Opinion | Column

7 things they don't tell you before coming to Duke

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Two years at Duke University have not left me unchanged. From joining (and leaving) various student groups, and spending countless hours speaking with professors and students alike, I’ve compiled some reflections and takeaways, based on my experiences and those of others. At the end of the day, your Duke narrative is what you make of it. Here are some things to keep in mind.

1. Your RA is your friend.

RAs, or resident assistants, are responsible for your health, safety and educational needs. They are tasked with building community on residence halls, connecting students to resources, providing both social and academic programming, ensuring compliance with Housing, Dining & Residence Life rules and procedures and more. But what most people don’t recognize is that RAs spend more time consoling residents after breakups, offering shoulders to cry on, helping resolve roommate conflicts, providing candid—even if unsolicited—advice, sharing their own lives with you and much more. So when the going gets tough, it’s not uncommon for the tough to get going to their RAs.

2. You can apply for special permission to take courses in professional schools, such as the Law School and Business School

Students in the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences may apply for special permission to take graduate level courses at the 700 to 900 level. They may also apply to take courses in the Divinity School, Fuqua School of Business, School of Nursing and Law School. Of course, the decision to even consider one of these courses alone is not one to be made with nonchalance. Peruse the litany of options and reach out to the relevant academic dean and schedule a meeting, if you’re interested. Another piece of advice, face-to-face interactions not only spare you from intricate email chain webs but also increase your likelihood of getting what you want because you make a personable impression. First-year students have taken and will continue to take graduate level classes, so don’t use your age or limited experiences to disqualify yourself before someone who really is qualified to make that call can do so. If you have an interest in something, ask about it. You have nothing to lose but an opportunity to learn.

3. Social media is as deceptive as it is anywhere. So don’t invest an ounce of your value in it.

Everyday, people with hundreds of likes on their profile pictures feel alone. Everyday, people obsess over the pictures they take and share on social media, to reinforce to the world their sociability. Whether they are authentic or not is not for anyone but that individual to discern. What we can all learn, however, is that social media inevitably leads to curated and sometimes deceptive profiles. Nothing can top the opportunity to engage in candid and sincere conversation—not even hours of lurking on a Facebook profile.

4. Listening to and speaking with people who are different from you isn’t always easy. But you still have to do it.

Across universities in the U.S., student protest against speakers with whom they ideologically disagree has become tradition. To protest the specific actions of an individual is a separate practice, but for this purpose, the act of turning deaf ears to those with which one finds beliefs to be insufferable, is quite a disservice to the liberal arts education universities like Duke promise. As former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, freedom of thought includes “freedom for the thought we hate”—that includes what we find offensive. Cosmopolitan arenas like Duke offer an opportunity to practice open-mindedness, listening and debate skills. Don’t let that opportunity go to waste. Remember to listen to understand, not to challenge or immediately respond.

5. The Student Activities fair is not the end all, be all.

In the spring of my sophomore year, a then freshman asked me about clubs to join. He thought that it was too late to join groups he thought were fully satisfied with their membership and unwilling to welcome a new face. He also thought that he wasn’t “qualified” to apply for a position as an “associate editor” for a campus publication. But the reality is that most experiences, even those you don’t intuitively perceive as such, can be telling indicators of what really matters—your work ethic, your ability to learn quickly and your ability to simply get along with others in a team setting. Even if you don’t join an organization early on, don’t believe it is no longer an option. Joining groups as a sophomore, junior and senior is a lot more common than you’d be inclined to perceive. For instance, The Chronicle is always looking for more columnists, staff writers and fun people to have in the office.

6. Selectivity is a problem. But it doesn’t need to be.

Without social organizations, Duke students would perhaps be more willing to expand their social circles to beyond the span of what is explicitly convenient. Through formal and informal recruitment processes for living groups and extracurricular clubs, students—both potential new members and existing members—are often forced to rate, rank and profile. These processes can be ultimately rewarding for some, but also damaging for others…especially if you’re not accepted in a selective living group where the only spoken “qualification” is your personality. Everyday, hundreds of unaffiliated students happily live fruitful and healthy lives without formal social groups, and rather share wholesome independent communities. When you invariably come to doubt this, refer to number one. This is a note to tell you that your worth as a debater, writer, singer, athlete and all-around-individual should not and cannot be determined by any organization on Duke’s campus.

7. Everyone’s in this together.

Between diligent pre-professional networking groups ands established personalities on social media, it may be easy to look around at your peers, namely those older than you, and assume they have it all together. At the end of the day, however, we are all mostly between 18 and 22 years old. “Faking it till you make it” is a defense mechanism, not an unapologetic and genuine celebration of our mistake-ridden trek into adulthood. 

Sabriyya Pate is a Trinity junior and a Chronicle columnist.


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