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N.C. Central Chancellor Addresses Duke Rape Case

ED GORDON, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS AND NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

When a college student and part-time exotic dancer accused members of Duke University's lacrosse team of sexual assault, it brought unwanted attention to the highly regarded institution. But it has also shed light on the little known historically black college where the accuser is enrolled.

North Carolina Central University has long stood in the shadow of Duke, but it now finds itself sharing the burden of a scandal that has divided the Raleigh- Durham community along deep racial and class lines.

Mr. JAMES AMMONS (Chancellor, North Carolina Central University): We will continue to work together to strengthen the bonds that unite us. We all must work to become a community of one.

GORDON: That's North Carolina Central's Chancellor James Ammons at a press conference on April 14. Throughout this ordeal, Ammons has attempted to be a voice of reason during a state of heightened emotions for the surrounding community. I recently sat down with the Chancellor. I started by asking him if he knew the alleged victim.

Mr. AMMONS: I did not know her. As you know, there are over 8,200 students on the campus. However, since the incident, I have communicated with our staff to let them know, that when and if she's ready to talk with me, my door is open.

GORDON: Let me ask this Chancellor, and we should know in full disclosure, that I spoke for your school last year and had a great time down there meeting you and the fine people in the community. I literally, one of the gifts that you guys gave me was sweatshirt. I had it on the other day in the grocery store and some of say without me even thinking about it: Hey, hey, hey is that that school, is that that school where that girl is from?

I know this is not the kind of attention that you wanted for your school.

Mr. AMMONS: Well Ed, we have been put in a position that any institution could have been put into. This is something that could have happened in any city or town, to any college or university student. But I do think that as we move forward that North Carolina Central University, as well as Duke University, are going to work very, very hard to be stronger institutions and we're going to work to strengthen our community as well.

GORDON: Chancellor, let me ask what I am admitting to be a very difficult question, and I'll try to phrase it in a way that is as far as it can be. I know that you have already suggested that until all of the investigation is completed, you and your university have been nothing but supportive of the young lady and suggest that you are there for her, if need be.

But I've heard some African Americans a bit fearful. They raised the name of Tawanna Brawley, and are afraid that if this young lady is not telling the whole truth, it may hurt Black America in general. Is that too much to put on this girl?

Mr. AMMONS: I think it is. One of the things that we must do is to respect the legal system. We must allow the system to complete its course, before we make any types of judgments. One of the things that happens in America is that we have systems of laws, and this system that we have would deal with the truth; whichever way it is, the system will deal it.

And the other thing is, that there are some incredibly smart people in Durham, and whatever the outcome of this case is, we're going to able to handle it. And we're going to be able to move on and we're going to better and stronger as a result of having gone through this situation.

GORDON: Before I let you go, I want you to address something that I think you're uniquely qualified, in terms of dealing with young people and knowing the hardship of trying to go to school. And one of the things that I raised when I heard this, is we don't want to allow this go by the wayside and talk about the issue and problem of young black women trying to attend school and having to go down the road of erotic dance, stripping, in order to pay for their education.

This is something that happens, frankly, more often then we'd like to admit.

Mr. AMMONS: This is one of things that we have found as we've gone through this. This may be an opportunity for us to take a look at our financial aide system. We found that 61 percent of the students on our campus have part-time jobs or employ, which says to us that there is a much greater need for financial aid that's being provided at this point.

So I think we need to begin to work with our general assemblies across the nation, as well as Congress, to talk about the need for financial aid for students who are attempting to complete their degrees, attend to their families, and do all the other things that we need to do as being a part of American society.

GORDON: And what does this say to us, without making a real moral judgment on this young lady or anyone else who feels that this is the only way that they can provide money. As a community, you know, we used to far more churches raise money to send kids off to school. There was this sense of there are certain things that you don't have to do. How do you feel that this plays itself out in terms of showing us, or perhaps teaching us, a lesson?

Mr. AMMONS: I think what we have to do, Ed, all of us who are in higher education, through every opportunity that we have to interact with our students, we must continue to work on and instilling wholesome values. We must talk with our students more about instant gratification, and other issues that surround this particular incident, as well as throughout American higher education.

So I think as university administrators, faculty, and staff, we have to continue to press forward with instilling values. And in the end, I think the last thing that we should do is to judge. That's going to come at the appropriate time. But whatever we do we all are going to have to answer.

GORDON: Chancellor John Ammons, we thank you for your time. We'll stay close to your office as the investigation continues and we get, as you say, whatever conclusion brings itself to light. We appreciate your time.

Mr. AMMONS: Well, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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