This time last year, the Chronicle published a column called “In defense of Greek life.” In it, the columnist attempts to dispel the commonly held beliefs that Greek life is nothing more than homogeneity and a good barn party. He does a convincing job describing why the Greek life may not deserve the stereotypically bad rap students are quick to give it.
Since that article was published, however, I have seen another aspect of Duke’s social scene become the butt of many jokes: selective living groups. Housing and Residence Life defines non-Greek SLGs as “student-initiated communities that can be purely social in nature or based upon some fundamental intellectual or cultural theme.” And since I am a student in one of these student-initiated communities, I want to use this opportunity to dispel a few myths about SLGs and make my case for a different side of Duke social life.
I believe selective living groups are the best combination of an inclusive environment and a strong social group. From the rush process to the internal make-up to the way they socialize, SLGs are moving toward a more equitable, inclusive version of social life at Duke.
Here’s my argument for selective living groups:
The Rush Process
SLGs —Cooper specifically—have come under fire for the way new members are recruited and selected. The main complaint is that, in just three weeks, it’s hard to get to know hundreds of rushees well enough to decide which 20 or 30 get bids, and which will be left out in the cold. Granted, the three week rush process the University mandates for SLGs forces them to, no pun intended, rush through recruitment. I believe, however, that in those three weeks, SLGs are able to host a variety of events that benefit people with different personality types, backgrounds and interests in the attempt to make rush as equitable as possible. Rush committees spend months trying to figure out the most efficient and fair way to meet hundreds of first years, get to know them on some level, and decide who is offered a bid. Moreover, the deliberation process in most SLGs requires intense discussion among house members rather than a computerized algorithm. Sure, the rush process isn’t perfect. But a simple glance at Brownstone, Cooper, Mirecourt or Maxwell’s calendar shows the result of countless hours of thought and effort put towards improving the recruitment system. At the end of the process, SLGs have to make cuts. While receiving my own rejection emails my first year stung, I have come to realize that those decision were not a rejection of me as a person, rather a rejection out of necessity and that—in all honesty—I can still be friends with people in SLGs whose last email to me began with “We’re sorry.”
More Diverse Groups
If you find yourself insulated in a space where the overwhelming majority of people share your identity’s most defining characteristics, chances are you aren’t pushing yourself to grow beyond your comfort zone. Granted, there are SLGs for where people of similar marginalized identities can find solace in a safe space—these are the exception. But if you’re looking around at a mixer and can’t point out someone different than yourself, you might not be taking advantage of the opportunity to expand your social network to the fullest extent. Sure, you may be meeting new people, but do those people challenge you to become a better student and person? One of the biggest benefits of SLGs is how they have evolved to all prioritize different types of diversity. At any given SLG you’re sure to find members across the gender spectrum, members of vastly different ethnic and racial backgrounds, members across income levels, and members with varying sexual orientations. The result goes beyond the novelty of appearing inclusive. Some of my most educational moments at Duke have come from living with people with backgrounds I never would have encountered if we didn’t live down the hall from one another. Of course, this sort of learning can take place outside of social living arrangement. But living in an environment that easily facilitates the conversations I came to college to have makes learning so much more enjoyable.
The Sharing of Social Autonomy
When I came into Duke, my idea of a party involved a packed basement, cheap alcohol, and a power imbalance between those throwing the party and those invited. My O-Week escapades only confirmed my suspicions. While Greek parties may seem to be more open than most SLG parties—as Greek organizations have exponentially more money to spend on being your go-to party guys—SLG parties dismantle the reliance on men for both the place and the alcohol to get the party going. When SLGs ramp up for a good Friday night, the social power is shared across members as no one person holds a place or the drinks at ransom. At the very first SLG party I went to, I was reminded that I did not have to drink if I did not want to more times than I could count. Instead of the classic beer pong, House members played with water so that people who usually avoid the table could feel included. Beyond the parties, SLGs have just as many non-drinking-centered events, like class lock ins or House dinners that are meant to bring the House together in a more wholesome way.
Here at Duke, your social life and your living situation are—for better or for worse—bound together inextricably. Barring outside circumstances, the decision you make in January of your first year determines your social calendar for the next three years. SLGs are the social product of both Duke’s commitment and a personal commitment to inclusion, diversity and equity. And, hey, you get a few great parties out of it too.
Ryan Williams is a Trinity sophomore and the recruitment rush chair for Cooper, a selective living group. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays.
Editor's note: This column was updated Tuesday afternoon to reflect the columnist's role in Cooper.
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