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Why K-ville?

I live in the 4D building of Keohane Quad, which means that whenever I am hungry, 24 hours a day, I can walk down two flights of stairs in my slippers and order a waffle. Or, between the hours of 8 a.m. and midnight, I can walk up two flights of stairs and buy a mocha frappuccino and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Down my hall there is a big-screen television and a floor above there is a 24-hour game room with a free jukebox.

Whenever I’m required to pay for something, which is infrequently, I swipe my free-money card, and if there’s any money left on that card at the end of the semester, I’ll buy myself several three-course dinners at the Washington Duke Inn. Or I might, like a friend of mine, spend it on a $50 bottle of scotch.

If I were a freshman, I could have had, for a small fee, all my first-semester textbooks delivered to my dorm room, wrapped up in a box. I could look forward to the prospect of a Johnny Rockets theme restaurant above the Marketplace; but until then, I could, whenever I wanted, order a $15 Italian dinner directly to my door. There would also be the matter of my iPod.

And in the provision of luxuries, Duke is hardly alone. “The University of Houston has a $53 million wellness center with a five-story climbing wall,” writes James Twitchell, a professor at the University of Florida. “Washington State University has the largest jacuzzi on the West Coast (it holds 53 students); Ohio State University is building a $140 million complex featuring batting cages, ropes courses, and the now-essential climbing wall; and the University of Southern Mississippi is planning a full-fledged water park.”

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that “the college experience” figures so heavily in these institutions’ jargon, Duke’s included. What are they if not amusement parks? They offer an experience that combines pleasure with the slightest hint of intellectualism, and if after four years their customers are satisfied, they’ll reap a profit.

The commodification of the university and our concomitant coddling aren’t, of course, new observations; they’ve been extensively applied to Duke and will continue to hold true. But there’s a wrinkle, I think, that makes Duke’s case unique.

That is, Krzyzewskiville. Every year, as many as 1,000 of us spend the better part of two winter months sleeping on the ground in tents. Creatures of luxury that we are, why would we do such a thing?

Is it devotion to basketball? I tented for the Wake Forest game, and basketball was barely mentioned. Besides, any number of schools are sports-crazier than we without requiring camping.

Is there a unique “K-ville experience?” If by “unique” we mean unavailable during the rest of the year, the answer is no again. This year’s grand finale, the night before Wake, had beer and loud music. Put it in Pika section, and it wouldn’t have been out of place. It was a frat party, except that it was outdoors, and we were cold.

In fact, I lost feeling in my big toes. And that, I think, is the crux. K-ville is about suffering. And not just any suffering—masochism, the kind of suffering the bored rich inflict on themselves.

Say what you will about us Duke students, but we have moral intuition. And though few of us say it, I suspect that a lot of us recognize the absurdity of our privilege. A lot of us recognize that Rick’s and the Beanery and the Media Room and the Game Room and free iPods, as delicious as they all are, are just too much. Some of us see a college high on fun and low on college and wonder if it was supposed to be that way. Most of us, I think, are a little embarrassed.

K-ville is our attempt to compensate. It’s not a very constructive attempt. With Ethernet jacks and power outlets built into the lampposts, it’s not even much of an attempt. But we’re trying. Trying to balance things a little. Trying, very genteelly, to self-flagellate.

In that spirit, I’m proud to report that my nights on the ground were cold and miserable. I hope yours were, too.

Rob Goodman is a Trinity senior. His column appears every Friday.

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