North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper announced April 11 that all criminal charges would be dropped against the Duke University men’s lacrosse team players who were charged with rape of a female stripper. The Miami Student editorial board believes Duke’s initial actions of suspending the students in the wake of the charges were inappropriate and were done to avoid legal culpability – leaving the students with a tarnished image that is beyond repair.
Hoping to sever ties with the students and set a harsh example, Duke punished the lacrosse players by suspending the suspected students and canceling the entire team’s lacrosse season. What Duke did not realize when it prematurely suspended the students was, due to media hype, it could not separate itself from the incident.
Notwithstanding questions of moral behavior, many collegiate athletic teams at college campuses across the country hold parties such as this one and accusations can run rampant on college campuses – oftentimes without a shred of truth. Unfortunately, a similar situation could easily unfold on Miami University’s campus. Hopefully, other colleges and universities, including Miami, will learn from the experience of Duke and proceed with the legal process carefully, regardless of media attention or accusations. When deciding to suspend students, universities need to look at both sides of the issue and weigh the decision carefully. In the United States, the legal system is composed of a belief that suspects of a crime are innocent until proven guilty. This belief of justice should carry over to college campuses as well.
Duke is nationally known for its athletic excellence in lacrosse – a sport with the stereotype of being played predominantly by affluent and white college males. The racial underpinnings of this case are impossible to deny and the economic and racial differences between the victim and the accused extracts polarizing emotions. Yet these same emotions kept the case alive with the deplorable legal conduct of District Attorney Mike Nifong. Ultimately, the case was handled fairly by the legal system, but sadly not by Duke University. Duke could have asked the students to leave for the semester or leave open the possibility of the accused returning when the matter was settled. Duke judged the students guilty before they had the opportunity to enter a courtroom.