April 11, 2006

Carnelian Response Non-existent in Wake of Scandal

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The mood of lacrosse head coach Jeff Tambroni in a press conference following Cornell’s 16-6 win over Yale on March 25 pretty much summed it all up. It was the final weekend of Spring Break, and following the Red’s impressive, 11-7, victory over then-No. 2 Duke on March 21, Cornell was 6-0 for the first time since 1987. Tambroni’s squad had defeated the Blue Devils handily over four periods of play in Duke’s own house amidst 378 Duke faithful, but there was still something amiss.

Tambroni reflected that the win over the Blue Devils, the national runner-up in 2005, might be diminished by what the Duke program was going through.

The media in the press room sat confused. At the time, none of them, except those that had covered the Duke lacrosse team since Day 1 knew what Tambroni was talking about – that the Duke team was entangled in a scandal that forced it to forfeit its next two games against Georgetown and Mt. Saint Mary’s because of rape allegations brought against the team by an African-American exotic dancer who had been hired for an off-campus party hosted by the team’s senior tri-captains on March 13.

The scary thing was that at the time of the Cornell game, what the players and Durham community had gone through is nothing compared to what’s happening now. In a national backlash that has turned Duke’s campus into a 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week media circus, there have been protests, a head coach has resigned, an elite university has been given a black eye and all this has happened while no players have yet to be charged with a crime.

To make matters worse, a lacrosse player e-mail detailing how he was going to invite strippers over to Duke’s west campus dorms where the player was planning on “killing the bitches as soon as they walk in and proceeding to cut their skin off,” was confiscated. The troubling e-mail has only demonized the squad to a greater extent and weakened its defense against the accusations.

It is puzzling to think of how the situation can get even more out of hand considering the story is everywhere, having been featured on ESPN and other major media outlets such as CNN and MSNBC.

And while the situation has been the focus of national attention for all the wrong reasons, it has hardly been touched upon here on East Hill. Obviously, it is always a smart idea to wait and make judgments after all the facts have been analyzed and every angle has been looked at, but what negative attention has come from this tragedy has only indirectly affected Cornell in a way far from positive. Besides yesterday’s editorial in The Sun, all our campus has done is sweep it under the rug and look the other way, taking the approach that, “it’s Duke’s problem, not ours.”

If you look at school statistics, Duke looks fairly similar to Cornell. Despite our number of degree-seeking undergrads being almost twice the number of Duke’s, our school has a similar small-city setting and shares similar numbers in terms of diversity statistics compared with the heralded Durham, N.C., school; 53 percent of students at Duke are white/non-Hispanic compared to 54 percent here, nine percent are African-American at Duke compared to six percent here and six percent of the both schools’ populations are Hispanic. It’s also noted that our schools even share the same recruiting pool, with each school having the reputation of a top-20 academic university – 97 percent of Duke’s student pool were in the top quarter of their graduating class compared to 96 percent at Cornell. I’ve even heard friends around campus reflect on the situation and concede, “Thank God I didn’t go to Duke.”

To say a crime like this would never happen here at Cornell is foolish. I’m not saying it will happen here and I truly believe it never will, given the quality kids and coaching staffs that are here. I’m just saying that people probably thought that about the kids and athletes that go to Duke. If we take anything out of this situation, we should take notice and learn from what is going on 600 miles south of here.

Duke has taken the steps necessary in moving on and learning from such a horrible experience. Why not us? Duke President Richard Brodhead wrote a letter to the Duke community detailing his plan of action in response to the lacrosse accusations. In it, he drafted a plan of examining the student judicial process, its practices, and even proposed establishing a new Campus Culture Initiative Program with emphasis on students reinforcing their freedom with responsibility. With our campus ridden in scandal involving both an allegedly racially-motivated stabbing of a visiting Union student and a binge-drinking death at the University of Virginia, why don’t we take a page from Duke’s book? Isn’t the most important thing about making mistakes that you learn from them and make sure they never happen again?

I hope that all the players involved are innocent as they claim, that the defense attorneys are correct when they claim that photos at the party previous to the alleged rape will clear the Duke players of the alleged crime and that the general lacrosse community moves on without any repercussions from Duke losing its season. I also hope that somehow we here at Cornell take this unbelievably horrible story seriously and learn from Duke’s mistakes. I say that not only as a writer, but also as a fan and a student.

Tim Kuhls is an Assistant Sports Editor. That’s Kuhls, Baby will appear every other Tuesday this semester.

Archived article by Tim Kuhls