Dozens of students, most with fraternity letters emblazoned across their T-shirts, filed into Griffith Film Theater last night to participate in a marathon two-and-a-half hour discussion about residential issues.
A panel of students representing a variety of campus groups shaped the discussion, which was moderated by Trinity senior Devin Gordon, editor of the Chronicle and a member of the Inter-Community Council-the two organizations that sponsored the event. Last night's forum was one of the first opportunities for students to actively voice their concerns to several members of the Residential Planning Committee.
The panelists, seated center-stage behind a long table, included representatives of greek organizations, selective living groups, the president of Trent 2 dormitory, the president of the Black Student Alliance and the founder of Desegregate Duke-a recently formed organization that is calling for the removal of all selective living groups from Main West Campus.
The discussion began quite simply, with each panelist responding to the question: "Which is more important to residential life-freedom to choose whom to live with or equity of access for all students to all living opportunities?"
"When you're building a quality residential experience, you're really building a community," answered Trinity senior Kirsten Marsh, president of the Panhellenic Association. "We have an option of what style of living to choose; maintaining that choice is clearly important."
Trinity senior Raja Raghunath, founder of Desegregate Duke, offered a vastly different opinion on the issue.
"The current policy is discrimination," Raghunath said. "That's not equity of access; that's not freedom of choice."
This contrast quickly set the tone for much of the dialogue.
Using transparencies that roughly outlined each of the residential committee's five models for changing residential life, the panel and audience addressed the issues of choice and equity manifest in each model. Despite the urgings of the moderator and residential committee members to focus on the values that shaped each model, the discussion amounted to little more than an argument between selective living groups and independents.
Those who supported selective living groups tended to support the current residential plan and returned repeatedly to the argument that selective houses afford their members a heightened sense of community while providing social options to University students in general.
"I support the current model because of the benefits it affords a very diverse group of women-and not only racially diverse, but intellectually diverse," said Trinity senior Rupa Krishnamurthy, president of Cleland, an all-female selective house.
"The current model best accentuates what I need as a member of a fraternity on this campus," said Trinity senior Jaramogi Adams, president of Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc., the only black organization with a selective house on Main West. "Erasing selective housing on Main West will have various effects which will nominalize the social scene and will hamper the actual feel of West Campus and its programming."
Raghunath, the only vocal advocate for a West Campus free of selective living, argued vehemently against the status quo.
"The current model is unacceptable, and we're looking at it selfishly," Raghunath said. "We're asking, 'Where am I going to live next year?' What we should be asking is, 'Where is Duke going to be living in 10 years?'"
Each of the other three models faced opposition from all panel members. Supporters of selective living groups argued that each of the proposed models would threaten the sense of community within the groups. Supporters of an independent Main West argued that these models failed to address the overall issue of fairness in the housing process and on campus in general.
"I don't think anyone in the University or a handful of administrators should be telling us where to live," said Trinity senior Jonathan Karen, a panelist and vice president of the Interfraternity Council. "It's not equality, not community; it's banality."
The issue of equality and preferential treatment permeated the discussion.
"Clearly benefits must have something to do with this because otherwise those without [benefits] would not be arguing for them," Adams said. "But there's no such thing as equity; it's impossible."
"I don't think the system is fair," said Trinity sophomore Azim Barodawala, an audience member and president of the Class of 2000. "There are a lot of things in life that aren't going to be fair, but I don't think housing and where one is going to live should be one of those things."
Soon, however, the discussion moved beyond the models developed by the committee.
An additional model, suggested by Trinity senior Blair Greber-Raines, featured only selective and theme housing. Supporters said this plan could provide a sense of community for all University students.
Trinity junior Brandon Busteed, president of the Class of 1999, suggested yet another model that maintains all selective houses but would eliminate their claim to specific locations.
"What isn't fair is that a certain group has a certain spot on West Campus for three to four years for no particular reason," he said. To address this problem, he suggested that selective groups' residential space should be allocated through a lottery system after rush.
After the forum ended, Trinity senior Dag Woubshet, a member of the Residential Planning Committee, said he was disappointed the discussion focused only on the pros and cons of specific models.
"People seem to be assuming that we're going to select one of these models as the perfect one. But the committee's goal was to highlight guiding principles for discussion," Woubshet said. "I was also saddened by the fact that independent students did not show up," he added. "This is the time to get involved. I was completely saddened by the turnout."