In conversations about Duke “campus culture,” many administrators and students assume that greek organizations are inherently problematic. Their structure is heteronormative. They drink too much. Their high dues, which go in large part to the national chapters of the organizations, inhibit socioeconomic diversity. Nationwide a “total frat move” means being impolite to someone employed in the service sector, or performing a lewd act onto an attractive female who has not explicitly indicated her consent. No matter how hard a Duke greek organization tries, they struggle to escape these stereotypes.
Within this same paradigm, the SLG is purported to be the more humane alternative. When the house model was formulated, administrators framed it as offering the SLG experience to independent students: The ability to return to your living space for up to three years, housing mixed between grade levels and supposedly a sense of community. As a member of the Nexus, I can say without a doubt that the Nexus has been among the most fulfilling parts of my Duke experience: an intentional community of people with whom I always feel comfortable sharing ideas and dreaming big.
And yet, one part of SLG life has always made me deeply uncomfortable—the “selective” part of the SLG. Duke students compete and are under pressure for most of the day—in the classroom, at the gym and as they apply for internships and for coveted honors. For those in SLGs, the social structure can provide the affirming support that makes navigating the rest of Duke possible. The process, however, by which SLGs admit new members brings competition—explicitly—into Duke’s social life, in a way that competition arguably does not belong. In light of the privileged status of SLGs both within Duke’s administrative landscape but also within conversations about campus culture, it is time that the institution of “rush” face greater scrutiny.
A SLG is, at its simplest, a group of friends that lives together. With that in mind, who would ever feel comfortable telling another human being: “No, you cannot be my friend”? Of course, most SLGs face the parameter of a finite amount of empty beds, and generally, an excess amount of interest, but the traditional model of “make first years go to parties and marketplace brunches and assign some likeability score to each one” is not the only way of resolving excess demand. The simplest alternative model would be to randomly select amongst applicants—perhaps from a pool of people who had attended a certain percentage of recruitment events. Or are we afraid that other Duke students aren’t cool enough to hang out with us?
Having watched two rush cycles of the Nexus, I’ve found consistently that the people who were the most sociable—and hence, with whom I interacted the most at events—were not those with whom I now have the deepest friendships. The Nexus uses an anonymous application to make initial decisions about who is admitted; once identities are known, it takes a supermajority of votes to swap those who were accepted with those who were not. Those who are not admitted as residents are automatically invited to join us as what might be called a “non-residential member.” This system isn’t perfect, but there are a few things I like about it. I like that the initial votes cast are freed from some of the prejudices and biases we all know exist: people’s biases toward those who are more attractive and taller, and biases as they pertain to race or gender. I like that this process helps to make sure that the Nexus—a discussion community—maintains in its membership individuals who are more contemplative and introspective. I like that people can go to our recruitment events and not feel like they’re being evaluated—that they can avoid the game of “competitive friendship” where whomever builds the most relationships in three weeks wins.
When I discuss the Nexus with people outside of Duke, I’m too embarrassed to mention the “S”; I just call it a “living group,” and I wonder if it’s time for us to rethink the SLG’s philosophy and name. I’m in favor of the phrase “Intentional Living Community” or perhaps “Student-Led Intentional Community,” which highlights to me what is important about the SLG: that it is a group of students who have chosen to live together, not that a group of seniors decided which first-years were worthy of living amongst their ranks. There are good reasons to admit one rushee over another into your SLG. As an example, for an SLG to continue to exist, it needs at least a few people willing to plan events and do administrative work. There are many bad reasons, however, to choose one person over another. We should become less “selective”—and become more inclusive.
Elena Botella is a Trinity senior. Her column runs every Thursday. You can follow Elena on Twitter @elenabotella.