Between the Lines: May-June 2007

June 1, 2007

On a single day, the magazine received promotions for two conferences. The themes created a curious juxtaposition. One conference was on "How Colleges Can Obtain National and Regional Publicity"—as if Duke, over the past year, had been eager for that opportunity. The other, on "Crisis Communications Planning," advertised itself with the notion that "Campus crises have garnered national headlines in the last twelve months: Duke, Gallaudet, American University, and Virginia Tech have all been in the spotlight."

In all of those cases, the spotlight was unwelcome. The Duke lacrosse case now has the cultural signifier of a twenty-six-page entry in Wikipedia. The entry features a timeline of events, discussions of the accuser's shifting account and the district attorney's questionable actions, and a report that over two months last spring, "Sales of Duke University apparel, especially lacrosse T-shirts, led the Campus Store's sales to triple."

For all the national attention, it's remarkable how little impact the case has had on the life of the campus. The president of Duke Student Government, Elliott Wolf, a junior, says lacrosse, in all of its strange twists and turns, affected him in his official role, but that in the past academic year, it was rarely a conversation topic among students. The students in a magazine-journalism seminar resisted discussing the relatively sober coverage in The New Yorker and the shrill treatment in Rolling Stone alike; they had had enough.

This semester, Wolf had a history class that included lacrosse players. The class was taught by a signer of last spring's "Listening Statement," in which eighty-eight faculty members expressed concerns about campus culture. According to the assumptions of their critics, the class atmosphere must have been tense. Wolf says lacrosse did come up in class, with every team victory. The professor would applaud the players for a successful effort, then move on to history.