Apparently, Duke is doing something wrong. This is what I’ve been reading in the paper. Our social scene isn’t “comprehensive.” Duke University isn’t treating someone or another fairly. Students, I’m told, should unabashedly love their school, but instead, they harbor mixed feelings about it.
In reality, of course, Duke is doing most things overwhelmingly right. I’ve been over this issue before, but it’s not going away. There must be a reason. Let’s look at why we, as students, gripe.
We enter college in a frenzy of excitement, fear and awkwardness. Reality crashes down on our heads at some point, in some form—homesickness, an unbearable course load, a bad blackout, whatever—and the ideal cliché of the work-hard, play-hard Duke University gives way to the thing itself. College isn’t exactly like the movies say it’s going to be. Disillusionment sets in, and a lot of students swing too far in the opposite direction. They begin to trash talk our school, especially our social life.
I’ve never really understood what, exactly, Duke students want socially. Most visionaries have some picture of a world where everyone amasses on the quad every Friday, last-day-of-classes-style, to interact with fellow community members of different ages, races and economic backgrounds. Everyone drinks just enough (free) beer to get happily drunk while remaining coherent, then clears away at two or three in the morning. No one studying or sleeping nearby is disturbed by the idiot yells of drunks. The next morning, the quad is as lush as ever, bursting with grass untainted by the piss, puke and trash that crowds always leave in their wake.
It should be noted that no one at these gatherings is tied down by a long-term relationship. Instead, they all hang in blissful romantic limbo. They date, which means they participate in fun, interesting, one-on-one interactions that involve great conversation, complete sexual gratification and no hard feelings the next morning as they go their separate ways, each partner equally disinterested in pursuing any further contact.
That picture, from what I gather, is what your average Duke student thinks a perfect social scene would look like. I get the impression, though, that most students aren’t thinking very hard. Yeah, we could use a bar and a loosening of the keg restrictions, but our other fantasies are just that: fantasies. I like to consider bathrooms a litmus test for maturity. A quick survey shows that Duke “men” are still learning how to aim, and we’re struggling with the flushing principle. If I were in the administration, I’d be hesitant to give us all the booze and free rein that we demand, too.
Meanwhile, on the academic front, we’re busy absorbing the jargon of our chosen fields and the campus cultural scene in general. Oppression. Objectification. Disenfranchisement. It’s exciting, all these words that seem to make us so learned, and we get busy applying them to everything around us with the youthful exuberance of students who want to make a difference in the community. If, for example, races aren’t interacting, it’s “self-segregation,” and we need to “foster dialogue” about it. If popular trends indicate a steamier interest in multiculturalism, someone cries out about the objectification and colonization of the “exotic other.”
It’s unfortunate for Duke that the very institution that gives us these tools for criticizing the world is also the closest and easiest body to strike out against. As a result, Duke always comes off looking like the Great Satan, and we see the often confused but always well-meaning protests that spring up around campus—like tulips—when the weather gets nice.
At the end of this rollercoaster ride, some seniors have mixed feelings. Who wouldn’t? Leaving this school with the same irrational love and excitement that marked your entrance would mean either a counterproductive refusal to acknowledge the negatives or a total lack of growth. Our professors spend their lives teaching us to second guess the black and white and look for truth in the gray areas; it’s nice to see that we absorb at least one lesson in our four years here.
There’s one more lesson I’d like to add: Enjoy it while it lasts. I know I am. See you all in the gardens.
John Miller is a Trinity junior. His column appears every other Wednesday.
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