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Finding a home for better housing

Rush is upon us. For hundreds of first-year students at Duke, the following few weeks will represent an endless, stressful schedule of constant socializing and partying in order to secure a place in one of the many selective Greek organizations on campus. Unfortunately, the well-established social primacy of Greek life has the ramifications of inculcating a toxic, exclusionary social culture that many of us had hoped was left behind in our respective high schools. Often, in order to be recognized as valuable in Duke’s Greek-dominated social scene, one must gain accession to the most elite of fraternities the campus has to offer. However, being admitted into these time honored brotherhoods isn’t as simple as having the charisma and wit to charm older members. These organizations often select new members on the basis of things like finances—manifesting as whether or not hopeful students have the ability to pay dues—leaving lower income prospective rushees at a disadvantage from the get-go. Consequently, the fraternity-spearheaded culture—to which we sometimes find ourselves prisoners of—further risks ingraining deep socio-economic divisions into Duke social hierarchy. Moreover, the deeply entrenched gender essentialist nature of Greek life fraternity-sorority leaves some to wonder where non-binary members of our community can find a place of belonging. At an institution that promotes knowledge in the service of society and equality above all, this seems mildly concerning at best.

Currently, joining a prestigious fraternity or sorority represents, for many Duke students, the seemingly sole means of social self-actualization and fulfillment. This is often because it is far too common for students to have a relationship with their dorm that’s limited to just being a place to sleep and store belongings. It is thus understandable that many new Blue Devils wish to join fraternities in order to attain some sense of belonging in a greater group. After freshman year, students often lack the ability to forge strong long-term bonds and collective identities—much unlike the house systems fostered es at peer institutions like Yale, Harvard, Rice and the University of Chicago. Houses that provide students with a social identity and a sense of belonging remove, or at least lessen, the need students feel to become part of some other exclusionary tribe that they can depend on. 

A fundamental reassessment of Duke’s housing system is clearly long overdue. With the deadline of Central Campus’ closure in summer 2019 growing ever closer, Duke’s current housing transitions could signal a perfect time to address needed reforms. Administration would do well to finally must enact a housing system that incorporates first-years with upperclassmen. In addition to facilitating stronger relationships between students by allowing them to grow and learn with each other for longer periods of time, houses that keep students for all four years also serve to develop a certain culture defined by the stewardship of spirited upperclassmen, and this sense of house spirit will undoubtedly provide individuals the social sense of belonging that many often look for in greek organizations. As time goes on, the rising social prominence of being a heartily-spirited house member can help place students into a place of genuine, long-term belonging and social status upon arrival their arrival at the university. This promises to be far more inclusive, not discriminating on class, gender or other factors that should define a student’s value. Indeed, many will still elect to join Greek life, yet the removal of rush from the realm of social necessity into simple desire will make the rush process less bitterly dividing of already existing friendships. The fact that social survival would not be staked on rush means that the general Duke experience could be less rife with stress over the unfortunate divisions precipitated by membership in Greek organizations.

Because this change cannot be guaranteed to take place overnight, the time in between such a dramatic shift in Duke’s social culture should be focused on promoting other independent or non-Greek living options on campus as well groups that do not take gender or ability to pay dues into account. For instance, Duke’s Living Learning Communities, living groups that blend together the residential model with academic and social pursuits, represent a worthy, seldomly visible alternative for first-year students seeking a fulfilling housing experience. Year after year, rush season unfortunately exposes the many ingrained faults within the current framework of housing and social culture. As Duke students dedicated to “knowledge in the service in society,” it is time that we devote ourselves to formulating concrete alternatives to the current campus culture.


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