Americans love to poll, test and otherwise assess themselves.
A news item barely hits the wires before a poll follows indicating Americans' reaction. Applying for a new job? Just fill out this short questionnaire to determine whether you're racist, sexist, homophobic, heterophobic, ageist, height-ist, or a fat-o-phobe.
In that spirit of sensitivity, I submit the following pop quiz to gauge your bias as a news consumer. After reading the following characteristics, please select the college group that most likely fits the description:
The group has a 100 percent college graduation rate. Sixty percent have a 3.0 grade point average or above. During the past four years, 80 percent have made a national honor roll. Members regularly volunteer at more than a dozen community agencies, building houses for the homeless and serving in soup kitchens, while raising more money than any other group for the Katrina Relief Fund.
Answer: (a) Tri-Delta sorority at the University of North Carolina; (b) women's rowing team at Clemson University; (c) synchronized swim team at Harvard University; (d) men's lacrosse team at Duke University.
OK, I know, you're smart. You're onto this trick. Obviously, it's (d), the infamous Duke men's lacrosse team, that rowdy drunken white-boy club that rapes black women forced to strip to put themselves through college and feed their fatherless children.
But chances are good that the lacrosse team didn't spring immediately to mind in the context of high marks and community service. Instead, conventional wisdom - thanks to media reports and Duke's own response to charges that three team members raped a woman - is that the entire team is a collection of privileged, alcohol-abusing knuckledraggers.
The description I presented comes from a statement prepared by one of the lacrosse player's parents for a university committee appointed to study the team in the wake of the alleged incident.
That parent, Dr. Thom A. Mayer, is himself a Duke alumnus, an emergency doc as well as one of the command physicians at the Pentagon Rescue Operation, Sept. 11, 2001. Mayer introduced himself by noting that he attended Duke on a scholarship, not as a child of privilege, and that his gratitude runs deep.
Nevertheless, he compared the university's treatment of the lacrosse team to the level of horror he experienced in the wake of the terrorist attacks.
Mayer's son is not one of the three indicted on rape charges. Mayer's point, however, was that the entire team has been tarred with the same brush, despite a record of scholarship and citizenship that belies the spin familiar to anyone following the story.