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Duke Lacrosse and the Law with Jim Coleman

Last week, on November 8, 2017, Duke Honor Council hosted law professor James E. Coleman. On this chilly night, an intimate group of around fifty students compacted themselves into Wellness Room 148 to hear Coleman give his take on the Duke lacrosse case. Yet, Coleman did not merely share a general perspective on the case, because he played a substantial internal role in the scandal that occurred back in 2006.

During the scandal, the media were reporting that the Duke lacrosse team had a history of bad behavior. As a result, Coleman, then a professor of law, was chosen by President Broadhead to chair a committee that would examine the Duke lacrosse team’s conduct on and around campus in the years leading up to the scandal. Broadhead gave Coleman and his committee one month to generate a report, with the purpose of revealing whether or not the lacrosse team exhibited behaviors significantly different from those of other Duke athletic teams and Greek organizations.

In the one-month window of time that they had to generate the report, Coleman and his committee worked around the clock, interviewing as many people as necessary and possible—peers of the lacrosse players, community members, and individuals to whom the lacrosse players did not need to show respect. Coming out of this whirlwind, Coleman’s committee found that the team did not exhibit any peculiar misconduct. Although the team frequently ran into trouble with alcohol misconduct, this was an average Duke behavior and larger community problem. Furthermore, the committee determined that the lacrosse team members behaved with respect towards others; nothing pointed to the type of behavior described in the media.

From this perspective and experience, Coleman made the conclusion: If you always do what is right, you will never be in the wrong and never have regrets, even if you seem to stand alone. As he investigated the conduct of the lacrosse team, Coleman was doing the right thing, even though he seemed to stand alone with respect to the backdrop of the media.

But Coleman’s conclusion transcends the Duke lacrosse scandal.

As a Duke community member, if you always do what is right under the Community Standard, you will never be in the wrong and never have regrets, even if you seem to stand alone. Yes, abiding by the Community Standard may make you challenge yourself, as though you are standing alone; you may be put in the uncomfortable position of pulling an all-nighter so as to not cheat or calling out a friend for questionable behavior. But if you conduct yourself with this honesty, you will never have to face the regrets and the emotional turmoil associated with doing what is wrong. Choose what is right. Choose honor.

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