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The importance of flexibility

guest column

From the very start, waves of construction have plagued my existence at Duke, following me around like an infectious disease that becomes dormant for small spurts, only to rear its ugly head back with such an intensity that it becomes normalized in my daily life. The heartwarming, encouraging message from the administration has been quite simple: get used to it. As an undergraduate member of the Committee on Facilities and the Environment, I very much understand the importance of looking to the future to make sure that our university maintains a certain standard of excellence, comfort, and longevity that we have all become accustomed to and that prospective students, faculty, and visitors expect. Frankly though, it is hard for most of us current students, particularly those of us who have not had a West Union or a bridge to the plaza for much of our time, to avoid the thought that we got just a little bit unlucky to be attending Duke during a time of such enormous physical transition.

In the coming years, no part of Duke will experience the brunt of this transient phase more than residential life and housing. For years, the administration has been trying to either renovate Central Campus or get rid of it entirely. The relocation of several selective living groups at the beginning of this year to 301 Swift due to severely deteriorating structural conditions in some of the apartment buildings is a testament to the need for immediate action. The only problem with this is that Central Campus is home to 1050 students, and while it may not be perfect, it is better than 1050 students sleeping in the Blue Zone.

In the meantime, HDRL has been pushing for Craven and Crowell to be renovated for years now, considering they are the only two original dorms on West that have never undergone any sort of renovations. On the other side of campus—East Campus to be exact—the administration has plans to repurpose Jarvis, Epworth and East House, rather than renovate them, and is in the process of constructing a massive, brand new dorm next to Bell Tower to accommodate the students who formerly lived in those three dorms.

With all of these massive undertakings in the works, the question remains of where to put students while all of these projects get done. Enter the Hollows and 300 Swift.

To anyone not familiar with the former, the Hollows is the new approximately 500-person dorm complex set to be built on Towerview Road as early as next year. For many administrators, the Hollows is the first step in relocating students from Central Campus and will comfortably maintain the house model that currently exists on all three campuses. The Hollows will hopefully be open for students in Fall 2018.

Furthermore, with renovations on Crowell tentatively set to start this summer and extend into next school year, the university’s purchase of 300 Swift has given HDRL the flexibility to relocate Crowell students to this beautiful apartment complex, while also alleviating stress on other existing dorms and the relocation of Central students.

The goal of all of these plans is obvious, of course: to make Duke the best residential university it can be, which requires creating the best, most state of the art living conditions for students. However, this constantly changing backdrop and lack of physical space for accommodation has made housing quite inflexible for students, an inflexibility that has made it very difficult for us on the DSG Residential Life Committee and for HDRL to come up with innovative ways to make the Duke residential experience as robust and dynamic as we would like for the next several years.

Our solution to this has been to increase communication and transparency as much as possible. In the fall, we held an open house for interested students and faculty to get their first look at the plans for the Hollows and the Craven and Crowell renovations that included a Q/A with the architects of the projects, a model of the new dorm, and pictures of what the renovated dorms will look like. In the same vein, in advance of students moving into 300 Swift, we are working with students and Duke Dining to set up a convenience store in 300 Swift that will take food points and FLEX by determining what products and brands students would like to have available. Furthermore, we hope to hold an information session at the end of the year with HDRL to get feedback from students about what they would like to see in their living experiences in 300 Swift.

As far as making the residential experience easier and more dynamic in the face of such inflexibility, we are working with HDRL to implement some semblance of the smart blocking program, a program that the Chronicle recently covered that would allow students to potentially create larger blocking groups. Moreover, we have done our best to support the further implementation of Living Learning Communities in order to foster more spaces for academic engagement within the residential experience and are pleased to say that there will be a new Ethics LLC starting next year.

Although it is a time of much change for residential life and housing at Duke, change that can foster frustration and confusion for many, change that we realize is less than ideal for many of us, we hope that our efforts to keep students informed in the process and to create a more robust residential experience can keep Duke undergraduates engaged and excited for the future of Duke housing and Duke as an elite residential university.

Basil Seif is a Trinity senior and DSG Vice President of Residential Life.


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