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Dukie on the Defense

The major press outlets often refer to Durham as a “sleepy” little Southern town. It’s funny that in my four years of living here, I’ve never once considered Durham as anything other than alive. Cross Duke University with the gang violence beyond the pristine university walls, add a nationally recognized minor league baseball team and one of the country’s most famous historic black universities, North Carolina Central University, add a pinch of tobacco flavor and a drop of summer sweat, and stir the mixture until your eyes roll back. Durham has been anything but sleepy even before the Duke Lacrosse gang rape scandal.

As a recent graduate of Duke, and a current resident of the larger Durham community in which Duke is embedded, I detest the notion that the gang rape investigation has divided my community into a deceptively clear cut, black/white, town/gown debacle. The shallow remarks made by members of the media community have painted Duke students into pink polo-wearing jerks with millionaire fathers, while Durham residents have been described as angry, disenfranchised, and uneducated. As for Duke students who also happen to be Durham residents (well, the entire student body is technically comprised of Durham residents, but what everyone has forgotten has to do with the fact that many Duke students live off-campus), not to mention the thousands of Durham residents employed by Duke, they are barely being represented.

My personal issues on the matter are complex. I do not subscribe to any radical viewpoint, or so I like to think. The Duke women’s lacrosse team has worn armbands with the word “Innocent” in solidarity with the men’s lacrosse players accused of rape; I’m sure that these girls know the male players better than I ever will, but, let’s face it, the men’s lacrosse team has had a bad reputation for a reason. The student newspaper did a story on the team last year, revealing that some of its members are definitely not above the occasional racial slur.

But I am equally doubtful of the sentiments expressed by the likes of the New Black Panther Party, who staged a protest near Duke’s campus last month. I was there, and while I was in no way intimidated or threatened, I did not like the slogans they were chanting. The NBPP claimed that the entire Duke community was guilty of racism, and alleged that the rape allegations were true because of something they referred to as an “independent investigation.” Independent? Yeah right. The protest only demonstrated how easy it is for various fringe groups to use incidents such as the alleged gang-rape to hog the limelight.

At this point, I don’t know which side is telling the truth. I can only hope that the court proceedings will be fair to everyone involved. Three Duke lacrosse players have been formally charged, one of them a senior who graduated with me a few Sundays ago on May 14th. I want him and his teammates to be innocent, but I can only hope that as the facts establish themselves, they will paint an accurate picture. My own desires as to the outcome of the case are ultimately irrelevant.

I am sure of one thing though: Duke and Durham, are not mutually exclusive. They are part of one another. They, to paraphrase a horribly cheesy line from a horribly cheesy Cameron Crowe film, complete each other.

At this point in my life, I am very happy to call myself both a Dukie and a Durhamite. And I would urge anyone with more than a passing interest in this unfolding drama to remember that there are real people, not walking caricatures, involved.

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Natalia Antonova

Natalia is a writer and journalist. She’s the associate editor of openDemocracy Russia and the co-founder of the Anti-Nihilist Institute.