In the upcoming weeks, prospective Blue Devils will be visiting our campus to get a feel for Duke as they make their college decision. They will admire our Gothic architecture, take pictures with the Krzyzewskiville sign and taste the best food Marketplace has to offer all year. Through all of this, I hope they will see the diversity of our student body, the accessibility of our professors and the excellence of our academic programs. Most importantly, I hope they see what made me decide to come to Duke—the spirit and sense of community on campus.
Prospective students of the Class of 2018 will consider Duke among a host of similarly prestigious academic institutions. These schools may also boast Gothic chapels and Nobel Prize-winning faculty, but Duke uniquely possesses an overwhelming sense of spirit that pervades all aspects of our campus community.
When I was a high school senior at Blue Devil Days, I saw this spirit manifested in the Duke T-shirts worn by students all over campus. As a first-year student in Krzyzewskiville, I experienced this sense of community when I went hoarse cheering on our basketball team with 2,000 of my closest friends. As an unofficial member of the Duke Philadelphia Alumni Network, I discovered the lasting value of Duke spirit as a group of local alumni volunteered in the city before we watched a basketball game together.
This university prides itself on the sense of community that ties students, faculty, and alumni together, but one thing is missing from this culture of spirit and tradition. Students very obviously express their passion for Duke Basketball when they sleep outside for weeks in tents, but there are not as many traditions which allow students to channel their passion for Duke academics.
I unquestionably know that Duke students are passionate about their academics here. I see this love of learning every day around campus. I see it during bookbagging season when seniors excitedly offer suggestions to underclassmen about their favorite classes that they have taken at Duke. I see it during late night common room debates where Public Policy majors and pre-med students discuss Obamacare through their own analytical perspectives. I even saw it in myself last week when a friend and I Flunched a professor after weeks of planning questions and sharing articles with each other in preparation. Duke students are undeniably intellectuals at heart who love the opportunities this institution provides.
If students are this passionate about their academics, why are there not more traditions and academic celebrations allowing students to express these passions? We already have our fair share of athletic and social traditions so why not expand this spirited culture to the academic realm? We should combine our school’s love of traditions with learning to better foster a sense of academic community on campus.
Students at our peer universities already partake in a wide variety of academic traditions, ranging from the simple and spontaneous to the elaborately orchestrated. At schools like Harvard and Stanford, students participate in the “Primal Scream,” where on the night before the beginning of final exams, students gather in the main quads to collectively scream for 10 minutes to relieve stress. At Columbia, students celebrate “Orgo Night,” which falls on the night before the first organic chemistry exam of the year. At midnight, the Columbia Marching Band walks through the library while playing music and telling jokes to entertain and distract the students studying for the big exam. At Cornell, engineering and architecture students created the 100-year rivalry of “Dragon Day.” First-year art and architecture students design and build a giant dragon that they march to the engineering quad, where it battles a mechanical phoenix built by the first-year engineers.
Duke should follow suit and create its own academic tradition for students to rally behind. We started the process last year by creating Academic Homecoming. Currently, this event provides students with the opportunity to meet other students and faculty in their new academic homes. The event allows students to interact with professors in a social, relaxed setting as a way to celebrate their welcome to their new academic department. Students also receive T-shirts with their major name on it, which helps the event create a greater sense of academic community on campus. I have overheard countless conversations between students discovering that they share a major because one of them was wearing one of these shirts. This event sets a precedent at Duke for celebrating academic community but we need to expand on this idea moving forward.
Surely we can channel some of our creative energies we use to make cheers and body paint designs towards creating a new academic tradition. If you have any ideas, please share them, and remember—the Cameron Crazier, the better.
Ray Li, Trinity ’15, is the Vice President for Academic Affairs. His column is the sixth installment in a semester-long series of biweekly columns written by members of Duke Student Government. Send Ray a message on Twitter @DukeStudentGov.