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The case for invisibility

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Where do you go on campus when you want to disappear? 

Ask almost anyone on campus what they like about Duke and somewhere in their answer you’re bound to hear something about Duke’s sense of community. They might mention the friend they made during their first week on campus or how incredibly close-knit their first year dorm was; the community they found despite the splintering outcomes of the annual rush scramble; the club sports team they play on or the sense of community they get sleeping in a tent in the dead of winter, the answer will involve a common sentiment. One where Duke students are seemingly tied to each other 24/7. 

If you ask me what I like the most about Duke, you’ll get a similar reply. It’s for that reason that I must preface the rest of this article by saying I love the communities I have found on campus. Each and every one of them provide me with a unique part of campus culture that I wouldn’t otherwise get. But, over the last few weeks I have found myself wanting to act unitarily to create a bit of distance between me and everyone else. The challenge, however, is Duke’s architectural designers. 

I love West Union, the Wellness Center and the little cubby-study holes in Bostock just as much as the next Duke student. They do, however, make one thing entirely impossible: the ability to vanish on the highly visible campus we all live on. 

Waking up in a room with a roommate—I love living with you Spencer, I promise—before going to lecture halls flooded with ambivalent Stats 101 students, a newsroom-esque job, the always-packed third floor or lower level 2 of Perkins and returning to a gratifyingly packed common room is my idea of the college experience. It is what I was dreaming of in high school when I applied to Duke. Now that I am here though, I realize that I have neglected the ability to disappear—ripping much needed quiet time alone from the grasp of an atypically busy schedule— as a critical factor required to be a fully functional Duke student. 

Ironically, some of my favorite “hidden” spots on campus leave me the most exposed to the view of anyone. The Ruby, the CMA’s small conference room, and the trees behind Bassett were once my places of refuge, places I would go to looking to get away from from deadlines and GroupMe messages and the communities I love. Now, all I am greeted with when I go searching for invisibility are awkward gazes screaming out, “I see you, and this is my place, too.”

Those gazes, rather the people to whom the gazes belong, are absolutely correct. The only place on Duke’s campus that is truly mine is half of the dorm room I live in. With that being said, it has become debilitatingly impossible to get a few moments of peace and quiet to myself on campus. Some of that responsibility falls on my shoulders. First-year Ryan was determined to meet everyone and exist everywhere, and ultimately made it hard for Sophomore Ryan to retreat to any corner of campus without being stopped for a short conversation or being persuaded into rolling some social activity that would end up sucking away all the time he should be saving for himself. But, the other part of that responsibility I blame on the sense of transparency I’m sure a lot of us feel as active members in the Duke community. No matter the size or importance of one's spot in the Duke community, the sense that we are being observed by our peers is inescapable. 

So, I return to the question I asked at the beginning of this column, where do you go on campus when you want to disappear? I don’t know how to answer this question and I am truly soliciting responses. It may be that I am looking for invisibility in all the wrong places. It may be that I have to get off campus to truly get away from Duke’s grasp. It may be that the burden of being a Duke student won’t be lifted until I walk across that graduation stage in two years. Or it could be what I am most terrified of, that I never find a place to get a break from the stresses of adult life. I may never have the answer to my question. But, for now, all I can say is please, Duke designers: no more glass structures

Ryan Williams is a Trinity sophomore. His column usually runs on alternate Wednesdays.


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