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Editor's Note, 9/18

Recently, Duke has been happy to straddle the line between a research university and a liberal arts school. While it is objectively a research university, it is fairly common to hear tour guides boasting about the appeal of a “small school with the resources of a large school” to rapt parents and prospective students.

For the most part, I think this description holds up really well. At Duke, students don’t get lost in the midst of an 800-person lecture, it is fairly easy to recognize if someone is in your year and dorms are small enough that you can know every person living with you. Yet, there are still fantastic opportunities for students, whether it be in research or activities or advising.

However, as Duke sits Humpty-Dumpty style on this wall between two worlds, one facet of the experience seems to have suffered: the arts. Somewhere in the shuffle of having the resources of a large school, a majority of the Duke community has forgotten what it is to truly be an artistic school.

This is related to a lot of conversations that I have been having with my friends recently. And there is one question that seems to sum up the issue: is Duke more of an academic or an intellectual environment?

The difference may seem like mere semantics, but there is a lot at stake here. If we say that Duke is an academic environment, we are saying that Duke promotes academics first and foremost, and the rest of Duke life revolves around this. However, if we can claim that Duke is an intellectual school, we are saying that this is a place to grow as an individual in all capacities.

I am a strong believer that Duke is an intellectual environment. I have been stunned by the incredible depth of every individual that I have met on this campus. Late-night conversations don’t dance in circles; they turn into well-informed debates. Opinions are supported with facts and personal experiences. Faculty is easily within reach for lunch or an outing. Programs like Focus and DukeImmerse promote a culture of teaching and learning, while also allowing for non-academic bonds to form.

But every time I start to back up my position to my friends, I think about the arts at this school. And the state of the arts at Duke is the sole reason that I would reconsider saying that Duke is an intellectual environment.

For me, an intellectual environment allows individuals to grow academically, mentally, emotionally and culturally. It is that last item about which I sometimes worry. It seems that culture is often pushed aside and forgotten about because there is simply no time.

In my opinion, art is one of the most essential parts of Duke’s culture. Our creativity, which is so often expressed through art, is what got us many of us to Duke. More than that, though, creativity is what will propel nearly all of us forward into the real world. The future holds a growing number of controversial and seemingly unsolvable problems. It will be up to our generation to find a way to address those problems, and creativity is necessary if we hope to succeed. By stifling and passively ignoring art at this school, we are hurting all of our futures.

The immense workload that Duke Students face on a daily basis is a well-known and well-chronicled experience. But there’s something more to it than that. I think that there is an illusion of "busyness” that many of us, including myself, get trapped in. Since everyone else around us is stressed and worried about this and that, I have to be too. There are certainly some people on this campus doing way too much, but I have a hard time believing that every single one of us falls in that category. I know I certainly do not.

I think it is this illusion of busyness that causes us all to ignore the cultural opportunities at Duke. And, ultimately, it is this illusion that could be contributing to Duke’s perception as an academic environment instead of an intellectual one.

So, I am proposing that we, as the Duke community, change that. It is most definitely not going to be easy to alter something so engrained in the culture here, but I think it is a worthwhile endeavor. At the very least, it is worth being more aware of, and it absolutely starts with the arts.

When was the last time you went to a concert put on by Duke Performances? Outside of the huge a cappella shows, when did you last see your friends perform? How recently did you meaningfully reflect on student or faculty art displayed around campus? And what about your friend’s dance performance? Did you go to that? Do you read Duke’s poetry or creative writing publications? Even better, did you submit something to them?

In all honesty, I’ve barely done any of the things listed above. And while there are absolutely many people who are more supportive and engaged on this campus than I am, I think that the majority of us could certainly participate more.

It’s time to make Duke a truly intellectual environment. It’s time for each of us to reexamine how this campus should be seen. For some of us, Duke is perfectly fine as it is. For the rest of us, this is a call to action.

Each one of us needs to get our work done and be engaged. Because, ultimately, you won’t remember that linear algebra problem set or that memo you had to write, but you will remember the late-night conversations in your dorm and the playlist your roommate made for you and the smile on your friend’s face when they showed you their artwork.


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