April is the cruelest month … to be a Chronicle columnist. I know, woe is me, but it’s really difficult. We tend to postpone institutional changes until the fall, basketball season is over and all the good greek-life drama is an early second semester phenomenon. There is a magnum (Or perhaps Mangum? Get it? Oh, come on I’m funny) sized hole in that assessment, but at least for now, Duke seems … calm.
If I were a movie character at this point, I would probably be the crazy pirate guy from “Pirates of the Caribbean” who says “Hello, Poppet” all the time. And, in my creepy, ominous words of foreshadowing, I would say “Yarrgh … ’tis nothing but the calm before the storm. Avast!” My obsession with pirates aside, this fall is shaping up to be … quite something.
See, there’s this whole thing called the house model coming into existence next semester. You’ll remember this because last Fall there were about 3,000 unread columns and editorials about it. Luckily, I’m a hipster: I like to repurpose old things and I figured a reminder was in order.
And, just so we’re clear, this is not the house model that Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta eliminated in his first few years: It’s completely different, different insofar as it’s new, and about community this time. This is unlike last time, when people found Duke’s housing infrastructure insufficient to create meaningful communities in small houses, as well, because this time we’re going to believe in it really hard. … I think.
Now that I’m done poking fun, I’m going to concentrate on what Duke did with greek life. Although I don’t quite know what’s going to happen with nine sororities and six of the larger fraternities living on Central, we are clearly entering into a Brave New Duke, such as it is. Yes, many other things will change under the house model, but I’m going to use Central as an illustrative example.
Using Donald Rumsfeld’s lovely Iraq War terminology, there are known unknowns and there are unknown unknowns about the house model. We don’t even know the unknown unknowns, but as for the known unknowns, there are far too many. As it stood, Central was not a social space. This isn’t to say people on Central aren’t social, but even for Central residents a large majority of gatherings, greek or independent, large or small, occurred on West.
For example, if Central is going to become a social center, what will it do without any social infrastructure? One moderately sized eatery and a Mill Village that in its entirety provides space for about 60 people does not a campus make. And if people have their social lives (and not only their end-of-the-day homes) on Central, they will eat on Central, which means either an overcrowded Food Factory or a mass-scale use of Merchants on Points (which, in turn, means a substantial drop in revenue). As a member of the one fraternity on Central, I know there are days when my fraternity alone overcrowds the Factory.
And then there are social issues. Christ, Yahweh, Allah, nobody and everybody else above, there are social issues. Will greek organizations band together more than ever, creating a huge delineation between the monolithic “Greek” and “non-Greek” worlds? Will sororities see a drop in recruitment, an increase in internal unity (and a corresponding decrease in outreach) or both? Do we want freshmen spending orientation week on Duke’s ugly stepchild of a campus? What about the parties? Has the administration even seen “Project X” yet?
The point is this: Nobody knows what will be different, merely that it will be different. Geography really, really matters, in ways that are almost impossible to predict beforehand yet seem inevitable post-fact. Think of your friends from freshmen year, think of the classes you have and have not taken, and you probably will find it to be true. And isolating greek life, largely in an area that is separated from the obviously “academic” world of West campus and distinct from the rest of Duke, is at best an interesting idea, and at worst a counterproductive one.
And indeed there will be time, this fall, to wonder “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare tell the administration they probably made a huge miscalculation in their formation of the house model, regardless of their end goal?” Still, it’s spring now, and Duke won’t be experiencing any huge changes soon. But brace yourselves.
Winter is coming.
Harry Liberman is a Trinity junior. His column runs every other Friday.