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Between housing and home

With every new year comes renewed waves of academic rigor, the uptick of extracurricular commitments and the endless cycle of job recruitment. Preoccupied with opportunities like these at beginning of the semester, an average Duke student likely would not consider housing to be exactly on par with quintessential campus experiences like pulling all nighters with friends or organizing club events. However, living communities at Duke, given the three-year housing requirement, are far more fundamentally transformative than they are given credit for. The Crowell and Craven quads were long overdue for renovations, yet members of these quads who were relocated to shiny new Swift Avenue apartments are reporting being less than satisfied with their experiences so far. Particularly in terms of the dorm community. Charged with fostering these communities are resident assistants: undergraduates and graduate students who choose to facilitate connections within dorms while also living in them.

First years have their introduction to Duke’s dorms and resident assistants on East Campus. Bright-eyed, new students arrive from diverse backgrounds and are thrown into a complex array of changes that they must learn to maneuver as members of the Duke community. On East, resident assistants occupy a strong mentorship role since they help newly minted Blue Devils navigate the complexities of a new arena of academic opportunities and social structures. For resident assistants, the challenge becomes facilitating connections in communities brought together by random housing assignment through frequent, intentional programming and predictable visibility in the dorms. Developing relationships on East Campus is an experience at Duke that can set the tone for an entire undergraduate career.

On West and Central campuses, a resident assistant’s role differs significantly from that on East. Now that students have had time to adjust to Duke life, many residents feel comfortable grappling with the everyday challenges and nuances of living and working on campus alone. A resident assistant is viewed as less of a mentor and as more of a resource—and in some cases, an unnecessary one given the resident assistant's dual-role as a policy enforcer. However, despite the mixed reviews, resident assistants are integral to these dorm communities. Resident assistants and executive boards of affiliated houses or house councils of independent sections work together to build community, a collaboration that brings new ideas and extra funding to programming endeavors.

Ensuring the quality of resident assistants is paramount to successful communities. Prospective and current resident assistants should evaluate their commitments to ensure they have the necessary time and energy to devote to residents while still balancing their studies. Improvements to meal plans and consolidation of training weeks could also help shift the focus of resident assistants from their own stress to their communities, allowing for more time to focus on creating healthy and supportive living arrangements. 

Ultimately, even the robust structure of HRL with resident coordinators, graduate residents, resident assistants and faculty-in-residence is insufficient to truly build community. The onus is on all of us to participate. The potential benefits of building strong communities that prioritize growth, compassion and genuine connections with fellow students are innumerable, but these can only come from actively engaging with these spaces and always striving to create a better Duke. 

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