President Brodhead Speaks on Lacrosse Situation at Alumni Reunion

Following his "State of the University" address Saturday in Page Auditorium, President Richard H. Brodhead responded with the following answer to a question about how Duke has been portrayed in news media coverage of the incident involving the men's lacrosse team. His remarks received a standing ovation:

I am very happy to have that question, and I am very happy to have it be the question to conclude. The other questions were fun, but we all have this question in our minds. If you haven't enjoyed the media, imagine how I feel.

All I want to tell you about this is that one of the really, really disturbing things about this episode has been to discover that the media -- including the most respected forms of the media -- if you go back to the early stories, they are all written in the key of hysteria, they are all written to inspire hysteria, and they teach the lesson that hysteria breeds extraordinary mental simplifications: Every student at Duke was filthy rich, right? At a school where more than 40 percent of the students are on financial aid, and the average grant from the university is $25,000 of financial aid. Every student at Duke is a white preppy, right? And every person in Durham is a penniless black person. You know, there are such people at Duke, and there are such people in Durham -- and it's important to remember it -- but the truth is it just teaches you that in the world of passion is the world where people just reach for any old stereotype. I've been very troubled by this, of course, and I'll just tell you one thing, I have had so many conversations in the last month, but the one that I think touched me most profoundly was the head of the NAACP in this state, who came to my office and who said to me, "If you ever want someone to come and stand by you and talk about the damage that can be done by prejudging, by judging people because of a group they belong to and some theory you have of that group rather than actual evidence, you come to me," he said. And actually there has been so much prejudgment in this case. It has been a powerful lesson in how deep the passions of prejudice run, all kinds of prejudice -- prejudices against athletes, prejudices against the South have been very, very visible in the Northern media all through this.

Now you know one of the troubles is, we can't go back to all these networks afterward and say, "Now that that blew over, would you care to give us the same amount of air time to tell the truth about this story?" That is not the way the media work. Nevertheless, we have to make it our business on absolutely every occasion and every audience we find, I think some of the most effective spokesmen, you notice the stories are getting more complicated nationally, right? And actually more of the truth is getting into the picture. Durham was referred to as a middle-class town in The New York Times the other day; this is astonishing progress. Well, the fact that anybody at Duke is on financial aid has now been mentioned more than once. It takes time. My theory is over time the truth comes back, the passion departs, the full picture comes in.

But I want to say something to you guys. Nothing has pained me more about this episode than the notion that people don't want to say where they went to college, because that name is now a source of embarrassment. If you are ever in a situation where you find yourself in that light, you've just got to turn that around. You've got to walk up and say some true thing about this place that is a source of pride and, Lord knows, there are many. And you know what? At the end of the day, this place will be known as it is. It will be known for what it is. And I hope this will be a better place after this episode. But it won't be an altogether different place. It will be known for the excellence that characterizes us now. And that's all of our work, to bring that day about. Thanks.