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Why I'm a sorority girl pushing for housing reform

I know what you’re thinking—another article on housing reform? Yep! And that’s because this whole thing, well, it’s important. Really important, and it’s happening now. So while you might be tired of the conversation, I hope I can at least add a different dimension to the debate, based on both my position as someone who is part of a selective living group and my opinions as an individual. Everything I have to say on the matter is simply my beliefs, and aren’t representative of my sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, the group of women with whom I live, or the Duke Students for Housing Reform, a group that I support. That being said, I do believe that my views on housing reform have been shaped by my experience in Greek life, and I know many other Greek-affiliated students who have expressed concern about all of this housing business. I can’t speak from experience for other Duke SLGs, so what I have to say will primarily focus on addressing concerns I’ve heard from those presently in Greek life. 

Many have come to view the housing reform movement as an attack on Greek life, as if the Duke Students for Housing Reform are going to march into Greek sections with pitchforks and fire, burning benches left and right even though Duke lost (too soon?).  From my perspective, this view is largely fueled by misconceptions about housing reform in general. These include misconceptions about the reasons for housing reform, why reform is so important and what the actual effect of a new housing model would be, which would include neither pitchforks nor fire.

Before I dive into these misconceptions, I want to backtrack and present my own Duke housing story, because we all have one and I believe they shape and inform our current opinions on the issue. I lived in Gilbert-Addoms dorm during my first year at Duke and I truly loved it. Right off the bat, I made a large group of “dorm friends” with whom I shared late night life stories, movie nights and probably too frequent 2 a.m. Dominos. Some still remain my best friends at Duke, while others I see less often but still consider close friends. Regardless, I wholeheartedly believe that I would not have made those relationships had we not lived together in GA.

Fast forward to second semester of my freshman year. As the story goes for me and many others, I hadn’t planned on rushing before I came to Duke.  I had a negative view of Greek life furthered by media stereotypes, you know, the chanting girls in matching outfits and horror stories about A-lists and B-lists, and didn’t think it would add much value to my college experience. But when January rolled around, it felt like everyone was rushing (even though everyone wasn’t), so I did too. The spring semester of my first year remains my favorite semester I have had thus far at Duke. Joining a sorority had given me access to a fun new community, while allowing me to remain physically close to the friends I had made first semester. I could go to a mixer with my new friends in my pledge class, but still come back to gossip about the night with my dorm friends in the GA common room. Across these wide ranging friendships, I was lucky to have a support system and a diverse variety of friends with whom I could spend my time.

It wasn’t until I moved onto Central Campus during this past August that it hit me just how much my affiliation would affect the rest of my time at Duke. 

So, why housing reform? I think I speak for more than just myself when I say that I came to Duke in large part for its diversity.  Coming from a high school that was extremely homogeneous in almost every category, I wanted a college experience that would expose me to new people with different backgrounds and experiences. While Duke’s student body is diverse in a lot of ways, many of the extracurricular and social organizations that comprise it are not. Argue what you will, but the fact of the matter is that Greek life on Duke’s campus is largely white and wealthy. There are many bones to pick with the rush process in its entirety and its prominence in Duke culture, but one significant facet is that it allows Duke students to segregate campus along racial and socio-economic lines. This means that post-rush, those from different groups have reduced opportunities to interact with one another in the first place, much less to build substantial relationships.

My affiliation constitutes not the entirety of, but a large part, of my circle of friends and social life on campus. When compared to the aggregate of Duke’s student population, most of my social circle is fairly homogeneous in affiliation, race and socioeconomic status. Because our residential model allows for selective groups to live together, this also means that the majority of the people surrounding me in my immediate surroundings is fairly homogeneous. There are now two huge parts of my life at Duke—social and housing—that are dictated by my affiliation, and are therefore also hindered by its lack of diversity. And so the homogeneity compounds. 

Don’t get me wrong, living with other women in my sorority housing has its perks, primarily that it’s convenient to be surrounded by people I already know and it’s fun. But all of the things that I do with my pledge class—like having watch parties for basketball or awards shows, late night chats together and so on—could be done without us living in one building. My organization would still exist, and could absolutely still be as close, without its sophomore members living in the same space. And if you think that’s untrue for your organization, then ask yourself what that means about the depth of your relationships: if it is absolutely necessary for you all to be in the same physical space in order to be close, then are you really that close in the first place?

All of us Greek-affiliated students are selling our Duke experiences short by living with our affiliations. If you’re like me, you want your college years to be driven by diverse relationships and a variety of connections. If that statement doesn’t sound appealing to you, then I challenge you to think about what it is that you want out of your Duke experience, and why stepping outside of the organization that lies within your comfort zone isn’t a part of it.  Wouldn’t it be even better to have your affiliated group as an already-existing community and to cultivate an entirely different group of friends in your housing community? Isn’t having access to more communities better than having access to just one? Why put a limit on your opportunities to make new friends, and expose yourself to all the diversity Duke has to offer? 

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t come to Duke to ever sell myself short.

Decoupling selectivity and housing does not mean that your organization will be destroyed, or kicked off campus, or weakened in any sense. How strong your organization remains if it loses on-campus housing is entirely up to its members.  All that decoupling means is that you, and everyone else, have an increased opportunity to live and build relationships with a more diverse range of Duke students. It is likely that we will never again in our lives have the opportunity to be surrounded by such an array of intelligent, interesting and creative people.  As our housing model stands now, we are limiting ourselves from coming into contact with as many of them as possible. 

What friendships will you never get to make? What future business partners or maids of honor or significant others will you never get to meet? The time has come to take advantage of Duke’s diversity rather than to continue to use our Central Campus apartments to hide from it.

Sign the petition here: bit.ly/DukePetition

Stephanie Mayle is a Trinity sophomore. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays.

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