Accessibility links

Breaking News

Duke University Case Highlights Racial Divisions, Raises Questions About Student Athletics

The arrest of two student athletes at a prestigious American university on rape charges has highlighted the divisions in race and class that sometimes exist in university towns. The case, involving lacrosse players at Duke University and an African-American female stripper, also has raised questions about the culture of college athletics. VOA's Bill Rodgers has more on a case that has attracted widespread media attention.

Two students have been charged with kidnapping and raping the woman, who says she and another stripper were hired to dance at a party held by Duke University lacrosse players in a house off campus. The charges by the accuser, who is black, have sparked debate on race and class issues.

Duke University, a prestigious and highly-selective institution, is located in Durham, North Carolina, a racially-mixed middle-class city. "Town-and-gown" tensions have always existed in many cities where there are elite universities, but in Durham they were heightened by this racially-charged case.

Some students held protests when the case first surfaced, while others criticized the lacrosse players. "I'm shocked and appalled there are still varsity letters on these athletes," said one student.

The role of college athletics -- and the behavior of some athletes -- also has been questioned. Duke University administrators warned lacrosse players about instances of drunken and rowdy behavior by some team members even before the alleged rape occurred.

Some student athletes develop an attitude of entitlement, says ethics professor Richard Lapchick. "There is a mentality among athletes that we can get away with this, that no one is going to challenge us because we are student athletes."

In recent years, allegations of rape and improper sexual conduct have been leveled at rugby players at San Diego State, basketball players at South Dakota State, football players at Penn State, the Coast Guard Academy, the University of Oklahoma, and the University of Colorado.

The adulation and scholarship money some top student athletes receive breeds this attitude, according to sports sociologist Harry Edwards. "They are given star status at 17, 18, 19 years old. That is unprecedented,” says Harry Edwards, a professor at the University Of California, Berkeley.

Even though the two players charged are presumed innocent pending their trial, the scandal has undermined the notion that university athletic teams foster sportsmanship and discipline among their student practitioners.