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Residential life at the University

In the last few weeks, much campus attention has focused on reports in The Chronicle about the changes to Duke's residential program. Many students have expressed concern, particularly about the impact of these changes on their own housing options for the coming year. Fewer students (with much appreciated notable exceptions) have commented on the overall plan. I hope this commentary will stimulate a broader discussion of the merits of the plan and other opportunities we might consider to further promote and optimize residential experiences for all Duke undergraduates.

First, however, it seems that some clarification of our intentions and the facts is warranted.

  • As of Fall 2001, all sophomores will be housed on West Campus. West Campus includes all residential facilities including Edens Quadrangle, the new West-Edens Link and Main West residences. Contrary to some misperceptions, sophomores will be proportionally dispersed throughout all of these residence halls.

  • The room-selection process will retain opportunities for fraternity and selective communities to fill their own designated rooms first, before opening remaining spaces to seniors (for singles), then juniors and then anyone else (for all remaining available beds). Once these assignments have been made, the residual complement of bed spaces will be assigned to sophomores.

  • Selective communities will be accommodated throughout West Campus (including Edens and the WEL); however, the Main West Quadrangle--from the West Campus bus stop to the athletic campus--will not feature selective living spaces. All selectives, except those in WEL, will have common rooms. The WEL, of course, will have large social spaces available for selectives and other students to use.

  • The West Campus residence halls will be operated administratively as six quads: Wannamaker/Crowell, Craven, Few, Kilgo, Edens and WEL. A major new feature of the plan is that each quad will have a residence coordinator (a full time, in-residence professional staff member) as well as graduate support staff, resident advisors and an evolving array of peer education assistants (student IT aides, tutors, etc.).

  • Trent Drive Hall will be converted to singles and will be offered to students (including graduate and professional students) who prefer its location, room size and other amenities, including some that may be added to further increase its attractiveness.

  • All quads will also offer an array of intellectually focused activities and academic support services. As recently reported by The Chronicle, planning is underway both with Trinity College and the Pratt School of Engineering on various alternatives and designs. Greater detail on these options will be shared as they are further developed.

So, why are we doing all this, and why are we doing it so quickly and comprehensively?

Many of you are aware of plans that have been widely discussed in the last few years. The development of East Campus as a center of first-year residential and recreational life was always intended to be the cornerstone of a four-year experience which eventually would include housing all sophomores on West Campus, preservation and enhancement of the fraternity and selective living options, broader diversification of communities within the residence halls and strengthening student self-governance and staff-advising within our residential communities.

East Campus, the construction of WEL, the relocation of selectives and the assignment of sophomores to West Campus are key elements in this plan. However, full implementation of this model looked like it had to be to be delayed for several years given a housing renovation and modernization model that would have shut down West Campus residences for rehabilitation during several academic years. In that model, everyone would have shared in the disruption of residential communities as complicated rotational patterns for selectives, sophomores and many others would have had to occur.

By reconceiving these necessary renovations as a series of summer-only projects, we can avoid this multi-year dilemma and continued disruption to students' lives and develop a much stronger, more consistent and considerably more stable residence life program at a much quicker pace. The configuration of the quad design, addition of residence coordinators and introduction of academic services will close many gaps in the undergraduate residential experience and assure continuity of that experience from freshman year to senior year. Even those who chose to move off campus at some point in their campus careers will be invited to participate in their former quad communities as they choose access to the academic support services which are being developed.

This brings us to the "what about us?" concerns lingering among some rising sophomores, juniors and seniors. There is no doubt that a degree of choice will be reduced as we stabilize membership in new selective locations and in newly designated quads. Just as East Campus has turned out to be a great move forward for students despite intense and vocal opposition about change at the time, I'm confident the impact of the changes we are proposing will be far less deleterious than some are predicting. With Trent occupied by a diverse array of volunteers (and we will work hard to encourage both diversity and preference for Trent), we expect that as few as two dozen students may find themselves denied their housing preference of choice either on West Campus (including Edens, and WEL) or in a Central Campus apartment. We will work individually with any student so affected to minimize any negative impact and to find an alternative housing option on or near campus.

Change is rarely easy nor without challenges. While our new residential program is exciting, its implementation is admittedly daunting. We all serve as stewards of coming generations (first-year students will recall Maya Angelou's inspiring words on this very issue). Many students, including those from Duke Student Government, Campus Council and more are already involved in helping us plan how best to implement this plan. We welcome your input and are eager to have you join us on the journey.

Larry Moneta is the vice president for student affairs.

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