Earlier last month, The Chronicle reported on the high instance of on-campus drinking at Duke. According to a recent survey by the American College Health Association, nearly 72.2 percent of Duke undergraduates reported consuming alcohol in the past month—nearly 10 percent higher than the reported national average. The same survey found that Duke outpaced other peer institutions in the usage of marijuana with nearly a quarter of all surveyed Duke students reporting to having smoked cannabis within the last 30 days.
Perhaps it is unsurprising that Duke students have reported such high rates of alcohol and drug use when compared to the national average. As an elite, high-profile university that famously prides itself on a “work hard, play hard” atmosphere, Duke has expectedly earned a somewhat bacchanal reputation in the eyes of the national media. Tom Wolfe famously parodied the drunken antics of the Gothic Wonderland in his 2004 novel "I am Charlotte Simmons" (albeit through a thinly veiled “Dupont University”). Writing for The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan condemned the supposedly drunken and sexual excesses of Duke’s student body in her 2011 article “The Hazards of Duke.”
Such gross media stereotypes of Duke, however, can detract from the actual conditions of campus life. For instance, the same survey found that Duke students were in fact less sexually active than the average college student. As reported by DuWell, since 2012 there have been fewer reports of binge drinking, alcohol violations and alcohol-related transports to the emergency room. Moreover, binge drinking and substance abuse among college students are national problems not just isolated to Duke. Stanford and other peer universities have recently enacted similar policies to stymie drinking on campus along with its perceived aftereffects.
Nonetheless, the image of Duke as a “party school,” where the offspring of Yankee elites get wasted while being pipe-lined into Wall Street, remains a powerful stereotype partially rooted in reality. Whether it be the casual invitation to participate in a “video power hour” drinking marathon at a pre-game or a shot-gunning tournament at a “darty,” the pressure is intense for many students to keep up with the supposedly fast, hard-chasing image of Duke. If basketball represents the “national” sport of Duke University, then perhaps beer-pong comes in as a close second. To those who choose not to participate in such behaviors, the stigma of being considered too puritanical at a “work hard, play hard” university can be extremely alienating. Even the titular character of Wolfe’s aforementioned novel - a bookish freshman ingenue from rural North Carolina - eventually succumbs to the sexual and substance temptations of “Dupont University.”
As with other facets of the Duke experience, like declaring one’s academic major or searching for summer internships, it can be extremely difficult to go against the mold and forge a path or lifestyle distinct from that of the “typical” Duke student. Surrounded by such pressure – the pressure to succeed, to drink, and to ultimately fit into the Duke image – it is unsurprising that the same ACHA survey found that Duke students reported 10 percent higher stress levels than the national average. Yet, the youthful ethos of Duke, the same maverick thinking that prompted President Few ninety years ago to envision a major national research university in rural North Carolina, is dependent on the energy of individualistic students and scholars who go against the mold. Whether it be drinking or engaging in sexual hookups, we should not feel pressured to participate in such behaviors simply for the sake of fitting into the form of a "typical" Duke student. In the end, for the over 14,000 students associated with the university, Duke is more than simply a school of dunks and drunks.
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