A Duke University Sexual Assault Case

March 3, 2015

Just coming into public view is a sexual assault case at Duke University. The student newspaper at Duke reports that two students made separate allegations of sexual assault against Rasheed Sulaimon during the 2013-14 academic year.

The first student made the allegation in October 2013 at a diversity retreat called Common Ground, and the second made her allegation following another Common Ground retreat in the spring. But, says the paper, neither filed a complaint through the Office of Student Conduct or took legal action through the Durham Police Department. Various news sources report that the alleged victims chose not to file charges or come forward to the Office of Student Conduct because they were afraid of backlash from Duke basketball fans.

Sulaimon, speaking through an attorney, has declared he did nothing wrong.

This makes national news because Rasheed Sulaimon, until recently, was a member of the Duke men’s basketball team. At the end of January, Sulaimon was released from the team by coach Mike Krzyzewski who said that Sulaimon “has been unable to consistently live up to the standards required to be a member of our program.” Krzyzewski declined to say anything further, then or subsequently.

The ABC-TV affiliate in Raleigh reports that an ‘affiliate of the program’ came forward after talking to both women. The whistleblower told the paper that in March 2014 the allegations were brought to a team psychologist, head coach Mike Krzyzewski, assistant coaches Jon Scheyer and Nate James, and associate head coach Jeff Capel.

So who should have done what when? And what should someone do now? (Full disclosure: though a critic of Division 1 NCAA Athletics, I am fan of Duke basketball and of Coach K.)

First, no one employed by Duke should be talking about the case to the media, and no one should fault them for declining comment. Students have rights to confidentiality, both moral and legal, and university officials should be respecting those rights. (Krzyzewski was also right to say as little as he did about Sulaimon’s dismissal from the team.)

Second, it would have been better if the two students had reported the incidents either to university officials or to the Durham police—if they wanted to say anything at all in public. Of course both had a right to keep whatever happened to themselves, but it puts everyone, especially the accused and the university, in a bind if the allegation is made in public without making a formal report of the incident. Under such circumstances, we get trial by rumor.

Third, if the students had any fear of reprisals from reporting the incidents, Duke had an obligation to see that there would be none.

Fourth, once anyone in the employ of the university learned of the allegations, the university should have done two things. It should have gone to the student making the allegation and asked if she now wanted to report it. Whether or not she said yes to that question, the university should have undertaken to investigate the allegation. If it found credible evidence of criminal wrong-doing, it should have brought the matter to the attention of the Durham Police.

This is the one question I have given the reporting to date: last spring when the matter first (apparently) came to the attention of Duke employees, was any investigation started? That’s what I’ll be looking to learn.  Regarding what Krzyzewski did or did not do over the last few months, the Duke Athletic Director has already stood up for Coach K, though no details were given.)

Mike Bianchi, a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, has written a piece with the headline Duke basketball is entering Jameis Winston territory regarding rape allegations. That is overreach, not to use a blunter word. In the Jameis Winston case, the young woman did report the incident and the university did nothing to pursue it.

P.S.: My hackles go up when someone is referred to as ‘an affiliate of the program.’ Is this person a Duke employee, with all the responsibilities that come with that? Why the shadowy cloak?

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
This entry was posted in Leadership, Responsibility and Ethics, Student Life and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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