Ten Years Later, the Duke Lacrosse Case Still Reverberates

Next month will be the tenth anniversary of the spring break party that triggered the Duke lacrosse case. That incident probably remains the highest-profile false rape claim in recent U.S. history—rivaled only by the claim against University of Virginia fraternity members leveled, and then retracted, by Rolling Stone. An unwillingness to engage in any critical self-reflection is the foremost legacy of how the academy responded to the lacrosse case, at Duke and beyond.

Duke’s Curtis Crisis

Last spring, 88 Duke faculty members signed a public statement stating unequivocally that something “happened” to the accuser in the Duke lacrosse case. They promised to “turn up the volume” regarding the “social disaster” the lacrosse players had unleashed. And the professors said “thank you” to widely publicized protesters who had put up “wanted” posters with the lacrosse players’ photos while carrying signs reading “Time to confess” and “Castrate” outside the lacrosse players’ house.

The “Group of 88” included Kim Curtis, who before late March had compiled a lengthy if unspectacular tenure as a longtime visiting political science professor. Then came the lacrosse incident. For faculty members predisposed to an extreme version of the race/class/gender trinity, the case was too tempting not to exploit. Before signing onto the Group of 88’s statement, Curtis attended rallies denouncing the players (background, in this photo). On March 29, she emailed fellow Durham activists expressing outrage that defense attorneys had (correctly) stated that no DNA match would occur to any lacrosse player. “The self assurance,” wrote Curtis,

in the statement issued yesterday by the team that they will be exonerated by the results of the DNA testing makes me wonder if we’ve gotten the full story about who was at the house that night. Were there others present who in fact carried out the rape and who are being protected by everyone else who was there? How do we know who was there?