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The future of Duke housing

Not jumping to any conclusions

With Duke’s announcement that Central Campus will be no more come Summer 2019, students and administrators alike have begun considering how to reform the housing paradigm to best accommodate a Duke where upperclassmen live exclusively on West Campus. Monday night, students participated in a panel on “The Future of Duke Housing.” The debate largely centered around selective living group (SLG) housing policy since the soon-to-be-eradicated Central Campus is home to the overwhelming majority of selective living group sections at Duke. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day—the one designated “off” day for SLG rush—panelists from fraternities, sororities, co-ed SLGs and the independent community gathered to discuss community building and inclusion on West Campus. Prospective solutions such as a transition toward a residential college system as well as “linking,” which would allow students in first-year residence halls to live together on West Campus,were discussed.

The panel began with discussion of the rush statistics from the co-ed SLG, Brownstone. According to the moderator, 192 students registered for recruitment with Brownstone in 2016 and only 27 were selected, yielding an acceptance rate of roughly 14 percent. In 2017, 237 students registered while only 22 were selected, yielding an acceptance rate of roughly 9 percent. This year, 250 students registered for Brownstone rush. The presented statistics made it seem as though the SLG rush process is incredibly competitive and many students who wish to have an SLG experience are denied said experience due to that competitive nature.

SLG rush is competitive, but it is false that many students who wish to have an SLG experience are denied based on low acceptance rates. Although some SLGs—fraternities, sororities and co-ed SLGs—are very competitive, many are eager to accept new members, and still provide the same fulfilling experience.  Yes, the reason why so many individuals exit rush dissatisfied is due to selectivity; however, selective living groups are not to fault, but rather self-selection.

Duke groups like Brownstone, Cooper, Kappa Kappa Gamma and Delta Sigma may boast slim acceptance rates that rival those of the United States’ elite academic institutions, as one panelist noted. However, other fraternities, sororities and co-ed SLGs might accept more members if they could do so. A multitude of SLGs struggle to fill their sections’ housing, and some organizations have recently folded due to insignificant membership. From my experience as someone who has been closely involved with interfraternity council (IFC) rush in his time at Duke, I have noticed that a combination of external and internal forces, which include stigma and pride, prevent one from joining such organizations on campus. 

Continuing with the analogy posited by the panelist who compared the SLG recruitment process to the college application process, one can see  where this parallel breaks down Could you imagine denying yourself the college experience because you did not get into a sufficiently prestigious institution? Furthermore, if fewer people were to self-select out of SLG life, the quality of those organizations would be improved by retaining larger classes, which ultimately provide greater opportunity for friendships and connections.

The SLG experience could be improved if more people sought it out and if students could create new groups. At their heart, SLGs are social organizations and would benefit from adding socially inclined members. One must look no further than the ladies of Gamma Phi Beta and Illyria—both of which were created during my tenure at Duke—to see how SLGs with unique cultures can be formed to satisfy an increased demand. On a similar note, Living/Learning communities (LLCs) are an invention of those seeking an alternative to the current SLGs on campus. Though their members like to restrain from referring to their LLCs as SLGs—hence the newly minted three-letter acronym—the LLCs serve the same purpose of providing a meaningful community in which to cultivate relationships and meet new people.

One concern related to living in SLGs  is it exacerbates socio-economic differences, which serve to reinforce racial divisions. IFC President senior James Bradford, who was present on the panel, acknowledged the difficulty of engaging with diverse viewpoints when “you are living on a hall with 30 white males.” However,  SLGs are not the cause of the problem, nor should their members be criticized for contributing to these “unfortunate divisions.” Clearly, these “unfortunate divisions” are rooted in larger societal issues, of which SLG life at Duke is merely reflective. 

The Editorial Board rightly asserts that membership fees—or “dues”—serve as a barrier to entry for students wishing to join a fraternity, sorority or co-ed SLG. I will further substantiate their claim by mentioning that many fraternities charge prospective new members to attend rush events, but doing away with SLG life will not rid society of inequities. Individuals maintain the right to seek out the college experience which is best for them—whether that experience entails debating politics and culture with individuals from different backgrounds and tax brackets, or embarking on a “spring break” trip to Mexico. The Editorial Board also neglects to mention that many SLGs have scholarship programs for their less well-off members. There are still several fraternities, sororities and SLGs on campus with  diverse membership and there could be more if more people rushed or considered creating new organizations.

Undeniably, the existence of groups like SLGs make it easier for students to engage in fun activities in an organized manner—whether that entails organizing substantial endeavors like the year-end “beach week” excursion in which  most Duke students partake, or less substantial endeavors like simply finding a new group of people to have lunch with. The community-fostering role that these groups fill should not be undermined. SLGs represent an important part of the college experience and the transition toward a residential college system would lead to less fulfilling college experiences for those in SLG life. It would not necessitate more fulfilling college experiences for independents. Amongst the panel, there was a consensus: every Duke student, regardless of affiliation or lack thereof, wants to find a sense of community.  

The Chronicle’s coverage of the panel began with a quote by senior Joel Kelly: “People who are not affiliated would feel that January is a very lonely time…the entire month seems to be focused on rush.” So why not encourage more people to participate in rush? Recruitment is really, really fun—a truth which even independents acknowledge as evidenced by the panel moderator junior Sabriyya Pate’s decision to organize an annual “Kilgo Rush” festival for her independent housing dorm. The event lasts one month and consists of social activities which no student would be surprised to see listed on a co-ed SLG or fraternity round card. Duke should encourage more people to join and create the communities, which are proven to facilitate connectedness. The future of Duke housing is more of the same: SLGs.

Jacob Weiss

Jacob Weiss is a Trinity senior. His column, "not jumping to any conclusions," runs on alternate Fridays.


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