily represent a singular opinion but instead collected the viewpoints of students responding to racism and sexism on campus.

"We should note that many statements included in the ad were not statements of fact, but rather perceptions of individual students," Sigal wrote in an e-mail. "I support working with students to help amplify their voices. I also support the overall proclamation of the ad: that there exists a social disaster on our campus and throughout society."

The ad emphasized that the "disaster" was an ongoing social problem that began before the alleged rape occurred. But the ad also referred to it as a completed event, giving voice to students "who see illuminated in this moment's extraordinary spotlight what they live with everyday."

"And this is what I'm thinking right now-Duke isn't really responding to this," one student was quoted as saying. "Not really. And this, what has happened, is a disaster. This is a social disaster."

Sigal said, however, that a single event did not prompt the conversations that led to the ad.

"This social disaster is not the lacrosse party; it is the prevalence of such things as racism, sexism, sexual violence and homophobia," he said.

Although the case highlighted problems on campus, Olcott said the issues it addressed were not unique to Duke.

"This problem of 'campus culture' is hardly isolated to Duke or to the present moment," Olcott said. "When this story first broke, there was an article in The New York Times in which several college presidents confessed that such an episode-whose contours at that point were, of course, still unclear-could easily have happened at their home institutions."

Facing criticism, faculty members included among the 88 maintained they have a responsibility to not only teach their students but also to vocalize concerns over University issues.

"I think it's important that faculty be a part of University life outside the classroom, even if our positions sometimes antagonize people," Olcott said. "I'll admit that the combination of all these stories coming out made me ask myself, 'Would I want my niece to come to Duke?' I want this to be a place where someone like her can thrive intellectually and personally, and that wasn't what I saw."

The ad attempted to give voice to those harassed by racism and sexism on campus, but ad signatory William Chafe, dean of the faculty of arts and sciences and Alice M. Baldwin professor of history, said the ensuing controversy made the signers objects of harassment themselves.

The group's position came under attack because outspoken members of the Duke community and some bloggers covering the case said the faculty were not supporting their students and did not presume the innocence of the lacrosse team.

"I am appalled at the way that bloggers who have targeted the 'Group of 88' have put words in our mouths, denied our individuality and racist and violent language to attack us-including sending us e-mails and making phone calls wishing our deaths and calling us 'Jew b-' and 'n-b-,'" Chafe wrote in an e-mail. "Most of us never presumed guilt."

Sigal reiterated that the intent of the ad was not to pass judgment on the players but to engage in conversation and instigate change within Duke's campus culture.

"Had it proclaimed the guilt of the players, I would not have signed the ad," he said.


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