Hot take, but after most of a full semester as an independent, I can, without a doubt say that being independent has cast a massive, rather bleak shadow over my Duke experience. But Greek life isn’t the problem—independents themselves are. In my own experience, independents use organized living as a tried-and-true scapegoat for their own inability and unwillingness to foster much, if any, sense of campus community.
Rewinding back to around this time last fall when I was a first-year, I’d say that I was both contrarian and naïve about rush. Maybe having spent a long time in a very liberal environment where people believed socially ‘exclusive’ groups were part of some grand oppressive conspiracy influenced the great cynicism with which I approached rush last year. In the back of my mind, I believed that neither my family, nor anyone who I had counted on for advice growing up would remotely support my participation in Greek or SLG life, which fueled my apathy toward the entire rush process.
So I wound up independent, and for a long while, I kept an open mind about it. But more and more, even toward the end of my freshman year, the disadvantages of independent life became apparent to me. Yet, what became clearer and clearer to me as this fall went on was that independence is a deeply self-centered, utilitarian and antisocial way of experiencing Duke. Moreover, in so many instances, I’ve found that independents are far snootier and more exclusive than affiliated students (even though much of the rhetoric against Greek and SLG life is their exclusionary nature)—with a current of implicit sanctimony of being “too [good, smart, intellectual, enlightened] for [insert campus group here],” and by extension, “too [good, smart, intellectual, enlightened] for anyone who dares ask why.” In my opinion, this is the problem at the heart of Duke’s culture of self-centeredness. With so many people here simply out for themselves, there will never be much of a sense of togetherness or camaraderie on campus.
Throughout the year, I’ve come to believe that experiencing Duke unaffiliated is generally bleak and utilitarian. Without much, if any, sense of community, there is really nothing to be at Duke for besides a piece of paper conferring a political science degree on me in the late spring of 2021. While it depresses me to think of school like that, especially at a university where there are, on paper, so many opportunities available, this has slowly become my reality. Do I fear that I will graduate Duke without much sense of fulfillment or real connection to campus? Yes, constantly. For me, that seems to encapsulate the independent experience.
The abject lack of on-campus community, honestly, is no surprise to me. Too many of us here are at Duke solely for that prestigious piece of paper, not to experience the full breadth and depth of a fulfilling college experience. Too many of us are here to attain some shockingly high GPA to tout in the next round of prestigious academic or professional institutions. Very few of us are here to live in the moment and soak up all that Duke has to offer—and most people of that mindset, at least in my observation, aren’t independent.
The main proposed solution to the misery of independence is doing away with selective living. If independents cannot face up to their own abject failures and actually make an effort to create a sense of school community, the problem will always exist. In my opinion, nobody ever will step up to work towards a better sense of community: it’s simply too difficult to create a sense of cohesion amongst thousands of students with disparate interests and goals for being here. Too many people approach Duke with that utilitarian view of college for anything about independence on campus to change.
For me, being independent has negatively colored my view of Duke. I see my time here as being less happy, less fulfilling and ultimately less productive than it would have been if I hadn’t let my own cynicism get in the way.
Andrew Orme is a Trinity sophomore. His column usually runs on alternate Fridays.