For those of you who don't know me, which is probably most of you, I'm a freshman from the Lone Star State (more specifically, Plano, Texas).
My first week at Duke has been amazing and overwhelming. Everything from the frenzy of move-in day to getting drenched in monsoon-like rain and the devastating horror of not having air conditioning in my room has been simultaneously exciting and emotionally draining. While I am still struggling with the basics—it took me and my roommate 24 hours to figure out how to lock our door—I am feeling it. This is the place.
But this week has also caused some introspection on my part. When I came up with the phrase "disturbing the universe," I had just finished talking to one of my mentors from my hometown in Dallas.
“Shruti, your generation is lost. You kids are self-absorbed in Twitter, Facebook and those iPhones and iPads. When I was growing up we didn’t have those things to hide behind. We protested Vietnam, we marched alongside Dr. King, we cared!”
This was nothing new. I’ve heard this lecture before and I bet you have too. But then he said something that really caught my attention.
“You are about to embark on one of the most life-changing and transformative experiences of your life. Tell me, who do you want to become?”
I’m going to pause here to give you a mental image. My mentor is a 60-year-old human rights professor from Dallas who spent a year trailing the Grateful Dead and backpacked across Europe. (And yes, there are human rights professors in Texas.) I, on the other hand, am an 18-year-old that responded to his question with an unimpressive, blank stare.
Sensing that I was going to need some more prodding he explained. “In T.S. Eliot's poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," Eliot wrote, 'In a minute there is time for decisions and revisions/ Do I dare disturb the universe?' Before David slew Goliath he had to discern, “do I dare, do I dare?” Everyone comes to a certain point in their life, Shruti, where they have to decide who they are and who they want to be. Your time is now.”
I kept thinking about what he said to me. “Disturb the universe.” It’s not just catchy, it’s empowering. It’s why I came to Duke. To “disturb the universe” means to make a meaningful impact. We often face situations where we feel change is necessary, but life happens and we move on. To me, the conscious choice to get involved in these issues and change the course of events is disturbing the universe.
The good news is that there is no shortage of issues to rally around—the growing inequality gap, dramatic changes in our climate, a dysfunctional political system, violence against women or the school-to-prison pipeline. As we join the Duke community each of us will be surrounded by issues in and around campus that will force us to ask, “do we dare?” I hope to discuss not just what these issues are but what we do about them.
In the meantime, I have some basics to figure out—what should I do if I get stranded on Central Campus, how does the freshman meal plan work and whether or not it is a human rights violation to not have air conditioning in our dorm rooms.
Shruti Rao is a Trinity freshman. This is her first column in a semester-long series.