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Names of Duke independent houses aim to foster community

This year, some unaffiliated students are seizing the opportunity to test a long-asked question: “What’s in a name?”

Under the house model, students are charged with naming their newly created residential houses. The names selected are intended to be emblems of each individual community, which will outlast current students’ tenure at the University.

Twenty-nine of the 35 unaffiliated houses have had the names they submitted to Housing, Dining and Residence Life approved so far, Dean for Residential Life Joe Gonzalez said.

“I’m pleased with how it’s progressing,” he said. “The process of developing the name makes the house more cohesive because they have to work together. The process accomplishes just as much as the name itself.”

The house names range in seriousness, Gonzalez noted. Some have historical roots to the University, like Hart House, named to commemorate former Duke President Deryl Hart. Others are more lighthearted—the residents of a house in Edens 2C named their living space Far Quad, alluding to the long trek to the heart of West Campus.

Sophomore Laurel Kaye is the president of Sherwood House in Craven House D, which has the first name to be approved by administrators under the house model. Sherwood residents have started to rally behind the theme their name signifies, she said.

“We’ve been associating it with Robin Hood for fun, but I don’t know what the intentions of the person who submitted it were,” she said. “We picked out colors, symbols and a motto—‘ad astra.’”

Sophomore Ashley Qian, a resident of Kilgo House O and P, now named Avalon House, also said she and fellow house members have tried to build up the theme of their house, though she noted that the process of naming was “a shot in the dark.”

“It was really difficult for the entire house to get together because we’re so big and don’t all know each other personally—it’s hard to get the vibe of the entire house in general,” she said.

Choosing a name is a multistep process intended to be the first move in creating cohesive living communities for unaffiliated students, Gonzalez said. After residents of a particular house have agreed upon a name, they must submit it to their campus dean, who forwards it to Gonzalez, who then presents it to a committee of students and staff. That group must approve the name and coordinate with legal services to complete a trademark check. Several submitted names were trademarked items, he noted—the procedure for those names is generally to allow their use, and to work with the affected house if a complaint were to be received.

Administrators hope the remaining six nameless houses will complete the naming process before the semester ends, Gonzalez said, though no absolute deadlines are being imposed. A few names that have been submitted were rejected, he added. Gonzalez declined to state the rejected names because not all have been notified, but they will be by the end of the week.

For the most part, however, Gonzalez said he believes students are taking the naming process seriously.

After a name is approved, residents are encouraged to design a crest and sign to display on the exterior of their living space, Gonzalez added. He looks forward to the Spring when he hopes houses will start putting their signs up, which will contribute to house identification.

Qian was asked to design the crest for her house and in doing so largely decided to follow the historical connotations of the house’s name.

“Avalon is known as the Isle of Apples, it’s also the place where Excalibur was forged and also where King Arthur usually went to take a break or take time off,” she said. “I tried to make the crest very medieval-based with a fun quirky twist, but mostly it’s more of a royal tone.”

But some students are not optimistic about the house model’s potential to create a more cohesive environment for unaffiliated students—or happy with the house model in general.

Corinne Santoro, a sophomore in the selective living group Maxwell House, said she would not have joined the SLG if the house model had not been implemented.

“I was planning on blocking with friends who all joined sororities and ended up living with their sororities, so then I joined the SLG,” she said. “From a purely selfish point of view, I don’t like [the house model].”

Santoro noted that she does not think her unaffiliated friends are reaping benefits from the new housing system—most do not even know the names of the other residents in their houses, she said.

But Qian thinks it is a work in progress, noting that the success of a house becoming unified depends on its house council.

“If we have cool swag or a solid foundation to set the mood and set the scene, I think people will follow,” she said. “West Campus residents already are established [with their friend groups], so it’s harder [to foster community], but I still think it’s possible.”


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