This week, in a letter to the brand new Blue Devils making up the Class of 2022, Duke announced a major change in first year housing policy. Larry Moneta and Steve Nowicki cited a recent uptick in roommate pre-selection—leading to a homogenizing of East Campus living arrangements—as a critical factor in this decision. The announcement assured students that the housing process change would prove to be ultimately beneficial to them and would bring about rich opportunities to meet someone entirely new. While administrators seem fully secure in this new direction, this sudden shift isn’t without its problems and implementation difficulties.
First and foremost, the new policy appears to be a hastily-created quick-fix solution that is entirely internal in its conception and approval. Just earlier this month, Duke Students for Housing Reform begun a larger campaign to rethink living arrangements on campus, citing data collected from students, anecdotal successes seen at other comparable universities and suggestions for new models. These efforts have sparked campus-wide conversations around selectivity, transition struggles and general pitfalls of residential life. However, it seems that none of these student contributions and concerns have been taken into account for this most recent housing decision. Furthermore, while the administration insists that this move will be a positive experience for the incoming class, it doesn’t seem to take into account the processes of self-selection that take place right after students eventually vacate their East Campus dormitories. Perhaps for the semester students will be required to engage with peers from different backgrounds—a process that, arguably, already happens as a result of the cultural multiplicity found in first year dorms—but these changes do nothing to address larger cultural problems on campus that lead to the current, stratified, upperclassmen housing situation.
Additionally, the supposed diversity advantages that Duke is promoting are superficial at best. Simply forcing students from different regions of the world to eat, sleep and work together is not a fix-all for racial and class disharmony on campus. Policy solutions like the one touted by Moneta and Nowicki are concerned more with the outward, feigned appearances of neoliberal, brochure-worthy multiculturalism, and are less concerned with the needs and requests of actual students living here. While it may seem like a progressive move, this sort of short-sighted regulation change can have serious impacts for the safety and comfort of vulnerable undergraduates being thrust into the unfamiliar and occasionally hostile territory that is college life.
Ultimately, this latest development in the struggle to improve housing represents another top-down approach by the university that askew student body requests in favor of disconnected experiments. These attempts at artificially manufacturing a desirable form of diversity and class amiability are, by in large, shortcuts at their core. The systematic, disjointed cultural dynamics at play in housing are far more complex than first year mandates and need to be addressed in intentional ways with democratic forums. Students have begun to speak out about ways in which Duke can better serve the needs of undergraduates in their mandatory three years on campus—administrators just have to start listening.
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