Duke students are lucky enough to have a fall break. This year, students are going to the mountains, going home or staying at Duke. One thing they aren’t doing is attending the fall Common Ground retreat.
I attended Common Ground as a sophomore, bright-eyed and ready for the transformative experience I had heard so much about, but I left teary-eyed and isolated from the Duke I had known before.
Common Ground is advertised as a reflective, learning experience, which teaches students how to better understand and support their peers while addressing the microaggressions that occur on campus every day. It is extremely flawed. Common Ground’s exploitative nature renders it such that the burden of educating is placed on the minority population. Forced to relive their traumas, those with marginalized identities have unforgettable and unforgiving Common Ground experiences. Students participate in this highly emotional and psychologically challenging environment for five days and are then dumped back into Duke with little to no support—unless they pursue it. That’s what happened to me. I’m a queer, black, poor woman; Common Ground served no purpose other than to remind me that my life sucks. Stepping off the bus onto main quad after the retreat marked the beginning of a two-week period where I didn’t talk to my friends or family. I talked to a few of my fellow Common Grounders in an attempt to process my “break”, but it all seemed pointless.
Common Ground promotes conversations about hard topics; that’s undeniable. There have also been many improvements to the curriculum over the past semesters—the gender violence curriculum was removed because students were not equipped to facilitate such a difficult topic—but nothing can ever be perfect. The retreat either needs to be restructured in a way that actually protects all participants or disbanded altogether.
Every year, Common Ground is criticized, and every year the curriculum is restructured. When is it time to give up?
Janelle Taylor is a Trinity senior.