East Campus bench pranks are no longer just friendly competition.
A series of frequent and damaging bench pranks on East Campus has prompted administrators to take action, including possible disciplinary action against future perpetrators. The “bench wars” have destroyed more benches than in years past, said LB Bergene, East Campus assistant dean for residence life. In an October email to freshmen, Bergene noted that the implications of the bench wars have escalated from just a “house issue” and to a “Class of 2016 issue.” Despite the possibility of punishment, some freshmen are determined to keep the East Campus bench wars tradition alive.
“There is a time and place for good spirited competition between the houses but the line has been crossed,” Bergene wrote in the email. “These actions are, at best, immature and, at worst, disturbingly disrespectful and a poor representation of the Class of 2016 to the rest of the Duke community.”
Bergene warned freshmen that administrators would begin to collaborate with the Duke University Police Department to identify students who were participating in the inappropriate destruction, adding that implicated students will be subject to adjudication through the Office of Student Conduct.
“The bench wars shouldn’t be taken seriously—they’re just a fun East Campus tradition,” said Alspaugh resident Jaclyn Karasik, a freshman and a photographer for The Chronicle. “We didn’t do anything that different from what was already going on.”
In early October, a group of students from Bassett residence hall moved a bench from the Brown residence hall to the Marketplace steps, posting photos of the prank on the Official Duke University Class of 2016 Facebook page. Although the bench was returned to its original location without major damage, the incident set the stage for a larger prank. In the following week, Alspaugh residents both moved and damaged the benches from Brown and Giles residence halls. Both benches sustained structural injury in the move, especially the Giles bench, which was ultimately deemed beyond repair.
Ben Lee, a freshman living in Giles, said having the bench destroyed was also damaging to the house members’ morale.
“The feeling in the dorm is very angry at the perpetrators.,” he said. “Our bench was a major social center for our dorm.”
The Giles bench damage was so extreme that the bench had to be carted away, and residents of Brown decided to deconstruct their bench themselves, in favor of building an entirely new one.
Bergene wrote in an email Monday that in the nine years she has worked with East Campus, the benches have always been a target for house rivalries. The destruction, however, has varied from year to year. Benches, she added, should usually last up to four to five years, but given the severity of house rivalries in recent years, the benches’ lifespan has decreased to one or two years.
“This year, so many of the benches have been picked up and moved and rolled or stood up on end multiple times that bench structures just can’t hold up, and it falls apart or is so badly damaged that it can’t be repaired,” she said.
Freshman Caroline Harrow, who also lives in Alspaugh, said she does not believe the entire class is to blame.
“It’s unfair that we’re all punished because of the actions of a few intoxicated idiots,” Horrow said.
East Campus has, however, seen a recent wave of bench construction. Since the benches were first destroyed, Brown has began work on its new bench, and Giles’s house council has discussed rebuilding as well, said Giles resident Caroline Steiblin, a freshman. Pegram and Bassett have also built new benches.
“The way in which our bench was ruined is depressing,” Steiblin said. “The bench represents your dorm, and your dorm is part of your identity at Duke, so to have that taken away was a little bit sad.”
Lee added that he believes rebuilding the Giles bench will be a good way to bring the house members together.
Repairing the benches is expensive, Bergene said, adding that the cumulative cost of the wood, bolts and paint could range from $300 to $700—a cost that comes out of the house’s budget. Bergene additionally noted the social significance of benches in unifying a subset of the residential community.
“If the benches weren’t important, I don’t think people would continue to request to build them when they move to West and now Central [campuses],” she said.