Duke is a school renowned for its spirit. From the much-lauded Cameron Crazies to the strong alumni network, the University is seen as a place where people can receive an excellent education while also having fruitful social, academic and community interactions. However, this rose-colored perception of Duke can be a double-edged sword as it leads to an ignorance of the things that can have a negative impact on one’s college experience.
Some of this can be attributed to the standard college narrative people are exposed to prior to enrolling at a university. From films and popular media, we are told what defines a typical college experience—namely parties, strong social interactions and academic exploration and fulfillment. We frequently see this bucket list mentality—from the list of unofficial graduation requirements to the constant claim that college is the best four years of our lives. There is a pressure to fit everything in to have a true collegiate experience. No one wants to admit that their experience was less than satisfactory—doing so can make the past four years seem like a waste.
There are some aspects of Duke’s culture that make this phenomenon even more pronounced. First is the high level of school spirit seen on and off campus. Students here proudly announce that they are Cameron Crazies and even after they have left the school, they still relish in Blue Devil pride. This has fostered a tightly knit community among students and alumni, but the pressure to feel so much pride in the University can make it difficult for students to express what aspects of Duke made them unhappy.
Duke’s status as a hated school can also increase this desire for solidarity. This was certainly at play last week, when a Duke alumna and her friends were heckled at a basketball game for wearing Duke blue in the middle of another school’s student section. There exists a need to identify oneself as a member of our community, especially when it is one that already receives so much criticism from outside of campus.
Duke’s status among other universities also pushes students to have a positive opinion about the school. Duke has an inferiority complex when it comes to our ranking—we often try to mimic the success of other institutions, sometimes to the detriment of what is uniquely Duke. There exists this constant effort to make Duke stand out among its peers, and although this is usually a benefit for all parties, the school can sometimes ignore the needs of students.
Despite this, there can be benefits to critiquing Duke. For example, when students were frustrated at the reduction in the statute of limitations for reporting sexual misconduct, they raised a critique of the school and encouraged Duke to do better for its students. In this case, criticism helped everyone, as the campaign led to a reversal of the policy. It is imperative that students continue to feel like their complaints will be heard; addressing our shortcomings can be beneficial to all.
It is important that students have a positive college experience. But, if this experience makes us blind to our faults no one benefits.