Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ruth Sheehan: Duke shows it's clueless

Raleigh News & Observer
February 6, 2008

Two years ago, the infamous Duke lacrosse case started with a group of lacrosse players hiring a pair of strippers to dance and otherwise "perform" at a rowdy house party.

Fast forward two years, to Sunday night. While the rest of the world watched the Giants defeat the Patriots in the Super Bowl, about 300 students and others attended the Sex Workers Art Show, in which strippers and prostitutes were hired to dance and otherwise "perform."

This time, though, the show was sponsored by an alliance of Duke University-sanctioned campus groups devoted to sexual health. Acronym: DELISH. I am not making this up.

The event was paid for by the Student Health Center, the University Fund, the Women's Center, Sexual Assault Support Services, the Women's Studies Department, Baldwin Scholars and Students for Choice. At $3,500 it was a steal.

Since some faculty in the Women's Studies Department were part of the Gang of 88 so thoroughly outraged at the beginning of the lacrosse case, I wondered what they thought of the Sex Workers Art Show. My calls were not returned.

My guess is that it's one thing when the strippers are hired by academics challenging bourgeois sexual mores and another thing when they're hired by student athletes with demeaning motives.

"It's hypocrisy!" cried Kenneth Larrey, with the group Duke Students for an Ethical Duke, who invited Jay Schalin of the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy to attend. Schalin's commentary about the show has been widely circulated on the Web.

Let me say right here that I do not view the world through the same lens as Larrey or Schalin (who described all members of the Women's Studies faculty as male bashers.) At another school, my general reaction would have been, big deal. But Schalin raised a good point: How could a school so thoroughly thrashed and embarrassed in the course of the lacrosse affair be so tone deaf as to bring in a sex worker show?

Did no one see the irony?

William Purdy

William Purdy, executive director of Duke University Student Health, had this to say: "The Sex Workers Art Tour was suggested and driven by student interest and was sponsored by numerous campus groups. It dealt with controversial areas, but hopefully gave viewers an understanding of an industry which most students know little about. It is hoped this was a worthwhile experience for those who chose to attend."

Worthwhile. Let's see.

According to Schalin and Larrey, who audiotaped and took photos: There was a transvestite whose privates were covered with tape who crouched on all fours in a kiddie pool of glitter and stuck a lit sparkler in his bum while America the Beautiful played. There was an overweight stripper who pretended to eat a bunch of dollar bills, then left nothing to the imagination as to the results of the digestion of such a meal. The next performer came out, picked up the string of bills onstage and waved it under his nose. Yick.

The audience, Schalin said, was about 70 percent female. The show was intended to be campy as well as provocative, and viewers roared with laughter. A few of the workers did read serious pieces about bad choices they'd made.

In fact, Schalin observed, "somebody who had a clue would have called the entire show 'Bad Choices.'"

Duke, however, didn't. Have a clue, that is. or 829-4828

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