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Try Durham

Everyone is upset that the under-21 Shooters cover is now $10. This is certainly disheartening, but it does give you a chance to connect with Durham residents in a new, less awkward way. 

Last week, I had the opportunity to work with a variety of University offices on an annual program called “Knock and Talks.” During this event, we spoke with students who lived off campus about off-campus safety, living in Durham, how to connect with neighbors and other related issues. As we walked around the city, I couldn’t help but think about the transformation that has occurred. As a native of Durham, I have witnessed first-hand the rapid development throughout the entire city. I am proud of it. I’m so proud that I often get upset when I hear people speak negatively about Durham or the “Durhamites.”  

Last week on the C-1, I sat in front of a student who told his friend, “Durham is such a sketchy city.” The friend retorted, “Someone needs to save this place…from itself.” While the remarks frustrated me to no end, it’s not the first time I’ve heard Duke students under-appreciating the tremendous city in which we reside. Recent incidents of crime on campus that occurred late this summer and during the first week of school do not help this perception of Duke and Durham. While it is natural to worry when hearing about crime—I certainty share those sentiments—it is far too easy to let these reasonable emotions overshadow the fact that these are issues faced everywhere. Crime should not dictate our entire understanding and partaking of Durham.  Are we placing Durham on a higher pedestal than other cities because we are Duke students and feel that we deserve the perfect, construction-free campus with no incidents of crime?

There’s another aspect of our dialogue about Durham that needs closer examination—our need to “Save Durham.” The two words could serve as a slogan for some hypothetical campaign, as they are often the foundation of much discourse about the city. As I walk around campus and engage in dialogue about the city with many of my peers, I often hear, in some form, the idea that Durham is a place that is to be utilized solely for community service and volunteer efforts. While I’d never advocate that Duke students stop engaging with those less fortunate, the only way to truly engage with Durham is to realize that it has just as much to offer you as you have to give it. 

Many of the transformation projects that have occurred in Durham over the past ten years—the construction of the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, American Tobacco area, high quality apartments such as those in West Village and the Durham Performing Arts Center—happened out of a keen interest by our city to provide a better ‘college town’ for Duke students, in particular. Mayor Bell, the City Council and even Durham residents have been patient and thoughtful about how to best serve us. It is only fair that we are thoughtful in our approach in dealing with Durham. 

I would encourage a new approach to our interactions with the Durham community that can work concurrently with how Duke students tend to be involved in Durham now.  While hands-on service is important, the impact that Duke students can have on their immediate community through political means is equally significant. Last summer, DSG began working with local city offices to ensure that Duke would have an on-campus early voting site, worked with officials on noise ordinance policies affecting Duke students and led efforts with a local neighborhood association popular for off-campus housing.  These efforts helped local, non-Duke Durham residents as much as they positively affected us. They helped highlight Duke students’ connection with Durham in a way not always visible by many local residents outside of the schools in which we frequently tutor and shelters in which we often serve, or the restaurants in which we tend to eat (Durham frequently receives accolades for being the best city for food in the South). 

I am not confident that Durham needs to be saved from anything or anyone, even itself. Durham must be enhanced by our ideas, opinions and ability to create change. When these serve as the forefront of larger community discourses, are reflected in the work of local government officials and remain visible to those local residents with whom Duke students come in contact daily, Duke students become change-agents in a powerful way.

Derek Rhodes is a Trinity junior and the DSG vice president for Durham and regional affairs. His column is the second installment in a semester-long series of weekly columns written by members of Duke Student Government. Send Derek a message on Twitter @DukeStudentGov or @DRhodes15.

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