Editor’s note: This article is the second in a multi-part series examining diversity in living groups on campus. It focuses just on non-Greek selective living groups. You can read about the full methods of data collection here.
Non-Greek selective living groups are more heterogeneous across a host of variables than Greek life is, but not for all categories.
A decade ago, apparent homogeneity in SLGs caused some to call for reform. In 2007, the Campus Culture Initiative Steering Committee—composed of students, faculty, staff and alumni and vice-chaired by Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs—argued to then-President Richard Brodhead that selective living’s homogeneity existed to such an extent that it was in the University’s interest to disassociate selective living groups from living spaces—to make these groups operate independently of housing.
Since then, non-Greek selective living at Duke has proceeded in the opposite direction. The provost’s office issued a report also in 2007 that disagreed with the committee's assessment of selective living groups. In 2012, the number of both non-Greek and Greek selective living groups more than doubled in conjunction with the University’s move to a house-based—as opposed to quad-based—housing system. Interviews with Moneta and two current presidents of selective living groups revealed the popularity of non-Greek SLGs has only increased in the past few years.
So has increased popularity led to a more heterogeneous membership for non-Greek SLGs?
A Chronicle investigation into a host of demographic variables, some of which can be more deeply explored in the included interactive graphics, illustrate that in terms of the type of high school attended—a proxy for socioeconomic status—and self-identified majors of seniors at Duke, the composition of SLGs reflects the broader trends among all seniors at Duke better than that of Greek organizations.
This demographic similarity between non-Greek SLG members and independents, however, does not necessarily extend to parts of the United States in which students grew up, whether they attended Duke as merit scholars, whether they are varsity athletes and affiliation with certain clubs.
“The diversity characteristics are moving slowly,” Moneta said. “Understand that the first priority has been the nonselective communities, which have historically been even less attended to than any of the selectives. We have data that show that those are moving in the right direction.”
Although the presidents of 13 of Duke’s 16 non-Greek SLGs either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment, the presidents of Brownstone, LangDorm and Wayne Manor agreed there is work to be done in terms of diversity in their organizations, but that SLGs tend to be more representative of the larger student body’s demographics than Greek organizations.
In some ways, a success story
The University does not publish socioeconomic data for individual living groups, but The Chronicle followed in the footsteps of a January article by using public data to collect seniors’ affiliations in Greek life and SLGs and compared the types of high schools attended between different living groups.
Whereas members of Panhellenic and Interfraternity Council groups were twice as likely as non-members to have attended a private school with a tuition more than $30,000, and whereas the average price of tuition-based high schools attended was $31,000 for Greek organizations, the average tuition for SLG seniors was $26,000 and for unaffiliated students was $25,500. Respectively, 63 percent and 68 percent of their groups attended public high schools, compared to 56 percent for Greek members.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Juniors Elaine Zhong, outgoing president of LangDorm, and Ethan Lampert, president of Wayne Manor, pointed to the dues students pay as one explanation for the difference between SLGs and Greek organizations’ socioeconomic representation.
“Because we're a localized organization, the due structure is totally different [than fraternities],” Lampert said, adding that their dues, like other SLGs, are less than Greek organizations. “There isn't the upfront barrier to entry of paying just to join SLG rush as there is for IFC recruitment. People can rush Wayne and come to our rush events without joining and there's no cost to that. Upon joining, the freshmen are now part of the organization, ‘Here's your first dues charge.’”
In 2017, the University released data that revealed striking differences in racial diversity between the Greek groups and both non-Greek SLGs and unaffiliated students.
Just 27 percent of IFC and 20 percent of Panhellenic housing sections are composed of at least 40 percent minority students. For non-Greek SLGs, that percentage rises to about 88 percent, and for unaffiliated houses, it is 100. Additionally, less than 40 percent of non-Greek SLGs and unaffiliated students identify as white, a figure that is more than 60 percent for both Panhellenic and IFC groups.
Lampert credited this to Wayne’s lacking of dirty rushing—hosting events in which first-years who are prospective members attend before official rush begins—that he implied occurred for some Greek organizations who otherwise attract similar people.
He, like the president of Brownstone, said that having common experiences between a rushee and member can help a rushee get into the organization even if those shared experiences are based on things like attending parties in the Fall, coming from the same high school or part of the country or participating in the same pre-orientation program.
Overall, SLGs are also more representative of majors at Duke than Panhellenic and IFC organizations. About nine percent of SLG students and all Duke students are biology majors and in both groups, roughly 4.5 percent are political science majors. SLGs are also more representative of engineers than their Greek counterparts. Pratt students make up about 18 percent of Duke and 16.2 percent of SLGs, but make up only about 13 percent of IFC organizations and eight percent of Panhellenic organizations.
There was also more diversity in work experiences of seniors in SLGs compared to Greek life. The most any one career field category had for SLGs was engineering and technology with 24.5 percent compared to the top category in IFC organizations—43.6 percent in business—and Panhellenic organizations—about 29.1 percent in health and life sciences.
Still falling short
Nonetheless, these non-Greek SLGs do seem to be homogeneous in some metrics across the board, and their presidents were the first to admit as much. They pointed to several potential opportunities for improvement.
Unlike Greek life, there is no centralized organization that oversees non-Greek SLGs at Duke. The Selective House Council existed until 2008, but dissolved due to inactivity. It returned in 2009, but once again has not been active for several years.
Lampert said the administration has not stepped in with specific trainings or feedback about homogeneity in SLGs. Junior Jen Semler, president of Brownstone, said Brownstone does not collect demographic data on its members, which could help its members recognize their sources of biases in selection process.
Geographic, athlete, merit scholarship and club membership data underscore the desire among non-Greek SLGs and Moneta for improvement. Non-Greek SLG members are half as likely to be from the northeast United States as the rest of the senior class—the exact opposite of the case for IFC and Panhellenic organizations—and Brownstone, Round Table, Ubuntu and Wayne are composed of between 44 and 52 percent members from the Southeast, though only 30 percent of non-SLG students are from the Southeast.
For merit scholarships, there is clustering in selective living groups, particularly the un-themed selective living groups—Brownstone, Cooper, Maxwell, Mirecourt, Round Table and Wayne. Incoming Class of 2018 first-years were eligible for one of eight merit scholarships, which covers one’s full tuition—the A.B. Duke, Alumni Endowed, B.N. Duke, Karsh International, Reginaldo Howard, Robertson, Trinity and University scholarships.
Merit scholars make up about four percent of the Class of 2018, yet they comprise nine percent of all non-Greek SLG seniors, 12.5 percent of un-themed SLGs and, in particular, almost one-third of Round Table. Similarly, both Cooper and Brownstone, 20 percent of members joined Phi Beta Kappa, even though only 6.5 percent of non-SLG students joined the prestigious academic fraternity.
The president of Round Table declined to comment for this story, and the president of Cooper could not be reached for comment.
Conversely, the number of athletes in non-Greek SLGs is extraordinarily low compared to the makeup of Greek organizations and unaffiliated students. Athletes comprise 15 percent of non-Greek and non-SLG seniors, five percent of Panhellenic students and seven percent of IFC students, yet only 1.5 percent—four out of 257—of non-Greek SLG members are athletes.
Moneta said, comparing it to other forms of diversity, integrating athletes is less of a priority because other minorities, like international students, students of color and conservatives, face greater disadvantages associated with their identities. He added that even if it were a bigger priority, it would be particularly difficult to combat because the athlete-non-athlete divide extends beyond housing—for example, athletes have their own dining facility—and the athletic department’s oversight means there are more hoops to jump through.
A matter of ‘equity’ for marginalized students
Explaining Brownstone’s diversity, Semler said it has used trainings and conversations to remind members not to converse with people they already know through pre-existing connections, as well as to discuss various identity issues.
Cooper had a similar strategy, wrote junior Trey Walk, who dropped affiliation from Cooper in January partly because of diversity issues, in an email.
He wrote that Cooper has had a group meeting to discuss how students of color, introverted students, students with language barriers and students from low-income backgrounds are disadvantaged during the rush process, but he questioned the efficacy of these conversations.
“I think that this is a good step but it isn’t that effective because no one is really trained to facilitate it and the conversation only happens once a year,” he wrote. “It is easy to support ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ in principle, but it is more difficult to change your behavior and biases and decision-making to actually make the group reflect that.”
Increasing racial diversity in an organization can be difficult. Zhong said LangDorm is predominantly Asian despite efforts to be more heterogeneous. Walk noted that there was a disproportionately small number of minority students in Cooper.
“Many students of color don’t rush Cooper in high numbers because of the perceptions on campus that it is predominantly for white students,” he said. “This perception has stayed with the group even as it has gotten more diverse—and the students of color who do rush and get in either drop out or stop showing up to events because they find that the space is not a good fit culturally.”
Homogeneity isn’t necessarily bad, Walk added, pointing to groups of marginalized communities, such as Women’s Housing Option and Mundi International House, where a shared space can help students feel more at home at Duke.
“The problem with homogeneity arises when the most ‘selective’ groups on campus such as Cooper—which has around a quarter of the first-years rush to be a part of it—accept a disproportionate number of white students,” he wrote. “In my experience, this has been because students of color or queer students or any other marginalized students don’t feel comfortable in the space and because the rush process allows biases to keep SLGs homogeneous.”
Membership in SLGs are also associated with membership in certain clubs, leading to what Lampert described as a sort of ‘pipeline’ from clubs like Duke University Improv, the Project Waves pre-orientation program and the a cappella group Pitchforks into Wayne Manor.
Duke has recently decided to introduce randomness—like picking a name out of hat to decide which students are accepted into the programs they apply to—to all the pre-orientation programs, Moneta said.
According to the January Chronicle story, “about 67 percent of participants in the pre-orientation program Project Waves joined a Greek organization, which is about twice the rate of Greek membership for the school at large, and almost half the women in the program joined either Kappa Kappa Gamma or Kappa Alpha Theta.” An additional 22.5 percent join SLGs, particularly Maxwell, Mirecourt or Wayne, leaving only about 11 percent of PWaves participants who are now independent as seniors.
Another campus group, the Line Monitors, is in the process of making changes, and the results are beginning to be seen. Incoming co-head line monitors Steve Hassey and Peter Potash said last year they reduced potential conflicts of interest in the application process. Then-co-head line monitors Sara Constand and David Duquette anonymized applications and only allowed line monitors to talk about applicants they either interviewed or whose applications they read.
Of the 14 seniors who are line monitors—selected from approximately 50 applications—13 were in either a non-Greek SLG, Panhellenic or IFC group. Eight of them were from Maxwell, Kappa Alpha Theta or Pi Kappa Phi, which make up just 5 percent of the senior class.
“We don’t want those affiliations to perpetuate themselves,” Hassey said. “This year we admitted 11 people into the organization, five of which were in Greek in communities, two of which were in SLGs, and four of which were independents.”
The administration has also been attempting to address homogeneity in SLGs. In February, Duke announced that it will disallow incoming first-years from choosing their roommates on East Campus. Moneta said that he hoped this move would act as a stimulus to increase diversity in selective living.
Lampert said that the idea was overall a good one, but that only one or two roommate pairs end up in each pledge class.
“I think administration's job is to open the doors for people to do whatever they want,” he said. “I think as of right now, having these pockets scattered on campus that potentially alienates others—that's not ideal by any means, but I don't think the administration should be dictating exactly who people are matched with in their freshmen dorms or where people live beyond that.”