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Published: Jan 17, 2007 12:30 AM
Modified: Jan 17, 2007 05:25 AM

Duke post seeks to defuse '88' ad
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Dozens of Duke professors have posted "an open letter to the Duke community" on the Web, explaining an ad last spring that has been widely criticized as a condemnation of lacrosse players.

The new letter, signed by 87 faculty and posted at, refuses to apologize for the ad and reiterates concerns about issues of race and sexual violence on the Duke campus. It says the so-called "Group of 88" ad published in the Chronicle last April has been grossly misinterpreted. That ad has been a subject of heated debate on blogs, and its signers have received angry and sometimes racist e-mail messages.

"The ad has been read as a comment on the alleged rape, the team party, or the specific students accused," the letter said. "Worse, it has been read as rendering a judgment in the case. ... We reject all attempts to try the case outside the courts, and stand firmly by the principle of the presumption of innocence."

The letter was signed by "concerned faculty," many of whom endorsed the original ad. The ad, entitled, "What Does a Social Disaster Sound Like?", included anonymous statements by students talking about racism and sexism on the campus. The ad also thanked "protesters making collective noise."

The letter this week has backed off that a bit, saying, "We do not endorse every demonstration that took place at the time."

William Chafe, a history professor who signed both the ad and the letter, said the bloggers' interpretation of the ad has become the version people accepted. And that's wrong, he said. "We're trying to simply set the record straight and clarify we never claimed the lacrosse players were guilty," Chafe said.

No matter what happens with the lacrosse sexual assault case, the letter said, issues of race and sexual violence still exist on campus and should be addressed.

The "Group of 88" has been portrayed as politically correct, left-wing professors who rushed to assume lacrosse players were guilty of rape. The professors have been harshly criticized as the sexual assault case began to unravel.

The rhetoric has been heated on the Duke campus, where President Richard Brodhead has called for a restoration of the "fabric of mutual respect." Two weeks ago, a group of economics professors signed a letter saying the professors supported lacrosse players and all student-athletes, and expressing regret that Duke professors were viewed as prejudiced against some students.

That prompted an online petition signed by more than 450 Duke alumni and Duke supporters, standing behind the economics professors. Many of the petition signers targeted their anger at the "Group of 88."

In the online letter, concerned faculty say they won't apologize despite the fury.

"There have been public calls to the authors to retract the ad or apologize for it, as well as calls for action against them and attacks on their character," the letter said. "We reject all of these. We think the ad's authors were right to give voice to the students quoted, whose suffering is real. We also acknowledge the pain that has been generated by what we believe is a misperception that the authors of the ad prejudged the rape case."


Original ad published in Duke Chronicle ad in April --

"We are listening to our students. We're also listening to the Durham community, to Duke staff, and to each other. Regardless of the results of the police investigation, what is apparent everyday now is the anger and fear of many students who know themselves to be objects of racism and sexism, who see illuminated in this moment's extraordinary spotlight what they live with everyday. They know that it isn't just Duke, it isn't everybody, and it isn't just individuals making this disaster.

"But it is a disaster nonetheless. These students are shouting and whispering about what happened to this young woman and to themselves."

Letter from Concerned Faculty --

"In the spring of 2006, the Duke community was rocked by terrible news. We heard that a woman hired to perform at a party thrown by our lacrosse team had accused members of the team of raping her. Neighbors, we were told, heard racial epithets called out at the woman as she departed the party. The criminal proceedings and the media frenzy which followed are perhaps beginning to wind down. For us at Duke, the issues raised by the incident, and by our community's responses to it, are not.

"In April, a group of Duke faculty members published an advertisement in The Chronicle. The ad, titled 'What does a Social Disaster Sound Like?' was mostly a compilation of statements made by Duke students in response to the incident and its immediate aftermath. This ad has figured in many discussions of the event and of the University's response. It has been broadly, and often intentionally, misread."

Staff writer Jane Stancill can be reached at 956-2464 or
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