The independent news organization of Duke University

CONFESSIONS OF A DURHAM-ETTE

I wouldn't exactly call myself your typical Duke sophomore.

Sure, I tented for basketball tickets. I completed a few graduation requirements. I went to the sketchy, Southern-themed bar, Shooters II, on the first Thursday night of the semester-a Duke tradition. I developed an unnecessary hatred for everything UNC-related. I fought my way onto the bus that runs from East to West campus, affectionately called the C-1. I suffered through the monotony of meals at the freshman dining hall.

And on several occasions, I even stood in line for hours to get a free t-shirt.

But despite all this, there is something about me that I can't change or deny that sets me apart from the rest of the student body-something that is either feared or hated across campus: I am a Durhamite.

Until I started at Duke, I never thought there was anything particularly wrong with that statement. There were no negative connotations associated with the word. But when I came to campus, the only fitting adjectives that can go before Durhamite in a conversation were "sketchy" or "armed."

Within the first few weeks of living on campus, it occured to me that perhaps some students pitied themselves because the prestigious institution which they attended was regrettably located in Durham, North Carolina, and they were completely surrounded by us.

Although my opinion is not a popular one, I love Durham. I love the Southern charm, the history and the uniqueness that make the Bull City so different from any other place in the world. I love that on a hot summer day you can walk around the renovated historic tobacco district, completely restored in a private-public partnership and meet complete strangers who are neighborly and friendly.

Durham has a very small, close-knit community of people from all walks of life. There is something very unusual and remarkable about having a small-town feeling in a city of its size.

More important than the city itself is its residents. Downtown Durham is full of small, family-owned and -run businesses where employees know you by your first name and take the time to get to know you.

And if you take the time to get to know them, many Durhamites will tell you their stories of Durham, and it's obvious to see that most hold a great affection for a city that is wonderfully diverse and also nationally renowned for things unrelated to crime statistics.

I attended one of the area's public high schools, which provided a very different experience to a Duke education. Even with the gang riot, bathroom fires and occasional bomb threats, I thoroughly enjoyed my four years at C.E. Jordan High School. I met the most amazing people and was taught by motivating teachers-all of whom were Durhamites.

But after being accepted to Duke and graduating from Jordan, I was not expecting such an extreme culture shock. Just a five-minute car ride sent me tumbling down the rabbit hole and suddenly, I found myself with a new perspective.

I quickly realized that most people at Duke don't share my love for Durham. Few appreciated the sense of community that I found so obvious for years, nor do they value the diversity of the city.

My freshman year was filled with hate columns and comments on online message boards claiming that "Durham is a piece of shit" and complaining how disappointing Durham was for Duke students.

I remember wondering if the people who wrote so eloquently about the violent and unsafe city had ever actually been outside the Duke bubble. I began wondering how Durham got such a bad rap.

Recent incidents, such as the murder of graduate student Abhijit Mahato by a teenager who went to high school with me, obviously contribute to the distrust of Durhamites. But the idea that Durham consists only of violent people who are out to harm Duke students has become unnecessarily widespread.

Why do students think that "Durhole" is gang-infested, dilapidated and dangerous, causing students to fear for their own lives? The city has been ranked the 15th best place to live in the U.S. and one of the 100 best communities for young people.

Although it is frustrating, the general disregard and disdain for the city I call home does not surprise me. From what I have witnessed, Duke students do not venture out past the protective stonewalls around the University.

There are, however, exceptions to this. Recently, there have been a wealth of new programs that get students involved in the Durham community, like Project BUILD, DukeEngage and mandatory and voluntary community service.

But for many incoming students, except for the occasional weekend trek to local clubs and bars or a shopping trip to the mall, they don't consider Durham worth exploring. The only contact many students have with the Durham community is when Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs, sends out an e-mail about safety procedures because somebody has been robbed off-campus.

Although these incidents of crime are undoubtedly tragic, the majority of Durhamites do not attempt to rip off students, to my admittedly unscientific knowledge.

Like any city, and perhaps more than most cities, Durham has its share of crime. But there is no need to forgo venturing out and learning about the city and the communities that exist within it, right down the road from our own community.

This community-wide ignorance is no new phenomena. Gary Keuber, Trinity '92and writer for the blog "Endangered Durham," says that students were equally as apathetic about the community surrounding the Duke campus.

"When I first came up as a Duke student, I had a perception of Durham that I think was commonplace among students at that time," he told me in an interview.

"Even if it wasn't a necessarily negative perception, we didn't have much of an impression of Durham at all. I wasn't aware that the Durham community existed. I had no knowledge of anyone that lived in Durham or grew up in Durham until I graduated and moved into Trinity Park and actually lived in a community."

Although I have grown to love and be proud of the city in which I grew up, I have never planed to stay in North Carolina for the rest of my life. And like many Duke students, I view these four years in the Dirty D as a temporary adventure.

When I told Keuber this, he laughed and said he used to have the exact same intentions. Almost 20 years after his departure from Duke, however, he reports that he still happily resides in Durham, something he never would have imagined when he was attending the University.

"The idea was that you came to Duke and when you graduated, you went away. There was not a compelling reason to stay here. But yet I encounter people that are very involved in the city years after they have graduated. I think it's not uncommon that something, like a job, kept them here and the city grew on them," he says.

Maybe this city is an acquired taste. Maybe four years just isn't enough to appreciate all that the Bull City has to offer. It grows on people, gradually wearing down the skeptics with its Southern charm and rich history.

Sure, some may consider Durham the bastard child of the Triangle-that sibling to Chapel Hill and Raleigh that just isn't mentioned at family reunions. But despite it all, I find myself now proudly telling anyone who asks: I am, in fact, a Durhamite.

Christine Hall is a Trinity sophomore and, contrary to popular belief, no one in the University's Public Relations Department forced her to write this essay.

Discussion

Share and discuss “CONFESSIONS OF A DURHAM-ETTE” on social media.