Does diversity live in the dormitory?

As the Campus Culture Initiative and echoes of last spring's lacrosse scandal place race relations at the University under a microscope, some campus leaders have said the diversity of residential arrangements bears re-examination.

Eddie Hull, dean of residence life and executive director of housing services, said Residential Life and Housing Services does not keep statistics on ethnic background for residents. In the absence of numbers, some have noted, a quick survey of posters around campus provides some circumstantial information.

On Central Campus, flyers trumpet Delta Sigma Theta, Sigma Gamma Rho, Zeta Phi Beta and the NAACP. Boards on West Campus advertise Chi Psi, Delta Kappa Epsilon and Delta Tau Delta.

The first four: a black advocacy group and three members of the traditionally black National Panhellenic Council. The last three: Interfraternity Council members.

And although campus leaders said they hesitate to make conclusive statements, they acknowledged that conventional Duke wisdom holds that West Campus is predominantly white and Central is mostly black and Asian.

"There's a perception," said Campus Council President Jay Ganatra, a senior.

"It's definitely something I've heard before," said senior Kevin Fang, president of the Asian Students Association.

"The perception is reinforced in that it's traditional," said senior Malik Burnett, president of the Black Student Alliance.

Hull said although RLHS does not have exact figures, it is concerned about ensuring a diverse representation of students across the entire campus.

"We always talk about self-segregation," Ganatra said. "If we have the majority of black and Asian students living on Central and white students on West, and you're supposed to be hanging out with the people who live around you, you're going to get institutionalized self-segregation."

Ganatra, Fang and Burnett all pointed to the lower cost of living on Central and the presence of fraternities, which are mostly white, on West as reasons for the divide.

"We're at 30-some-odd percent of housing [on West] being taken up by fraternities and selective groups," Ganatra said. "With frats being 95-plus-percent white, that's a big factor. Already a third of your beds are allocated to groups that are majority white."

He added that the system may have become self-propagating, as minority students may choose to live on Central because of an already-thriving community.

Fang said he lived on Central as a junior because as an unaffiliated student, he was unable to get a double on West.

Burnett, a Central resident, said it would be a stretch to suggest that the campus ghettoizes minority students.

Hull also cautioned against making judgments about why the situation exists.

"The temptation to suggest that it's happening because of a causal factor is a dangerous one," Hull said. "I would be concerned whenever people are making assumptions... I think it's better to examine why people make the choices that they make."

RLHS has considered and rejected plans to institute a flat rate for all housing in the past because of disparities between dormitories, Hull said. The office has worked to bring rates for non-air-conditioned dormitories on West and Central housing closer, he said. It is not yet clear how the renovation and reconstruction of Central will affect rates.

The system of response to complaints in the absence of resident assistants on Central has been a flashpoint for concern. Without RAs, the Duke University Police Department is usually the first responder to any complaint. Burnett said many black students viewed unequal responses to disturbances on West and Central as a problem.

Last year, RLHS instituted a program of community assistants, who form an intermediate line of response. Hull said he is pleased with progress, but Burnett said dissatisfaction still lingers.

"I don't think that has by-and-large had any effect," Burnett said of the program. "Students don't necessarily feel that DUPD is listening to their concerns. I'd venture to say that students have become jaded."

Some residence life trends are decades old, said Associate Professor of History Janet Ewald, who came to Duke in 1983. When her spouse was a faculty-in-residence in Trent Hall about five years ago, she said her impression was that the makeup of the dorm was disproportionately male, minority and unaffiliated.

"I don't think there was any process by which they were clustering by choice," she said. "If men chose not to pledge a fraternity and not to live off-campus, then the choices were relatively limited."

Ewald added that before East Campus became all-freshmen in 1995, it was known as a haven for unaffiliated and non-mainstream upperclass students.

"I was one of the ones who didn't like the idea of making East a first-year campus because I thought it was a refuge for counterculture types," she said. "But I was wrong, I think the campus climate is much healthier as it is now."


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