Stick to the Facts: Why Duke was Ready to Believe the Lacrosse Hoax

Ashley Thorne

Stretched across the back of every lacrosse stick is a web of mesh and string netting. When in place, the mesh pocket enables players to scoop up, catch, throw, and cradle the ball. Like netting that carries a ball, cultural context lays the framework for notable events.

For instance, the infamous Duke lacrosse case of 2006. Last month, NAS member KC Johnson addressed the New York Association of Scholars to tell the story of the lacrosse case. At the meeting, he shared specifically about the deeper cultural forces at work on the Duke campus which made the university ready to believe the false accusations brought against the lacrosse players. How did Duke get itself so enmeshed in the rape scandal? According to Johnson, the three main social themes which set the context were:

1)      The transformation of the Duke faculty into those deeply committed to a race-class-gender ideology

2)      Drinking on campus

3)      The Larry Summers rule

 These themes, not isolated to Duke but apparent at universities nationwide, help illuminate why the 2006 hoax was convincing to at least 88 Duke faculty members.

When NYAS President David Gordon submitted his video of Johnson’s excellent presentation, we thought we’d try posting part of it on our site. Johnson’s talk was about an hour long, but we’ve cropped it to the first 8½ minutes. Bear with us on camera adjustments and an angle that puts the backs of the audience’s heads in the foreground. This is the first video to appear on the NAS website.

Stay tuned for footage from the upcoming NAS conference


KC Johnson is a professor of history at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. He was the 2007/2008 Fulbright Distinguished Chair Fellow in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Johnson is co-author of the book Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case (2007) and creator of the popular blog Durham in Wonderland, both of which chronicle the story of the Duke Lacrosse case.


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