President Richard H. Brodhead told a group of Duke University students Wednesday morning that "we can't promise you there will never be instances of disgusting and disturbing things." But he called on students and the larger community to recognize how they can learn from controversies such as the one that has emerged around the men's lacrosse team.
Noting how the situation has focused attention on difficult issues such as race relations, Brodhead said "we have to use this as a moment to reflect on the meaning of these things," adding that "it's not every day the mind opens to a certain subject."
The students asked to meet with Brodhead following a news conference the previous evening at which he announced the university is suspending future lacrosse games pending a clearer resolution of the legal situation. They had gathered to protest outside the conference. Brodhead spoke with them briefly and, since he needed to leave, arranged to return the following morning for a longer conversation.
Many of the students spent much of the night preparing for the morning's meeting at the Mary Lou Williams Center in the West Union building. A group called Concerned Citizens at Duke University distributed a statement at the meeting voicing the sentiments of some in attendance, saying "the university is cultivating and sustaining a culture of privilege and silence that allows inappropriate behavior to plague the campus."
In response, Brodhead reiterated his unwillingness to pass judgment about the criminal allegations until more facts emerge from the police investigation, saying the university would respond appropriately. The players deny the criminal allegations and no charges have been filed. "If you were at a university where the president meted out punishment based on what he reads in the newspaper, it would be a pretty dangerous place," Brodhead said.
However, he applauded the students for using the incident as an opportunity to address broader issues that need attention and sought their assistance in sparking discussion more widely across the campus. "We have to trust the process of education," he said, urging those in attendance to talk with other kinds of people, engaging them as individuals with a capacity for growth.
"We are not a perfect community," he said, "but we are a community where we take these issues seriously."
Brodhead also responded to a number of specific suggestions, such as for strengthening Duke's ties with North Carolina Central University and enhancing the training athletes receive on issues such as diversity and sexual violence.
Describing the meeting participants as "most impressive," Brodhead said he looked forward to similar conversations with other students and members of the Duke and Durham communities.
Many of the participants lingered after the meeting to discuss the issues, plan future actions and speak with reporters who had assembled outside the room.