This past Friday, The Chronicle’s opinion managing editor, Leah Abrams, published a column highlighting Duke’s culture of being busy. In her article, Abrams discusses her personal embracement of the University’s infamous culture of filling up one’s plate with endless extracurriculars, social events and other activities from the cornucopia of the Duke experience. Abrams’ characterization of Duke as an inherently busy place, with busy students trying to make a difference in the world, is merited. Nonetheless, it is important to note the many nuances and limits within each individual’s Duke experience beyond Abrams’ characterization of the University’s overall culture.
Duke is known for having a contagious case of “effortless perfection.” Students often do not show or reveal that they are struggling but instead adapt a work hard/play hard mentality, in which relaxation is a foreign concept. Through her article, Abrams glorifies and advocates for this work hard/play hard mentality by writing to her Duke audience about how being busy 24/7 can be extremely fulfilling. By discussing the endless activities she prioritizes in her daily life—creating podcasts, organizing carpools to national rallies and discussing affordable housing at Durham Congregations Associations and Neighborhoods meetings to name a few—Abrams implicitly glamorizes a life that can be potentially harmful to some Duke students: one that neglects self-care.
Although some students can grind and work all day long like Abrams, a large proportion of students at Duke are not wired in such a manner. Many students with mental health issues are doing the best they can, given the limits of their abilities. Sometimes getting out of bed alone is a difficult task to achieve let alone managing a full day’s worth of work. Like Abrams states, we all have 24 hours in a day and are allowed to choose what we prioritize in our daily lives. If these prioritizations include taking a nap, doing yoga, writing poetry, or having in-depth conversations with people—in other words conducting activities beyond the confines of one’s resume—then those activities should also be valued and looked at as valuable prioritizations. These prioritizations after all accentuate two key areas that should be addressed in addition to the professional and academic development that Abrams stresses: personal development and self-care.
Moreover, in her column, Abrams specifically contrasts Duke’s environment to that of Brown’s, discussing how the famously laid-back Ivy League institution has an atmosphere that is more relaxing and more leisurely than that of Duke’s. Duke, as she describes in contrast to Brown, “came with a sense of urgency and purpose that was palpable and contagious.” Her perception of Brown University’s environment is solely based on a visit she made for one weekend. Abrams' critique of Brown, besides not encapsulating a complete and dynamic view of Brown, undermines the reputation and work ethic of Brown and its students, as well as other peer institutions with “laid-back” reputations.
At the end of the day, Duke cannot be characterized or stereotyped as a school full of students who are wired to work hard and grind all day, and we should not advocate for students to be wired in such a way. Duke, like Brown and any other university, is multi-faceted, and each individual finds meaning in different activities for themselves whether they be intellectually stimulating, relaxing, or ones that promote self-care and personal development. Duke as a multi-faceted institution should be highlighted and celebrated. As members of the Duke community, we should all stray away from promoting a way of living that is not inclusive and adaptable for everyone.
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