Tag Archives: Duke University

Duke Reports a Sexual Assault Rate 5 X as High as Our Most Dangerous City

Over the last few years, we have become all but immune to what, under any other circumstances, would be a fantastic claim—that one in five female undergraduates will be victims of sexual assault. This rate would translate to several hundreds of thousands of violent crime victims (with almost all of the incidents unnoticed) annually, and, as Emily Yoffe has pointed out, implies that about the same percentage of female college students are sexually assaulted as women in the Congo where rape was used as a war crime in the nation’s civil war.

Even within this environment of pie-in-the-sky statistics, a recent survey from Duke stands out. According to the survey, 40 percent of Duke’s female undergraduates (and 10 percent of Duke’s male undergraduates) describe themselves as victims of sexual assault. This data would mean that each year, a female undergraduate at Duke is 5.5 times more likely to be a victim of violent crime than a resident of St. Louis, which FBI statistics listed as the nation’s most dangerous city in 2016. And yet, incredibly, parents still spend around $280,000 to send their daughters into this den of crime for four years.

But 88% of Women Feel Safe

As always occurs with these surveys, the internal data renders them highly unreliable. But in this case, the internal data suggests a survey at war with itself. A few examples:

The survey indicates that 88 percent of female undergraduates say they feel safe on campus. So—at a minimum—28 percent of Duke female undergraduates say they feel safe at a school where they experienced sexual assault. Similarly, 74 percent of female undergraduates consider sexual assault a big problem on campus—meaning that at a minimum, 52 percent of female undergraduates feel “safe” on a campus where they think sexual assault is a “big problem.”

The most startling rate of self-described sexual assault victims comes among lesbian and bisexual female undergraduates, 59 percent of whom say they were sexually assaulted while at Duke. And yet, according to a later table, zero female undergraduates list a female as the perpetrator of their assault. Even assuming that every bisexual student surveyed said she was assaulted by a man, this figure would suggest that a significant portion of Duke lesbians are having some type of sexual contact with men (nearly all of whom, it appears, then turned out to have been sex criminals). Could anyone take such data seriously?

If true, these figures would suggest a violent crime epidemic not merely for Duke but for the city of Durham. Significant percentages of the alleged sexual assaults occurred in a category described as “off-campus/local,” thus falling within the jurisdiction of the Durham, rather than the Duke, Police Department. Yet no signs exist of the Durham Police paying more attention to this purported crime wave in their midst, or that the Duke leadership has asked them to do so.

‘Fundamentally Unfair” to Men

At heart of the issue is the extraordinarily broad definition of sexual assault—a term with a common cultural and legal understanding—used in surveys like the Duke one. The survey lumps together being “touched or grabbed” in an unwanted way (61 percent of the self-described victims) with sexual assault by force or threat (22 percent of the alleged victims) as if the severity of the offenses were the same. Even the survey takers appear to recognize the folly of this approach; 41 percent of self-described female sexual assault victims describe the experience of being sexually assaulted as not very upsetting—or not upsetting at all. The university’s response? Asking whether this figure indicated “a need for broadly disseminated programming on the impact of sexual misconduct.” Duke already has increased “the number of staff providing counseling and support services and conducting investigations.”

Perhaps the saddest item from the survey: 57 percent feel that students accused of sexual assault are treated fairly. They’re responding to a system in which Duke has had two negative judicial decisions, the most recent of which featured Judge Orlando Hudson characterizing the Duke procedures as “fundamentally unfair.” There is, of course, no reason to believe that most students have any idea just how unfairly Duke treats students accused of sexual assault.

The Downgrading of American History

A little more than a decade ago, I commented on the “re-visioning” of American history—the transformation of “traditional” sub-disciplines such as U.S. political, diplomatic, or military history to have them focus on the themes of race, class, and gender (and, now, ethnicity) that have come to dominate the field. A more recent development, documented by a 2016 ACTA report, has been the elimination of any required courses in U.S. history—even of the “re-visioned” variety. Only 23 of the nation’s 76 leading colleges and universities have such a requirement for History majors.

ACTA’s report is important not merely because of its impressive collection of hard-to-gather data, but because it has led some university History departments to publicly explain why they believe it’s fine for a U.S. university to graduate a History major who hasn’t taken a single course in U.S. history.

According to George Washington’s History Department, the elimination of a U.S. history requirement was purely market-driven—the number of majors had declined, and the department decided that eliminating a U.S. requirement would attract majors. Yet the department kept a far more onerous requirement (a pre-1750 course).

And a comment last month from the department’s director of undergraduate studies—“American history is so dominant at GW that it’s almost unnecessary to tell students that they have to take it. It’s what our students overwhelmingly do”— contradicted the suggestion that the unpopularity of U.S. history explained the decision to eliminate the requirement.

If George Washington’s seemingly illogical explanation for its removal of the U.S. history requirement, the response of the Duke History Department provided a clearer rationale for the problem the ACTA report exposed. Professor Bruce Hall, director of undergraduate studies in Duke’s History Department, asserted that “our goal is to have our students to develop the kind of critical skills that we think are really important for them”—implying that the actual content of History courses is irrelevant to Duke history professors.

Of course, the vast majority of History courses at Duke (or any other university) consist not of the instructor spending dozens of hours talking about “skills,” but of the professor providing information about the past. The “skills” emphasis (a favorite of the AAC&U, among others) provides a way to divert the public’s attention from what actually is being taught in university classrooms.

In the event, a Ph.D. student in the Duke program, Jessica Malitoris, gave the game away, indicating her “worry about the politics of privileging American history.” (Malitoris’ Duke profile affiliates her with the institution’s gender, sexuality, and feminist studies program.) Hall appeared to agree: “We don’t try to communicate an American ideological notion about citizenship—that’s not our goal.”

At least Malitoris was candid in why the department might have eliminated the requirement for U.S. history. (How that line would work with Duke donors, on the other hand, is a different question.) Hall’s remark, meanwhile, is difficult to square with his department’s own mission statement, which proclaims that “we study history for instrumental reasons, to redress the pervasive ‘history deficit’ in political discourse and policy formation.”

(The department’s website doesn’t indicate the nationality of its majors, but it seems safe to assume that the majority, and probably the overwhelming majority, are U.S. citizens, linking the department’s concern with “the pervasive ‘history deficit’ in political discourse and policy formation” to U.S. history.) And Duke University’s own mission statement, as articulated by the Board of Trustees, speaks of providing students with “a sense of the obligations and rewards of citizenship” that Hall appeared to disparage.

Only pressure from trustees is likely to achieve any kind of progress on this issue. As the responses of the Duke and George Washington departments illustrated, and as ACTA’s study documented, it appears that a majority of History professors nationally now believe that it’s OK for a university to graduate History majors who have never taken a course in U.S. history.