Commentary: Carolina Blue

After six weeks of infiltration in Chapel Hill, I long to paint my hot naked body in a shade of blue only Blue Devils appreciate. "The only true blue is sky blue" is a phrase that becomes too familiar at UNC. Despite widespread symptoms of color blindness, Carolina has more to offer than Top of the Hill and Halloween decadence. In my first six weeks at the other end of Tobacco Road, I've become increasingly surprised by the somewhat drastic differences between the two rival schools. On several accounts, Carolina takes the cake.

Immediately after arriving here in January, I was overwhelmed by the size of the campus. I thought it would be impossible to find my way around or tap into a network of friends. Just looking at the massive bus schedules, I was ready to pack my bags and head for the Gothic Wonderland. I managed the first week, albeit with help from every passing, though incredibly hospitable, stranger who thought I was some French tourist.

The second week, it started to make sense, and I suddenly realized the beauty of Chapel Hill's complex and gratis transit system. Jump on a bus, go to Harris Teeter. Fifteen-minute walk to class? Consult your handy bus schedule. Need a bus at 3 in the morning? Wait for the P2P (point-to-point: the drunk bus). Drunk driving is not a commonly accepted practice as one might argue it is at Duke, and I'm sure everyone prefers sick bus passengers at 2 a.m. to a slew of swervy sedans Saturday nights.

Why all the buses? If you're asking this question, you have clearly isolated yourself at the Duke Country Club. Buses certainly facilitate the social life both on and off campus at Carolina, and the two spheres tend to merge. Chapel Hill is an incredibly dynamic and large place. There's a lot of stuff going on, and people need to get around quickly by bus, especially if they live on the periphery of campus. For instance, students congregate mid-day at the Pit, smack dab in the middle of two libraries, a dining hall, a coffee house, the Union and student stores. How's that for a Student Village?

After lunch, you might walk to a hefty encampment on the main quad. Yes, students are truly socio-politically active at Carolina. Imagine that at a major university. Protests, petitions, sit-ins, teach-ins, campaigns and Hunger Lunches. The student government has real authority, and the whole campus was completely engaged in the recent elections. I can't tell you how many people stopped by my room to chat about candidates.

Student government is not the only credible group on campus, either. Most organizations and student groups seem to offer significant, well-advertised programming and people take their responsibilities to these groups seriously. Students are meaningfully engaged, and their energy is pervasive.

In case you live in a wind tunnel, let me explain the other aspect of Carolina's vibrant social scene. Monday: Linda's. Tuesday: Henry's. Wednesday: Ham's. Thursday: Cat's Cradle or frat party. Friday: The Cave. Saturday: Player's. Sunday: He's Not Here. Imagine a school where Greeks don't unilaterally control the social scene, where students don't binge drink and wander around from dorm to dorm, where one can carry on a reasonably intelligent conversation over a few glasses of wine and where you can walk to a number of bars or restaurants.

If you spend a day at Carolina, you just might return to Duke laughing at Duke Student Government, protests on Chapel Quad, frat parties, George's Garage and everyone's obsession with a 4.0 GPA. There's more to life than we often realize at Duke. Carolina students remind Dukies that it's possible to remain attached to reality. They can separate their school-related lives from the rest of their existence. I feel like a complete person at Carolina, not just a college student.

However, Duke students are always students surrounded by a thick layer of Duke stone, separated from reality. Nonetheless, Duke has a lot to offer its students, and admittedly people have a great time, myself included. But is there something missing in the picture of a student's life at Duke, and what might that be? Do we resign ourselves to the fact that Duke might have great classes and professors, but doesn't cut it in other areas? Maybe instead of massive social engineering, Duke needs a trip to Chapel Hill to figure out what makes the other end of Tobacco Road snap, crackle and pop.

Christopher Scoville is a Trinity sophomore and a Robertson Scholar studying at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this semester.


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