The sun was shining, birds were singing, and I was pulling on my Duke blue leotard. It was 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning in September of 2010, and I was in the process of simultaneously dragging my “do not touch me before 12:00 p.m.” roommate out of bed while perfecting my haphazard, all-Duke-blue chic. 30 minutes of face paint and dorm rallying later, a unified Wilson dorm was sprinting across the East Campus quad to our very first Duke Football Tailgate. That’s right, capital T.
Tailgate was an event of high spirits, high risk drinking and even more highly unstable elevated surfaces, which was, in the end, completely unsustainable. As much as I loved running towards the Blue Zone with reckless abandon, I can look back now and understand why we needed to change. We loved Tailgate because it allowed us to showcase the unique culture of Duke students. It was weird and outrageous, but most of all it gave us a brief respite from a divisive campus, providing us with a space that welcomed anyone and gave us an opportunity to be truly social in our interactions with complete strangers. Yet, a buildup of unsafe behavior pushed us away from the fundamental reasons why we loved it and alienated students in the process. Many of my friends recall the overwhelming nature of the event and the constant moral question: Why am I soaked with beer and in a tutu right now?
Since 2010, there has been a marked effort to promote safer drinking habits among students. Initiatives such as Alcohol EDU, Wellness representatives and tightened risk management in student groups have proven successful in creating a safer drinking environment, which has only been highlighted by the steady decrease in alcohol-related EMS calls during all of the high-risk times of the year. Now, even student tailgating can be considered a wholesome event. Yet the improvements haven’t just been for those students who elect to drink. Over the past six years, we have eliminated progressive parties, enacted PACT training for all new Greek members and created a hazing coalition that addresses forms of hazing all over campus. These types of initiatives were just budding when I came to Duke, and, now, they are accepted as the norm. In essence, we’ve changed, and I don’t think I’m the first to notice it.
Not that I’m touting “Duke exceptionalism” or anything, but I can confidently say that Duke students today are not only smart and well-rounded. They are significantly more aware than they were just a few years ago. If it seems like alcohol, sex and scandals are continuously at the forefront of our minds, that’s because they are. And students are taking responsibility for it. We’ve signed petitions, led campaigns and even marched around the bus stop to create the campus dialogue it takes for a healthier social culture. We’ve shown that we care enough about our safety and that of others so as to implement change. We’ve also proven that we can still have fun while we’re at it. For that, I believe we deserve trust in the idea that we do know better. Yet every new class brings a new set of mentalities and must create it’s own culture and earn it’s own trust.
Over my time here, I’ve seen us create a culture of self-awareness, one that I hope will continue well after I’m gone. This culture of self-awareness allows students to see why respecting others is crucial to being social, and students are holding their peers accountable. Whether that respect is exercised while you’re debating your polar opposite in class or resisting the urge to tear down the cabinets in Shooters, it is essential to every aspect of social life. Being social is not just about the drinking or parties, it is about building relationships with others. Duke is a diverse campus, and sometimes it’s really hard to branch out socially when surrounded by so much difference. But we’ve been working to provide opportunities to bridge those divides. Although these opportunities may not be the same as the free-for-all that was Tailgate, our campus provides a space for meaningful social interactions. I challenge us all to dive into it with the same reckless abandon I had while barreling toward the Blue Zone three years ago.
Leilani Doktor is a Trinity senior and the DSG vice president for social culture. Her column is the fourth installment in a semester-long series of weekly columns written by members of Duke Student Government. Send Leilani a message on Twitter @LeilaniDoktor or @DukeStudentGov.