Valentine’s Day at Duke University is like viewing a typical Wednesday through rose-colored glasses. Students still trudge dutifully to class, but a handful hold shiny balloon bouquets or walk arm in arm with their significant other. The tables lining the Plaza distribute heart-shaped cookies along with pamphlets and petitions. West Union serves the usual fare with the option of booking a romantic dinner for two at The Commons Steakhouse. Even those who don’t have a date for the holiday seem to enjoy the free candy and the themed desserts available at Marketplace. For a campus so diverse and so widely varied in its celebration of holidays, everyone appears to at least have something to enjoy on this sweetest of days.

“I think Valentine’s Day culture here is what you make of it,” first-year Katlyn Hurst said. “I had friends who went on dates, but I also had friends who just hung out as if it was any other day. I think most people here on Valentine’s Day takes it as an opportunity to eat lots of candy, study for midterms and watch Duke basketball.”

Junior Quinn Baker had a similar perspective on the holiday. “I kind of forgot that it was Valentine's Day until I got back to my common room and checked my phone — it wasn't really on my radar,” Baker said. 

Although the holiday itself may not seem especially important to some, it is still celebrated in several different forms — and there are several ideas as to how it could be addressed here at Duke beyond sweets and signs. 

“Using the day as a way to talk about heteronormativity and how we view bodies, and sort of the different forms that love can take,” Baker suggested, bringing attention to the fact that most Valentine’s Day decor at Duke is decidedly heterosexual. 

It can be difficult for same-sex couples to enjoy the holiday when so much of the activity is centered around heterosexual romance. Additionally, the activities offered based on the holiday are aimed exclusively at couples, with little emphasis placed on the other kinds of love that Valentine’s Day celebrates, such as platonic affection and the love one feels for their community.

“There are so many different kinds of love, so I guess just even encouraging people to appreciate all their loved ones is really important,” first-year Mac Gagne said.

Even though Duke itself focuses primarily on the romantic aspect of the holiday, there is no shortage of friends spending the day together and exchanging candy or funny cards between classes. Placing more importance on friendship might makes the single students at Duke feel more at home and remind the community that love does not have to be amorous in nature to be honored with hearts and chocolate.

The way the day is celebrated also overlooks the fact that for some, their significant other is not present with them on campus. Hurst is one of many students here at Duke in a long-distance relationship, which can make celebrating the holiday somewhat challenging. However, Hurst makes the most of the day in spite of the distance and still enjoys what Duke has to offer.

“I celebrated Valentine’s Day with my boyfriend by having a FaceTime date,” she said. “We sent each other presents and sat and watched each other open them. Of course, we wanted to be together in person but we know in two weeks, six days and 17 hours it will be worth it, because we will be together again.”

While Valentine’s Day may not be everyone’s favorite holiday — there is plenty of discourse circulating about the day being nothing more than a capitalist venture made to sell expensive gifts and overpriced candy — there is still something heartening about walking around campus with those rose-colored glasses on. Those looking for a reason to eat a piece of candy with lunch or send their friend a sappy text or take their partner out for dinner will doubtlessly find the atmosphere at Duke conducive to these decisions, even if there is not a serious culture surrounding the holiday on campus. There are several options to celebrate Valentine’s Day with fanfare, but for most, it is just another Wednesday, albeit a little sweeter.