After three months of living within the house model, some independent students do not feel that the system fosters community within unaffiliated houses.
The house model, implemented for the first time this year, aims to create equal opportunities for independent and affiliated students alike. Students are guaranteed a spot in their designated house for both their sophomore and junior years, said Joe Gonzalez, associate dean for Housing, Dining and Residence Life.
“We felt that this model could increase and strengthen the residential community ties that students experience,” he added. “This could create a stronger sense of identity to their residential experience.”
A goal of the house model is to create an identity within unaffiliated houses through student house leaders, he added. But some independent students do not feel a sense of community in their houses.
“I don’t feel like I am a part of the house, but I also don’t feel like that’s a huge problem,” said Kilgo resident Zhou Fang, a sophomore. “When we have house council events, people come and just leave. It’s not very social, and it’s not fostering a community.”
Administration will consider changing the timing of house officer elections when re-evaluating the model at the end of the year, Gonzalez said. They concluded earlier this Fall, but moving elections to the Spring would allow houses to determine officers before the subsequent academic year.
The house model was designed also to create an equitable solution for all students, whether independent or affiliated, but some students believe efforts to overcome division have had the opposite effect.
“It’s depriving greeks from having a classic Duke experience on West Campus,” said Kilgo resident Taliya Golzar, a sophomore. “They’ve created a greek community somewhere else and segregated the Duke experience from them. No one should be forced to choose between those two defining experiences.”
Before the house model, the majority of sophomores, both affiliated and independent, lived on West Campus while independent upperclassmen occupied 21 of the 27 houses on Central Campus, said Terry Lynch, associate dean for Central Campus. Beginning this year, affiliated groups live in 22 of the 27 houses on Central Campus, leaving only three independent houses with residents. Two are currently unoccupied to provide space for students returning from studying abroad.
“The ratio of unaffiliated students to affiliated students flip flopped overnight,” Lynch noted. “In regard to independents... their ability to connect with other students in their [Central Campus] building is something that we’re still trying to grow.”
Junior Niel Lebeck lives in JAM! section on Central Campus, but he is not a member of the group. He said there is a sense of community within the selective living group, though he does not know members very well.
“I haven’t met many people in the SLG, but they’ve been pretty welcoming,” Lebeck said. “That’s more my fault than theirs.”
Lebeck noted that it can be harder to develop a sense of community on Central Campus compared to West. Living on the same hall in a dormitory and sharing more communal space, such as bathrooms, may better facilitate community building. Fang noted that other independents feel segregated from their unaffiliated friends on the same campus.
The new model allows students to live in the same house for consecutive sophomore and junior years, an option not previously available to independents. But a guaranteed spot in a house for the next year is less important to students compared to living with a group whom they consider friends, Fang added.
“The reason people like to live in section is not because it’s in the same place every year but because all of their friends get to live together,” he said.
Residential administration receives feedback through informal conversations with students, especially house leaders and resident assistants, Gonzalez said. Toward the end of the year, HDRL will send out a formal survey for official student feedback.
“Beginning in month three, my personal observation is that we’re off to a good start,” he added. “But we won’t know until the end of the year.