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Duke University Rape Case Raises Issues of Race and Class in Durham

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We look at the latest in the Duke University rape case. A black female student from North Carolina Central University says she was beaten, raped and choked by three white members of Duke’s Lacrosse team last month. The case is stirring racial and class tensions in North Carolina. [includes rush transcript]

A black female student from North Carolina Central University has accused three white members of Duke University’s Lacrosse team of rape. The alleged incident took place last month. The woman was hired as a dancer for a lacrosse team party held in a house rented from Duke University. There she says she was beaten, raped and choked by three white lacrosse team members who also called her racial epithets. The lacrosse team denies the allegations. Police have not filed charges, but are taking DNA tests of nearly all the team’s members in an effort to identify the suspects. At least one witness says he heard lacrosse team members making racial slurs. Jason Bissey, who lives next door to where the party was held, said he heard one player yell at the woman: “Thank your grandpa for my nice cotton shirt.”

The derogatory remarks have not been confined to the night of the incident. Last week, radio show host Rush Limbaugh called the woman a derogatory two-letter often used to describe a prostitute.

A number of students and community members have rallied to support the woman. Last Wednesday, activists distributed “wanted” flyers with photos of lacrosse players as hundreds participated in the annual Take Back the Night march against rape.

  • LaHoma Romocki, Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Health Education at North Carolina Central University.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined in the studio in Durham, North Carolina, by LaHoma Smith Romocki. She is Assistant Professor at North Carolina Central University. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

LaHOMA ROMOCKI: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us.

LaHOMA ROMOCKI: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you update our listeners and viewers around the country about this case and the allegations of the student about the members of the lacrosse team?

LaHOMA ROMOCKI: Well, I will try. What we know is that a young woman who had been hired by the Duke lacrosse team to dance for them has alleged that she was brutally assaulted and victimized by the members of the Duke lacrosse team. As you said, they are — all the students involved here — the young woman, a student at North Carolina Central University; and the Duke students — all have maintained that their version of the events are the accurate one.

AMY GOODMAN: So the police have taken D.N.A. of 46 of the 47 members of the lacrosse team. They did not take the D.N.A. of the black member of the lacrosse team. She said that the people who raped her were white.

LaHOMA ROMOCKI: That is my understanding.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the response right now, both at Duke and where you are at North Carolina Central University?

LaHOMA ROMOCKI: I can tell you that the response on the Duke campus, the response in the Durham community, and the response on N.C.C.U.’s campus has been tremendous. I think that people are concerned about issues of justice here. If you look on the side of the young men who are alleged to have committed this horrendous crime, they are maintaining their innocence, and they have their supporters, naturally. You know, we do live in a country where you are presumed innocent ’til proven guilty. On the other hand, however, you have the young woman who is alleging that she was a victim here and that we are on the N.C.C.U. campus wanting that she would have the same consideration of being innocent, if you will; that is, that her views are considered, that she is held to be — at least to have some consideration and support until we know exactly what happened from the police investigation. We are looking that neither the young men or the young woman here are condemned until we have more facts.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Romocki, the median income in Durham is about the same as the cost of one year — I think it’s $41,000 for one year — of going to Duke. Can you talk about this, the racial and class divide between the university and the town?

LaHOMA ROMOCKI: I think that the university has for a long time been struggling with this image of, you know, Duke University, an elite institution, certainly a world class institution. I must say that I am a graduate of Duke University, and I’m a Durham resident, and so I’m well aware of the history of the university, but also of its efforts to try to deal with the ongoing tensions between the university and the community. On the other hand, there are some real issues here about how the university responded to the allegations. I think that class continues to be a concern, that if the young woman perhaps had been another race, or if perhaps she had not been working, that perhaps the case would not have evolved the way it did. I think that, you know, Duke is a very prestigious institution and pitted against a primarily blue-collar community. There are still many who question that if this had happened on the other side of town, whether the reaction would have been the same and whether the judicial process now that we are seeing unfold and the police investigation, if it would have been the same thing.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Romocki, I want to thank you for being with us.

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