An Unexpected Education

The Duke rape case and the Don Imus case.

The most compelling stories in the country this week have something in common – besides race.
Both involve the next generation of leaders of our country forced to grow up way too soon. At the heart of both controversies are college students – twenty-somethings who are facing adult situations long before graduation. In both cases, neither group of students asked to be placed in this light – and the outcome for both was vindication although each will feel the pain of their position for years to come.

In the case of the women of Rutgers, they did not bring this controversy on themselves and they way they handled the controversy spoke volumes about their maturity at such a young age. At the end of their press conference, you could not help but have a new-found for these female student-athletes.

Unlike the Rutgers women, the male Duke lacrosse players were judged guilty – in the court of public opinion. Charged with sexual assault, these three became the unwilling faces of class and privilege gone out of control. But a year later, the woman doing the accusing was deemed unreliable and the D.A. was found to be overzealous to the point of hiding evidence from the defense team. The case collapsed and the three kids – after what they describe as a “year of living in hell” – were vindicated.

What did we learn about these two sets of young people? That when placed in adult situations, these kids can step up to the plate and show a sense of maturity well beyond their years. I guess we often point out what’s wrong with “kids today”, but both these groups of young people showed us what is right and what young people can do in the face of adult controversy. I can only hope the men and women in the middle of these controversies learn from their parts in these experiences – and use the lessons learned as they mature in adult leaders in our society.

The only sad note here: While this episode and their reaction to it may have opened new doors of opportunity to the women of Rutgers, the men from Duke will likely be stained for life –forever stuck with the stigma of being sexual predators though they were legally cleared. As one of the Duke trio asked, how do you go about getting your reputation back.

( Photograph: Courtesy Associated Press )

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