J: Duke Professors Recieving Racist, Threatening E-mails – one year later: still being justified by the “listening ad”

24 04 2007

Duke Profs Receive Racist E-Mail After Lacrosse Case

by: Scott Mason – WRAL.com

“Duke University police are investigating death threats against professors who questioned racial attitudes on campus a year ago, shortly after a black woman accused three white Duke lacrosse players of sexually assaulting her.

The so-called “Group of 88” professors endorsed an advertisement in The Duke Chronicle newspaper that quoted students who talked candidly about racism on campus. Some readers said the faculty members were convicting the lacrosse players before they had been tried…”

“The attacks have continued even as the case against the players has ended, said the professors, who didn’t want to be identified for fear of instigating more threats. They said they receive about a half dozen threatening e-mails a day from unidentified senders.

The white race is watching. I hope to see you hanging from a tree,” reads one e-mail.

The professors said they also have received bizarre packages in the mail that they think were prompted by their endorsement of the newspaper ad.

Still, they said they don’t regret endorsing the ad…”

video coverage available here


So, what was this ad that has brought a solid year of steady racial harassment and threatening emails to Duke faculty members? The “We’re Listening” ad mentioned in the article above has been repeatedly misrepresented in media reports. There is simply no integrity to the claim that in the ad “faculty members were convicting the lacrosse players before they had been tried…” To clear a few things up, here are the precise words of the ad itself (the ad as a pdf is here Listening Ad):

The header of the one-page ad read:

“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.”

The majority of the ad’s page-space was filled by a collection of Duke student quotes, such as:


“. . . We want the absence of terror. But we don’t really know what that means . . . We can’t think. That’s why we’re so silent; we can’t think about what’s on the other side of this. Terror robs you of language and you need language for the healing to begin.”

“This is not a different experience for us here at Duke University. We go to class with racist classmates, we go to gym with people who are racists. . . . It’s part of the experience. [Independent, 29 March 2006]”

“If it turns out that these students are guilty, I want them expelled. But their expulsion will only bring resolution to this ase and not the bigger problem. This is much bigger than them and throwing them out will not solve the problem. I want the administration to acknowledge what is going on and how bad it is.”

“I was talking to a white woman student who was asking me “Why do people — and she meant black people — make race such a big issue?” They don’t see race. They just don’t see it.”

“. . . no one is really talking about how to keep the young woman herself central to this conversation, how to keep her humanity before us . . . she doesn’t seem to be visible in this. Not for the university, not for us.”

“And this is what I’m thinking right now – Duke isn’t really responding to this. Not really. And this, what has happened, is a disaster. This is a social disaster.”

Then, a block of text at the bottom of the page read:

“The students know that the disaster didn’t begin on March 13th and won’t end with what the police say or the court decides. Like all disasters, this one has a history. And what lies beneath what we’re hearing from our students are questions about the future. This ad, printed in the most easily seen venue on campus [Duke’s student newspaper – “The Chronicle”], is just one way for us to say that we’re hearing what our students are saying. Some of these things were said by a mixed (in every way possible) group of students on Wednesday, March 29th at an African & African American Studies Program forum, some were printed in an issue of the Independent that came out that same day, and some were said to us inside and outside of the classroom.

We’re turning up the volume in a moment when some of the most vulnerable among us are being asked to quiet down while we wait. To the students speaking individually and to the protestors making collective noise, thank you for not waiting and for making yourselves heard.”


While I am glad that the ongoing harassment and intimidation of these professors is being brought to light by news coverage finally, the way this article was written makes it sound as though there is some way in which these professors (many of whom are people of color/women of color) brought this upon themselves – by signing an ad that encouraged a “rush to judgment” of the accused players. That is simply not true.

The text of this ad and its publication in the student newspaper gave voice to the experiences of students of color, and women of color in particular, on Duke’s campus at the time the news of the Lacrosse case first broke. It spoke openly about the realities of racism and misogyny at Duke – realities which pre-existed the Lacrosse case and were brought screaming to the fore in the intensity of that moment.

It said quite plainly “regardless the results of the police investigation”, “the disaster didn’t begin on March 13th and won’t end with what the police say or the court decides”, “If it turns out that these students are guilty, I want them expelled. There is no basis for the claim that in signing the ad faculty members were “convicting the lacrosse players before they had been tried…”.

Threats of violence (racialized or otherwise) are inexcusable and illegal. A year of continuous and daily threats of racialized violence against professors who support their students in speaking out about the racism they routinely experience on campus, constitutes a campaign of racial terror intended to silence not only these professors but anyone who dares to ‘talk out of turn’. Let’s call it what it is.

What, you might ask, has the university administration done to address this situation? Absolutely nothing. While the celebrations of “innocence” roll on, and KC Johnson’s hate-filled blog (where hundreds of commenters a day log in to join his denigrations and verbal maulings of these professors, and fawn over his ceaseless iterations of hateful clap-trapping about the “G88”) is on its way to publication as a book, and even the ‘good liberals’ are coming out of the woodwork to shake off the remnants of their tainted white guilt to join the daily avalanche of apologies to “the accused”, WHO IS LISTENING NOW?

Does anyone dare speak? Does it matter at all that in 2007, at a leading institution of higher education, black women who name racism as a problem are still under threat of being strung up from a tree?

“… We want the absence of terror...”

– J





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