A managing editor's goodbye

staff note

“I’m heavily interested in the arts (especially film) so I think the Recess section would be a good fit.”

I wrote that in an email I sent Sept. 14, 2016, to a former Chronicle recruitment chair. And I can easily say — with full knowledge of how corny and clichéd it sounds — that email changed my life.

I know what you’re thinking, but level with me here: It actually changed the course of my existence as I once imagined it. When I came to Duke, I was ready to major in political science and pursue a life in policy or law or maybe even public service. Writing and film studies were hobbies more than anything else, beloved passions that would inevitably be pushed to the wayside to make room for a more viable or meaningful career. Not to mention, my mother was most satisfied with this trajectory — “How else are you going to make a difference in the world?” she’d exclaim.

But when depression and anxiety blindsided my mental health immediately after move-in, I became desperate. The desperation was partly for an extracurricular to fill my time (depression and anxiety love unoccupied time), and partly to bond with someone who lived down the hall from me. I’d read his first article, in which he interviewed the drummer who scored the 2014 film “Birdman,” and I was in awe that he received such an amazing assignment for his first article. I also really wanted to be his friend. With all of that in mind, I took the leap and showed up at a Recess meeting. The rest, I suppose, is well-documented history.

It’s easy to write off what we do at Recess as unimportant or inessential — after all, university-wide scandals and hardcore investigative journalism aren’t really our purview. And yet, it’s this want to minimize arts journalism — to reduce it simply to reviews and pop culture think pieces — that makes Recess as critical to The Chronicle as the sports or news sections. “Arts” and “culture” sound empty and vast, but they’re ripe for definition. On a campus as large as Duke’s, in a city as historically and artistically rich as Durham, Recess’s job in exploring and defining these concepts is immense. Perhaps we’re not the artists ourselves, but we’re documentarians, historians, journalists and writers — and our words contain power and the potential for change.

Still, we face dire straits. During my time with Recess, as both a staff writer and managing editor, I’ve realized how inconsequential the arts are at Duke. The university touts itself to potential first-years as a liberal arts institution that is committed to advancing the arts on campus (usually through jaw-dropping displays of wealth). I’m afraid that’s not the case. Duke is a research institution. For better or worse, it cares more about its graduate students in medicine and technology than the hundred or so undergraduates studying and practicing the arts. Would you like access to a 3-D printer on campus? There are more than a dozen in the Rubenstein Arts Center, available to use and free of charge. Looking to shoot, process and edit 16mm film? That’ll cost you at least $100, and the only film editing suite on campus is a cramped, dingy room in Smith Warehouse. No promises that any of the equipment in there works, either.

That’s really what I want my work with Recess to reflect: Beyond any specific campus event that I’ve reported on or personal essay that I’ve written, I yearn to convey the urgency with which we must address the arts on campus and the pivotal role they play in our day-to-day collegiate lives. As funding cuts devastate our public schools’ ability to support and prioritize the arts, it is the responsibility of private universities — with their billion-dollar endowments and bottomless donations — to create a strong and vibrant arts community for students who wouldn’t otherwise have access to one. Duke is far from apathetic in this regard, and its attempts at funding the arts are well-intentioned. But money can only buy so many glass boxes. Adequate infrastructure, accessible resources, community involvement and genuine investment in creative organizations on campus will reap unimaginably positive outcomes.

At the end of my sophomore year, as I prepare to step down from my position as the managing editor for Recess, I find myself at a crossroads: Where do I go from here? What’s the right direction? This fall, when I’m studying away in New York City, I’ll ache for my beloved arts and culture section, the memories it’s given me and the beautiful friendships it’s helped me form. But I fear most the dulling of that ache and the gradual detachment from Recess that I’ll feel. No longer at its helm, no longer able to call it mine (as protective and possessive of it as I might feel). It’s change that I’ve always feared most, but I have absolutely no reason to resist it — I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished during my tenure and I have every reason to believe that Recess will continue to give visibility to the most overlooked arts and artists on campus.

Nina Wilder is a Trinity sophomore and the outgoing Recess managing editor. She’d like to extend her congratulations to Christy and Sarah, who will continue her reign of terror (meaning: her overly long and personal MERPs). Nina would also like to express all of her love and gratitude toward the beautiful staff of writers and editors who made V. 113 of Recess an incredible year of faux-pas (venereal) and accomplishments (so many photo essays and long-form articles!).

And, of course, she owes everything she’s achieved as managing editor to her editor and best friend, Will. She couldn’t imagine doing this job without him by her side, and she loves him with all of her heart. She’s especially grateful that fate put him in a dorm down the hall from her during her first year — how else would she have ended up at Recess?


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