“You got your freshmen, ROTC guys, preps, JV jocks, Asian nerds, cool Asians, varsity jocks, unfriendly black hotties, girls who eat their feelings, girls who don't eat anything, desperate wannabes, burnouts, sexually active band geeks, the greatest people you will ever meet and the worst. Beware of The Plastics.” We can thank Janice from Mean Girls for spelling out the social scene at North Shore High. I went to high school at New Trier on the North Shore of Chicago, the school that the movie is based upon. Leaving the North Shore, I was ready to experience the rich diversity and integration that sold me on Duke. Ironically, this cafeteria map resembles Duke’s social scene more than it does my high school cafeteria. Sad, right?
In my third year at Duke, I feel like a veteran of Duke’s social stratification. I have been an athlete for over two years and was too injured to continue competing. I have lost friends to sororities as they became too cool for me. I have been rejected by a selective living group.
Even after finding a plethora of amazing humans I get to call my friends, the question stills racks my brain, why does Duke feel so lonely? I know that I am not alone in the feeling that it can be tough to be unaffiliated at Duke, to be a god damn independent (GDI). So, who are the GDIs? Those who aren’t in Greek life, an SLG or a varsity sport. Roughly 34 percent of Duke undergraduates are in Greek life, 16 percent are in SLGs, and 10 percent are athletes. If my math is correct, and bear with me because I’m in the social sciences, 58 percent of Duke student are affiliated, leaving 42 percent independent. Moreover, before I dive into this, I want to acknowledge my privileged position as a white, cisgender female. I can only imagine the social experience for those with different backgrounds and identities.
Before I make any enemies: I understand the appeal of Greek life. You have a community, an automatic group of friends, a sense of identity on campus and a social life mapped out for you. Regardless, it was never an option in my mind. I already went to high school surrounded by wealthy white people like myself, and I wasn’t seeking more homogeneity. Furthermore, I did not see a reason to willingly submit myself to a needless social hierarchy and allow myself to be subject to scrutiny from people I may not even like. Conformity, rape culture, gender essentialism, emphasis on physical appearance, racial tokenism, hierarchy, heteronormativity—pass.
Nonetheless, Greek life seems to have the power to make you feel excluded from a group that you don’t even want to be a part of. Its presence on campus is hard to ignore and can easily make independents feel as though they lie on the social fringes of campus. During first semester as a third-year, campus felt different, because so many Greek students were abroad... To be frank, campus had never felt like such a socially open and welcoming place.
Selective Living Groups (SLGs) have a lot of the positive aspects of Greek life: a community of friends, a group to party with, and an identity on campus. They are known to be far less problematic than Greek life, as they tend to be more diverse, affordable, and reflective of the racial and socio-economic demographic of Duke’s campus. With Greek life having such a dominant presence on campus, it makes sense that people outside of it would want to foster communities of their own. However, as a result, Duke’s social scene is further stratified, with more and more emphasis on group affiliation.
Meanwhile, the athlete community is a world of its own that is fairly separate from the non-athlete (or “narp”) community. This is in part due to the demanding schedule of a varsity athlete that can leave little time to engage with the world outside of athletics and academics, and in part due to the close-knit team dynamics that cause athletes to stick together. The social scene extends beyond the individual teams and exists as a network, with relationships among various teams and a strong sense of community to which I am grateful to be a part of. Although this is not an affiliation in the sense of rushing and choosing a group, it is a community and identity on this campus parallel to communities and identities from SLGs and Greek life.
While I myself am not fully independent because of athletics, many of my closest friends are full-fledged GDIs. As third-years, they have made their own communities and molded their Duke experiences into what they want them to be. Many independents echo the same feeling as myself, that it was a long road to get where we are now. To any independents, especially underclassmen, that feel isolated, know that there are so many rich friendships and communities of people to be fostered. Duke’s campus is filled with some of the most brilliant and kind people you will ever meet.
However, it often seems like campus is filled with the most brilliant and kind people that you will never meet. I understand that it is so much easier to have a community that is already made for you and join a pre-existing group of friends. However, it has felt so much more meaningful to have organically created a network of friendships. Best friends don’t need to come from a bid, they can come from Stat 101, the Sazón line or the Shooters bathroom. While the independent experience can feel lonely and intimidating, know that your time here can be the rich and diverse experience that you hoped for when you chose Duke.
Bella Miller is a Trinity junior. Her column usually runs on alternate Fridays.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.