Apparently she didn't notice that they were all around her. Many of those who gathered in front of the house were Duke students outraged by what they had read and heard: That a woman says she was raped, sodomized, beaten and strangled by three men in the bathroom of the off-campus house rented by three captains of the Duke lacrosse team. That the lacrosse team members have been instructed by a lawyer to keep quiet about what happened. That the university is waiting for the results of DNA testing to take any action beyond forfeiting the season's scheduled games until then.
It was a cluster of freshman women who directed part of the crowd to another house around the corner on Urban Avenue, the "other lacrosse house," they called it, another familiar place that's home to lacrosse players, another site of frequent parties, another target for their outrage.
As the television news crews were winding down their interviews, four African-American students approached the house holding candles. They looked angry and weary. Asked if they were surprised by what's been going on, they all laughed. "Why is that always the question?" said Stan Williams, a second-year graduate student in the Divinity School. "I'm outraged," said Audrey Christopher, a recent graduate of Duke, "but I'm not terribly surprised."
What followed was an honest conversation about race and the experiences of African-American students on the campus of an elite private university. Some 20 more people, most of them white, gathered around to listen and pose questions to Williams, Christopher and their friends, Danielle Terrazas Williams, a first-year student in Duke's Ph.D. program in history, and Christian Peele, a first-year graduate student in divinity. The conversation is all too familiar, they say. It's just that their white classmates don't usually listen. Their dialogue was edited for length.
Danielle Terrazas Williams: 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. That's not special for us.
Stan Williams: It's part of the experience.
D. Williams: That's part of the experience of going to a predominantly white school.
Audrey Christopher: White frat parties, and inappropriate language.
S. Williams: They always have inappropriate parties. I mean, there was the Viva Mexico party, with Green Card passes to get in.
Christopher: Even as far as invading people's personal space at parties, as a minority female, it happens. Frequently. We've had to leave parties. When you go to a white frat party, I've had so many friends and stories of my own where they got grabbed and had to leave.
Personally, I remember once meeting someone at one of the quad parties, it was me and another black female friend, and these white guys immediately told us how they liked hanging out with black girls because white girls are sheltered and we're more free, and how they wanted to see us dance and immediately assumed that because we were black girls no one sheltered us and we weren't naïve and innocent.
That was the implication [that the women would be willing to have sex with them]. I would say that if you were there, it would have come across as more than an implication. At first we thought we were just chatting with ... people, and then they said that, and so we just left.
White woman in the crowd: How can you trust anybody that you meet that you're attracted to that's attracted to you, when you come to find out that they think they're going to get something from you that they're not going to get from a white girl?
Christopher: This is something that I have cried over. It's happened quite frequently; actually, too frequently. Way too frequently. And it's really upsetting when it's a classmate. It's not some random guy on the quad, it's not some random guy at a club. It's someone you work and go to school with and who you respected up until they propositioned you, or they grabbed you in front of everyone at the party.
Another white woman: What do other people at the party do when that happens?
Christopher: Well, my friend once went to a party and this guy just came up and started rubbing on her butt.
Christian Peele: He did not know her?
Christopher: No. And she said, "You must have lost your mind." And her group left. No one pays any attention when stuff like that happens.
S. Williams: They assume that that's what you do at a party.
Christopher: As a black female, you go to a party, you're expected to dance, you're expected to be sexually provocative. You [are expected to] want to be touched, to be grabbed, to be fondled.
D. Williams: As if they're re-enacting a rap video or something. As if we're there to be their video ho, basically. We can't just be regular students here. We can't just go to a party and enjoy ourselves.
Christopher: And just dance with your friends.
D. Williams: No, it can't be just that. It always has to be something more. And you wonder why there aren't a lot of black people at white parties, why we self-segregate.
Christopher: You go to a party, you get grabbed, you get propositioned, and then you start to question yourself. Did I give him some reason to think that I wanted to hook up with him in the bathroom? Stuff like that. And there is no reason. There's no reason unless I said, "I want to hook up with you in the bathroom." There's no reason to make that assumption. But it happens all the time.
A lot of black girls come together and share this. "This has happened to you, too?"
D. Williams: You realize you're not special. It happens to all of us here.
Christopher: I had a friend come over for a study date and her friend just outright propositioned her, and he didn't understand why she was offended and asked him to leave. Another guy was outright, like, I've never been with a black girl. And when she got offended, he offered her money. People don't take that seriously. People don't care.
Jamie Bell, a Duke freshman: I care. I'm from Durham. I didn't grow up in a sheltered, white community. My public high school was 50 percent black, 50 percent white. And I've noticed the segregation between black and white people on Duke campus. But honestly, I didn't know that's why it happened. And that's something I would want to know. If you don't think that anyone would listen, that's really sad.
Christopher: Was it Paul Musselwhite [a student columnist for The Chronicle, Duke's campus newspaper], the guy who said we create academic ghettos? And when people got offended, all you heard was, "Black students just complain all the time, all you do is complain and self-segregate." And whenever we try to explain why we're offended, it's pushed back on us. Just the phrase "self-segregation": the blame is always put on us. It doesn't even include the fact that perhaps the reason we're not involved in these activities is because it's not welcoming, it's not inclusive for us.
A white woman, weeping: I'm so sorry....
D. Williams: It's as if it's our fault. As if white people can't come to any of our events. They're not closed to any particular race. You see there's more diversity in our groups.
Christopher: And from somebody who doesn't self-segregate, for somebody who is in lots of different groups, I understand. I've known people to say, "Oh calm down, racism is funny." That quote exactly! And I was like, you only think it's funny because you don't have to deal with it. This was at a game night, we were playing Taboo or something. And I realized why Duke is as divided as it is. Who wants to sit there and have to listen to stuff like that and be the only one in the room who speaks up and realizes that that's inappropriate to say? And to be around people who will defend William Bennett's comments. "Oh, it was out of context." Who wants to deal with that all the time?
D. Williams: Some days we just need to not have to deal with it. Some days we need to not have to go through the verbal assault, not to hear stupid shit from our colleagues. We just need to be people some days.
Christopher: You've already got to go to class and be the only black person, so whenever a black issue comes up, everyone looks at you to represent the entire black population of the United States.
[All four students erupt in laughter.]
D. Williams: Why do we all have this experience? Do you guys understand the degree of this? That any time racism or slavery comes up--
Christopher: "So what do black people think about this?"
D. Williams: And you know that maybe you've done it before, too. Don't play innocent here. We've all had to be in classes where everyone looks to us to be the speaker of the black race.
Christopher: And they don't want you to just give your opinion. You're supposed to represent an entire race of people.
Peele: The entire diaspora.
Christopher: So I don't understand how they can say that we self-segregate when we go to this institution. You go to your predominantly white class, you live in your predominantly white dorm, and if you have any activities besides BSA [Black Student Alliance] and UP, United in Praise, the gospel choir, then it's an integrated activity and you are the minority. So how are we self-segregating when we choose to have dinner with people who aren't going to say racism is funny? Or if we choose to party with someone who's not going to proposition us and offer us money because we're black girls? That's not self-segregation, that's just taking care of yourself.
Audrey Christopher will attend Harvard Law School in the fall.