Frat-mentationFew underclassmen can imagine the bacchanal that West Campus used to be. It seems unthinkable that fraternities would advertise parties in the Marketplace or that freshmen would board the C-1 in droves, directed to the nearest rager by Duke Police officers. Those days are over. Admissions tours are no longer threatened by students shot-gunning Busch in the middle of the day. Studying takes place in dorms, even on Saturday nights.
Though gone from West, much of the revelry has migrated to Central Campus and off-campus houses. With many fraternities and all nine Panhellenic sororities on Central, the formerly undesirable apartment blocks have become social hubs. Greek life has lost some visibility, but not much cultural clout.
Other changes have also taken root. Selective Living Groups have grown in popularity, and several new SLGs have sprung up in the past few years. All fraternity and sorority members will now receive PACT training, a sign that the Greek councils are taking sexual assault and other issues outlined in the 2013 Greek Culture Initiative seriously. If nothing else, these shifts reveal that social life at Duke is not as static as many believed; culture can change, gradually and in small ways.
Many of Duke’s cultural adjustments are the result of deliberate policy moves and careful reactions by the Greek community. The administration, to its credit, has prioritized safety: mandates to curb binge drinking, hazing, sexual assault and inflammatory party themes have sought to address serious cultural problems. They have also made Greek organizations more risk-averse, as they are more likely to throw parties off campus and adhere to guest lists to improve accountability and control.
The transformation of social life at Duke reflects, in many ways, a perceived trade-off between safety and university-wide socializing. Tailgate, which emphasized the latter at the expense of the former, was rightly shut down, and fraternity parties that once overtook entire quadrangles have shifted to invisible corners of campus. It is difficult to say whether safety has actually improved (sexual assault rates remain disturbingly high), but we commend both the administration and Greek organizations for adopting the right priorities.
But, as a result of these shifts, inclusive forms of socializing have suffered. The House Model isolates sorority women from the rest of the student body, adding to age-old complaints that independents lose touch with their affiliated friends after their first year. Although it is still in Beta, the House Model has not built the sense of residential community it promised to deliver and has, instead, stripped independents of one of the saving graces of independent life: living with large blocks of friends. This year’s high number of sophomore rushees suggests that many are unsatisfied with independent social life. For many independents, milk and cookies with the R.A. cannot replace the large-scale social events that college students often desire.
Independents can be grateful for a quieter West Campus and more non-Greek affiliation options. And we commend IFC and Panhel for placing the appropriate emphasis on health and safety. But perhaps the pendulum has swung too far from inclusive, campus-wide fun; maybe policies meant to benefit independents have actually hurt them. A nervous, purely risk-averse approach to social culture will not do.