A campus and community in turmoil

Updated: March 31, 2006, 10:46 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

DURHAM, N.C. -- The faces peer from neat rows on the legal-size leaflets posted throughout the quad. All white. All male. All members of the Duke University lacrosse team.

Above the faces is a simple plea: "PLEASE COME FORWARD."

A day after Duke President Richard Brodhead suspended the schedule of the nationally ranked Blue Devils lacrosse team until allegations of sexual assault are resolved, no one had answered that call. No witness had stepped forward. The faces on the poster remained a symbol of the confluence of race, class, privilege and gender that has roiled the campus and community in a perfect storm of controversy and scandal.

Duke lacrosse
AP Photo/Karen TamPosters on Duke's campus feature 43 of the 46 white players on the men's lacrosse team. The team roster and pictures were removed from the team's Web site before the remaining players' images could be added.

Dinushika Mohottige was one of the Duke students posting the leaflets -- grassroots activism courtesy of the school's Progressive Alliance -- before Wednesday evening's "Take Back The Night" march across campus, part of Duke's observance of National Sexual Assault Awareness Week.

"I'm so outraged by how heinous the crime was," said Mohottige, a Florida-born woman of Sri Lankan descent. "But more than that, it's the lack of compassion the lacrosse team has shown for the victim.

"I'm sure this incident will bring to light a lot of the privilege issues that exist on this campus. This story is a wake-up call for the university."

Her anger was shared by Betty Greene, a 10-year Durham resident.

"I was appalled," said Greene. "It was just shocking. I'm a woman and a black woman. Every woman needs to be angry about this. Every man and every child. Duke is trying to hide this and they're not going to get away with it."

All day Wednesday, television satellite trucks were parked along Chapel Drive as the media descended upon Duke in an attempt to learn what actually happened at an off-campus lacrosse team party on March 13.

The alleged incident has ignited passion on campus and in the community like few stories in recent memory.

At the news conference in which he suspended the team's season indefinitely, Brodhead said, "In this painful period of uncertainty, it is clear to me, as it was to the players, that it would be inappropriate to resume the normal schedule of play. Sports have their time and place, but when issues of this gravity are in question, it is not the time to be playing games."

But even as the Duke women's basketball team continues to play games, advancing to the Final Four with a thrilling overtime victory over the University of Connecticut on Tuesday night, it was the men's lacrosse team that dominated local headlines and informal discussion on campus.

I'm so outraged by how heinous the crime was. But more than that, it's the lack of compassion the lacrosse team has shown for the victim. I'm sure this incident will bring to light a lot of the privilege issues that exist on this campus. This story is a wake-up call for the university.
Dinushika Mohottige, a Duke student of Sri Lankan descent

"It's incredibly ironic that women's basketball should be in the spotlight right now," said Kelly Jarrett, a university employee who received her doctorate from Duke. "But they've been eclipsed by the boorish behavior of this team.

"They tell Duke kids, 'Don't go into the big, bad Durham community.' Well, now they can get violated right here on campus. The administration does well to take a position that protects the rights of the young men. They've done a poor job at articulating the rights of those who feel violated and threatened by their behavior."

According to police and published accounts, this much is known:

The party occurred at 610 North Buchanan Boulevard in a house leased by three members of the lacrosse team, and was attended by as many as 40 lacrosse players. Alcohol was present. While some upperclassmen at the party were of legal drinking age, many of those in attendance were not. The services of two exotic dancers were secured through an escort service. One of the dancers, a black single mother of two and a student at nearby North Carolina Central University, claims she was held down, beaten, strangled and raped by three men.

To date, the Durham Police Department has not filed any charges in the case. But District Attorney Mike Nifong told MSNBC on Tuesday that he is convinced a sexual assault occurred.

"The behavior was bad behavior, boorish behavior," Brodhead said about the party in a Tuesday night news conference. "But from there to what is alleged is a very serious step."

The players, according to police, have not been cooperative in the investigation. The school has not undertaken its own investigation of the incident, instead deferring to the Durham Police Department, a decision that has sparked widespread criticism.

Two lacrosse games -- against North Carolina and Cornell -- were played after news of the incident surfaced. Duke officials decided Saturday, 12 days after the party, to forfeit games against Georgetown and Mount St. Mary's. The team now faces the real prospect that its 6-2 season might be over.

The charged situation has inspired several campus demonstrations over the last five days. Sunday, one night after a candlelight vigil, protestors banged on pots and pans and chanted outside the house where the party occurred. Another demonstration, scheduled for this past Saturday at Koskinen Stadium, was canceled when the Georgetown game was called off.

Earlier Wednesday, Brodhead met with about 100 students at the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture.

"That students got up at 8:30 in the morning shows you the level of concern," said Chandra Y. Guinn, the center's director. "The allegations are extremely serious and there are implications for various aspects of university policy, student life and campus culture.

"We are an educational community, and I think there needs to be educational intervention here. The issue wasn't resolved by a single meeting. There need to be many, many more conversations on this subject."

They tell Duke kids, 'Don't go into the big, bad Durham community.' Well, now they can get violated right here on campus. The administration does well to take a position that protects the rights of the young men. They've done a poor job at articulating the rights of those who feel violated and threatened by their behavior.
Kelly Jarrett, Duke university employee, former Duke grad student

A one-page missive addressed to Brodhead from "Concerned Citizens at Duke University" stated: "It is our impression that the university is cultivating and sustaining a culture of privilege and silence that allows inappropriate behavior to plague the campus."

The school's student newspaper, The Chronicle, is also feeling the heat of national scrutiny. Seyward Darby, editor-in-chief, scrambled Wednesday to balance the time demands of her job with numerous interview requests from outside media. In 24 hours, she spoke with the local CBS and NBC affiliates, MSNBC, NBC World News Tonight, ESPN.com and several local radio stations.

Needless to say, her eight-page midterm paper on the New York School of poets, due on Monday, hasn't been completed.

"It's massive, complete pandemonium," said Darby, a junior English major. "You have all these issues that came together in a single alleged incident. I think a lot of it is that there's a lot of mystery to the story. The administration has said repeatedly that there is another side to it, but there is nothing on the record. What is the other side?

"People with various interests and concerns have come together on this who believe that the players are guilty and the administration hasn't done enough. Then you have another group of people who are angry with the first group, saying the players are innocent until proven guilty.

"This is by far the biggest thing that's come across my desk. We're trying to keep our reporting down the middle. This is a huge story and requires all the objective and ethical sensibility we can manage."

Despite the controversy, the players, according to students on campus, have not been shy about appearing in public. Some members of the team, which lost 9-8 to Johns Hopkins in the 2005 NCAA Division I lacrosse championship last spring, have been seen wearing their Duke lacrosse sweat suits and gear, apparently as a show of solidarity. They have also hired a lawyer, Robert Ekstrand, a partner at Ekstrand & Ekstrand LLP, the firm representing a majority of the lacrosse players.

Three of the team's captains -- both in a Tuesday meeting with Brodhead and in a four-paragraph statement posted on the school's athletic department Web site -- have denied that a sexual assault occurred.

"Any allegation that a sexual assault or rape occurred is totally and transparently false," the statement said. "The DNA results will demonstrate that these allegations are absolutely false."

The captains, whose names weren't attached to the statement, said they regretted their "lapse in judgment" in having the party.

It was the first, and so far only, response from the athletes.

But according to the court order that was required to execute DNA testing, medical records "revealed the victim had signs, symptoms and injuries consistent with being raped and sexually assaulted vaginally and anally." The dancer was examined by a forensic sexual assault nurse.

The Raleigh News & Observer published a story on Tuesday that revealed about a third of the Duke lacrosse team -- 15 players in all -- had faced previous charges that include underage alcohol possession, loud noise and public urination. Most of those charges, the story said, were resolved in deals with prosecutors that allowed the players to avoid criminal convictions. The story named names and served to galvanize critics who believe that athletes sometimes seem to function beyond the rules.

In 911 tapes released Tuesday by the Durham Police Department, a female caller reported that as she walked past the house where the party occurred on the night of the alleged attack, a white man yelled racial slurs at her and a black friend from the front yard. The alleged rape victim identified her attackers as white men and also claims the athletes used racial slurs. Of the 47 members on the lacrosse team, 46 were forced to give DNA samples. The only black player on the team was exempted.

Results of the DNA testing are expected from the Raleigh State Bureau of Investigation some time in the next two weeks.

Meanwhile, at 3:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, the usual time, members of the Duke lacrosse team began to throw and catch, the prelude to practice. The captains led the team through stretching drills and then through a typical two-hour practice. But there will be no practice tomorrow, according to athletic officials. There was no reason given.

At the same time, less than a mile away, hundreds of rainbow-colored pinwheels set in the ground in the Clocktower Quad spun quickly in the breeze, so fast that they seemed to stand still.

The Pinwheel Project, part of the National Sexual Assault Awareness Week observation, features a pinwheel for each member of the school's undergraduate population who, statistically speaking, can expect to be sexually assaulted in his or her lifetime.

Taken as a metaphor, the pinwheels are poignant and effective. Against the backdrop of the scandal, these classic children's toys stood as a stark reminder of a culture that many here feel has spun out of control.

Five hours later, the wind had died down and darkness enveloped the quad. But the sounds of protest echoed across campus as more than 500 people marched and chanted: "We won't be raped! We won't be beaten! Out of the dark, into the streets!" and "The people united will never be defeated!"

But even in protest, there was a message of hope, as Dr. Jean Leonard, coordinator of Sexual Assault Support Services at Duke, told the marchers: "Tonight is more than a big media story the nation might be interested in. This is more about healing."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.