A common complaint among undergraduates is that Duke is not a place that fosters intellectual conversations.
These are not the kinds of faculty-led conversations that happen in a classroom setting, but the sort that students drive themselves. I picture a bunch of students sitting under a tree at some idyllic spot on the quad discussing philosophy because they have nothing better to do.
From my college admissions tours I remember this image being one of the main selling points of liberal arts colleges. Students at these small, isolated schools are more likely to engage in spontaneous intellectual conversations or activities together because they do not encounter the distractions that a high-profile research university provides. These distracting forces may include an urban campus, Division I athletics, greek life, a medical center, professional schools, graduate students, media sex scandals, etc.
Far too often as undergraduates we attribute our problems to Duke, rather than to ourselves.
If you are still having trouble finding interesting and engaging conversations outside of the classroom at Duke, you should probably stop searching for institutional failures and start examining your personal initiative. I’ve discussed this problem with several friends and at the end of these meta-discourses we’ve always come to the same conclusion—these types of conversations are out there if you’re willing to spark them yourself.
So as I prepare to graduate, my parting advice is this. Don’t be afraid to be the person who turns an informal chat into a deep and probing exchange. I certainly wish I had done this more often at Duke. Because if you’re too timid to go out on an intellectual limb every once in awhile, you won’t learn much from your four years in college.
I’ve found learning from others’ experiences to be one of the most enriching undertakings life has to offer. And it is an experience that becomes even more meaningful at a school where you can easily end up with a roommate who went to high school in Qatar or a girlfriend who was raised in two different African countries.
The supposed distractions of Duke life can be turned into areas of enrichment as well. If you take enough time out of your day to think—not about what internship you want or what grades you might end up with, but simply to think about everything that is happening around you—then you can turn anything into a learning experience. Instead of cynically dismissing every non-ideal situation that Duke throws your way, take time to analyze it instead. Try to figure out what it means, why it matters and what you can learn from it.
You won’t find a bigger Duke basketball fan than me. But other than the obvious utilitarian benefits, I still don’t fully understand how a $4 million coaching salary fits with the values of an educational institution. I’m a big fan of embracing globalization, too, but I’m not sure why Duke is in such a rush to construct a campus in Kunshan, China, which will cost about $37 million over the next six years.
Yet these questions are both great prompts for intellectual discussion. The Chronicle is the place where I have learned how to treat them that way, rather than to simply dismiss them out of ill-informed, cynical exasperation. Journalism, while it may lack in financial compensation, is among the most intellectually gainful pursuits available to Duke students. And the student newspaper is certainly not the only place on campus that offers this kind of intellectual space. It’s a matter of finding your own niche and keeping an open mind.
But, in my highly biased opinion, The Chronicle is the best student organization on campus by a wide margin. It attracts students who are interested in questioning the world around them and figuring out what it means. At The Chronicle you never have to think twice about what any adults will think because you never answer to anyone but your peers and your readers. You have the editorial and financial independence to define yourself.
This newspaper gave me the space I needed to take my own initiative. It helped me to learn and grow as a journalist, as a student and as a person.
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Will Robinson is a Trinity senior. He is the editorial board chair and former editor-in-chief of The Chronicle.