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Constructing community

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“You are now a citizen of Duke.”

This was how President Brodhead welcomed the new Class of 2020 to our campus: with the aspiration that for all of them, Duke would be more than just a school—it would be a community that every student can be proud to call home. Underlying this proclamation is the idea that identity is a process of co-creation between individuals and community; that the definition of the “Duke experience” evolves as each student makes their unique mark on this place. Today in particular feels like an inflection point in Duke’s history. The ending of old construction (West Union) and the breaking of new ground (dorms on East) are reminders that this community is constantly changing. But the prospect of expansion is accompanied by the opportunity for reflection. The feedback from current students will redefine the experiences of future Duke “citizens.”

Duke Student Government (DSG) began the year with the goal of bridging the gap between the needs of students and resources of administrators. Our aim is to increase transparency, accountability and representation in university policy, so that the Duke experience continues to be a collaborative product designed with all of this community’s citizens in mind. To accomplish this goal, DSG has formed a Steering Committee of Student Leaders, which aims to hold monthly roundtables with senior administrators to discuss the challenges of the present and our hopes for the future. Every month, student leaders will be selected in collaboration with student groups and administrators in Student Affairs. The committee’s rotating membership aims to represent the different facets of the Duke experience—from the academic to the professional, from affiliation to independence and much more. For the first meeting, the Steering Committee hosted Dr. Larry Moneta with a theme of “Construction and Communities” to discuss some solutions and recommendations for the housing to come.

Our committee widely recognized the fragmentation in student life on campus. Relationships take on their own chronology—my “O-Week friends,” my “freshman year friends,” my “living group friends”—disaggregating the Duke experience into parts rather than a sum. For some students, such as pockets of the international population that find ‘rushing' and ‘selective groups’ to be a foreign method of forming communities, the transition from East to West and the prospect of losing their freshman dorm communities may leave them feeling stranded. For others, such as independent students, physical divisions between the selected and the unaffiliated—from pod-style common rooms in Edens that physically separate groups, to inconsistent division of housing among established groups—silo student life. Without a doubt, there is certainly “community” at Duke. But the problem is that the feeling of “community” exists in pockets. The focus of the discussion then shifted to how the next cycle of construction on campus could provide momentum to bridge the gaps between different communities at Duke.

Duke, with its “builder’s spirit,” will be reshaped as the construction to come will transform the way that social culture operates at Duke. Proposed new construction includes a new residence hall on East Campus to replace Jarvis, East House and Epworth, a new 450-bed housing complex by Edens called “The Hollows,” set to be open in 2019, in parallel with the demolition of Central Campus with apartment-living built on Campus Drive. In many ways, construction is physically shifting the locus of community to include a section of Campus Drive. The physical divides between West and Central are being torn down with the demolition of each old building. The departure from East will become less of a filter into either West or Central, and more of a progression down Campus Drive towards the heart of Duke. Construction becomes a vehicle for community development—like the new suite-style residence halls for Edens, the preservation of apartment-style living along Campus Drive and the incorporation of new dining and social spaces to expand opportunities for programming and relationship building. The design process also allows us the chance to rethink what new spaces are there for students to enter. The Student Leader Committee offers the following recommendations.

First, we emphasize the need for increased investment in developing community in independent houses. Given the success we see in the pilot Living and Learning Committee (LLC), building and funding additional LLCs, such as the Ethics-themed LLC opening this year, to develop communities beyond the classroom offers an opportunity to increase intellectual engagement.

Second, we recommend fostering connections between residence halls on East and West campus. This could be operationalized by revisiting the 2001 pilot housing program that randomly paired East and West dorms on a rotating basis from year to year, offering freshman communities the chance to stay together (Alspaugh connecting with Keohane, so residents can opt-in to a lottery to stay with fellow Alspaugh residents the following year).

We would also recommend the introduction of “Smart Blocking” into the housing lottery, allowing two blocks of students to prioritize living in the same house in exchange for compromises on housing location; this would allow independents with smaller blocks to preferentially select for more active independent communities, while allowing room for existing communities to deepen and develop their own spaces. We further believe that HDRL and programming groups ought to invest in quad programming to build community within sections on West. This would involve a programmatic and funding shift towards events such as lawn parties and barbecues that would expand the radius of a community from individual houses.

Additionally, we recognize that this focus on independent student programming is not mutually exclusive from efforts to bring all students—affiliated or not—together. Within the new dorms on West Campus, we believe Duke should invest in common resources for groups (selective and independent) to use together. For example, this could mean developing a music room, art studio, game area or performance area in The Hollows. Introducing more “social” atmospheres near the Keohane-Edens-Hollows area through more food and drink spaces, including building a campfire site for cookouts and creating a pub setting in the Pitchforks expansion. These spaces would offer groups within that housing complex a place where they could convene for shared experiences. A second benefit of this construction would be shifting the locus of social culture from off- to on-campus.

We collectively recognize that spaces shape student life, and the unique features of different locations help develop our definition of “home.” Each building at Duke has a signature, from the massage chairs in Wannamaker to the alcoves in Keohane, that are critical parts of those community. Thus, design plans moving forward should account for student input about the unique features in existing facilities that make those spaces feel like home. We urge the administration to build in room for adaptation out of an awareness that new communities will continue to arise on campus, considering that every incoming class brings its own unique experiences and identities. It is critical to retain flexibility in living options and programming to ensure that students have the opportunity for self-discovery and community innovation in the years to come.

We recommend all students attend The Hollows Open House on Nov. 2 in Penn Pavilion. This is an opportunity to directly share ideas about what a future cornerstone of campus should look like with the architects of The Hollows. Additionally, DSG is eager to conduct a listening tour with the various groups on campus and hopes to meet with the House Councils of independent houses, SLGs and Greek organizations.

Looking beyond, we are excited for the opportunity to explore other challenges and elements of the Duke experience at upcoming roundtables with administrators and Student Leaders. It is important to recognize that dialogue is not meant to be a substitute for action; and indeed, meetings with administrators, designs of new policies and proposals for different programs underway are all concurrent with these conversations. But we in DSG want to continue these conversations to increase our collaboration with the other leaders on campus and help focus our advocacy efforts on behalf of the student body. Come join us as we work to reshape the Duke community for generations to come.


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