The independent news organization of Duke University

"Grappling with reputation"

My lovely editor described my previous column as "750 words with no point." In fact, it was about how Duke is perceived by outsiders (but she was right about the lack of point). Shortly thereafter, our school started to make national headlines for a reason I never would have predicted, rendering moot my more nuanced (read: irrelevant) concerns.

The event prompted us all to think about what it means to go here. President Brodhead addressed an e-mail to the entire Duke community about the issues brought to new light by the lacrosse scandal. Primarily it struck me as an instance of, as The New York Times puts it, "Duke Grappling With Impact of Scandal on Its Reputation." To be fair, the letter also addresses many concerns that may be confronting those of us who go here-it is not simply a strategic response to the recent PR fiasco.

But the factors affecting our experience of attending this school are so far removed from those that determine its reputation. This is ironic, because I assume I'm not alone in the fact that I chose to attend Duke largely because of this reputation. In fact, by picking Duke, I selected the school ranked highest by U.S. News to which I was admitted (although not solely for that reason). When you don't know what you want to do with your life, how much can it hurt to have a good name on your diploma?

There is quite the dichotomy between the outsider's gaze and the student's life. Pre-frosh will notice that we have gorgeous new engineering facilities, a beautiful new library and some of the best professors in the world. Only students, however, know that we also have showers in Craven quad from which people emerge smelling "like crap."

Forgivably, I think, President Brodhead didn't address plumbing in his letter. But his points encounter a similar divide-one between how we are seen and how we live. Alcohol is one example.

Local residents, and now the national media (last time it was the KY Jelly incident), have presented an image of Duke replete with outrageous parties and irresponsible drinking. But those of us who live here realize that the social life that may once have been characterized this way is steadily eroding. With the University's buyout of the Trinity Park houses, and the now perilous position of tailgate parties, it seems like some sort of masterplan is being implemented:

Every weekend night, have one to two parties on campus that the majority of underage undergraduates will attend. Being as these are the "only game in town," they will be vastly overpopulated. Students will be funneled through bottlenecks in quad sections, scrounging for an elusive can of Busch Light (or, if particularly lucky, Busch Ice). It's brilliant-they'll all think they're partying. In reality, they're drinking reasonable, sensible amounts.

Duke has also been accused of elitism-an isolated bastion of privilege in a community of misfortune In fact, when I walk by girls in heels, shrouded by Coco Chanel sunglasses and iPod headphones, I have to give some kind of credence to this picture.

Yet to witness the objective inequality between the demographic that attends Duke and residents of the Durham area gives little insight into the pervasive fear one has of the other. We are, indeed, asshole 20-year-olds who drive Beamers. But we are also well-intentioned college students who read about our peers being mugged blocks from campus. I went on a field trip for a class to a Durham County jail. Toward the end of the tour, the Sergeant warned us all, but especially girls, not to walk alone, on-campus or off. As a fellow columnist has pointed out, we cannot be faulted for our desire for isolation.

Duke is in a unique position of transformation. The New York Times put it this way: "Duke University is widely considered one of the great success stories in higher education, having transformed itself from a respected regional university with a history of segregation into a selective research university on a par with the country's most elite institutions."

This dynamic character, allowing our reputation to flourish with better facilities and stronger departments, also makes us vulnerable to decline. From President Brodhead's letter, it seems that the administration is all too aware of this. But in Duke's efforts to be respected in the community and by the nation, I hope it is kept in mind that some of us actually go here.

David Kleban is a Trinity junior. This is his final column.


Share and discuss “"Grappling with reputation"” on social media.