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Thinking hard

"We work hard, we play hard, but do we think hard?"

Among students and faculty concerned with the intellectual atmosphere at Duke, this question has come to define the debate surrounding campus life.

While most students manage to combine an active social life with active cramming in the library, many shun efforts to encourage more actual thought. They worry that any move toward excitement about classes, philosophical discussions, or anything "intellectual," will mean a sacrifice of social life, basketball wins and relaxation. For too many of us, intellect and socializing trade off in a zero-sum game; one gain is another's loss.

We, as students, must realize that an active life of the mind will never preclude having fun, kicking back or enjoying a beer. Only when we overcome this dichotomy can we begin to expand intellectual life on this campus.

Timeworn obstacles stand in our way. They start with a cafeteria-style curriculum which forces students to fulfill relatedness requirements within areas of knowledge, yet never relates those areas to the broader concept of a liberal arts education.

The rote memorization of known gut introductory classes extends into a social life perceived as vapid and superficial. Yet just as the curriculum fails to communicate its intent to students, those outside and within the keg scene rely on images and stereotypes, rather than personal experience, to pass judgement on the attitudes and priorities of their peers. These stereotypes stem from a broader lack of community on campus, a sense that we cannot trust one another enough to respect and admire our interests in academics outside of grades, and an embarrassment that discourages students from inviting their professors to lunch lest they appear to be "kissing up."

Yet we cannot allow these cliched obstacles to overwhelm students' desire for a greater sense of excitement and community on campus. The administration and the faculty can play an important role by supporting more seminars and smaller classes, both through programs like Focus and through teaching additional sections in introductory classes. Furthermore, the new curriculum must provide a coherent philosophy to give meaning to the requirements students need to fulfill for graduation.

However, it is the students who must step forward to overcome the stigma of anti-intellectualism many feel pervades the campus. The social system that leads students not to talk about "smart things" at kegs is ours to revise and revitalize. We can change atmospheres by doing little things such as turning down the music so we can hear each other and providing places to sit so that we can talk with each other. Small steps, taken collectively, can build significant change.

More importantly, we need to transcend the anti-intellectual stigma. Take a chance. Ask your professor to lunch. Talk to the person you always sit next to in class. Ask exhausted friends in the library what their paper is on, rather than when it is due or how long it is. Students, faculty and administrators should open their doors, talk to one another, and break taboos against interaction so that we can form a true community where we can work hard, play hard, and think hard.


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