In Tuesday’s editorial, we commented on the danger of prematurely condemning the house model before it has had the proper opportunity to flourish. While the goal of the house model is to establish vibrant residential life for everyone at Duke regardless of affiliation, this type of residential community will take time to fully materialize.
While we have cautioned against early judgment given this expanded timeline, there will eventually be a time and place in the future for a healthy reflection on the progress of the house model. When this time comes, we recommend Duke look at the following metrics to gauge the model’s success.
Because the idea behind the housing model is to foster stronger residential community for all students at Duke, one of the most important considerations to take into account is the strength of house spirit. A good indicator of this—as evidenced by the high retention rates amongst highly-spirited fraternities and selective living groups—is the number of individuals who retain their right to return to their house the following year. Retaining upperclassmen is key, whether it be juniors returning from abroad or seniors choosing to remain on campus. Establishing an intergenerational community is an integral part of creating house traditions, building friendships across classes and developing a unique identity for each house.
Another set of metrics should assess whether the house model has improved equity and diversity within residential life. According to Donna Lisker, associate dean of undergraduate education and co-chair of the House Model Committee, greek men reported significantly more positive residential experiences at Duke than other groups, particularly independents. Because one of the house model’s primary goals was to close the disparity between greek men and everyone else, we should assess the model accordingly. Closing the satisfaction gap does not necessitate a dramatic composition change within affiliated and non-affiliated groups, but students in these groups deserve equal opportunity for a rewarding residential experience. To that end, there should be a comparison between quadrangle model and house model satisfaction surveys to determine whether the new system achieves its equity goals.
Lastly, it is also important to consider the extent to which the house model will interact with and change the existing social structures at Duke. Will it incentivize future classes to rush selective living groups and greek organizations at higher rates? Or will these groups lose their stronghold on Duke social life as individuals are presented with better alternatives? Tremendous transformations, such as introducing sorority housing, undoubtedly change the social landscape as well. In order to understand how the model shapes the character of social life at Duke, it will be crucial to track these changes with real, data-driven methods.
Ultimately, it is up to students to decide what kind of housing culture they want to create for future generations at Duke. While it is foolhardy to place any hasty judgments on the house model, in time, it will certainly be worth considering the relative gains and losses using the metrics above. Such an assessment does not have to fully doom or endorse the model. It can simply help in promoting a continuing dialogue about how to the fairest and most vibrant residential life possible.