It’s your freshman year, and you’re at the activities fair. After scarfing down free candy and stealing as many fanny packs and T-shirts as is humanly possible to carry, you realize something: This event is actually aimed at getting you involved on campus, not for indulging your kleptomania. After stuffing your new possessions in your bookbag (or, if you’re like me, down your pants), you start perusing the options, mentally crafting each possible life that you could have. Should I do service or student government? Am I a lax bro or an underwater basket weaver? Will I hate myself later for signing up for this many listservs?
Your time at the activities fair can impact you in a thousand ways (although all of these possible timelines do indeed include relentless emails that you somehow cannot unsubscribe from). However, there are some forms of involvement at Duke that are more common than others.
The main kind of campus involvement is a sort of uninvolved involvement. It presents as reluctant tabling, Facebook activism, med school-mandated volunteerism, and, most notably, the people who think that because they believe something they are automatically an activist and a change-maker. Well newsflash, people: I’ve believed that Beyoncé would make world’s best University president for years, but I’ve yet to see Brodhead do even ONE “Single Ladies” dance.
Then there are the kids whose classes are their extracurriculars. These are the friends who take all the hardest classes, which you know because they tell you about it all the time. These people actually laugh at jokes professors make, use the word “Trinitard” and refer to their textbook authors as the main people in their love life.
On the flip side are the overinvolved. These people disappear for days on end, only to reemerge looking like Gollum took up a crack habit. At 3 a.m. on a Friday, they’re in a haze of e-mails, caffeine and cream cheese brownies, near the end of a 14-hour Self Control app stint. Only thing is, they’re working on a DSG proposal or sending a letter to the president of Uganda or planning a movement to ban Sperrys when you are no where near a body of water. (Seriously people, they’re called BOAT shoes. You wear them on a BOAT.)
But no matter how you’re involved at Duke—whether you fit a stereotypical mold, or whether you’re just doing what you do and loving it—there is something that I have found is rather consistent across Duke involvement experiences: Your involvements come to define you.
Of course, this is not unique to Duke. It is a human tendency to categorize things. We assign arbitrary attributes to people due to group affiliation, because it’s easier to think of things as black and white rather than to see life in fifty shades of grey (although, actually, most of those shades are almost painfully etched in my memory). But in my experience, something that is fairly unique to Duke is that you can’t escape your labels. This trend extends beyond involvement and into personal life as well.
I’ll use myself as an example. My involvement in a women’s organization and my pro-equality views have recently earned me the title of “feminist chick.” I find this funny because I might be the world’s worst feminist. I use the word “b**ch” more often than dog breeders, I preferred Barack to Hillary, and my favorite song for two years running is “Bring It Back” by Travis Porter. I don’t deserve to be some sort of exemplar for the feminist community. Still, people frequently use the label to predict my behavior, telling me what I should and shouldn’t do based on my title as Representative Feminist.
This isn’t limited to equality issues or politics. We Dukies assign stereotypes and labels to everything—majors, teams, performance groups, Greek organizations, even individuals. And no matter how different you are from what people expect, you still carry that expectation with you. At Duke, we have trouble letting a person’s past, interests and involvements go and simply appreciating them for who they are at this moment. This culture can make you feel suffocated—trapped inside an identity that doesn’t fit.
But, dearest Dukies, I have a solution. I propose that we all get NAKED.
I mean it. Let’s literally get naked. At other schools, they put on naked runs to let off steam. I think that this is a beautiful thing. It is a time to bare all, to not care about who you are in relation to others, and to let your involvements, past and social groupings slip off like your underpants. No one is labeling, judging or staring too long at awkward areas. Everyone is exposed, naked of the things that typically define them, showing all of themselves (physically, and somehow, in my mind, metaphorically) for the world to see. I think that we Dukies could use a little bit more of this type of release from societal pressures in our lives. So let’s get naked, and live life as it should be lived: Free from the trappings of affiliations, labels and pants.
Lillie Reed is a Trinity junior. Her installation of the weekly Socialites column runs on alternate Wednesdays. You can follow Lillie on Twitter @LillieReed.