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Building a better Duke community

Over the previous DSG election cycle, one campaign item consistently stood out in almost every candidate’s platform: housing reform. It seems that for many students, the fact that Duke’s current housing system leaves much to be desired has catalyzed conversations centered on reorienting residential life on campus. In the past month alone, campus reactions to Duke’s new random roommate policy, the advocacy of Duke Students for Housing Reform as well as Duke senior Chris Molthrop’s guest column detailing Cooper’s intensely degrading rush process have received editorial attention in The Chronicle. 

On Monday, senior Chris Molthrop opened up in a special guest column about the factors contributing to his departure from Cooper, which in his words is “the most selective SLG on campus.” At the heart of his critique is the degrading rush process associated with attempting to join extremely selective campus communities like Cooper, and its detrimental effects on freshmen seeking a close-knit community for the remainder of their Duke experience. Similar experiences from other members of the student body have encouraged and solidified campus conversations on solutions to alleviate the inequities faced by large pockets of the Duke community. The student group Duke Students for Housing Reform, for example, is currently working towards bringing together student and administrative voices in order to a create a comprehensive housing reform policy. 

A popular model of housing that has been adopted by other universities like Harvard, Yale and Princeton is a residential college system where students are randomly placed in a permanent house for their entire undergraduate experience. Given that the structure of Duke’s campus does not allow for such housing, a model proposed by Duke Students for Housing Reform involves linking freshman dorms to dorms on West Campus, which seems more feasible than a wholesale residential college system. Another critique of Duke’s housing model stems from the three-year requirement to remain on campus. If the three-year housing requirement were amended, many affiliated living groups would be better able to shift their locations to off-campus sites; such a shift, however, would raise the possibility of certain campus problems like sexual assault and rampant alcoholism spilling over into Durham proper. Moreover, considering Duke’s complicit role in gentrifying Durham over the past decade, it is plausible that moving more students off-campus may result in even higher housing prices to the detriment of our city’s working class. 

Financially, it most likely makes sense for the University to concentrate its student population onto a fixed campus. By requiring students to stay on campus for three years, it is true that students may develop strong communities and thus eliminating the desire for off-campus housing, but it also forces students to eat on campus. Given the opening of West Union last year, it makes sense for the University to focus its efforts on gravitating students towards its expensive dining system. At its worst, Duke’s housing requirement keeps many students dependent within the university “bubble”, compelling students to spend their money on Duke dining and housing options.

Identifying these issues is great for awareness and campus dialogue, but if there are no actual solutions, then such discussions will be in vain. Students have made it clear, especially throughout this semester, that the current housing model has failed a majority of the campus community. For the thousands of Duke students and alumni who have failed to find a sense of community on this campus, it is not a question of whether or not housing reform should happen; rather, it is when and how it will happen. 


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