As Duke expands into China and attempts to navigate the changing landscape of higher education, it continues to confront huge institutional problems that consume a large portion of the administration’s time and energy. We should keep in mind, however, that while these big issues require substantial and sustained attention from the University, students face a completely different set of concerns as they go about their daily lives. Many of these concerns—from lighting on campus to an ineffective lost and found system—are small and seemingly trivial, but together they constitute the everyday experience of students and thus deserve attention.
Fix My Campus, a project funded by Duke Student Government and run by a committee of both DSG and non-DSG members, works to provide attention to the problems that students care about but often get overlooked. The fledgling initiative allows students to text or post on Facebook suggestions for items, facilities and services on campus that need repair or improvement. Committee members then respond to those suggestions with Facebook posts that indicate the status of the project. Emphasizing two-way communication and prompt responses to requests, Fix My Campus hopes to avoid becoming a suggestion box and represents the kind of responsive student advocacy often missing from DSG initiatives. Unlike the DSG bill of rights, which sounds lofty but does little, the program aims to resolve real problems without pretense, abandoning the delusion that it can offer a cure-all for Duke’s ills.
So far, Fix My Campus has dealt primarily with small-scale maintenance issues—responding to requests to replace light bulbs in library lamps, for instance—but plans to tackle larger problems in the near future. It plans to create a Twitter feed for event parking and hopes to install Transloc monitors in prominent places on campus. Although it has had success with small projects and receives a steady stream of suggestions, the committee has not yet successfully completed a more substantial project. Given the group’s popularity, considerable funding and institutional support, we expect that it will have success with some of its larger projects, but if it wants to address more than minor facilities complaints, it still needs to demonstrate its ability to tackle problems that require sustained effort and attention.
Although we commend Fix My Campus for attempting to address oft-ignored concerns and adopting what appears to be a flexible and responsive model, it is important to recognize that the committee is necessarily limited in the kinds of projects it can carry out. The group, even when dealing with significant campus problems, functions primarily as a conduit, filling out maintenance request forms and funneling suggestions from students to relevant administrators.
Despite its narrow scope, Fix My Campus promises to do what a body tasked with addressing small-scale student concerns should do. It establishes a means for DSG to respond promptly to problems and creates a mechanism by which students can notify their representatives about issues that affect them on a daily basis. Ambitious projects that aim to reshape campus sound nice and often reflect real needs, but they are sometimes less valuable than those that effectively address existing and entirely fixable problems.