The independent news organization of Duke University

A real community service

Treat thy neighbor as thyself.

What do our neighbors think of Duke?

The answer, unfortunately, does not seem favorable. The News & Observer of Raleigh reports that Kimberly Isley, a mother of three living on Watts Street off East Campus, has endured the worst Duke has to offer: vomit, vandalism, nudity and noise.

“They’re Duke students,” Isley told the News & Observer. “They think they’re above the law.”

Indeed, some Duke students think they stand above all standards of decency. Our humble university made the pages of The New York Times recently for a rather ignominious act: a bevy of bare (half) naked ladies bouncing in baby oil.

The sad truth: As The News & Observer, which blames Duke “for exporting the fun off campus” reports, undergraduates and local residents alike have failed to place the onus for this bleak perception squarely where it belongs—on the backs of Duke students.

Larry Moneta, Duke’s vice president for student affairs, traces this exodus back to 1995, with the implementation of the all-freshman East Campus. As the freshmen transitioned to West Campus during greek rush, the limitations of the upper-class experience showcased themselves in the corruption of community found on East.

“With frats controlling the real-estate power distribution on West, students of color were relegated to Trent and Central. The decision to build Keohane Quad (formerly the West-Edens Link), the mandatory linking to West of all sophomores, and the movement of frats off the main quad were the University’s realization of this unequal distribution,” Moneta said.

But this is not the whole story. In 1999, with the death of Duke junior Raheem Bath following a night of drinking, the University could no longer sustain its open disregard for underage consumption. In the minds of many students, this administrative disregard characterizes Old Duke—the quintessential college experience, where alcohol flowed freely and frats ruled the on-campus social scene.

Stephen Bryan, associate dean for judicial affairs, suggests that the Duke of Yore is largely hyperbole. “One has to ask: Who is saying that on-campus life sucks? And what are most Duke undergraduates doing on the weekends and saying about it?” Bryan said. He argues that “a vocal minority” controls perception on this issue, because they have the most to lose—namely, the ubiquitous, unregulated influence of alcohol in their lives.

“The problem is not the presence of alcohol,” Bryan said, noting that open containers are still allowed on campus, “but rather the high-risk behaviors associated with its abuse.” Sexual assault, vandalism and littering top this list.

Bryan describes the movement off campus as a confluence of variables: the arrival of the residential coordinators in Fall 2001, student alcohol abuse and the interaction between residential groups and independents. While the RCs’ jobs are largely centered around intellectual life and community development—not behavioral control—before their arrival “some independents were having to rent hotel rooms because of residential group parties,” Bryan said.

Duke administrators like Moneta and Bryan are quick to point out that many colleges across the country are struggling with this issue. John Burness, Duke’s senior vice president for public affairs and government relations, agrees. “These issues are not unique to us or these neighborhoods,” he said. “We’re very conscious of students moving increasingly off campus, especially with the rising rates of students studying abroad and returning with a distaste for dorm life, nationwide.”

Although recent parties have highlighted tensions with the Durham community, Burness sees increasing administrative regulation on campus and the resulting movement off as predating the 1999 Bath tragedy. “Throughout the ’90, fraternities rose and liability increased for national chapters and the law around liability changed connecting Duke to student alcohol abuse,” he said.

Burness and company are right—many factors outside the University’s control affect administrative policy. Psychology Today cites that campuses nationwide are reporting record increases in binge drinking over the past decade. Through their quest for oblivion, students engorged with alcohol find community and a sense of identity, giving overly programmed kids something rebellious to talk about at brunch the next day.

And even though the elimination of the open keg without ID check was a Duke decision, University administrators are trying to find common ground with students. They support student groups with diverse programming interests, like the Duke University Union, which has provided viable alternatives to the greek scene through the Armadillo Grill, the Coffeehouse and the plethora of on-campus performances and shows that we have the luxury to enjoy.

Alcohol is not contrary to administrative goals, but—in order to find a balance between the law, quality of life and safety—it must be controlled. And students must learn to exert some semblance of control.

Burness sums it up nicely: “Honestly, we don’t have very good solutions.” The Duke administration will not be able to solve this one for us; it is the responsibility of students to grow the hell up.

We have grown accustomed to the aftermath of college parties: overflowing trash cans, vomit-laden bathrooms, exploited women, the smell of beer and piss mingling in the air. Somehow students find ways to live in this contradiction: tutoring, coaching, helping, serving. Ways to convince ourselves that we are actually improving, and not hindering, our larger community.

It is infinitely easier to “serve” those that we do not think of as ourselves. But it is much harder to do the real community service. When you’re living beyond Duke’s walls, as much a Durham resident as any, remember that your neighbors are part of our community. They are we, and we are they.

Philip Kurian is a Trinity senior. His column appears Mondays.

 

 

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